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Chasing down a mystery illness

In ‘Resistance’, bestselling author Val McDermid and illustrator Kathryn Briggs join forces to tell the fictional tale of a frightening mystery illness, known as Sips. It’s resistant to drugs and spreading fast, but information is hard to find. In this extract from the graphic novel, a journalist tries to persuade a reluctant doctor to reveal the truth about what’s happening.

Words by Val McDermid|artwork by Kathryn Briggs

  • Book extract
Photograph of an open hardback book resting on a white surface. The top part of the book is overhanging the white surface. Just below the white surface is another red surface creating an edge around the white top. This red compliments the red colour of the inside of the hardback cover. The two open pages of the book show black and white graphic novel illustrations. Behind the book and the surfaces is a black background.
Double page spread from 'Resistance' a book by Val McDermid and Kathryn Briggs, Photo: Steven Pocock. Source: Wellcome Collection. Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International (CC BY-NC 4.0).

And the chase was on. I followed her to the Metro and found a seat a few rows behind her. In spite of the rising fear of Sips, the carriage was still busy, even by the time she got off at North Shields. I’d have been screwed if she had been heading for a car, but she stayed on foot, leading me straight to a neat little terraced house ten minutes’ walk away...

Greyscale graphic novel illustration, telling a story over fifteen images on this page. The first image contains a background, running vertically, of a bus map of Sunderland showing the River Wear and various stops along the route such as, Monkseaton and Millfield. On top of the map is a line drawing of the front of a house set behind railings and shrubs, framed within two black rectangular lines. Above this drawing is a text box containing the following text, 'And the chase was on. I followed her to the Metro and found a seat a few rows behind her. In spite of the rising fear of Sips, the carriage was still busy, even by the time she got off at North Shields. I’d have been screwed if she had been heading for a car, but she stayed on foot, leading me straight to a neat little terraced house ten minutes’ walk away.'
Page 81 of 'Resistance' a book by author Val McDermid and illustrator Kathryn Briggs. © Val McDermid and Kathryn Briggs.
Greyscale graphic novel continues. The second image contains the same background, running vertically, of a bus map of Sunderland showing the River Wear and various stops along the route such as, Northumberland Park and Jarrow. On top of the map are two line drawings, framed within two black square boxes. The box on the left shows two characters. Dr. Siddiqui, a young woman wearing glasses and a head scarf is standing at her open front door looking out at a young woman standing on her doorstep. This young black woman is called Zoe Beck. She is wearing a jacket and has braided black hair. Zoe says,'It’s Dr Siddiqui, isn’t it?' To which Dr. Siddiqui replies, 'What? I’m sorry, have we met?'. In the illustrated box on the right Zoe continues, 'My name’s Zoe Beck.' Dr. Siddiqui replies, 'You’re the journalist who...'.
Page 81 of 'Resistance' a book by author Val McDermid and illustrator Kathryn Briggs. © Val McDermid and Kathryn Briggs.
The greyscale graphic novel continues. The third image contains the same background, running vertically, of a bus map of Sunderland showing the River Wear and various stops along the route such as, Benton and Felling. On top of the map are two line drawings, framed within two black square boxes. The box on the left shows a close up of Zoe's eyes and nose filling the box. She says, 'I’m the journalist who’s trying to tell people the truth about what’s happening.'. The illustrated box on the right shows a close up of Dr. Siddiqui's eyes, glasses and nose. She replies, 'I can't help you' to which Zoe says, 'You won't help me'.
Page 81 of 'Resistance' a book by author Val McDermid and illustrator Kathryn Briggs. © Val McDermid and Kathryn Briggs.
The greyscale graphic novel continues. The fourth image contains a black background with a small section of Dr Siddiqui's door and doorway and Zoe's hand pushed against the door. She says, 'No, don't close the door.' From inside the doorway, Dr Siddiqui replies 'get your hand off my door'. Zoe says, 'I don't understand you, Doctor. You're a scientist. Why are you joining the conspiracy to keep the truth from people?'.
Page 82 of 'Resistance' a book by author Val McDermid and illustrator Kathryn Briggs. © Val McDermid and Kathryn Briggs.
The greyscale graphic novel continues. The fifth image contains a black background with a full height image of Dr Siddiqui's front door but from inside her house. She is stood at the door holding it ajar with her left hand. Dr Siddiqui says, 'It’s not that straightforward. Please leave me alone.' From outside the house Zoe replies, 'It looks pretty straightforward to me. The politicians are trying to keep the lid on something that’s killing people. If it’s not that simple, you need to explain what I’m not getting here.' Dr Siddiqui pleads, 'I’ve got nothing to say. Please. Go away.'.
Page 82 of 'Resistance' a book by author Val McDermid and illustrator Kathryn Briggs. © Val McDermid and Kathryn Briggs.
The greyscale graphic novel continues. The sixth image contains a grid of four illustrations. In the top left image Zoe is still standing at the front door. She says, 'I don’t believe you’re happy about this. You’re a scientist. Sharing knowledge is what you do. If you’re not about that, what are you for?'. In the top right image Dr Siddiqui look down slightly and replies, 'You don’t understand. Knowledge isn’t the same as power to get things done. I can’t talk to you.'. The bottom left image shows a detail of Zoe's outstretched hand, she says, 'Not even off the record? If I promise to keep your name out of it?' Int he bottom right image Dr Siddiqui reaches for the door handle as Zoe continue, 'If you’re one of the survivors, Doctor, you still have to live with yourself.'.
Page 82 of 'Resistance' a book by author Val McDermid and illustrator Kathryn Briggs. © Val McDermid and Kathryn Briggs.
The greyscale graphic novel continues. The seventh image contains two illustrated boxes. In the one on the left, Dr Siddiqui stands in the doorway looking straight at Zoe. She says, 'Come through to the kitchen. You’ve got twenty minutes.'. The illustration to the right shows Zoe walking into the house saying, 'You’re doing the right thing, you know.'. Dr Siddiqui replies, ' I hope so.'.
Page 83 of 'Resistance' a book by author Val McDermid and illustrator Kathryn Briggs. © Val McDermid and Kathryn Briggs.
The greyscale graphic novel continues. The eighth image contains three illustrated boxes. The box on the left contains drawings of micro bacteria and on the left medicine pill capsules. In the centre box are the head and shoulders of the two women in conversation. Dr Siddiqui says, 'You leave my name out of it, are we clear on that?'. Zoe replies, 'If that’s what it takes to get you to talk to me, totally.'
Page 83 of 'Resistance' a book by author Val McDermid and illustrator Kathryn Briggs. © Val McDermid and Kathryn Briggs.
The greyscale graphic novel continues. The ninth image contains three illustrated boxes. The box on the right contains drawings of micro bacteria and medicine pill capsules all mixed together. The left and centre boxes show a scene split across Dr Siddiqui's kitchen. In the left box Zoe, standing by a table, says,'Sips is definitely bacterial, right?', 'Yes' replies Dr Siddiqui. 'So why aren’t the Sips victims being treated?' asks Zoe. Dr Siddiqui, touching her glasses says, 'Because the drugs don’t work. Here’s the idiot’s guide. Bacteria are like every other organism. They evolve to survive. So when we attack them with drugs, they mutate so they’re no longer vulnerable to those drugs. Once they’ve developed that resistance, we need a different drug to tackle that particular bacterium. Over time, the bugs get stronger, and they’re harder to combat.'
Page 83 of 'Resistance' a book by author Val McDermid and illustrator Kathryn Briggs. © Val McDermid and Kathryn Briggs.
The greyscale graphic novel continues. The tenth and eleventh image are one large illustration  split across two images. The whole combined image shows a tall stained glass window similar to one you'd find in a Christian church. In the top left corner is Zoe's head, looking across to the top right where there is Dr Siddiqui's head looking back at her, both heads are drawn within a diamond shaped frame. Beneath them is an historical scene of three wealthy looking royal people in good health and well dressed on the left. On the right, separated by a tall vertical post and cross are three skeletons draped in rags. Around the edge of the stained glass window are ornate flourishes. In the tenth image Zoe asks, 'So, what? It becomes more expensive to treat people?' To which Dr Siddiqui replies, 'To an extent, yes. But the real issue is that we’ve stuffed ourselves and the animals we eat with a cocktail of unnecessary antibiotics over the past 30 years or more. It was only a matter of time before a disease came along that was stronger than anything we’ve got left to try.' Zoes asks again, 'So if scientists knew it was only a matter of time, why haven’t you developed new drugs?' Dr Siddiqui says simply, 'Economics'.
Page 84 of 'Resistance' a book by author Val McDermid and illustrator Kathryn Briggs. © Val McDermid and Kathryn Briggs.
In the eleventh image the conversation continues with Dr Siddiqui explaining, 'It costs tens of millions to develop any new drug. A billion or more, sometimes. The people who have the big money are the big pharmaceutical companies. And they’re not in the business of altruism. They have to keep their shareholders happy, so the drugs that excite them are the ones that people have to take every day for the rest of their lives. Statins, blood pressure stabilisers, corticosteroids, diabetes medications. That’s where the money is. Antibiotics are a loser. All those millions to develop and then most people only take them a few times in their lives.' 'Are you serious? Thousands of people are dying because there’s not enough profit in saving their lives?' exclaims Zoe. 'Pretty much' replies Dr Siddiqui.
Page 84 of 'Resistance' a book by author Val McDermid and illustrator Kathryn Briggs. © Val McDermid and Kathryn Briggs.
The greyscale graphic novel continues. The twelfth and thirteenth image are one large illustration  split across two images. The whole combined image shows a large hour glass shape within which the illustration shows the two women in conversation. Zoe is seated at the kitchen table and Dr Siddiqui stands on the opposite side. There are two details of the women's faces. In one Zoe has her hand over her mouth in horror. In the twelfth image Zoe asks, 'I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised. It’s the way the system works, right?' Dr Siddiqui explains, 'We’ve been living on borrowed time ever since the farmers worked out that pumping their animals full of antibiotics made them grow bigger and faster and kept them from getting sick and made them an extra £2.50 a pig. And then criminals flooded the market with counterfeit and falsified meds. This isn’t new. It’s just new here.' Zoe says 'I had no idea'.
Page 85 of 'Resistance' a book by author Val McDermid and illustrator Kathryn Briggs. © Val McDermid and Kathryn Briggs.
In the thirteenth image the conversation continues. Dr Siddiqui explains, 'In South East Asia, before the Sips came along, a child was dying every five minutes from resistant infections.' Zoe says 'I had no idea'. Dr Siddiqui relies, 'Mostly because there’s no patient advocacy, no campaign. It’s not like cancer. You don’t live with it. With infections, you recover or you die. End of.' Zoe asks, 'So is anybody trying to figure out how we save ourselves?'. 'There are research teams dotted all over the world looking at new antibiotic possibilities. Theoretically, we should be able to find something that will fight the Sips. But the disease is mutating so fast, and it takes so long to find effective treatments…' explains Dr Siddiqui.
Page 85 of 'Resistance' a book by author Val McDermid and illustrator Kathryn Briggs. © Val McDermid and Kathryn Briggs.
The greyscale graphic novel continues. The fourteenth and fifteenth image are one large illustration  split across two images. The whole combined image shows a large arched window with sculpted decoration in the top left and right corners of grapes on a vine and a trumpet horn. At the window are the women looking out, Zoe on the left against a black background and Dr Siddiqui on the right against a white background. In the fourteenth image Zoe asks, 'So, are you telling me this is it? This is Armageddon? We’re all going to die?'. Dr Siddiqui replies 'Not all of us. Some people will have a natural resistance. But we’ve no idea how many.'. 'Or how few' interjects Zoe, but Dr Siddiqui continues, 'Like I said, this disease is mutating so quickly it’s hard to predict outcomes. It’s not like it’s a process driven by intelligence. The bacterium just evolves without any kind of plan. It could be that the next mutation renders it harmless.'
Page 86 of 'Resistance' a book by author Val McDermid and illustrator Kathryn Briggs. © Val McDermid and Kathryn Briggs.
In the fifteenth image Zoe, with her chin resting on her hand adds, 'You don’t really believe that, do you?' To which Dr Siddiqui replies, 'Probably not, no. I think we’re on the threshold of a post-medicine era. Everything from childbirth to hip replacements, from cancer treatment to dentistry. Gone. It’ll be like Florence Nightingale in the Crimean War.'
Page 86 of 'Resistance' a book by author Val McDermid and illustrator Kathryn Briggs. © Val McDermid and Kathryn Briggs.

About the contributors

Photograph of Val McDermid

Val McDermid

Author

Val McDermid, the “queen of crime”, has published 27 crime novels, which have sold over 17 million copies worldwide, been translated into 40 languages and won multiple awards. Her series featuring criminal profiler Tony Hill was the basis for the TV series ‘Wire in the Blood’ for ITV.

Photograph of Kathryn Briggs

Kathryn Briggs

Graphic novelist

Kathryn Briggs is a graphic novelist. She combines a background in fine art with a love of pop culture to create comics that range from slice of life to comparative mythology. After studying in Scotland, she moved back to the woods of Pennsylvania in 2018.