Best Of British: The Lady Doctor Is Ready To See You Now

by Richard Bruton

The Lady Doctor is the excellent follow-up graphic novel to Ian WilliamsThe Bad Doctor from 2014. As both a talented comic artist and a practising GP (general practitioner – think your US primary care doc), Williams is perfectly placed to give us a warts and all insight into the ups and downs of the lives of modern doctors. And in The Lady Doctor he’s given us another incisive and hugely enjoyable look at the life of a jobbing doctor.

The Bad Doctor was full of insights into the day to day grind of a GP’s life, the endless procession of miserable, difficult, and downright weird patients, eight hours a day, five days a week.

And in The Lady Doctor we get more of the same, focusing on Dr Lois Pritchard. She works as a salaried partner at Llangandida Health Centre alongside Dr Iwan James (the subject of The Bad Doctor) and Dr Robert Smith. She also works two days a week at the local Genitourinary clinic (with all the joys of that particular job).

She’s 40, divorced, single, not very good with relationships (her words, not mine) and her estranged mother has just wandered back into her life, wanting a living liver transplant. Add in the stresses of deciding whether to take the financial and emotional commitment of joining the practice as a full partner, and it’s no wonder she’s feeling rather weighed down by her life – all of which makes her worry even more about being too cold and cynical with her patients.

But then again, with the sort of patients she gets… it’s hard, nigh on impossible to empathise with some of them. Case in point, the very first page of the book…

This particular winner is a regular visitor to the practice, always looking for more meds, week after week after week. Is it any wonder that Lois is just tired, pissed off, miserable, and most of all just worn down by it all?

There’s a telling, perfect moment early on, indicative of just how crap her life is, as the doctor sneaks off for a crafty smoke between patients. It’s such a simple thing, but having a doc nip off like this really does get the point over far better than pages and pages of material. And that’s just the sort of thing Williams does so very well.

And as we move through the book, we see more and more patients, some depressed, some just miserable, some even comical, like the wonderfully ridiculous moment where she sees a patient with a very unfortunate Pinocchio tattoo at the GU clinic – ‘he doesn’t tell so many lies nowadays’ – that’s a particularly wonderful moment in a book that’s surprisingly high on the humour.

Through the book, Williams’ art is simple, stripped back, often without any detailed backgrounds, perfect for this sort of character-driven work. His figures are equally sparse but immediately identifiable and capable of great emotional range.

And he’s utilising a very clever color scheme throughout, each color tone on the page for a different setting, blue tones for work, green-hued for home, pink-ish for going out and the GU work. And where it’s needed, later on in the book, he does a mean psychedelic color effect for a rather psychedelic episode.

Over the course of the 200+ pages, Williams creates a very real, very sympathetic portrait of a woman going through a very difficult time, personally and emotionally, whilst still trying to keep it all together to be the sort of doctor everyone expects her to be. And he manages to do all this and still find some great comedy in her experiences.

Williams’ Bad Doctor gave us a look inside a medical practice and the docs who work there. The Lady Doctor goes even further, showing us quite wonderfully just how human our doctors can be. It’s all too easy to see them as just doctors, dispensing advice and meds from on high, but in The Lady Doctor, Williams takes us deep into Lois’ life to show us that the medical profession is full of people just as fragile, just as messed up, just as broken as we are.

The Lady Doctor by Ian Williams, published by Myriad Editions. You can, and should, also pick up Williams’ first graphic novel, The Bad Doctor…

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