Dr. A. David Lewis is not afraid of exploring tough questions. The writer, who was previously nominated for an Eisner for American Comics, Literary Theory, and Religion: The Superhero Afterlife, is now teaching an online course at the Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Health Studies (MCPHS) University called “Cancer and Comic Books.” The class aims to explore a growing body of sequential stories that intimately explore cartoonists’ and their loved ones’ battles with cancer.
Comics such as The Story of My Tits, Cancer Vixen, and When David Lost His Voice offer a unique window of insight into the minds of people struggling through a disturbingly familiar and fatal disease. In his course, Dr. Lewis is pairing these sequential stories with other texts such as Siddhartha Mukherjee’s Pulitzer Prize-winning The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer and The Graphic Medicine Manifesto in order to challenge his students, many of whom have never read a comic before. The hope is that by the end of the course, students will be able to better understand the psychological effects of cancer and find new ways to talk about the disease. Ultimately, the course will culminate in each student producing a comic that focuses on their personal experiences or their loved ones’ experiences with cancer.
In the words of Dr. Lewis:
“At its core, this course is as much an exploration as it is an experiment. That is, the graphic novels being read, the book chapters being absorbed, and the instructor input being offered operate largely as data points: the trend or path for this area of study remains, at this moment, unknown. While provocative and plentiful, the intersection of cancer and comics is still a frontier to be mapped and a synergy to be fully evaluated.”
As someone who salivated over the slightest presence of comics in English course syllabuses throughout university, here’s hoping this class is a smash success and that we see more like it in the years to come.