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I sometimes think that because his books have an “educational” bent, Jay Hosler tends to get short shrift in the comics community. Sure, his books are filled with interesting facts and figures and are largely aimed at a younger audience, but they often have a wider emotional resonance that move them beyond mere textbook value. Beyond providing bon mots about the lives of honeybees, Clan Apis offered some bittersweet truths about the cycle of life and death. Beyond providing a 101 lesson in evolution, The Sandwalk Adventures offered a rather pointed rejoinder to the Creationist movement as well as a meditation on how new ideas can upset culture and tradition.
Optical Allusions, Hosler’s newest work, isn’t quite as good as those two books — it leans a bit more toward the educational side of things — but it’s smart, imaginative, hilarious and in terms of plot and structure, his tightest book yet.
The plot involves Wrinkles, a cute anthropomorphic brain, who works for the three weird witches of Greek mythology (and Sandman) fame, though they seem to be working as research scientists now.
After losing their magic eye in a vat of “distilled imagination” Wrinkles must set off on a journey though time and space where he comes across odd superheroes, a carnivorous Charles Darwin, cyclops, mad scientists and insect pirates on a quest to recover the eye. Along the way he also learns a lot about how eyes work and how they developed over time.
So yes, this is primarily a book about evolution and science and full of facts and figures and charts. Hosler even intersperses the chapters with textbook-like sections where he goes more in-depth as to the hard science behind the story.
But it’s also a book about the wonders of the human imagination and how trial and error and even dead ends and outright failure can lead to knowledge and discovery. Beyond learning about the wonders of the human eyeball, this is a book designed to get you excited about science, Bill Nye-style.
But more important than any of that is the fact that Optical Allusions is a lot of fun to read. Hosler has a real off the cuff, irreverent wit that I really appreciate and there were several sequences that made me laugh out loud, which except for the occasional issue of Tales Designed to Thrizzle is a real rarity these days. What’s more, while the comic is filled with dialogue, it never feels wordy or text-heavy. Hosler’s designs keep your eye hopping across the page even as your digesting some heady concepts.
Obviously this is a book amied at and best suited to K-12 students, or at least those who have an interest in eyes and science. But to dismiss Optical Allusions as an “educational” or “kids” book is to miss out on some really great cartooning. Don’t pass it by.