Magical Sweet Gula: Gula Gulali discovers that variety is not the of life at school where her magic makes for sour grapes

Wouldn’t it be magical if we could just wave a wand and fit in? Unfortunately, in Magical Sweet Gula, that reality seems to be pie in the sky for Gula Gulali. Born part-Magi, Gula sticks out whether she wants to or not, with her cotton candy pink-hair and pointed ears in her Terran-majority school. Which, in turn, makes her the low-hanging fruit target of her school’s insatiable bullies.

To add salt to her wound, even amongst the general school population, Gula finds herself in an uphill battle against the rampant sensationalised stereotypes that inundate the media her peers consume. Even when she walks on eggshells, all it takes is one untimely discharge of her magic, and she is dropped quicker than a hot potato by her schoolmates.

Gula’s constant calibration to find the perfect measurement of “normal” amidst her mixed Magi and Terran heritage is a quandary that is especially close to the heart of the title’s co-creator Johanes Park. “Even though this comic book is a work of fiction, the story is inspired by my own experience living in a multicultural Indonesian society as a mixed child,” he shares. Born to a Korean father, and a Chinese-Sundanese mother, Johanes recalls feeling lonely and outcasted. It was from this vantage point of trying to find harmony in cultures and perspectives that Magical Sweet Gula was first conceptualised.

Jessica Leman, the other pea in this husband-wife creator pod, elaborates, “Books or graphic novels with narratives about searches for identity usually portray people who live outside the country of the ethnicity they are descended from, and how they struggle to integrate after.” Noting a lack of multiracial characters in transmigrant stories, she continues, “In Magical Sweet Gula, we tried to share a story of the next level of identity searching – where the character is of mixed ancestry. Being multiracial, the character has a unique struggle where neither ethnic group will wholly accept her as a part of them.”

Both creators are well aware that the desire to fit in, to get along like peas and carrots with your peers in school despite being different, is a concept that many children are familiar with. Magical Sweet Gula offers its young audience food for thought on the ways in which multiracial children may experience prejudice. To make the subject more accessible to younger readers, the creators made Gula immediately visually distinct from her peers. “Since Manakarta is based on Jakarta, where people have naturally dark hair, we found the most eye- catching way to show contrast was through one’s appearance, especially using colour,” Jessica explains.

Besides using bright colours and a very generous sprinkle of magic as visual markers for Magi in Magical Sweet Gula, Johanes also highlights how spicing up the pages with Peranakan desserts extends the metaphor of fitting in. “I believe in “Bhinneka Tunggal Ika” which means “even if we have many differences, in the end we can still have the same feeling”. I think this philosophy is also reflected in Peranakan culture, especially their foods.” The creators go on to explain how food recipes in Indonesia often draw their history from multiple heritages—the antithesis of “too many cooks spoil the broth”. When researching on jajanan pasar (market snacks), Jessica and Johanes found further inspiration for Gula’s growth and journey in how these snacks were often served together in a single tampah (flat woven bamboo basket), even when they come in multiple flavours.

Commenting on Difference Engine’s decision to publish Magical Sweet Gula, Publisher Felicia Low said, “A core tenet of Difference Engine is to support the amplification of stories and voices that may not have the same reach and platform as that of the majority. Magical Sweet Gula is earnest in its exploration of a multiracial character coming to terms with their identity, and holds both sweet and bitter halves of Gula’s experiences. While concepts like bullying and self-perception might seem intimidating to younger readers, Jessica and Johanes’ vibrant colour palette and humorous panels do wonders to ease readers into these topics.”

Magical Sweet Gula is now available in bookstores in Singapore and Malaysia. It is also available for purchase online with local and international shipping options. The book retails at SGD15.90 (w/o GST).

Purchase the print or ebook at

For enquiries about the book, contact:

Magical Sweet Gula is the first of a two-volume series, with Book 2 scheduled for release in 2024.

Pangolin: A Critically Endangered Mammal Like No Other

What marvellous mammal has armour that will make a knight envious, and can curl up into a near-perfect sphere?

It’s the pangolin!

If this is your first time hearing about a pangolin this World Pangolin Day or World Wildlife Day, it might seem like a render from a video game. A mammal – nope, not a reptile – covered in scales? It looks almost like a waddling pinecone or a less flamboyant dragonfruit!

Pangolins are unlike any other mammals. That’s not a hyperbole. They are currently the only mammal discovered that is fully covered in scales! That brings us to our first phenomenal pangolin fact:

1. Pangolins are covered in pinecone-like tough scales made of keratin.

While we may not see any similarities between our bodies and the impressive scale mail pangolins don, believe it or not, the sturdy coat of overlapping scales is actually made of keratin – the same thing our nails and hair are made out of.

Keratin renders the scales hard and durable. Each scale is made of tightly compressed hair finished in a sharp tip for that extra offensive edge. (Although your mileage may vary with a tub of hair gel and a tail comb.) These scales are arranged in a partially overlapping lattice to provide optimal protection without compromising on flexibility.

Equipped with a coat that will give Colossus a run for his money, how does the pangolin utilise it against its natural enemies?

2. Pangolins curl into balls when frightened.

Let’s just say they get all dressed up with nowhere to go. Deliberately.

You see, pangolins have one weakness: Their soft underside.

To protect their tender tummies, they cover their head, tuck themselves into a tight ball, and let their scales do the rest of the work. It’s nature’s way of giving the pangolin an instant “nope” button whenever they feel stressed or frightened. So recognisable is this ability that the World Wildlife Fund explains the name “pangolin” is derived from penggulung, the word for roller in Malay.

Pangolins can also weaponise the sharp scales on their tail if they perceive a Big Bad Evil Guy, but their poor vision does not do them many favours.

Against its natural predators like big cats or hyenas, this defensive bunker tactic works. Really well.

Ever seen photographs of lions pawing or chewing frustratedly at a balled-up pangolin? The scales make pangolins nearly impervious to bites and uncomfortably prickly to those who try to unroll it. It may look hilarious, but more importantly, it is a testament to how effective this evolutionary trait is.

Against a human hand however, that’s a different story. (We’ll get back to this later.)

If it’s not already obvious from their preferred type of engagement with predators, pangolins are quite shy. Part of it is due to this third phenomenal pangolin fact:

3. Pangolins have no teeth.

You read that right. Like boy bands of the early 2000s, pangolins devoted all of their spikes to their head and ‘fits, while hiding their true docile nature from hungry pap-, predators.

Another name that pangolins are commonly known by is the scaly anteater. (No prizes for guessing their favourite bites.)

A typical day of a pangolin sees it in its burrow or on trees with its nose set on the nearest ant colony or termite mound. Once settled into their selected buffet of the day, pangolins utilise their very long, very sticky, very thin, saliva-coated tongue to slurp up their meal – with adults vacuuming up to a suggested 70 million insects each year according to Singapore’s National Parks Board! (Try getting your exterminator to go up against this ant-agonist’s scoreboard.)

As a very nice bonus, the action of vacating insects from their tunnels lends to aerating the ground, thus improving soil health in the area. Given their current repertoire, they probably have greener thumbs than most of us city dwellers!

Wait, if pangolins can’t chew, how do they digest their food, hard exoskeletons and all?

The answer is rock ‘n’ roll. Literally.

Pangolins eat rocks. To make up for their lack of teeth and their penchant for ants over bean sprouts, pangolins intentionally ingest small rocks, called gastroliths, for storage in their gizzard. As the gizzard contracts, the rocks roll and churn, which in turn grinds down the food.

A simple and effective solution by nature. But sadly, this lack of teeth is a handicap against humans. (Starting to see a pattern?)

Artwork from Marvellous Mammals: A Wild A to Z of Southeast Asia

4. Pangolins are currently the most trafficked mammal in the world.

Unfortunately, this last fact about pangolins isn’t very fun at all.

There are eight pangolin species in the world. Three of the four Asian species, including the Sunda pangolin that calls Singapore its home, is Critically Endangered.

For most of their existence, pangolins have been a solid contender for predator-prey relationship manager of the year. (Considering how even their most enterprising enemies struggle to take a literal bite out of them, they were doing pretty well.)

Then everything changed when greedy humans attacked.

The spherical fortress that pangolins have evolved is excellent against most threats… Except traffickers, with their dexterous, grasping hands and voracity for greed, aren’t most threats. Spook the pangolin, wait for it to roll into a ball, and simply carry them away – like Gen Z in a macabre medicine ball fitness class.

That is precisely what many poachers boil these unique mammals down to: Very expensive and very high-value literal medicine balls.

In Asia, some traditional medicine practitioners fight tooth and nail to continue touting the supposed curative properties of pangolin scales and blood. Pangolins: Science, Society and Conservation announced that approximately 195,000 pangolins were trafficked for their scales alone.

Nevermind that it has been scientifically debunked that pangolin scales have no medical properties, and chewing fingernails has never proven effective in any quest to cure inflammation/lactation issues/cancer/what-have-you.

And those who don’t use pangolin scales for pseudo-medicine, use it to scale up their leather fashion products in the United States and Mexico.

That’s not all: Another big driver for pangolin trafficking is meat. (Notice how it is reported as meat, and not food.) Hunting pangolins for bushmeat is not new – pangolins have been a food source in Africa and China historically. But with the proliferation of food supply chains worldwide, pangolins are no longer necessary as a staple food source. So, why the demand for pangolin meat?

In this age of abundance and accessibility, having suckling pig or duck confit daily no longer signals wealth and exceptionalism. You need something more exclusive, something rare, to really get tongues wagging.

Introducing the delicacy du jour of parts of China and Vietnam: The pangolin.

If the thought of sampling a pangolin does not make you baulk, the price tag surely will. In a paper by Wang (2021), the price of a whole pangolin can fetch anywhere from 2,000 to 3,400 yuan (~290USD to 495USD) per kilogram.

Even though the population of wild pangolins in Asia has declined by over 50% in recent years according to the Center for Biological Diversity, the demand for their flesh and scales remains insatiable. Can’t find pangolins in Asia? Just take them from Africa and ship them over. This hunger for pangolins is so strong that from 2015 to 2021, almost half of all pangolin derivatives confiscated in Asia are found to have been brought over from Africa.

Since 2019, there has been a global consensus in banning pangolins from commercial trade internationally. While that has led to more seizures and discoveries of illegally trafficked pangolins, poachers still find ways to circumvent law enforcement. Money, it turns out, is a great motivator for… creativity.

This World Pangolin Day and World Wildlife Day, especially if your days are spent roaming in metropolises, the predicament of pangolins may feel removed from your lives. But wait: How can we get pangolins from the depths of our forests, to the nouveau riche trying to be the next photocopied version of the Kardashians in cities?

The answer is that it is inevitable for pangolin traffickers – and a lot of the illegal wildlife trade – to funnel a considerable amount of their operations through urban areas. In 2019, World Wildlife Fund Singapore reported that a staggering 35 tonnes of pangolin scales (around 40,000 pangolins) were seized by port authorities.

What can I do to help?

As individuals, all this may seem overwhelming. It is. And if you – understandably – do not intend to go up against international criminal organisations, can you really do anything of meaningful impact then?

The short answer is: Yes.

Although the pangolin is no Billie Eilish of the endangered animal world, they are charismatic enough for children and adults alike to pause and go, “hey, that’s one cool mammal!” That is a good, even great, first step.

For context, in ‘Generally ignored’ species face twice the extinction threat, warns study by The Guardian, it was shown that the extinction rate in insects is eight-fold more than birds, mammals, and reptiles, and receive nearly 500 times less funding for each species than vertebrates. In other words, the more you like something, the more funding it receives. (Usually.)

The next step is simple: Talk, share – shout, even! – about all you know about pangolins! Tell them to your friends and family, use your knowledge as a potential ice-breaker for conversations, or even showcase your knowledge at your next quiz night; chat about them to those who are willing to listen.

When your conversation ends, and everyone goes their separate ways, that’s when the ball really gets rolling. All these phenomenal pangolin facts no longer exist in isolation – they instead live in voices, echoed in the people we have met, and finding new homes in the places we have travelled through.

Two decades ago, you may not have heard of the pangolin. Now, it is a marvellous mammal that is starting to be recognised even outside of Asia and Africa.

The next time you, or someone you have spoken to, encounters a pangolin, this knowledge will guide their encounter. Spotted a lost pangolin in the city? Found medicine shops illegally selling pangolin scales? Spied someone in a bad Solid Snake cosplay setting traps in forested areas? Things that could have unintentionally slipped by one’s radar can now find anchor in one’s knowledge of pangolins.

(For those wondering what to do in the aforementioned scenarios in Singapore, the answer is to call the National Parks at 1800-471-7300.)

We will leave you with two adages at the end of our World Pangolin Day and World Wildlife Day piece: “Knowledge is power” and “sharing is caring”. While global lawmakers and conservationists are working to tighten regulations and protection for these marvellous mammals, we can help them on the ground by keeping a literal eye out for pangolins, especially those in plight.

The scales are not tipped in favour of the pangolins, but it is not too late for us to prevent the final nail in their potential coffin.

Bearing Witness: A moving graphic novel memoir about a woman in her 40s who comes to terms with pregnancy loss

Difference Engine is honoured to have had the opportunity to work with writer Vinita Ramani to tell the story of her son Mithra and her experience with pregnancy loss. Their story is illustrated by Griselda Gabriele in Bearing Witness, and is published under our DE Shorts imprint.

Almost one quarter of all pregnancies are estimated to end in pregnancy loss, either a miscarriage or in stillbirth. Despite that, those who fall into this quartile rarely find themselves part of the conversation about pregnancy and childbirth.

Bearing Witness, with its unfiltered and sincere retelling of writer Vinita Ramani’s and her family’s experience with the loss of her second child, Mithra, offers parents affected by pregnancy loss a shared space to have their experiences recognised. More importantly, it creates a conduit through which families who have experienced such loss are able to share and amplify their voices and grief.

Shailey Hingorani, the Head of Advocacy, Research, and Communications at AWARE, the Association of Women for Action and Research, commented on the direction of Bearing Witness, “Through immensely affecting visuals and writing that is precise yet visceral, author Vinita Ramani and illustrator Griselda Gabriele have created a work that delves deep into a topic that many find too harrowing to even mention. They capture how overwhelming it can be to undergo the physical and mental toll of experiences like postpartum depression and pregnancy loss, without passing judgement on any choices made. There is a deep sadness here, but there are also moments of acceptance, support and even joy. This comic is vital for any number of readers — whether you relate to the author’s experience intimately or have little knowledge on pregnancy loss.”

By choosing to set the story in Vinita’s lived moments, Bearing Witness makes the heavy nature of pregnancy loss accessible to all through the proxies of her thoughts and emotions; family and faith. Moments of her loneliness are always surrounded by the presence of her family and friends, especially her husband Mahdev and daughter Sahana. Her family acts as guides not just to Vinita, but also for the readers – lifting from the weight of Vinita’s grief to the memory of familial comfort of the readers’ present.

Vinita explained why Bearing Witness is an important narrative to share not just with mothers, but to the wider audience, “This is a story about what it is to be a mother, to both the children we have and the ones we have lost. And it is not just a story for women: fathers will relate to the husband portrayed in this comic. A vital narrative that should be widely read, talked about, and made more visible.”

Departing from the traditional route of broaching the topic of pregnancy loss through the lens of medical facts and statistics, Bearing Witness is unapologetic in featuring the emotional nuances of Vinita’s pregnancy loss and artefacts of her spirituality against the backdrop of Southeast Asia, and invites the audience to experience every raw ebb and flow of Vinita’s emotional state.

Illustrator of Bearing Witness, Griselda Gabriele elaborated, “Vinita’s story and ways of coping with grief are very closely linked to spirituality in her daily life. In fact, this spirituality was also what allowed Vinita to see her miscarriage not only as a loss, but also a way for her to return Mithra to the universe. Most comics on miscarriage I’ve seen focus on the medical aspects and come from Western countries, which rarely depict this kind of spirituality (and positively, even more rarely). Meanwhile, it’s a norm in many parts of Asia!”

Jason Erik Lundberg, author of A Fickle and Restless Weapon, shared his experience after bearing witness to Mithra’s story, “The loss of one’s child is tragic under any circumstances, but especially so before it has had the chance to be born. Vinita Ramani’s devastating account of pregnancy loss, sensitively illustrated by Griselda Gabriele, is unflinchingly honest and allows us to bear witness ourselves to such a painful event without judgement. Your heart can’t help but break in sympathy, then find a measure of peace that comes with acceptance. An urgent and necessary work of sequential art.”

The story of Bearing Witness holds within itself the unique trauma Vinita experienced with the loss of her son Mithra. Yet that pain is simultaneously universal to all other parents who have gone through their own pregnancy loss or infant death. This graphic novel is not meant to be definitive; instead, Vinita and Griselda hope that it would be a safe space for families to share their own stories and experiences with pregnancy loss – be it the grief of losing a child, or the joy of having been able to momentarily be a home for one.

Natalie Tan, a pregnancy loss awareness advocate, expressed her appreciation for the book, “Raw, honest and poignant. Bearing Witness enables readers to live through the highs and lows of a surprise pregnancy, and feel the depths of Vinita’s heartbreak when it ends abruptly. Where there is loss, there is almost certainly grief and pain. Yet, there is also beauty, strength and hope that emerges through the darkness; through the never ending love of a parent.” As a mother of four including a set of angel triplets she had miscarried, she echoed the sentiment of finding support with others who had experienced the same loss, “This book opens our eyes to the experience of a miscarriage – a topic few have the courage to share so openly about. Bearing Witness is not simply about sharing the trauma of pregnancy loss, it is also a great reminder to all women who have miscarried that we are not alone.”

When asked why she wanted to publish Bearing Witness, Publisher Felicia Low said, “Difference Engine’s imprint, DE Shorts, is about opening up conversations about topics that are difficult to talk about, and in turn encouraging discussion and the fostering of community bonds for individuals who find themselves isolated. Pregnancy loss continues to be a topic that eludes polite dinner table conversation despite being more common than one might imagine. We hope that Vinita’s story can serve as a starting point to ignite more sharing and further discussion about pregnancy loss and infant death in Southeast Asia, away from stigma and shame.”

Bearing Witness is now available in bookstores in Singapore, or purchase the book online with local and international shipping options. The book retails at SGD17.00 (w/o GST).

Interested parties can purchase the book and the bundle at

For enquiries about the book, contact:

Work-life Balance: A seamless blend of comics and prose where even familiar Southeast Asian creatures are trapped in modern-day work culture’s cycle of duplicity

Difference Engine is proud to announce the launch of Work-Life Balance: Malevolent Managers and Folkloric Freelancers – and just in time for Halloween season!

In a world where even the supernatural are faced with the super natural quandaries of ceaseless corporate commotions, Work-Life Balance: Malevolent Managers and Folkloric Freelancers expresses the familiar, yet often suppressed, sentiment of unbalanced modern-day work culture – anchored against the distinct backdrop of Southeast Asia.

Paul Levitz, DC Comics President & Publisher from 2002–2009 said, “Think you’re stuck working with monsters in your office? Rée and Chee’s Work-Life Balance takes a whole new look at the possibility, using an interesting text/comics balance rarely seen.”

Work-Life Balance uses a harmonious merger of comics and prose to delineate the dichotomous parallels between past and present, work and leisure, and self and community beyond the constraints of a single medium.

Paolo Chikiamco, Editor of Alternative Alamat anthology and Co-Creator of Mythspace, echoed, “The power of juxtaposition is one of the strengths of graphic novels, and here comics are placed alongside prose to further provide a layered tale of identity, culture, and how we choose to define ourselves. Wayne Rée and Benjamin Chee have created a fine fantastical examination of the way communities reflect us, shape us, bring us together or tear us apart – something that isn’t very pleasant even for creatures that can segment their bodies into two.”



Creators Benjamin Chee and Wayne Rée examined how a confluence of their respective halves can help bring nuance, depth, and colour to the story. Wayne elaborated, “Work-Life Balance is a celebration of storytelling. It shows the unique strengths of prose and comics, but also how those mediums work towards the same goal: telling stories that resonate with an audience.”

Throughout the book, Wayne’s prose eases the audience into the recognisable cadence of Southeast Asian modern metropolises with all its unspoken tensions and expectations, while Benjamin’s art evokes equal parts wonderment and longing by drawing from the region’s history with his intricate settings and costume designs.

Meihan Boey, Author of The Formidable Miss Cassidy (Epigram Books Fiction Prize Co-Winner 2021), detailed her first impression of the book, “Wayne Ree’s gleeful, irreverent storytelling, matched with Benjamin Chee’s vibrant, exuberant, and undoubtedly eeee-so-cuuuute art style, come together in this funfair of a book. This is a tongue-in-cheek paean to the supernatural world of Asia and beyond, lovingly recreated in Chee’s breathtakingly intricate set pieces and character designs. The story is full of fun, fast-paced action; taking a breath now and then to ponder upon all the things we (not just momoks) have to sacrifice in pursuit of making a living.”



Elvin Ching, Creator of The Woodsman, voiced his appreciation for the book’s direction, “Work-Life Balance weaves a stunning tale blending familiar Southeast Asian folklore with office politics and drudgery to create a fresh new world that can’t help but elicit both chuckles and awe. Coupled with lush art that is at times supportive, complementary and argumentative to the story, this is a can’t-miss-it for fans of alternative fantasy!”

As much as the book is about the struggles of balancing our professional lives with other aspects of our existence, Work-Life Balance also takes much care to pay homage to the mythological influences of the region beyond the superficial.

Benjamin explained, “I hope this book is a warmer, more empathic approach to ‘ghost stories’, where the spirits and hantu featured feel more like people than a force of nature. And like people, I would like to imagine that they have preferences to the way they are being treated by others, and would certainly dislike being exploited.”

Reflecting on the conception of a book, Publisher at Difference Engine Felicia Low said, “Work-Life Balance, with its multilayered play on duality, adds to the wider conversation about the difficulties of navigating professional boundaries by providing an accessible regional perspective. By putting the spotlight on creatures that typically live in hushed whispers, Benjamin and Wayne lean into the dissonance of encouraging readers to find affinity with these beings to build a more nuanced appreciation for this aspect of our region’s culture and beliefs.”

Work-Life Balance: Malevolent Managers and Folkloric Freelancers is now available in bookstores in Singapore and Malaysia, or purchase the book online with local and international shipping options.

The book retails at SGD26.90 (w/o GST). The Work-Life Balance Starter Pack retails at SGD52.90 (w/o GST), with pre-orders open from 3 October to 21 October 2022.

Interested parties can purchase the book and the bundle at

For enquiries about the book, contact:

Graphic Medicine: Remembering the Individual Behind the Illness

During these pandemic times, you have probably encountered short comics or infographics on social media about COVID-19, such as illustrator Kow Wei Man’s viral infocomics on staying safe during the pandemic, or The COVID-19 Chronicles, an ongoing educational comic series by NUS Yoo Loo Lin School of Medicine.

These comics may differ in style and presentation, and they may be created by artists with different backgrounds, but they do have one thing in common: They inform and engage the audience on medical topics through a confluence of art and science.

You may wonder, in a field dominated by hard science and numbers, what role can art play?

Say hello to graphic medicine.



Graphic medicine covers a berth of medical conditions written from various perspectives. Marbles: Mania, Depression, Michelangelo, and Me talks about mental illnesses, Mom’s Cancer delves into a cancer narrative, and Epileptic discusses the stigma of epilepsy.


What is graphic medicine?

Graphic medicine draws its meaning from its two halves: It is the union between graphic novels, and medical education and patient care.

It is a great example of how art reconciles science with humanity, where you don’t merely treat the ailment; you treat the person behind the illness too.

This pandemic is not the first time comics has collaborated with medicine – comics have explored medicine-related topics since the early 1800s!

Despite that, the term “graphic medicine” was only created in 2007 by Dr. Ian Williams. Following this, multiple universities have started including graphic medicine in their curriculum.

Not restricted to factual and informational pieces, these graphic novels often draw upon lived experiences of all parties involved – patients, medical professionals, and caregivers – to offer audiences personal glimpses into perspectives and situations they might not otherwise have.



Graphic medicine can help reconnect medical science and illnesses with the people who have those conditions. Graphic Medicine Manifesto serves as a primer for anyone interested in graphic medicine.


Why graphic medicine?

Conventionally, medicine tends to endorse an isolated biomedical approach almost exclusively. Diagnose patients, pinpoint treatments, monitor recovery processes, and send patients on their merry way. Rinse and repeat. The replicability of this cut-and-dried approach makes it highly efficient.

However, today’s practitioners are increasingly aware of how this approach ignores the human and emotional aspects of medicine of patients’ recovery experiences. When you atomise and delineate patients into body systems, it is no surprise that they feel disconnected and less satisfied with the care received.

Pivoting to a human-centric medical approach, graphic medicine reconnects humans with science: medical professionals with patients; pathology with empathy; biology with biography.



Dementia is the cognitive decline of the brain outside the realm of normal ageing. (Panels from Amazing Ash & Superhero Ah Ma)


What is dementia?

While almost any medical case can benefit from graphic medicine. Two characteristics in particular make a condition a good candidate for graphic medicine: stigmatisation or marginalisation, and a chronic or devastating nature.

Dementia meets both these criteria.

Dementia refers to the cognitive decline of the brain outside the realm of normal ageing. Persons with Dementia (PWD) gradually lose their ability to perform day-to-day activities. Dementia does not refer to a specific condition, and is instead an umbrella term covering specific types of decline, including Alzheimer’s Disease and Vascular Dementia.

As the global ageing population increases, so does the incidence of dementia. In 2018, the WHO reported that there were 50 million people affected by dementia. That’s the equivalent of a person developing dementia every 3 seconds! This explains why there is growing interest in using the arts – including graphic medicine! – to help foster a positive living experience with dementia.



Graphic medicine can help fight against the stigmatisation of dementia by humanising the people behind the condition. (Panels from All That Remains; part of project Forget Us Not)


How does graphic medicine help PWD?

Despite its growing prevalence, and due to its irreversible nature and cumulatively debilitating impact, dementia remains a taboo subject in many places.

One of the biggest barriers PWD face is stigmatisation stemming from a lack of information and understanding of the condition. Dementia is more than just its biomedical dimension – it is indelibly linked to the person experiencing the condition: physically, mentally, and emotionally.

The impact of this stigma is multifold – PWD might be left feeling dehumanised not only by outsiders, but also by some medical professionals. When discrimination underpins social cultures of shame and embarrassment, it can create resistance for people to seek medical attention, even if they are already experiencing symptoms. Moreover, those who support PWD are affected by the stigma as well.

All these make graphic medicine especially pertinent in improving the welfare of PWD and those around them.



Because of the complex nature of dementia, graphic novels can blend the visual and textual to create layers of subtleties that go beyond the biomedical. (Panels from Amazing Ash & Superhero Ah Ma)


Graphic medicine can address discrimination of PWD not only by providing information on the condition, but also by evoking a human-centred depiction of the medical experience. When readers engage with images of PWD, be it through factual or fictional means, they develop a multifaceted, holistic understanding of the condition beyond the biomedical.

Besides making topics more intellectually approachable, graphic novels offer another form of accessibility – emotional accessibility. By interweaving meaning and context to things typically invisible or difficult to describe in traditional text, emotional perspectives are added back into the equation.

This collective weaving of information – medical, social, cultural, and emotional – builds a living, breathing image of dementia rooted in our everyday lives. The knowledge this is a condition affecting people like us then becomes the foundation – not the exception – upon which new understandings are built.

Moments difficult to inscribe in the harshness of text – including the prejudice PWD face, difficulty in communication, or embarrassment felt when needing help for intimate daily activities – can be coded into the dance of words and images. The relational and temporal aspects of narratives can exist between the spatial and literal. During the reading process, graphic medicine engages the audience, and encourages reflection upon the realities of the characters.



Amazing Ash & Superhero Ah Ma (Books 1 and 2)


We suggest you start your foray into graphic medicine with Amazing Ash & Superhero Ah Ma – an accessible and heartwarming story about how Ash and her grandmother handle the challenges of ageing and dementia while leading an exciting double life as superheroes. Even as Ah Ma’s dementia progresses, she continues to take all her responsibilities seriously – taking care of her neighbourhood, and being a mentor figure to Ash.

The book explores how having a support structure of not merely the immediate family, but a wider social circle as well, can help alleviate some of the stresses of living with dementia. Through the support of her family and the community, Ah Ma is able to continue living comfortably in a familiar environment without hindrance to her well-being or independence. She is still Superhero Ah Ma – dementia is just one of many things she contends with in her day.



In recent years, graphic novels have become increasingly popular outlets for caregivers to navigate the psychosocial aspects of their responsibilities. Framed through a personal and emotional lens, works such as Bird in a Cage, Aliceheimer’s, Little Josephine: A Memory in Pieces, and Tangles: A Story about Alzheimer’s, My Mother and Me offer outsiders intimate glimpses into the realities of caring for PWD.


Caring for PWD can be a physically and emotionally challenging task: Beyond fatigue from helping with their everyday needs, caregivers need to deal with behavioural changes and the emotional impact of witnessing the deterioration of a loved one’s condition.

Some caregivers turn to writing as a form of catharsis. Dana Walrath’s journey in creating Aliceheimer’s is relatable to many caregivers: It is a healing process, and one that can hopefully be extended to changing wider societal stigma on the narrative of ageing and dementia.

Others lean in to graphic medicine’s ability to educate and inform. Little Josephine: A Memory in Pieces delves into the shared emotional connection between nurse-author Valérie Villieu and her elderly patient Josephine, and reminds fellow medical practitioners of the importance of compassion and empathy in their practice.

Regardless of the perspective, graphic medicine is an invaluable source of information, comfort, and empowerment for many individuals and communities.



More efforts have been made in recent years to amplify the voices of PWD in graphic medicine.


Efforts have also been made to fund projects covering dementia from the perspective of PWD. While stories by caregivers remain essential in creating public awareness and empathy, there is still a gap in understanding of how those who with the condition wish to be portrayed.

Working with a group of PWD, the Beth Johnson Foundation created There’s No Bus Map for Dementia, a graphic novel that focuses on the daily realities of living with dementia. More importantly, instead of relegating the voices of PWD to the background, this work amplifies the voices of those with the condition. The result is a tale of joy and hope; friendship and independence.

Over time, the project hopes more works of similar nature can be produced, and more stories of dementia can be told in the way PWD want: with respect, and as people with agency.


Graphic medicine resources

For a comprehensive list of other graphic novels and more information on graphic medicine, visit the Graphic Medicine International Collective. We have also handpicked some other reference sources for your foray into graphic medicine!