The Story Behind ‘Embroidered Cancer Comic’ by Sima Elizabeth Shefrin


Here I am looking at my book, still holding the packaging.


It’s April 2016 here on Gabriola Island, British Columbia. The flowers are blooming, and I am looking for the first time at my new book, Embroidered Cancer Comic

“How did I come to write a comic?” I’m glad you asked. As soon as my husband Bob Bossin was diagnosed in 2011 with prostate cancer, we started making cancer jokes. Every time we could laugh about the situation, one of us would say, “That goes in the comic”.  At this stage the comic was completely imaginary.  But eventually I picked up my needle and stitched and stitched until I had over sixty embroidered squares…



The decision between surgery and radiation was a difficult one. Bob is a professional folk singer and I wanted to show that this decision permeated every aspect of our lives.

I’ve always wanted to write a graphic novel.  I’ve been an artist for forty-five years. For most of that period I worked in fabric. Since 2006 I have been illustrating children’s books for Tradewind Publishers.

An embroidered comic strip seemed a logical next step. I like the comic book medium because it gives some lightness to a pretty serious situation.  On the night of Bob’s diagnosis we made a decision to get married and one of our marriage vows was to never lose our sense of humour. I have created this comic as partial fulfillment of my wedding vows.

So I got down to work. Each strip started with rough sketches and dialogue possibilities. That part was easy, because I’d been making notes for a while, of some of the funnier moments between us. Sometimes the images flowed straight from my fingers, sometimes I had to consult photos. How does a hand really look holding a cup of coffee? Do I need to depict the strings on the guitar or are they implicit?  And does it matter if I get it exactly right?


Me tracing an image on my very sophisticated light table, otherwise known as the patio door.

Once I had words and drawings I was satisfied with, I enlarged them on the photocopier so they sat nicely on an 18inch square of white cotton.  I taped the cotton to the glass patio door, and traced the image onto the piece of fabric.  Then I put on my reading glasses, threaded my needle with black embroidery floss, and with a simple back stitch, sewed over the inked lines resulting in a simple embroidered line drawing, reminiscent of the cartoons in New Yorker magazines I used to find in the bathroom of my parents’ house.



Stitching text as our train zooms towards the Chunnel.

My final stitching task for the publishers was to create a little fabric applique image, and then, believe it or not, hand-embroidering my name and “Embroidered Cancer Comic” for the cover of the book.


Hand-embroidered words for the book’s cover

The work took about three years and it was both exciting and sad for me when the embroideries were complete. I’m now sewing them into quilts and looking for places to put them on display. And of course I’m doing everything I can to promote the book – lining up events in libraries, book stores, cancer groups and conferences, including the Graphic Medicine conference held this year in Dundee, Scotland.

I want to encourage everyone to check out the Graphic Medicine Site and social media pages. Graphic Medicine refers to the role that comics can play in the study and delivery of healthcare.  It’s a fabulous site encouraging and promoting artists working on this theme.

And I love getting messages from my readers. So please do send a note telling me where you live and what you liked about Embroidered Cancer Comic.  You can reach me through my Facebook  page (and please do “like” it) or see other work I do at  or .


Here I am with Bob. If you look carefully you can see that we both have mismatched socks.

Learn more, purchase or read reviews of Embroidered Cancer Comic by clicking below.Shefrin_Embroidered-Can_978-1-84819-289-8_colourjpg-web

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