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Lynn Johnston's For Better or For Worse won millions of fans with largely autobiographical stories of family foibles.

But for a growing wave of female artists, comic art has the potential to go deeper – speaking to the dark side of domestic life and personal demons.

Their subject matter includes anorexia, abuse, depression and death. There's humour to balance the pain, however. And a clear payoff to the genre, sometimes called 'graphic medicine': a healing effect on both creators and readers.

Comic artist and Globe designer Cinders McLeod takes a look at the work of some leading women in the field, who met recently in Toronto to discuss their process.

To view works by these artists and more, click here or on the image to the left.

Nicola Streeten

How do you process the horrific loss of a two-year-old boy – just 10 days after he's been diagnosed with heart problems? For Nicola Streeten a diary offered comfort during the trauma – and 13 years later, she's transformed it into graphic form in Billy, You & Me.

Sarah Lightman

"The top image of me is in black and white, contained in a box," says Sarah Lightman.

"My happier self is in colour and emerging out of the page." The panel is from her graphic novel, Devestation, which chronicles her struggle to launch as her friends moved out and up – and she moved in with her parents.

Lesley Fairfield

"It was always far easier to explain the pain of this illness graphically," says Lesley Fairfield, who battled anorexia bulimia for 20 years. "What would this part of me that wouldn't let me eat look like?" The answer is a character called Tyranny – which became the title of her graphic novel about overcoming the disorder.

Rosalind B. Penfold

The gut-wrenching mindset of an abused wife was captured in Rosalind B. Penfold's diary of drawings. When she ended her relationship after 10 years, she compiled them in the graphic novel Dragonslippers: This is What an Abusive Relationship Looks like.

Sandra Bell-Lundy

The women in Sandra Bell-Lundy's syndicated strip Between Friends tackle serious issues such as infertility and cancer. Recognizing the popularity of the strip and its spotlight on women's issues, The Canadian Cancer Society invited her to create a special series to help them get the word out about the importance of mammography.

MK Czerwiec (Comic Nurse)

"Our patients were very sick and mostly dying," says MK Czerwiec of work as a nurse for patients with HIV/AIDS. "One day I accidentally made a comic – a few words combined with a few sketches." That was the birth of "Comic Nurse," a series of drawings that have been published in three collections.


"The comics were my self-prescribed recreational therapy while at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health" says Sarafin, a comic artist in Toronto who calls herself a "psych heretic." Over time, she adds, the work became a vehicle to "rid myself of shame, and to make something positive out of a negative situation." Her comics are collected in Asylum Squad Side Story:The Psychosis Diaries.

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