The first thing to say about Ian Williams’ new graphic novel The Lady Doctor is that it’s very funny. I mean, properly, snorting-tea-out-your-nose-while-you’re-reading-it funny.

But the follow-up to Williams’s first graphic novel The Bad Doctor is also an example of comics as social commentary

Williams, who is himself a GP, is investigating the state of our health service and how the personal and working lives of those who work in the medical profession interact.

The Lady Doctor in question is Dr Lois Pritchard. She drinks, she smokes, she sometimes has inappropriate relationships, she is estranged from her mum. In short, she’s a human being.

Williams follows her daily clinics in a Welsh practice and her work at the local STD clinic. She sees tattoos in intimate places and tries to help patients who don’t seem able to help themselves.

The result is ribald, insightful and hugely entertaining. No wonder both of his graphic novels have been optioned for television. But not British telly for some reason.

For Graphic Content, Williams talks about the state of the NHS, what we expect of our GPs and how comics allowed him to be open about his OCD.

Ian, what was the starting point for The Lady Doctor?

It is the second volume of a trilogy-in-progress. My first book, The Bad Doctor (a “darkly humorous tale of medicine, cycling, obsessive compulsive disorder, and heavy metal”) features three doctors who work in the same practice, although it foregrounds one, Dr Iwan James, as the protagonist. After I finished making it, it seemed to make sense to follow up with books about the other characters, Dr Lois Pritchard – the eponymous Lady Doctor – and the abrasive Dr Robert Smith. Lois’s character, in particular, was fully formed in my mind, although her wild side is not so apparent in the first book. She is cool and logical, but also adventurous, and seemed to cry out most urgently for her story to be told. I already had some of the comedic elements in mind that I wanted to include.

One of the messages of the book is that GPs are people too. Is that still a surprise to some people?

It is, apparently, yes. I guess that when we go and see the doctor, we are focused on our own problems, and doctors also tend to sit behind an implacable veneer of professionalism, so maybe people don’t give much thought to the doctor’s life outside the surgery. This was less true in traditional rural communities, of course, when the GP lived locally and might have had children at the same school as their patients, or have been seen staggering from the local pub. Those doctors lived in a goldfish bowl, prey to local gossip. Increasingly, GPs are tending to live away from their patch and avoid social contact with patients, who have to resort to Google-stalking them instead, if they want the skinny on their private lives.

It's fair to say that Lois's attitude to drink, drugs and sex is very much shaped by her life experience.

Yes. She grew up surrounded by heavy drinkers – miners at first, then medics – so drinking to her is natural and she does not regard it in the same way she does recreational drugs, which is ironic, as it gets her into plenty of scrapes. Her attitude to drugs has been shaped by what she has heard about her absent mother’s bohemian lifestyle, and by mainstream attitudes in healthcare, which tend to be rather judgmental, focusing on abstinence rather than harm reduction. The universal drive to experience altered states of consciousness, found in all societies, is not recognised. At the same time, doctors prescribe potentially addictive drugs such as opiates and benzodiazepines which can cause great harm. As a result, we have legions of prescription drug addicts in the UK. Her attitude to sex? She’s been messed around in the past and is tired of traditional societal constraints. She also gets a kick out of being “bad”.

Did the Pinocchio tattoo story come from your imagination or real life?

Ha ha. Umm... real life. I did actually see someone with that tattoo [in a very intimate area], and the conversation was pretty much as it is in the book. I can’t remember the guy’s name, but I sincerely hope it isn’t Tommy, as I called the character in the book. He didn’t look like the character and he can’t be the only person to have that tattoo, I’m sure, but I haven’t seen another one since.

The book is laugh-out-loud funny. Does it suggest medicine encourages the idea that life is essentially comic rather than tragic?

Thank you. I’m glad it made you laugh out loud. Medicine deals with much tragedy. It is the doctor’s bread and butter, but many unfortunate situations have an element of comedy, and this is what keeps doctors from becoming deeply depressed. Actually, a recent survey showed that many doctors are deeply depressed and maybe this is because there seems to be less scope for humour now, compared with when I qualified.

I blame it on NHS managers – everything is about efficiency and targets. There’s nothing as dull as having someone on your back, earnestly driving you to reach an arbitrary, easy-to-measure target. One of the reasons I went into medicine is because it looked like junior doctors had a laugh, and great parties with a skeleton sitting in the corner wearing a party hat. This all turned out to be true, at least when I qualified. There was a great team spirit amongst the doctors and nurses and porters and cooks. We all partied together. Then everything became fragmented, and catering was outsourced, and nurses’ accommodation was turned into managers’ offices. Now everyone seems so bloody serious.

Obviously, things are different in different parts of the country, and in the different nations, but should we be worried about the future of the NHS in the UK?

Well yes: the Tories are in charge. They pay lip service to the NHS, but it doesn’t really fit with their “survival of the richest” ethos, so they underfund it and privatise it by stealth while their champions in the media try to persuade us that the problem is, actually, immigrants and fat people. Brexit is a big threat. If we end up with a trade deal with the US which gives American insurance companies access to the UK it might sink the ship. A few of your readers might welcome this scenario, saying that the NHS is “broken” and an insurance-based system would be more “efficient”. I would invite them to contemplate what it might be like to battle with your sick spouse’s insurance company over what kind of cancer treatment they are entitled to, or how it might feel to have to sell your home to pay for your diabetic daughter’s insulin.

What has been the reaction to the books within the medical profession?

Just before The Bad Doctor came out I had a job interview for a locum post. I was skint and needed the work. They asked me why I didn’t appear to have been doing much general practice in the previous two years. I did not dare tell them I had been working on a comic book called The Bad Doctor. I was worried that I’d never get another job, that people would think I was insane (the book has autobiographical elements about my experience of disabling Obsessive Compulsive Disorder). As it turned out, many doctors loved it, and it was highly commended in the BMJ Annual Book Awards. It also enabled me to speak openly about my OCD for the first time.

I wonder what the profession at large will make of The Lady Doctor, regarding the drink, sex, and drugs angle. It got a great review in The Lancet, however.

Why comics? Is there something about the form that lends itself to the stories you want to tell?

I think so. The combination of words and images produces a very powerful medium that is also accessible, and drawing the story avoids clumsy description and those grating similes that often dog prose. The traditional cultural positioning of the comics medium as something disposable allows artists to fly in subversive material under-the-radar and talk about taboo or difficult subjects, while the tradition of humour and irony in underground comics also lends itself to making really tragic storylines somehow more engaging, even funny at times. They don’t have to be funny, but many “serious” comics are shot through with black humour. I started to make work that was about my experiences of working as a doctor, and of my OCD and depression and people seemed to like it. I found my voice through comics.

That said, it is little surprise that TV is interested. Did no British TV companies express an interest?

They did, and still are, but eOne proposed the right deal, and, what was important, they LOVED it. One of their executives picked up a copy at TCAF – Toronto Comic Art Fair – and shared it with her colleagues. Since they optioned both The Bad Doctor and The Lady Doctor two more UK production companies – names you would know – have got in touch to enquire about adaptation rights.

Are there more stories you want to tell?

Yes, loads. I want to tell Dr Robert Smith’s story. He’s the old-school, judgmental, misogynist, senior partner. He is – as one reader remarked – “a d***”. Many GP readers have recognised his type. He probably votes Tory and thinks Nigel Farage “speaks a lot of sense”. I’m going to have fun writing him. Something dramatic is going to happen that might enlighten him, somewhat. Or maybe not, we’ll see. The good thing about working in general practice is that the whole job is based on narratives. As doctors we listen to people’s stories, we interpret and reconstruct their stories using our medical knowledge. People love medical stories, all of life is there. At the same time, the main focus of my stories is on the doctors’ reaction, rather than being about the patients, per se. I try not to use real people’s stories (apart from the Pinocchio tattoo, obvs). The stories I tell are fiction, based upon situations I could imagine arising, or composites, or applying common scenarios to invented characters.

Finally, please tell me you use the exclamation "Jesus Jones" on a regular basis.

Oh, all the time. It only works if you say it in a Welsh accent, though.

The Lady Doctor, by Ian Williams, is published by Myriad Editions, £14.99.