Inspired by a hemophilia patient’s epic battle with the disease and his role as a Dungeons and Dragons dungeon master, BioMarin and Believe Limited are collaborating again on creative content for the hemophilia community—this time in graphic novel form.
Jonathan Hill's novel “Blood of the Paladin” tells his story of struggling with severe hemophilia A and how it influenced not just his health, but every aspect of his life. His story begins at age 2 and follows him growing up with hemophilia and discovering D&D as an escape. The novel travels through the ‘80s and the blood contamination crisis, when Hill was diagnosed with both HIV and hepatitis C. And it even recounts Hill's struggle with—and eventually overcoming of—an opioid addiction.
Hill took his story to Believe and BioMarin knowing that the pharma and the production companies had launched several uniquely creative projects related to hemophilia. Hill captivated them with his story, and the two companies realized the narrative lent itself to more than just a single storytelling.
“Collectively, we all realized that there was a lot more than just the written word here—there were incredibly powerful visuals, there was gut-wrenching storytelling,” Ryan Gielen, co-founder of Believe Limited, said. “It lends itself really beautifully to a graphic novel where people could actually see an escape into the same worlds that Jonathan escaped into.”
Hill originally wrote about his life as a memoir and a way to process his own thoughts and feelings about his life and disease. He describes his childhood in California going on hikes with his dad in the woods, while always trying to manage the problems that come with hemophilia and escaping into the world of Dungeons and Dragons. The fantasy role-playing game offered the young Hill both real play experiences with friends and a mental escape while spending extended periods of time at home or in the hospital.
To emphasize the importance of both worlds, Believe commissioned two artists—one a more traditional comic artist, and the other a specialist D&D artist who created the fantasy sequences.
Debra Charlesworth, VP of corporate communications at BioMarin, pointed out the positive messages in Hill’s story and his supportive relationships with family and friends with the hope that he inspires the rest of the community.
“He demonstrated resiliency during difficult times in his life even when he didn’t think he could overcome them. Our hope is that ‘Blood of the Paladin’ helps to bring greater understanding not only of the burdens but also the remarkable resiliency of people with hemophilia,” she said.
The goal of the project is to get members of the community to engage with their disease because it’s been shown that doing so keeps people on their treatment regimens and out of the emergency room, Gielen said.
“Blood of the Paladin” was mailed, along with the National Hemophilia Foundation's quarterly magazine HemAware, in February to 13,000 community members in the U.S. People can also order a copy of the graphic novel through its website.
And fans can go behind the novel with a podcast series by the same name, with interviews with Hill and his family and friends talking about life, love, D&D and lessons learned. Believe is now organizing Zoom book clubs where people can speak with Hill and ask questions about the novel, and it's planning an audiobook for release in the fall.