By Harriet Earle
The titles of these books do not lie; both trauma and pain are really strange. Indeed, it is in their strangeness that both of these common phenomena find their power. We do not know much about them (comparatively speaking) and their diagnosis and treatment is neither standardised nor, oftentimes, effective. However, as with so much in life, knowing is half the battle and being able to understand the basics of a condition can lead to more effective self-management, if not multi-levelled treatment by medical professionals. That’s where these two books come in. Bodyworker and fervent advocate of a number of alternative treatments Steve Haines has worked with illustrator Sophie Standing to create two accessible and plain-speaking guides to pain and trauma. The result? Nothing short of excellent.
The use of comics for medical education has been a topic of much interest over the past few years and is ever-expanding as a field for both comics creators and scholars alike. It seems strangely obvious to suggest that such texts can be incredibly effective for teaching difficult concepts and, indeed, with Haines’ texts any suggestion to the contrary is roundly silenced. The two texts combine a tremendous amount of clinical and practical research, alongside carefully written humour and simple, yet evocative artwork to tackle the topics in a way that is easy to understand and yet gives a huge amount of detail; the reader does not feel the creators have skimped on information here, neither do they feel swamped. Both texts are drawn in similar artwork and follow a similar pattern of narration – a bald man with a bright red face and a green jumper acts as guide and narrator. That said, the majority of text (and there is a lot of it) is presented in caption boxes rather than speech bubbles; both use footnotes to expand on points made in the body of the artwork. This comic is not light on words – there is a huge amount of written information, footnotes and references. This is not a comic for those whose fondness for the form is related to its word count.
Lack of medical (or even basic scientific) education can be a block for anyone wanting to understand both pain and trauma – or even knowing how to go about researching these topics. Throughout my PhD, I waded through clinical studies on traumatic experience and often felt like I was way out of my depth. While these comics are not comprehensive studies of either phenomenon, they are excellent introductions to the subject and, unlike Wikipedia or many of the online medical dictionaries, these books are specifically geared to people who do not necessarily know anything about the subject in the first place. However, Haines is not aiming only to educate on how these phenomena work, he also wants to give those of us who suffer with these conditions some useful tools for managing themselves. He writes, ‘it turns out understanding pain is a very good way of relieving pain’ and that’s absolutely right. Much of what causes pain is in the mind, not to say it’s not real, but that means it can be managed and sometimes relieved if the sufferer can learn to manage themselves mentally. In his work as a healthcare professional and bodyworker, Haines has spent many years trying to train people to cope with certain conditions and these books are another weapon in his arsenal.
In preparing for this review, I asked my father (not a big reader, nor a particular fan of comics) to take a look and see what he thought from a lay perspective. He spent an inordinate amount of time reading, before sitting in thoughtful silence. When pressed he said he’d never thought of pain or trauma like that and felt he’d learned quite a lot about what was going on in his brain. He also (somewhat grudgingly) admitted that the comics worked brilliantly and the same information as a block of continuous prose would not be as interesting or as memorable. I consider my father’s endorsement to speak volumes about the skill of the creators and the importance and accessibility of comics for medical education.
Trauma is Really Strange and Pain is Really Strange by Steve Haines, with art by Sophie Standing are both now available from Singing Dragon Publishers.
ISBN: 978-1-84819-293-5 and 978-1-84819-264-5
Price: £7.99 each