- Graphic Reproduction: A Comics Anthology ed. by Jenell Johnson
Jenelle Johnson's edited anthology Graphic Reproduction: A Comics Anthology is a welcome addition to both women's studies and the newly emerging graphic medicine movement, which documents disease, suffering, and illness using visual stories, and which occupies a similar epistemological space as narrative medicine. As Johnson writes in the introduction, "Reproduction is a complicated process of meiosis, if you will—a merging of personal and political, body and ideology, individual and institution, science and technology, joy and pain, nature and culture, sex and gender, humor and horror, seeing and saying" (p. 4). The volume delivers all of these varied dimensions of the human reproductive experience. Johnson adds, "The primary function of Graphic Reproduction is to provide a discursive and visual forum where the affective, biological, social, and political complexities of reproduction can exist together in generative uncertainty" (p. 4). The exploration of the ambiguity and uncertainty of human reproduction represents one of the strengths of this collection, specifically in its challenge to neurotypicality in popular conceptions of the psyche and heteronormativity in sexual politics. The anthology additionally provides historical breadth for these issues, with reprinted material from the 1970s and narratives written at the present time.
Several of the excerpts in this volume challenge the ongoing relentless medicalization of all aspects of the reproductive process; for example, childbirth, which became almost fully a medical event in the early twentieth century when most births in Europe and America shifted from the home to a hospital setting. Joyce Farmer and Lyn Chevli's 1973 Abortion Eve (most of the characters are named as a variant of Eve, such as Evie and Evita) is also a helpful reminder to younger generations of a time when abortion was both illegal and highly socially stigmatized, leading to unsafe back room abortions and untold physical and psychological trauma for generations of women. Abortion Eve remains an important historical social document as well, as Farmer and Chevli's work provided much-needed peer-to-peer health information during the Roe v. Wade (1973) period: the final "More Info" page provides the names of support agencies, suggestions on how to locate them, the average costs of an abortion, and a recommendation to consult the woman's health manual Our Bodies, Ourselves (1973) for more detailed information on women's health issues. Thus the anthology serves as a basic medical history and a medical sociology of modern reproductive rights movements and the lived experience of women during pregnancy and the pre- and postnatal periods during shifting political climates.
The editor emphasizes, "I want to make clear that most of the comics included here do not fall into the category of graphic pathography, a genre that explores the pictorial embodiment of illness" (p. 7). However, postpartum depression, which is very often treated with antidepressants as a medical condition, is the subject of Ryan Alexander-Tanner and Jessica Zucker's Overwhelmed, Anxious, and Angry: Navigating Postpartum Depression (2015) and would be categorized as a graphic pathography by many working in the field. Graphic medicine scholars have continually explored this interesting grey area of medical philosophy—what conditions, syndromes, and ways of being do society and modern allopathic biomedicine pathologize and, more importantly, why?
Half of the selections are excerpts from longer works, while the other half consist of full narratives. The anthology contains many well-known and critically acclaimed graphic artists in addition to lesser-known authors. Alison Bechdel, for example, has achieved both a popular following and serious critical attention from feminist scholars [End Page 423] for her memoir Fun Home: A Family Tragicomedy (2006) and for her comic strip Dykes to Watch Out For, which ran for twenty-five years. Other well-known authors in the collection include Joyce Farmer (aka Joyce Sutton) and Lyn Chevli (aka Chin Lyvely) who founded the series Tits and Clits Comix in 1972, possibly the first comics series written entirely by women for women.
This anthology can be used in the classroom...