Hey InsideOuters! This week we are fortunate to share another Meet the Artist post this time featuring Tom Deisboeck. Tom wears many hats in the professional realm. He’s a doctor, an Associate Professor in Radiology (go figure!), and even has his MBA. Read on to learn more about what he does when he isn’t at the Martinos Center driving the field of computational modeling in cancer research forward. And then check out his InsideOut gallery!
We know Tom the scientist. Can you introduce us to Tom the artist?
“I am a published cartoonist and children’s book illustrator (https://www.tom-deisboeck-art.com/). I also draw NFTs (non-fungible tokens; https://www.yoshidrops.com/), serve as Contributing Cartoon Editor at The Satirist (https://www.thesatirist.com/), and am a satire writer & illustrator for The Haven on Medium (https://email@example.com). I have just started to use cartooning to try to improve engagement with public health content for Harvard Health Publishing on Twitter (https://news.harvard.edu/gazette/story/2021/10/doctor-draws-on-cartoons-for-persuasive-public-health-messaging/). As a cartoonist, I am largely self-taught but over the years have taken online classes and been mentored by artists at The Animation Academy (LA), The School of Visual Arts (NYC) and the London Art College. On my desk, I am surrounded by resin figurines from classic Franco-Belgian comics – Asterix, Tintin, Spirou etc. – as well as Captain America, Superman & Batman, just to balance it. I continue to hand-draw most children’s book illustrations first while all other cartooning is done direct-to-digital on tablets using Photoshop. Style wise I like animated cartooning, sort of in between simple 2D stickman and complex mainstream comic style.
Big shoutout to my wife and high school junior son who patiently put up with all that quirkiness around the house; our dog is still in awe – not as much about the art but how anyone can spend that much time on something other than petting him.”
What is art to you?
“For a cartoonist? – all of the above: creative expression, a blank canvas to vent, & cheaper than therapy … :)”
What inspires you to create art?
“Well, for political editorial cartooning it’s the craziness of our time that – sadly – provides an endless stream of inspiration, both domestically and internationally. For children’s book illustrations, it’s the material – for a publisher, I currently draw a series, written by an author who’s interested in bringing recycling efforts to kids, and so the 3 “super”-heroes get into a ton of situations that deal with climate change, hence are important. On the NFT projects, I like to learn the new medium of blockchain-meets-art, not least of it because of the opportunities blockchain and metaverse offer for healthcare innovation, and I was able to collaborate with a rockstar jazz artist – Harold O’Neal – which was super cool; in fact, I just did the cover art for his new record.”
When did you start drawing cartoons and were you always this good?
“I started in high school, i.e., a few years+ ago – and won’t comment on the 2nd question, but thanks … :)”
What do you hope to convey when you share your artwork?
“Depends on the genre – it’s critical reflection with the political stuff (while I try to avoid staying off proselytizing, difficult though), fun with the humorous pieces and age-appropriate entertainment for the children’s art that needs to go with the text. Doesn’t always work, of course, as some pieces come out better than others. There’s a role for both caption and art, and the best pieces don’t restate the drawing, rather, they complement each other; I often look for clever word plays – I don’t like the in-your-face stuff. Particularly for the political editorial cartoons, it’s best to wrap a (hopefully) smart punch in a velvet glove … in the best tradition of the medieval court jester who used humor to convey truth to power (ideally, of course, without losing his/her head).”
What motivates you to share your artwork?
“I was never fond of the speed of NIH’s review process, or lack thereof, to “accelerate” innovation. As such, it’s probably no surprise that I am easily fed up with editorial delay, and so I often share my timelier work – like now on the war in the Ukraine – right away on Twitter (@TDeisboeck) or Medium. Timeliness motivates me, so does craft when I think occasionally that a piece came out particularly well. I don’t really care about a ton of ‘Likes’ or ‘Shares’, but it’s of course nice to see if/when people engage with and relate to the cartoons – after all, it’s a lot of work, some of my cartoons have 100+ layers on Photoshop.”
How do art and science intersect for you?
“I’m a big fan of reinvention, constant movement. I am a medical scientist who worked on neuroscience, cancer, computational/math biology, gene therapy, Covid, in vitro, in vivo, in silico and clinical – then went to business school, and who’s also a cartoonist, illustrator and a writer. Depending on who you talk to, that’s either unusually broad or thoroughly unfocused, sort of in unmedicated ADHD territory. For me it’s clear, if you give me one protein or gene to focus on, I’d be profoundly bored before the end of the month. As to new stuff, I tried playing the e-guitar, but it was cruel (for both the guitar and my ears), so visual art it is. There are many intersections – from the quest to go after new hypotheses & data vs. working at getting better with your drawing skills, to harnessing creativity for experimental design and research tech development.
Design innovation and biomedical engineering progress can greatly benefit from creative energy, and related visual art methods/techniques – think, storyboarding. Then there are the art directors and editors which have an uncanny resemblance to scientific journal reviewers/editors & university faculty promotion committee (see cartoon). I guess it’s a reflection of left-right brain symbiosis, and it’s by no means unique; if you go through the ranks at this or any other medical school, I bet you’ll find a great deal of closeted artsy people who deal with that repressed side as best as they can …:)”
How does art influence your life and your work?
“I love art, always have. Whenever my family & I visit a new city, I try to make time checking out local museums and galleries. I am a huge fan of contemporary art including graffiti (as long as it’s not my house wall). I also collect art – ideally better ones, so I collect old Disney illustrations from the Golden Age of Animation. It’s fun but also humbling – because these guys were that good. Same goes for some of the standout Marvel/DC creators these days, as well as all the top freelancers – frankly frustrating to look at Pinterest or follow them on DeviantArt, ArtStation, Behance, Twitter to see their skills and recognize your own limitations. Then again, the democratization of art, the ability to rapidly showcase it to a wide audience and the innovation of biz models such as NFTs makes for plenty of opportunities in years to come. I am super excited about the future where we may combine visual ‘art-tech-healthcare’, perhaps with gamifications and through augmented reality/virtual reality (AR/VR) tech – from visual medical education to treatment facilitation. Check out companies like ‘Sketchy’ and ‘Reimagine Well’. The sky’s the limit for creative innovators …”
If this post left you craving more of Tom’s work check out his InsideOut gallery! Also, over the course of the interview process these past few weeks, Tom was inspired to share a brewing idea he had to use fMRI to understand differences in engagement when we experience information in what has now become standard PowerPoint/bullet fashion versus visually appealing cartoons with the ultimate goal of designing better communication strategies/tactics. Perhaps this fMRI experiment never comes to fruition, but maybe you will think about this when you put your next talk together. I’m sure we could all benefit if we started asking ourselves “Is this the most interesting way to communicate this information?” Maybe even starting with,”How can I show this? vs How can I write this?” Food for thought Martinos Center!
And that’s the latest “dose” of InsideOut—until next time, be well!
Contributed by Natalie Gilmore