Why I wrote a graphic novel about being a GP
Dr Ian Williams
Dr Ian Williams
Role GP, graphic novelist, editor of GraphicMedicine.org
What’s the best thing about your role? Drawing. Holding the finished product. Having people believe in me and publish my work and, of course, getting positive feedback and praise from readers. Literary events are fun too.
What’s the most challenging aspect of your role? Deadlines. The sheer amount of work involved in creating a comic or graphic novel is truly colossal. I don’t know how I do it.
What’s the hardest thing about combining your role with a career in general practice?
Getting up early on the days that I work in surgery. When I am writing and drawing I tend to work very late into the night and, if I am not in surgery, I would tend to get up rather later too. I have always had vivid dreams for what seems like hours and hours every night and I usually wake up feeling I’ve just lived another life. I can’t really communicate until I’ve had three cups of tea. I’m a night person, not a morning person.
What’s the most common assumption GPs make about your role?
The money. If you have something published, people seem to assume you are in clover. There is not much money in writing fiction, and even less in comics. I know many comics artists and many novelists, and most of them struggle to make a decent living out of their craft. GPs don’t know how easy they have it financially and tend to underestimate the sacrifice needed to follow another path. The Bad Doctor cost me three years of income, but I had to do it.
What’s been the highlight of your career so far?
Being flown to California to give a keynote speech alongside two of my heroes: Arthur Frank (The Wounded Storyteller, Letting Stories Breath) and Brian Fies (Mom’s Cancer, Whatever Happened to the World of Tomorrow?).
How would your patients describe you?
Hopefully as someone who listens to them, is interested in them, doesn’t judge them, and does his best to help them. In reality they probably complain about my indecision and procrastination. Hopefully they don’t see me as a bad doctor.
What’s the worst thing a patient’s ever said to you?
Probably the letter of complaint that said ‘you stripped me of my human dignity and I cried after leaving the surgery’, but the man was such a nasty, egocentric, creep that it actually made me feel pleased with myself. If that had come from anyone else I would have been mortified.
What have you given up to have a career as a GP?
A life of debauchery.
What keeps you up at night?
If I don’t have anything to worry about, I’ll think of something. When I do sleep, I’m dreaming - trapped in a weird, dystopian world where I am entrusted to wheel a barrow full of baby pandas safely across a jagged escarpment as Rod Stewart and Ian Beale try to pick me off from below with rocket propelled grenades.
What’s the best piece of advice your GP trainer gave you?
Never socialise with any patient who wants to be your friend.
If you weren’t a medic, what would you like to do for a living?
Be a flaneur.
At work, when are you happiest?
Inking pencilled artwork while drinking tea and listening to radio 4, or an audiobook, or music.
What makes you angry?
Jeremy Kyle, the Daily Mail, George Osborne, adverts.
What’s the best thing about being a GP?
The stories people tell you. Meeting so many interesting characters, I love talking to people. As GPs we are very privileged to be paid well for something that feels worthwhile and for helping people. Most people only get to do that in their own time, on a voluntary basis.
What’s the worst thing about being a GP?
The attendant hassle.
How did you get your job?
Like most people in the UK indie comics movement, I began by making my own handmade comics and zines and selling them at events. I was also talking about Graphic Medicine, the area of study I christened, at academic conferences, and was approached by Myriad Editions, my publisher, who were interested in my work. After a couple of years of discussion, they gave me a contract.
What are the main tasks of an average week?
It varies, depending on the stage of the project(s) I’m working on. This week, for example, I’m in promotional mode prior to the publication of The Bad Doctor, so I am writing an article for a broadsheet newspaper, filling in this questionnaire, and writing responses to questions from an academic journal, but I also have to prepare artwork for an exhibition of comic art in Rochester (A Thousand Words), finish some artwork for our Graphic Medicine Manifesto from Penn State University Press and sort out my GP appraisal.
Without naming the figure, how much remuneration do you get for this work?
I get an average locum rate for the days I do in general practice and considerably less for the work I do as an artist.
How many hours a week does the role take up, and if you still practice how many sessions do you do alongside the role?
I work three sessions a week, at present, in general practice and the rest of the time I am writing, drawing, answering emails, or doing promotional work. Or I might be drinking with writers and cartoonists and talking about comics and novels and films. It is a full time job, and requires stamina.