«In fuga con la flebo» (A trip with the drip)
An interview with the comic artist, graphic designer, and illustrator Josephine Mark.
Josephine Mark is a German comic artist, graphic designer, and illustrator who gained recognition for her work, particularly her comics “Murr” and “Trip mit Tropf” released in 2021 and 2022, respectively. In Italy, the publishing house Valentina Edizioni translated and published “Trip mit Tropf” with the title “In fuga con la Flebo” in 2023 (in English, it is translated as “A trip with the drip”). “In fuga con la Flebo” is an on-the-road adventure featuring a chemotherapy-treated rabbit and a wolf that embark on a journey together to evade capture.
I stumbled upon this graphic novel somewhat by chance, not being a regular reader of graphic novels (although I have promised myself that this will change!). After starting it, right from the first pages, I discerned that “In fuga con la Flebo” was a captivating narrative. It featured with extraordinary illustrations, proved to be both entertaining, and profound, and adeptly tackled the challenging theme of pediatric chemotherapy. The storytelling avoids rhetoric, fearlessly delves into revealing side effects such as alopecia, and addresses practical difficulties (for instance, the little rabbit always having to carry the drip stand). Impressed by these elements, my curiosity intensified, prompting a strong desire to discuss various aspects of the graphic novel with the author. Thanks to Valentina Edizioni, a publishing house that facilitated the connection, I had the opportunity to interview her.
22 Gennaio 2024 – Intervista, Arte, Comunicazione, Medical HumanitiesTempo di lettura: 16 minuti
22 Gennaio 2024
Intervista, Arte, Comunicazione, Medical Humanities
Tempo di lettura: 16 minuti
Before delving into the details of your graphic novel “In fuga con la flebo”, I’d like to ask a few questions about your work. Could you share when you began drawing, and at what point did you make the decision to dedicate your life to this profession?
I have been drawing and crafting stories since childhood. As a teenager, my focus briefly shifted to other interests, but then, during my studies I found myself drawn back to drawing cartoons and illustrations. Initially, it was just for fun, but it evolved into commissioned work, alongside my role at a cultural institution. In 2018, I decided to resign from my job and pursue a career as a self-employed illustrator and a graphic designer.
You both write and illustrate your stories. I’m intrigued by your creative process… Could you share how you typically work? Do you begin with the story or the illustrations?
I always begin with writing the story. Having a final, “perfect” script is crucial to me before diving into the illustrations. It is essential to have a comprehensive understanding of the entire story arc, character development and other details, because making changes to the drawings afterward is a challenging and time-consuming task. I need to be certain that my story works in all details. It is similar to having a final script when directing a movie – you do not start filming until you precisely know what you want to capture and how you want your actors to perform.
Where do you draw inspiration for your stories? Have specific artists played a role in inspiring or influencing your work, whether from comics, paintings, music, novels, or none of the above?
I derive much of my inspiration from pondering general philosophical questions or reflecting on topics like history, society, love, death, science and so on. I love intertwining very different themes or ideas in my stories and employ distinct genres to explore them. For instance, addressing the fear of death and love with a Western comic (like “Murr”), or delving into serious illness and friendship through a road movie-comic.
While my comic art is not directly inspired by the mentioned art forms, I find my inspiration more in movies. When I watch a film that leaves a strong impression, I instinctively try to analyze why I like it so much – what captures my attention, which stories move me or how character development or dialogue prove impactful. I often wonder whether I create comics because I cannot produce films all by myself. Fortunately, making comics does not need a large crew or expensive technical equipment like filmmaking does.
How do you interact with other works in your field? Are you an enthusiastic reader of graphic novels? Do you have any favourite comic artists?
I have several friends who work as comic artists. The comic scene in Germany is relatively small, and you get acquainted with fellow colleagues during significant events like the Comicsalon Erlangen or major book fairs, as well as smaller comic festivals or workshops. It is a very friendly and supporting community.
However, to be frank, I am not a fervent reader of comics. While I enjoy reading them, it is not a relaxing experience for me, as I am constantly analyzing them. Reading comics is an integral part of my work ;).
Now, let’s delve into “In fuga con la flebo”. The first question is a bit whimsical… At a certain point in the story, the rabbit and the wolf steal a van to escape from the hunters, and the wolf starts singing “Born to be Wild” by Steppenwolf (which, incidentally, is known for the soundtrack of the movie “Easy Rider”). Why did you choose this song?
I wanted to incorporate a stereotypical, well-known song for that particular situation – a song that the wolf would sing to convey his outlaw-ish attitude and coolness. Initially, I did not know the exact lyrics of the song. So I researched it and realized it was perfect on another level: The line “we can climb so high, I never wanna die”, resonated perfectly with the little rabbit. It seamlessly fit with the first dramatic turnaround – I don’t want to spoil it for you ;). Also, I found it intriguing to imagine wolves enjoying the music of Steppenwolf.
Why did you decide to write a graphic novel on a complex topic like chemotherapy, especially in pediatric cases?
I did not set out to write a children’s comic about illness; rather, I wrote it for myself during my own chemotherapy in 2019. It was a challenging period for me, and I wanted to engage in something that would occupy my mind and lift my spirits. However, of course, being seriously ill and facing a highly demanding therapy in terms of time and energy somewhat constrained my themes.
As a result, I crafted an adventurous, tragic-comical story featuring two very different characters – one was frail and unwell, while the other was strong and determined – reflecting my own experiences during that time.
While those who are unfamiliar with the medium may view comics as a form of art suitable only for entertaining or frivolous stories, the reality is that many graphic novels tackle complex subjects. One notable example, and perhaps the most well-known, is “Art Spiegelman’s Maus”, addressing the Holocaust. Also, when considering graphic novels focused on illness, the Spanish artist Paco Roca and his work “Arrugas”, which delves into Alzheimer’s disease, readily come to mind.
In your “In fuga con la flebo”, despite the seriousness of pediatric illness, you opted for a comic tone rather than a tragic one, incorporating moments of laughter throughout the narrative. What prompted you to make this creative choice?
I was aware that creating that comic would have taken one or two years. I did not want to spend such an extended period immersed in a tragic, self-sympathetic feeling. When I wrote the script, I was uncertain about recovering from cancer or completing my book. It was crucial for me to infuse light and cheerful moments into my story, ensuring that the overall tone of the book leaned towards the comic. I wanted to create a book that I could still appreciate even when I was no longer unwell.
Why did you choose to portray the two main characters as anthropomorphic animals – a rabbit and a wolf – instead of humans?
Given the personal nature of the story, I chose animals as the main characters to maintain a certain “emotional distance”. I wanted to craft lively and independent characters that did not directly mirror myself, and my life. I also wanted the main characters to remain somewhat “neutral” – their age or gender not being crucial. They are relatable solely on the basis of their actions.
The rabbit and the wolf represent two animals at opposite ends – one a prey and the other a predator. However, in the graphic novel, they not only develop a friendship, but also form a caregiving relationship, with the wolf providing assistance to the rabbit. In your perspective, how essential do you believe human connection is in the caregiving process? Was conveying this message a deliberate aim in your work?
In my experience, the human connection is essential in any crisis and, aside from the medical aspects, is a vital component during recovery or medical therapy. Caregiving processes serve as the foundation of human community and connection. People tend to trust and engage more with people who seek their help.
When I wrote the story, the rabbit and the wolf represented the two voices in my head during my cancer therapy: one was constantly anxious and doubting, while the other pushed me forward, urging me to stay focused on my “journey”. However, as I talked to readers, I discovered the varied ways the story could be interpreted. For instance, the wolf can be interpreted as a person facing illness – someone grappling with their own challenges and occasionally requiring “breaks” (and ultimately feeling completely exhausted). Although I had not viewed the wolf in this light, I appreciated hearing this interpretation from a reader who was experiencing significant illness himself. He wanted the book for his girlfriend as a reminder to prioritize self-care (emphasizing that she shouldn’t solely focus on her sick partner). I am grateful for the different perspectives shared by people whether they have experiences similar to mine or not.
“Fondazione Sasso Corbaro”, the publisher of this online journal, is dedicated to clinical ethics and Medical Humanities. Medical Humanities foster a profound understanding of individuals, encompassing their experiences, lived values, and relationships with others and themselves. Rita Charon, a leading figure in the field of Narrative Medicine, states that training healthcare workers in literature contributes to clinical effectiveness and enhances understanding of clinical practice, with a focus on its core: the patient.
Honestly, I am convinced that after reading and following your “In viaggio con la flebo”, graphic novels could be integrated into the suggested readings for narrative medicine courses (similar to novels like “The Year of Magical Thinking” by Didion or “The Plague” by Camus, among others). What is your opinion on this? What do you see as potential strengths of a graphic novel in comparison with a traditional novel?
WOW! I would love that! I think the strength of graphic novels compared to traditional novels is the visual layer. It creates an additional level of meaning and atmosphere, allowing for showing rather than explaining with words. “Show, don’t tell” is one of the most important rules in any form of visual storytelling. When I want to convey what a character feels, I focus more on their actions, details in body language, or the colours and perspective I use for a special scene. It is often more subtle or sometimes metaphorical, and leaves more interpretational work for the reader.
My last question is more of a curiosity. Are you currently working on another graphic novel?
Yes, I am! I am currently working on two different books: one is a comic adaption of a German children’s book titled “Der Bärbeiß” (which could be translated as “The Grump”), set to be released this spring. The other one will be a comic crime story.