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New Ways to Talk About Cancer: Comics, Cartoons, and the Graphic Novel

posted Aug 28, 2015, 6:16 AM by Sarah Glazer

Nancy K. Miller is a literary scholar, memoirist, and the author or editor of more than a dozen books. Her new memoir, Breathless: An American Girl in Paris, will be published this fall.

In December 2011, she was diagnosed with stage III lung cancer. She started documenting the experience in cartoons using watercolor, collage, and photographic images. Most recently, she presented her cartoons about her experience of cancer at the 4th International Conference on Comics and Medicine held in Brighton, England, in July.

Miller has taught courses on autobiography and memoir, including memoirs told through the graphic novel format.

In an interview with journalist Sarah Glazer, she discusses why she is drawn to the cartoon format as a way of sharing her experience as a cancer patient and why the graphic novel format, in such best-selling cancer memoirs as Cancer Vixen by New Yorker cartoonist Marisa Acocella Marchetto, is becoming a powerful and budding medium for cancer patient artists. She describes her own work as, ‘outsider art,’ since she is a writer without artistic training.

Why did you decide to start creating these comics? Were you someone who drew before you were diagnosed with cancer?

In the fall of 2011, the months leading up to the diagnosis, I found myself doing a bit of doodling and drawing. I’m not really sure why. But once I had the diagnosis at Christmas, I almost immediately felt I would start focusing on the cancer. To the extent I verbalized it, I said, “There are so many cancer narratives; what could I possibly add?”

Read more here.

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