Most people take it as a given that, when they are injured, they will experience some sort of pain. Injury and pain just go hand-in-hand. However, what if we could train our brain to feel less pain or even nothing at all? In Pain is Really Strange, author Steve Haines explores that idea, attempting to understand that idea enough to explain its complexities to his audience. As Haines writes, “You cannot measure pain, but pain is always real to the person suffering.” There is no exact scientific way to measure pain because of the various systems within the body and external stimuli that affect our perception of it. However, Haines believes that by understanding the effects of pain, we can begin to relieve some of the pain we experience within our lifetime.

With 25 years of working in healthcare and a couple of medical textbooks under his belt, Haines dives head first into the world of graphic novels in order to best explain how pain works to a broader audience outside of the medical profession. Haines skillfully blends medical jargon with layman’s terms that the everyday person can use to understand the complexity of pain’s function within the body. Pain is Really Strange offers a fascinating look into how pain is not something that can be easily classified or generalized because it is all dependent on a person’s personal experiences, interpretations of pain, and their internal systems. Not one person’s pain is the same. By understanding these causes, he believes people can retrain their brains to lessen the amount of pain they feel by thinking more logically behind the reason for their pain and more accurately judging its severity.

Haines references numerous scientific journals and news articles on nearly every page to back up his statements (a full bibliography can be found online), but places them at the footer of each page to avoid inserting too much medical and scientific lingo into the actual panels. The information found in the footers is much more technical than the book’s text, but they are a great source for anyone looking to dig a little deeper into the topic.

While Haines does a great job balancing straightforward explanations while also maintaining the topic’s intricacies for medical professionals, the information is still difficult to follow at times. No matter how hard Haines tries to simplify their definitions, terms like neurosignature and membrane receptors are still complicated concepts. Certain passages need to be reread a couple of times to make sense and even then information will be lost on some readers, especially those who are less interested in science.

To help with the overflow of information, Sophie Standing’s artwork breaks up the text and keeps it from being too dull. Her art matches the theme of the book brilliantly because it gives the illusion of being a vintage medical journal from the 70s, while also helping to break down his information and making it more accessible to readers. Standing’s use of warm muted colors work with her basic, simple illustrations because they don’t compete with the text. Instead they work with it to take a complicated subject matter and make it more understandable. Her illustrations are clearly defined within each panel and allow for better flow of the book. Standing’s detailed graphs and close-ups of nervous systems work to interpret the information, but are also pieces of art and can easily be put in a frame and hung on a wall. Together with Haines, they created an avatar of him that narrated the book and made for a more casual tone, which made the book slightly more accessible and enjoyable.

Pain is Really Strange is not for everyone, but is a great supplementary resource for any teens or adults studying or interested in pain, the nervous system, and the like. It works as a nice break from textbooks and scholarly resources. It is not a leisure read by any means, but is interesting and thought-provoking.

Pain is Really Strange
by Steve Haines
Art by Sophie Standing
ISBN: 9781848192645
Singing Dragon, 2015

  • Robin B.

    | She/Her Teen Librarian, Public Library of Brookline

    Editor in Chief

    Robin E. Brenner is Teen Librarian at the Brookline Public Library in Massachusetts. She has chaired the American Library Association Great Graphic Novels for Teens Selection List Committee, the Margaret A. Edwards Award Committee, and served on the Michael L. Printz Award Committee. She is currently the President of the Graphic Novels and Comics Round Table for ALA. She was a judge for the 2007 Eisner awards, helped judge the Boston Globe Horn Book Awards in 2011, and contributes to the Good Comics for Kids blog at School Library Journal. She regularly gives lectures and workshops on graphic novels, manga, and anime at comics conventions including New York and San Diego Comic-Con and at the American Library Association’s conferences. Her guide, Understanding Manga and Anime (Libraries Unlimited, 2007), was nominated for a 2008 Eisner Award.

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