Hospi-Tales: A Year of Stories from Alder Hey
Created by: Comics Youth CIC & Alder Hey Children’s Hospital in collaboration with the Graphic Medicine Project
Edited by: Rebecca Horner, Anna Macdonald, and Rae Malenoir
Publisher: Marginal Publishing House
It’s almost universally accepted that comics have the capacity to transform both readers and creators, more so than other mediums. We can get into the many reasons why so many think this way, but I want to go straight to the reason why I believe this statement to be true: anyone can make comics. It’s a pick-up-and-play type of creation that invites experimentation and supports imagination at every turn. Quite simply, they’re for everyone.
The comics anthology Hospi-Tales: A Year of Stories from Alder Hey is one of the most convincing examples of this, a graphic medicine project that resulted from a year-long collaboration between the Alder Hey children’s hospital in Liverpool and the Comics Youth CIC creative community to create short comics with pediatric patients.
Alder Hey has been promoting arts within its organization through specialized programs since 2006, mainly through its Cultural Champions initiative, whereas Comics Youth has been doing its part since 2015 with the intention of empowering youths in the Liverpool City region through comics creation.
Hospi-Tales enlists a group of illustrators, composed of Maxine Lee-Mackie, Anna Macdonald, Rebecca Horner, Adam Goodison, Kym Nichols, Ashling Larkin, and Lo Tierney, who met with pediatric patients for one-on-one creative sessions where they brainstormed and developed ideas for their own comics. Kids could offer character designs and general storyboarding so that the Comics Youth illustrators could piece their comics together.
The book is divided into the four seasons of the year and features stories in each segment that explore medical procedures, health scares, anxieties, injuries that led to hospitalization, and new daily routines for self-care after diagnosis. Some stories even take advantage of the seasonal approach, reflecting what it means to be in a hospital during a particular time of the year and how that plays against the expectations of what kids are supposed to be doing during the months in question. Fall stories, for instance, contain ghosts and trick or treaters while Spring stories often focus on the bright colors that seep into the hospital rooms from the outside. It’s as if the hospital is an ever-changing ecosystem that beckons to be explored.
Hospi-Tales is, essentially, an open and very welcoming invitation to the world of health, and it aims to foster understanding. It dispels misconceptions about medicine, to help it become less scary. The creators involved in the book, both illustrators and patients, combine to make the very concept of going to the hospital to get treated a thing of wonder.
With wonder, though, comes a bit of fear, intermingled with all the uncertainty inherent in the process of being medically examined, but the intention is to offer different ways to engage with the myriad of possibilities that lie in a child’s path when it comes to health. In doing so, it opens windows so readers can peek into what kids can imagine during their hospital stay.
The stories are all heartfelt and honest, presenting patients as superheroes in recovery one moment and testimonial-like cartoons about the steps behind taking care of epileptic seizures the next. They’re mostly 2-4 pages apiece, bits of high energy that go fast but leave an impression. Some include original character designs by the participating comic creators followed by the story the assigned illustrator crafted with it.
One story in particular shows how a nurse turns the act of putting a cannula (a thin tube inserted into a vein to administer medicine or drain fluids) in a patient’s arm into a kind of game that makes the process more pleasant and less frightening. In just a single-page comic, the story acknowledges the impact creative nurses have on children who are probably going through the hospital experience for the first time.
Some pages are even dedicated to pattern art and abstract expression for patients that have trouble communicating verbally or visually. They’re given a chance to express themselves in their way, showing just how adaptable and inclusive comics can be as a medium. As I stated before, the power of comics resides in the fact that anyone can make comics. Hospi-Tales shows just how empowering the very act of making comics can be, and to drive the point home it includes a simple supplemental tutorial on how to make short comics on your own.
Hospi-Tales is a very special book, uplifting and informative with a mind to educate readers by way of dynamic storytelling, vibrant colors, and pure imagination. It’s an ode to creativity with a strong inspirational pull that’ll make readers want to pick up a pen and paper and make comics. Projects such as these broaden the scope and potential of story. They speak to the importance of art in the service of noble causes.