Take 2 comics and retire to the sofa … Graphic Medicine for us all.

Published On November 9, 2010 | By Richard Bruton | Comics, Reviews

Fear Of Failure and Disrepute

by Thom Ferrier

Graphic Medicine

Interesting one this; Thom Ferrier is actually the nom de plume of Dr. Ian Williams, ex-GP and artist, curator of the Graphic Medicine website and a man who’s written a dissertation on medical narrative in graphic novels.

So when he writes about matters medical he’s writing from a position of knowledge and it’s something he’s obviously (and vitriolically) passionate about – a medical man who wishes medicine would just be left to those who practice rather than those who administrate.

Both comics are medical pieces, and both are unflinchingly hard-hitting in their perceived honesty. It may be Ferrier’s opinions and viewpoint, but in the way he writes and the stories he tells, I just felt that they had that important ring of truth about them.

You can easily imagine everything he writes and draws going on in any doctor’s surgery or hospital across the land – a weary staff battling against the continual interference from managers, politicians and the like, wanting to do their best for their patients, but finding that sometimes the patients seem to go out of their way to frustrate and annoy:

(The 5 point consultation model – all the fun and frustrations of modern doctoring… from Thom Ferrier’s Disrepute collection.)

Disrepute is a collection of Ferrier’s online strips, some colour, some black and white and all sitting beneath a cleverly designed cardboard cover made out to look and feel like a patient’s record card. It’s a great touch and does make me instantly warm to his work – I’m a sucker for the real handmade style of self published works.

It’s a thin little volume, but reads well, with a healthy dose of black humour taking the edge (just) off the cynicism and feelings of frustration that Ferrier’s doctors all seem to feel.

But although it may be startlingly honest, it’s never less than readable and fascinating to get this perspective on things. The two pager Tough that starts the comic off seems to sum it all up so very well; as youthful idealism, with the responsibility and the power somewhat intoxicating settles down to the more stable life of a GP. But when faced with the unending grind of the misery and illness they see, day in, day out, is it any wonder that Ferrier’s doctors seem so world weary?

(Tough; a two pager tracking the career of a young doctor through life as a hospital junior doctor to becoming a GP. From Disrepute by Thomas Ferrier)

Fear Of Failure, in contrast to the simple one or two page strips of Disrepute, is an ongoing story, serialised first on the web but collected for the first time in this 42 page A5 black and white comic.

And it’s obviously fictionalised, seeing as it deals with the life of a female Doctor living and working in Llangandida, a fictional yet entirely believable Welsh town. But although Dr Lois Pritchard may be a completely fictional person, I imagine Ferrier’s life and experiences at least inform the work, and for all I know the things that happen to Pritchard may well have happened to Ferrier or his colleagues. Which is slightly worrying, seeing how utterly miserable and fed up with being a small town doctor Lois Pritchard appears to be.

(Just another day at the surgery – and Dr. Pritchard’s not really enjoying it. From Fear Of Failure #1 by Thom Ferrier.)

The comic follows her through a series of working days, as she struggles to cope with the demand of being a small town doctor, knowing everyone’s secrets and having to keep her own to herself:

“This town.. it’s dark truths and hidden miseries, petty jealousies, mundane cruelty, it wears me down. I know you all … You tell me your ills and I give you pills. I take on you troubles and keep your secrets with my own. But I am bent double by the weight. My soul creaks.”

She dispenses thoroughly sensible advice to a variety of patients whilst struggling to cope with her fellow partners, including Barry; a particularly strange fundamentalist Christian GP who believes that his female colleague is destined for hell and has publicly told his church this – how nice.

The day passes, and Lois’ anger gets the better of her, but venting to a colleague about Barry when the dictation tape is still running may not be such a good idea, especially when the secretary who’s going to be typing them up is very pally with Barry.

(Oh dear, that little blinking record light on the dictaphone may well cause trouble for Dr. Pitchard. From Fear Of Failure by Thom Ferrier.)

By the end of this first issue, the tape mistake is still unresolved, and we see Pritchard simply going about her life, visiting her dad, falling out with Barry, meeting the weird new medical student, and patients, patients, patients – the unrelenting grind of it all just getting her down. But I can’t see little problem going away and nor will the mysterious woman who’s been hanging around the surgery for a few days and who walks into Pritchard’s surgery in the last few pages of the comic, a woman Pritchard really, really doesn’t want to see.

Fear Of Failure is a nicely put together piece, just like Disrepute, and in doing the continuing story Ferrier shows that he’s not just good at writing cynical yet readable medical short strips, but is more than capable of putting that cynicism and feeling of sheer drudgery of being a GP into a more soap opera style storyline.

Fear Of Failure’s by no means perfect, especially Ferrier’s art, which sometimes falters, especially when trying to convey more animated body language and expressions. But there’s more than enough in these pages to appeal, more than enough to want to follow the story and see how it all develops. His storytelling is strong, and there’s a very nice visual effect he uses to emphasise the sheer boredom and drudgery – that multiple small panel layout seen in the first page above.

All of Ferrier’s strips, including the entire first episode of Fear Of Failure, are available to read online at the Disrepute website. But you should also be availing yourself of Ferrier’s shop whilst you’re there. Episode 2 is underway, but only 4 pages of the projected 36 are online, so it looks like I may have a bit of a wait – and no, I refuse to make a cheap gag out of having to wait for a doctor.

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About The Author

Richard Bruton

– Started in comics retail aged 16 at Nostalgia & Comics, Birmingham. Now located in Yorkshire, he’s written for the Forbidden Planet International Blog since 2007. Specialising in UK Comics and All-Ages comics, Richard’s day job in a primary school allowed him to build the best children’s graphic novel library in the country.

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