Illness and the Everyday: Graphic Medicine on Instagram

  • Shannon Sandford (Speaker)

Activity: Talk or presentation typesOral presentation


Stories of illness, pain, and disability are pervasive topics of contemporary life writing due, in part, to shifting social and cultural forces that render stories of the self in extremis a popular commodity. As Krista Quesenberry and Susan M. Squier argue, the shared traditions of marginality between life writing and comics “can open up understandings of ‘a life’ – as well as ‘a body’, ‘an experience’, ‘a story’ – that are not only more inclusive but also less-normatively expressed, circulated, and discussed” (77). Representations of mental illness have recently exploded onto photo-sharing apps like Instagram, unsettling popular tropes of autobiographical performance online such as sharing highly desirable and curated images in the context of a ‘day-in-the-life’. This paper forms part of an interdisciplinary project on autobiographical webcomics which seeks novel connections between comics studies and the Life Narrative discipline to explore how Graphic Medicine may intersect with, and draw from, recognisable modes of self-display on Instagram.

Digital platforms give rise to particular kinds of webcomics – ones that are short-form, that emerge as fragmented snapshots, and offer sites for consuming and critiquing the everyday. While these works seem a sympathetic fit with current modes of viewing, browsing, and scrolling that characterise how we read online, they also demonstrate how the distinctly othering experience of illness is coded and inscribed into the banal spaces of ordinary life. Through analysis that captures the content, style, and circulation of select profiles on Instagram, this paper considers how their authors capitalise on the trends and affordances of digital life writing to present Graphic Medicine in episodic, anecdotal webcomics. As dominant sites for everyday autobiography, social media is far from incidental to the representations of illness shared on these platforms, but rather a strategy itself for broadcasting otherwise hidden or incommunicable experiences to vast, networked audiences.
Period14 Jul 202216 Jul 2022
Event titleGraphic Medicine Annual Conference : (Re)Connecting
Event typeConference
LocationChicago, United States, IllinoisShow on map
Degree of RecognitionInternational