Corpus Aims for Honest Stories of Physical and Mental Illness

Corpus: A Comic Anthology of Bodily Ailments is one of those projects you hear about and wonder why it's only now being made. The anthology contains 40 stories by new and established creators (including Christopher Sebela, Vita Ayala and Tina Howard) about living with physical and mental illness -- everything from allergies to chronic illness to struggling for adequate healthcare.

In superhero comics, it's common for the hero overcomes illness or disability through a miraculous transformation that also grants them powers. So are comics where the hero is "brought low" with a temporary disability that he must overcome through hard work. Think Steve Rogers being cured of his vague assortment of chronic illnesses to become Captain America, or Bruce Wayne's back being broken in "Knightfall" so he could come back stronger than before. In superhero comics, physical health is its own kind of heroism.

Mental health struggles, meanwhile, are too often mined for high drama. Tony Stark falling off the wagon is a great excuse for yet another redemption arc -- but few Iron Man writers have incorporated his AA meetings the character's ordinary, daily life. Comics about people just living with illness that don't lean on harmful stereotypes? Those aren't so common.

Corpus isn't a book of superhero comics. But how the genre treats illness and disability is exemplar of how it's treated culturally: depicted when convenient for drama, but otherwise magically cured or forgotten. We desperately need better representation of people who live with chronic illnesses and disabilities. But we also need broader and more nuanced depictions of physical and mental health. We need stories that don't shame; stories that don't associate illness with weakness, or health with strength and moral good. That's why Corpus is so exciting.

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As Corpus editor Nadia Shammas puts it, "Everyone’s been sick at some point, some for short periods, some for their entire lives. We are all united by the fact that we navigate the world with our bodies, and it deeply affects the way we exist. Everyone has a story. Stories have the power to spark empathy. These stories of illness connect us, remove the fear of the disabled and the unknown. After all, health is a funny thing like that. Most don’t really think about their own health until it’s compromised."

The anthology is in it's final stretch on Kickstarter -- as of publication, it has met its $25,000 goal, with fundraising continuing until Sunday at midnight, eastern time -- so I sat down to chat with Shammas, and contributors Emily Pearson, Ryan Cady, Cathy Leamy and Eliot Rahal about their work on the book, and what they hope the project achieves.

Corpus cover art by Mark Wang

CBR: Why were you interested in being a part of Corpus, and how have you found working on your story? Has it been easier or harder than you expected to create a comic on this topic?

Nadia Shammas: The idea for the anthology came out of a few different things at once. I had just lost my first job out of college and decided I was ready to embark on my first major self-published passion project. Around this time I was also really preoccupied with the healthcare discussions regarding repealing the Affordable Care Act. I noticed this trend where people with illnesses were being really dehumanized and discussed as though they were a small group of lazy moochers who wanted to take money from the healthy. It couldn't have been further from the truth, and it was really strange to me that one of the only things we can be sure of in life is the fact that we all get sick. I thought, "If they knew me, knew my story as a Type 1 Diabetic, they wouldn't think this way." Then the thought came, how could they know my story? No one tells it. Diabetics are the bookend of a fat joke and not much more.

It hit me how little representation illness actually gets, and so I realized not only did I need to create the content I wanted to see, I needed to do it immediately. I was ready to launch something, but I also wanted to get these stories out there as soon as possible as while this administration is in office, healthcare will continue to be at risk.

Emily Pearson: I was initially interested in being a part of Corpus because of Nadia, and the writer I’m working on my story with, Stephanie Cannon. Nadia and Stephanie are both amazing people and creators, and working with them is something I knew I would enjoy. Having a comic anthology about mental and physical illness is something that’s so personal for everyone involved, and I was really interested in seeing all the stories coming out from my other friends working on the anthology as well.

Ryan Cady: At first, I wanted to do a more autobiographical piece - 2017 was an awful year for my health, with some terrible depression/anxiety issues and my cubital tunnel syndrome making basic writing work difficult somedays -- but after a couple drafts the personal stuff just felt too maudlin, untouchable. So instead, artist Phil Sevy and I took the feelings behind our health (and mental health!) issues from comics work and put them into this more fantastical piece.

Cathy Leamy: I’m a cartoonist who specializes in health and medical topics, so the Corpus anthology is definitely on my wavelength! What’s challenging is figuring out how much educational detail to include. The comic I’m collaborating on is about Dupuytren’s disease (also called Dupuytren’s contracture), a hand condition where the fingers can wind up permanently bent. It's common, but there's not a lot of awareness around it. So, we want to explain the disease (what it is, who’s at risk, what the treatments are), but we don’t want to barf up an entire textbook full of facts. We’re still telling a story here.

Eliot Rahal: Nadia is young and excited about comics. Something desperately needed in comics right now. She has hope for the future. It’s clear that she wants to help make this world a better place. Corpus is living proof of that. How could I not want to be a part of that? Working with Sean is great. His art is cosmic. It has an interdimensional quality to it. It allows us to get weird in a create something really beautiful. Also. He is a fellow studio mate and friend. We can work on this together in the same room. That can be rare sometimes. So it’s really cool to be able to feed off of each other's ideas.

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