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The sequential art in science

Striping scientific stories, one drawing at a time

June 28, 2013

Notoriously late, considering that it was published in 2009, I just finished reading Logicomix, the NYT bestseller graphic novel about the foundations of mathematic delivered through the life of Bertrand Russel (Fig.1).

Fig.1 – page from Logicomix (written by ApostolosDoxiadis, illustrated by AlecosPapadatos and Annie Di Donna)

Non-fiction science graphic novels seem to be a sidetrack from my built-in scientific illustration focus; but giving it some thought, maybe not so much. They aim to promote and engage audiences with science. Turn complex content into digestible accurate visual messages. And have a good share of entertainment and appealing illustrations. Actually, many connecting points.

It’s been interesting to observe the growth of the genre, one that I believe will keep expanding in the future. Its value for the learning of science in formal education is undisputable. And the role that it can play in healthcare has been masterfully followed and promoted by the team at Graphic Medicine. The fourth edition of the Comics and Medicine conferences they organize is in two weeks. Three full days of reflection and hands-on approaches to help bridge the gap between health practitioners and their patients – it’s understandable that getting a comics leaflet while preparing for having a surgery isreassuring and effective at the same time, since it can lay out the information with humor but without trivializing it.

But the scientific sequential art isn’t paying attention to medicine alone, we can find precious gems centering in many other fields of science. There is a trend exploring the biography of significant scientists throughout history by the writing hand of Jim Ottaviani who has worked with a sleuth of artists to illustrate great books, the most recent of them being Primates: The Fearless Science of Jane Goodall, Dian Fossey, and Birute Galdikas whose copy is on its way to my mailbox. Other notorious biographical pieces by different authors, in a much looser illustration style, are those about Marie and Pierre Currie and even Steve Jobs.

Holding substantiated positions in my top ten list are the books by Jay Hosler, a biologist and professor, besides acclaimed author. Books he authored as a writer and illustrator, such as Clan Apis, about our friends the honeybees, and the fantastic Sandwalk Adventures (Fig.2) – seriously, is there a better way to engage with the theory of evolution than through the dialog between Darwin and a mite that lives in his eyebrow?! And those where he and other authors put their penmanship side by side the great illustration work of Kevin and Zander Cannon, like Evolution: the story of life on earth (Fig.3) and The Stuff of Life: a graphic guide to genetics and DNA (check out the animation short).

Capa de Sandwalk Adventures
Fig.2 – Cover illustration of Sandwalk Adventures (written and illustrated by Jay Hosler)
Fig.3 – page from Evolution: the story of life on earth (written by Jay Hosler, illustrated by Kevin and Zander Cannon)

And here I could go on; luckily for us it is a striving ground where more and more authors are sowing to. It’s worth embracing and maybe we won’t be surprised when this art form infiltrates our educational system, museum exhibits and textbooks. Because I suspect it will.

Written by Diana Marques

Diana is a 1) a scientific illustrator and animator; 2) researching technology, visual communication and museums in a Digital Media PhD; 3) a biologist; 4) and occasionally a couple things more. Find her on the Web, LinkedIn and Twitter.