Corpus: A Comic Anthology of Bodily Ailments
Editor: Nadia Shammas
Designer: Nick Hanover
Nadia Shammas’ Corpus: A Comic Anthology of Bodily Ailments is one of the most unique and affecting comic anthologies I’ve ever read. Shammas raised over $30,000 on Kickstarter to fund the project, which features work by Vita Ayala, Becca Farrow, Erica Schultz, Jim Gibbons, Elodie Chen, Mark Bouchard, Tini Howard, Emily Pearson, Ram V, Casper Wjingaard and more incredible writers and artists.
Corpus is big — nearly 300 pages — and every single page packs a punch. When I sat down to read the anthology one afternoon, for this review for The Beat, I wasn’t at all prepared for the emotions it would stir up. Obviously, illness is something that touches us all in some way, at some point. As a chronically and invisibly ill person with an anxiety order and other mental health struggles to boot, I should have known that Corpus would devastate me. But honestly? It was also the most cathartic reading experience I’ve had all year, in comics or otherwise.
Shammas’ purpose in creating this anthology was simple: to create an honest conversation about illness. In the prologue, she writes, “People living with illness are everywhere, and they live and work and share the same experiences as anyone else. We’re all mortal, we’ll all get sick, everyone we love will fall ill, and we’re all going to die one day. To try to draw a line between ‘the healthy’ and ‘the ill’ is just as ridiculous as it is divisive.” And later, “Corpus sprung forward from pain, but it has become a work of love. Every person who has been ill and has continued to strive forward embarks on a hero’s journey. In that way, every story in this book is a story of victory.”
She’s absolutely right about that: to be frank, I’m in awe of how vulnerable the creators in this book allowed themselves to be for these stories. Stories of physical pain employ monstrous metaphors — like Vita Ayala and David Stoll’s “With a Bang Not a Whimper,” which imagines a severe back injury and chronic pain as a monster that never goes away, but can in some instances be tamed. Back-to-back stories about diabetes demonstrate a seemingly calm acceptance that death could come any time Shammas goes to sleep (with illustrations by Becca Farrow that fit the pacing of the story beautifully), as well as the pain and frustration of Vicky Leta being blamed for every awful part of her illness.
“It Began In My Arms” by Querelle and artist Dante Luiz uses a simple color palette and heavy lines to explain the horror of fibromyalgia, including how it changes a person’s whole life — but also how, with a little love and care from someone who understands the diagnosis’ accompanying limitations, it can be managed. Then there’s Mady G’s “Mind & Body,” which is so colorful that it seems to literally breathe on the page, each panel presenting a different element of mental illness or gender (or, many instances, both).
Other stories, Ryan Estrada’s “Testicular Torsion (A Twisted Tale),” are so comedic that they prompted me to laugh out loud, even as I cringed at the horrors being described. Likewise, “Trouble at the Henderson Household,” written by Fred Kennedy and illustrated by Soo Lee, is simultaneously an incredible metaphor for climate change and a wild ride through the fast-moving lives of the bacteria that make us outrageously feverish when we’re sick.
It’s hard to pinpoint all of the comics in Corpus that made me feel something, because they all did. But in addition to the ones mentioned above, others that especially stood out included:
- “Stay Woke,” written by John B. Robinson IV and illustrated/lettered by Danos Philopoulos, examines the devastating effects of insomnia in conjunction with the everyday horror of innocent black lives being taken by racist and homicidal police.
- “ADHD,” by Ben Khang and Lilly Taing, breaks down myths about the diagnosis and reframes it from the perspective of someone who deals with it all the time.
- “Out of Pocket” by Alison and Libby Vande Bunte illustrates the desperate measures many of us have taken to try to escape building medical debt, which seems to haunt us in corporeal form until we break.
- “/Cast Heal,” written by Holly Aitchison and illustrated by Morgan Perry, strikes deep into the heart of anyone who’s ever befriended someone online, only to wonder what happened to them after weeks or months or years have gone by.
With 42 comics making up Corpus: A Comic Anthology of Bodily Ailments, there’s something for everyone — because, as Shammas notes, we all get sick. We all know someone who deals with chronic illness. And we all experience the current events these stories explore, in some way or another, even if we don’t realize it.
Samantha Puc is an essayist and culture critic whose work has been featured on Bustle, The Mary Sue, SheKnows, The Tempest, Rogues Portal, and elsewhere. She mostly writes intersectional pop culture analysis with a particular focus on representation of LGBTQ and fat characters in fiction. Samantha is also the co-creator of Fatventure Mag, an outdoors zine for fat women and non-binary creators who are into being active, but not into toxic weight-loss culture. She lives in Rhode Island with her spouse and cats.