J.G. Jones has helped the caped crusader clean up the streets of Gotham, put the zing in your friendly neighborhood web-slinger’s swing, and even ensured the Lasso of Truth ensnared its intended target.
By day, Jones has long roamed the naked streets of Metropolis as a mild-mannered comic book artist, but now he has unmasked himself as a rare disease advocate, putting his pen and brush to work in an effort to bring attention to a group of rare blood cancers known myeloproliferative neoplasms, or MPNs. His watercolor portraits of MPN patients are the centerpiece of an awarness campaign from Incyte. Incyte makes Jakafi, the first drug approved to treat one of these conditions.
What this group of cancers have in common is that the mechanism of blood cell production has gone haywire. That’s something Jones knows about firsthand. The first patient portrait Jones created for the campaign was one of himself.
In another one, a man identified as David G., a mystery writer and avid bike rider, is seen peddling down a country road. David was diagnosed after a bicycle accident sent him to a hospital.
Unlike the muscular bang, pow, kazowie of the comic books he draws, the watercolors for the campaign are gentle portraits. Jones sits at a drawing board with a brush he is dipping in a tray of watercolors. In the background is a standing rack of comic books, a reminder of the work he does.
Jones trained as a fine artist with a graduate degree in painting and had a long love of comic books. While working at a weekly newspaper in Brooklyn, New York, he began working with a reporter at the paper in his spare time on a comic book about vampires. He took a few sample pages to a ComicCon convention and got hired on the spot, launching him on his career in comics.
His illustrations have included many of the most popular characters in the Marvel and DC world, including Batman, Spiderman, and Wonder Woman.
The Incyte campaign features watercolor portraits of several patients with MPNs. The portraits accompany short stories about people who have had MPN and are being published sequentially over the life of the campaign.
Jones had lived for more than a year with symptoms of MPN before he went to a doctor. He had trouble concentrating, he would fall asleep at his drawing table with a pencil in hand and suffered from constant fatigue. Though he was hesitant to see a doctor for fear of a serious problem, when he blew a critical deadline on a major project, he decided it was time to get examined.
A blood test revealed an abnormally high level of red blood cells. After being sent for a bone marrow biopsy, he was diagnosed in 2009 with polycythemia vera, a condition in which there is a proliferation of red blood cells. The volume of red blood cells is so great, that it thickens the blood and impedes blood flow.
Jones had gone through several treatments before undergoing a bone marrow transplant 18 months ago. That has cured him of his cancer, but he continues to use immunosuppressants to prevent his body from attacking the transplanted bone marrow.
The experience of interviewing other MPN patients and painting their portraits has been a reminder to Jones that he is not alone. He’s struck up friendships with the other MPN patients as he has come to know them through his work on the campaign.
The experience has turned him into a rare disease advocate. He also wants people to understand the importance of getting a diagnosis and that if treated, people with MPN can still lead a full life.
“I’ve always pretty much kept to myself. I don’t share a lot of information about my personal life. It’s been about my work,” he said. “It seemed like an opportunity to use what I do to shine a light on these diseases because I don’t think enough people know about them and there are probably a lot of missed diagnoses because some of the symptoms can mimic other things and if you are not aware and put two and two together, it can easily be missed.”