A humane, moving and often very funny graphic novel about the life of a country doctor and those of his patients, cartoonist and doctor Ian Williams introduces us to Dr Iwan James: cyclist, doctor, would-be lover, former heavy metal fan and, above all, human being.
Weighed down by his responsibilities – from diagnosing personality disorders to deciding who can hold a gun licence – Iwan doubts his ability to make decisions about the lives of others when he may need more than a little help himself.
Incontinent old ladies, men with eagle tattoos, traumatised widowers – Iwan’s patients cause him both empathy and dismay, as he tries to do his best in a world of limited time and budgetary constraints, and in which there are no easy answers. His feelings for his partners also cause him grief: something more than friendship for the sympathetic Dr Lois Pritchard, and not a little frustration at the prankish and obstructive Dr Robert Smith.
Iwan’s cycling trips with his friend Arthur provide some welcome relief, but even the landscape is imbued with his patients’ distress. As we explore the phantoms from Iwan’s past, we too begin to feel compassion for The Bad Doctor, and ask what is the dividing line between patient and provider?
Wry, comic, graphic, from the humdrum to the tragic, his patients’ stories are the spokes that make Iwan’s wheels go round, as all humanity, it seems, passes through his surgery door.
Ian Williams is the author of Sick Notes, a weekly comic strip in The Guardian about the state of the NHS. The Bad Doctor was highly commended in the Primary Healthcare category of the British Medical Association Medical Books Awards 2015. His latest graphic novel, The Lady Doctor, was published by Myriad in January 2019.
New York Times30 June 2015
The territory of doctor as patient has been visited before, but Dr. Williams’s iteration and its resolution are as subtle and thought provoking as the best of them, with the always worthwhile message that the roles into which humans sort themselves are as mutable as the rituals they accept and reject, and the calls for help they choose to hear or not.View source
Publishers Weekly4 May 2015
These warm yet disturbing episodes in the life of a Welsh family doctor show that he’s not a bad doctor, just one burdened by an overactive sense of responsibility. When he was younger, his OCD kept him in agony that he might be guilty if anything awful happened to his parents, friends, pets, etc.; now, as a married middle-aged physician, he wonders if he is giving his patients the correct treatment and the human concern they need. Meanwhile he’s wistfully longing for the pretty young doctor in the office to notice him, and worrying about paying for another bike for the rides that give him a brief escape from his feelings of inadequacy. None of this sounds especially funny, but the overall effect is gently amusing. Williams, a doctor himself, has previously edited anthologies fusing comics and medicine, and here his sharply observed, sympathetic scenes, done in an appropriately sketched style, add up to a richly humane picture of a good man who can’t appreciate how good he is.View source
Andy Oliver, Broken Frontier21 July 2014
Replete with sometimes delicate, sometimes explicit observations about the foibles of human nature and the bureaucracy of healthcare, The Bad Doctor combines wickedly black humour with subtle characterisation that never fails to engage the audience’s empathy. Graphic medicine with true heart, this is a testament to the value of the Myriad First Graphic Novel Competition in nurturing exciting new creative voices, and a most impressively crafted long form debut from Ian Williams.View source
Richard Bruton, Forbidden Planet16 June 2014
Williams’ really enjoyable and incisive graphic novel... perfectly illustrates just what the modern GP is faced with on a daily basis... The sympathetic, empathetic ear of Iwan is only possible of course due to the excellent and understanding writing of Williams, capturing the often strange, sometimes sad, occasionally ridiculous nature of mental illness... The Bad Doctor tells of an ordinary life and that’s rather the point. The troubles in The Bad Doctor aren’t out of the ordinary, aren’t necessarily life-destroying, they’re things that can be treated, can be relieved, but only when we have the courage to face up to them. More and more, books that deal with the subject are doing away with the stigma traditionally associated with mental health issues. The Bad Doctor is the latest of these, and joins an illustrious list of comics that not only entertain, but educate, inform and possibly change attitudes.View source
Independent14 June 2014
Williams' vignettes of Welsh small-town life concern Dr Iwan James and the community of pensioners, obsessive compulsives and gun-nuts who visit his surgery. It's a kind of pastoral with mid-life crisis, deep and droll... Iwan is sympathetic and empathetic, so why is the title The Bad Doctor? Read it and find out.View source
Dr. Paddy Barrett, The Doctor Paradox.com
I can’t recommend [The Bad Doctor] highly enough… I laughed out loud, there are so many candid moments of being a doctor that will resonate… that are just so brilliant. There is a hero-culture within medicine. I would applaud you for shining a light on this topic [OCD]… incredibly engaging.View source
Dr Ronan Kavanagh
A beautiful book about the practice of medicine and about how being vulnerable is OK. [Iwan James] is just this flawed, human being like the rest of us, who's doing his best. It's my favourite book about medicine in recents years.View source
Euan Lawson, British Journal of General Practice
The graphic novel format offers a richness and depth to this tale; it is a tribute to Williams’ skills that I can’t imagine reading simple prose on this topic. A short essay on burnout wouldn’t have the same effect. A paper on ‘doctors in difficulty’ wouldn’t linger in the mind the way Iwan’s struggles do. More than anything, Iwan James, ‘Bad Doctor’, turns out to be, like all of us, a perfectly normal doctor. In other words just a perfectly normal human being. There is much in this reflective graphic novel to help us all reconcile the personal and professional.
Deborah Bowman, The Conversation
Medicine is a visual discipline and so it is perhaps unsurprising that comics about illness and its treatment are increasingly popular.View source
Dr Ian Fussell, BMJ Medical Humanities
'It was impossible not to love this book. Ian Williams has possibly written a future classic, which must surely be added to the curriculum of all GP training schemes and might even help our leaders explain what GPs actually do. Ian, let’s have some more.' View source
Dr Michael Green
He demystifies and humanises the experience of doctoring and shows us what is 'behind the curtain', so to speak... It’s a really valuable contribution to our understanding of what it means to be a doctor.
Gentle, thoughtful, humorous, and with a real light touch: I enjoyed the different stories, the well-realised world it created and, like any good fiction, the view of another internal life.
New Welsh Review
As an antidote to the stresses and strains of modern life where the medical profession is still expected to cure all, The Bad Doctor is a warm, witty and undemanding read and Dr Iwan, with his self-doubt, superstitions and occasional profanity, is a well-observed and engaging Everyman.
Ian Williams, with this book, is my hero and I wish he were my doctor, too! He puts his own head on the chopping block figuratively and – through his pictures, often literally – in this skillfully told, relentlessly honest, often funny and – obviously – painfully true book. This is courageous work. It undercuts the accepted nonsense that doctors are – or should be expected to be – seraphic beings, exalted above the rest of humanity. As Williams mercilessly probes his own psyche, it becomes clear that this is the path to forbearance with his patients. The kind of probity found in these pages is possible only through relentless self-examination. The kinds of human distress it shows – both inside and out of the office – results for the reader in a happy release. For we are a lonely race, and full disclosure through this kind of art is our only liberation. I predict this will become an important book, not just in the medical community – where it should be read by each and every student and practicing professional out there – but in the larger world as well.