Rogues Portal had the opportunity to chat with several of the contributors to CORPUS: A Comic Anthology of Bodily Ailments, edited by Nadia Shammas. The anthology’s kickstarter is live now, and you can check out the project’s press release here.
1. When telling potential readers about CORPUS, what is your pitch?
PAT SHAND: CORPUS is an anthology from some of the most powerful voices in comics, from new creators to veterans, that tackles bodily and mental ailments. Personally, in my story, I wanted to tackle OCD – a condition that I’ve lived with since before I knew what it was. I often see OCD casually and incorrectly used as a synonym for anal retentive, stripping the disorder of all of its weight. I wanted to tell a fictional story that pulls from my own experience to show readers exactly what this disorder really is.
KENDALL ATKINS: CORPUS is an anthology of stories about illness in all its many forms, and its goal is to create empathy and awareness for people suffering from those illnesses.
CAMERON DeORDIO: There are more people with illnesses facing more problems than you realize. However many you imagine, it’s bigger. It’s hard to wrap your head around, really. CORPUS humanizes these struggles and these people. It’s a vital mission, especially in modern American discourse. These stories need to be told.
NADIA SHAMMAS: CORPUS is about illness and healthcare in every form. Everyone has been sick, and everyone will get sick. The most universal thing in the world is having a body, and that body will fail us. We have so many narratives out there exploring aspects of the human experience (romance, friendship, etc) so why not illness? CORPUS seeks to both highlight the universality of sickness while also elevating the voice of disabled folks and featuring a compelling variety of stories by an incredibly talented and decorated roster
2. Where did the idea for CORPUS originate?
NADIA SHAMMAS: CORPUS came out of my own experience as Type 1 Diabetic. I noticed a real lack of narratives that spoke to my experience, which is strange as it’s a pretty common disease. I started to think about how widespread illness is and how so many people deal with chronic illnesses, but it’s almost never the focus of popular media, which is ridiculous. I strongly believe in art’s ability to invoke empathy, and I hope to tear down the culture of shame that makes people feel as though they have to suffer silently. There’s nothing noble about denying your experience, and especially with the threat our healthcare is under, I wanted a platform for people to speak to their illnesses, disabilities, or experiences with sick friends and family.
3. CORPUS covers a wide range of bodily ailments—both physical and mental. Was it daunting to be so broad?
PAT SHAND: For me, while I did focus on one disorder, I find that ailments overlap and build on each other. OCD feeds into anxiety, anxiety can exacerbate asthma, asthma feeds into sleep apnea, sleep apnea feeds into depression, depression worsens OCD, and so on. The existence of multiple conditions can create a vicious cycle of illness, which isn’t something I often see talked about in fiction. I haven’t had the chance to read the other stories yet, but I love the idea that we’re all, as creators, contributing these diverse stories to this body of work. Even if the stories are unrelated, the theme of this anthology makes it feel like it’ll be more of a cohesive whole to me than just a series of one-off tales.
KENDALL ATKINS: Personally, the broadness of CORPUS’s scope didn’t daunt me, because I knew exactly which story I wanted to tell the moment I read about CORPUS. My comic, “Carpe Libertas,” is the autobiographical story of my experience with epilepsy, and it’s a part of my childhood that I’ll never forget or fully leave behind. It’s a story I’ve always wanted to tell, and I’m so glad that CORPUS is giving me a platform on which to tell it.
NADIA SHAMMAS: It was a little daunting, because there are so many experiences and so little space and time. Even for two people with the same illness, they experience it in different ways and choose to tell different aspects of the same story. At the same time, CORPUS refers to both a “body” and a “body of work,” so I really leaned into the idea of a bunch of different parts making a whole. I wanted to compile as many different snapshots and perspectives into one collection, because the number of ways illness enters our lives is so varied that the stories have to be varied too.
4. How do you think comics are able to uniquely address illness and disability (as opposed to a novel, for example)?
PAT SHAND: I can only speak for myself, but part of my OCD is repetition rituals. I have to tap certain things incessantly in increments of four. To make one of these nightly rituals feel “right,” I have to hyper-focus on the thing I’m tapping. Film and prose have their own strengths, but I think a page of small, focused panels can replicate the feeling of that kind of ritual unlike any other media.
KENDALL ATKINS: Comics, in my opinion, are a combination of the best parts about visual and written media—they facilitate easy visual understanding, but also provide the nuance and detail of prose. In this way, a comic can quickly and easily show a reader both the visible and invisible effects of illness, inside and out, which is something sincerely lacking in a lot of illness-related media.
CAMERON DeORDIO: Some illnesses are visible; others, invisible. Comics is a unique visual medium, allowing readers to linger as long as they like on panels. That provides a lot of room to play with what can be seen, what can’t, and what requires a closer look.
NADIA SHAMMAS: I feel as though comics are the perfect medium to express a variety of illness. With the marriage of art and writing, you can really represent a mood, a feeling, a tone. Many of the creators are using very surreal images to help describe what its like to live with their specific illness, disability, or injury. Comics allow for unique storytelling and visceral imagery to better represent an experience. Illness isn’t always so straightforward. It can be very difficult to explain to those who don’t suffer the same thing, and even with that, every body and mind experiences an illness differently. Comics as a medium allow writers and artists to capture both the informative language of telling a story alongside images that evoke the emotion of perspective.
5. How did you become involved in the collection and what did you contribute?
PAT SHAND: I was talking to Nadia Shammas about the graphic novels I’d released through my own small publishing company, Space Between Entertainment, and the anthology came up. I’m honored that my idea made it into the book.
CHRISTOF BOGACS: I feel like I kind of cheated. I have the incredible fortune of considering Nadia a friend and am collaborating with her on a few projects unrelated to CORPUS, so when she mentioned the anthology I kind of muscled my way in and made it clear I wanted to be a part of it! Not only did she graciously agree, she believed in my story from the minute I showed her a rough first draft. I’m a writer so I will be teaming up with artist Kaska Gazdowna to tell a short story about depression (and mental illness more generally) called “The Curse.”
KENDALL ATKINS: I discovered the CORPUS solicitation through some peers at the Savannah College of Art & Design, and I’m contributing “Carpe Libertas,” a 7-page autobiographical comic about my encounter with childhood epilepsy.
CAMERON DeORDIO: Nadia reached out to me, and it sounded like an excellent idea. I’m the writer on “RUN,” which will feature art by the incredible Eli Neugeboren. Without giving too much away, it’s about how illness sometimes isolates us growing up, from the well-intentioned and the uninterested alike.
NADIA SHAMMAS: I’m the creator and editor of CORPUS. I also have a story in CORPUS about a mistake that almost killed me in my sleep in my first year of being diagnosed with diabetes. I’m sharing this story because I want to emphasize the ways in which diabetes isn’t a joke. It’s a tightrope walk where you can suddenly be flung into danger if you trip. It’s stressful and mundane at the same time. I also wanted to touch on something most people probably don’t know, and that’s the diabetic’s relationship to sleep. There’s no real thing as a simple nap. Some diabetics pass in their sleep, and it’s something that weighs on my mind when I try to fall asleep at night, and I imagine other diabetics probably have the same thing.
6. If you’ve read other stories in CORPUS, what are one or two of your favorites?
NADIA SHAMMAS: CORPUS is not yet finished, but I can tell you from what I’ve read that there are some incredible stories coming out. We’ve got some really visually stunning and surreal pieces from Brian Level, Vita Ayala, and Cody Sousa. Ram V and Stephanie Cannon are really tugging on the heartstrings, and with art from Casper Wjingaard and Emily Pearson respectively, will be absolutely mind-blowing. We also have some really personal and brave stories, such as a tale from Matthew Erman, illustrated by his friend Renee Kliewer. There are some brilliantly hilarious stories from the likes of Ryan Estrada and Fred Kennedy with art by Soo Lee. We have so much to look forward to in this collection, I can’t even begin to tell you!
7. What has been the general response to the collection so far? And, who are you hoping to reach?
PAT SHAND: I want to reach people like me who haven’t seen themselves accurately depicted. I want to reach people who casually use “OCD” without knowing what it means, in hopes to show them, with empathy, that the struggle is real. Also, I hope to reach anyone who likes a good story. I’m quite proud of mine.
CHRISTOF BOGACS: For better or for worse, a lot of people who don’t read comics associate the medium with superheroes and worlds steeped in sci-fi or fantasy, so they are usually surprised and excited when I tell them about CORPUS. The project is such a wonderful reminder that comics aren’t just about escapism; it is a medium that can tell stories that more directly reflect personal struggle and experience. With cape films dominating the big screen there has never been a more important time to show people that comics are a powerful medium through which to share deeply personal stories.
KENDALL ATKINS: Whenever I tell people about my involvement with CORPUS, they respond invariably with excitement and curiosity, and I’m hoping that response will continue into the Kickstarter and the production stage. Everyone, whether they’re aware of it or not, knows someone experiencing a bodily ailment, and that makes our audience extremely broad. However, I think the model of an anthology is perfect for reaching a large audience—the wide range of storytelling styles and subject matter means CORPUS will, hopefully, have something for everyone.
CAMERON DeORDIO: We’ve received such a positive response, and I’m so grateful for that. We’ve made incredible progress! But, of course, we still need more help. We’re trying to reach, well, everyone. We want people with illnesses to know they’re not alone. We want people who are generally healthy to better understand what it’s like to be sick, from the inside.
NADIA SHAMMAS: I’ve received a lot of really kind words from people who are so happy to see CORPUS come into being. We have an amazing roster that any fan can be excited about, and we have this experience that affects so many people finally being portrayed in comics. I’m hoping to reach as many people as I can. I’m hoping for chronically ill and disabled people to find their stories told for the first time, because seeing yourself represented is absolutely heartwarming and important. I’m also hoping that people who aren’t chronically ill will read CORPUS and realize that illness has touched their lives too, even if they don’t know it. I hope they read about someone’s experience and recognize something human in it, even if it perfectly doesn’t align with their own. I hope the stories about medical debt make people realize exactly how broken our system is, and that we need to change it.
8. Are there other comics that handle this type of subject matter that you are a fan of?
PAT SHAND: I’m sure there are, but I can’t think of any.
CHRISTOF BOGACS: In terms of depression and mental illness (the topic I am tackling in my short story) Sex Criminals by Matt Fraction and Chip Zdarsky handles the subject really well. The whole series deals with themes of mental illness; sometimes the themes are at the forefront, other times they are more periphery, but they are always there. There’s a great moment at the beginning of the second story arc when Jon, one of the story’s main protagonists, loses his dick (it’s ok for me to say dick, right?), like one day he wakes up and it is just gone. This crass little scene is such a deceptively brilliant way of showing how depression and mental illness take away parts of an individual, such as sexual desire. Depression comes into your life, takes what it wants and leaves you sitting there dickless on the couch (metaphorically speaking, of course) (also this is probably redundant, but it’s ok for me to say dickless, right?)
NADIA SHAMMAS: I haven’t really found a comic that really spoke to me as a diabetic, which is why I made CORPUS. I would draw attention to David B’s EPILEPTIC, which is a gorgeous autobiographical graphic novel about David growing up with an epileptic brother. The way he uses art to express an experience is stunning.
9. Is CORPUS the start of (*fingers crossed*) what could be more collections like this
PAT SHAND: I don’t know, but if there will be more, I’d love to be involved.
KENDALL ATKINS: I should certainly hope so! And if it is, I will be honored to have been a part of it.
NADIA SHAMMAS: Yes, absolutely. When I launched the submission phase of CORPUS, I got over 200 submissions. I wasn’t able to include everyone I wanted out of space. Getting that volume of interested really showed me how sorely missing stories like these were, and so I’m hoping that if we get enough support before CORPUS during this campaign, I can have enough momentum to work on a volume 2.
10. Why do you think this is a particularly important or opportune time for CORPUS to be published?
PAT SHAND: We are in the middle of a healthcare crisis. If these stories can inspire empathy, perhaps empathy can inspire change.
KENDALL ATKINS: At the risk of betraying an incendiary opinion, I will say that I think that now is an extremely volatile time, socially and politically, for a wide variety of marginalized groups. The ill and disabled are no exception, but I truly believe that change starts with public perception, and public perception starts with the media we consume. Publishing works like CORPUS is, in a sense, one of the best ways to improve life for people who are suffering in our society right now.
CAMERON DeORDIO: There are people, too many of whom are in positions of power, who believe that illness is a moral failing, and they think the sick should suffer for their sin. There are considerably more who view sick people as an intractable problem, and they are all too willing to throw up their hands and say, “There’s nothing to be done.” I think CORPUS is vital right now because it shows that people with illnesses are not going away. Sick people count. They deserve care and compassion, not to be lectured about responsibility by people who have forgotten or never known what it’s like to be truly afraid about their wellbeing.
NADIA SHAMMAS: Right now, our healthcare system is in danger. It was always deeply flawed, but we are moving away from the small steps taken to try and provide reasonable coverage for those who need it. As a 24 diabetic, I am on my parents insurance. When I turn 26, I age out of it. I haven’t been able to find work with health benefits yet. What happens if I don’t in the allotted time? It feels like staring down the barrel of a gun. It’s worse when you know people have actually died because of this. For the first time I’m seeing posts go viral for how ridiculously flawed healthcare is, and that’s so important. People need to know that without insurance my insulin alone would cost me 1,000 dollars a month, and that’s just me. Think about all the other people who have more complicated conditions that require less accessible medicines. I think people, with social media, are beginning to become aware of the problems of healthcare, but I hope that CORPUS will allow people to recognize how many of us live with invisible disabilities. It isn’t a small group. It can always be you. Representation normalizes these things, and so I want illness and disability represented, reaching as many people as possible. I believe CORPUS can change things in the long run.