Usually when we use the term “comic book science” around, it’s to refer to the close-enough-for-fantasy hand-waving that goes into kinda-sorta explaining things like yellow sun radiation allowing a man to fly, or alternate dimensions created by a mad doctor’s time-travel machine in our favorite superhero comics.
There is, of course, the other kind of comic book science, too — real science that appears in comic books about science. Comics like these two very different, new-ish releases that tackle some of the most difficult subjects ever put in panels: Margreet de Heer’s Science: A Discovery in Comics and Darryl Cunnningham’s How To Fake a Moon Landing: Exposing The Myths of Science Denial.
Of the two, De Heer’s is perhaps the more ambitious, attempting as it does to tell the entire history of science, from the murky dawn of mankind up until where quantum theory stood at the point of publication. All in just 180 pages!
And she manages to get it all in!
How? Well, mainly through abbreviation. While various major scientists (Sir Isaac Newton, Leonardo Da Vinci, Charles Darwin, etc) get little, multi-page stories, many more simply get an image, a label naming them and a dialogue bubble saying, “I was the founder of Optometry!” or whatever.
Conventions | Retailers in the Boston area talk about the importance of Boston Comic Con to their bottom line. This year’s event will be held Saturday and Sunday. [The Boston Globe]
Creators | Nate Powell, who got his start distributing photocopied minicomics at punk-rock shows, talks to his hometown newspaper about working with Rep. John Lewis on March, drawing a Percy Jackson graphic novel, and life as a full-time comic artist: “There’s a whole lot of constant hustling as a cartoon artist, and really I credit DIY punk as far as shaping the way that I navigate the world to allow me to still tap into the constant hustling necessary to keep my head above water.” [Arkansas Times]
Darryl Cunningham’s How to Fake a Moon Landing, which debuted last month at MoCCA Arts Fest, looks at a number of popular fallacies, from homeopathy to global warming denial, and lays out not just the science behind each one but the history as well, including the personalities who drove them.
Personal tales crossed over into science in Cunningham’s first book Psychiatric Tales, which not only described different mental disorders but related stories about each one, told from Cunningham’s vantage point as a care assistant on a psychiatric ward and his own experience with depression. How to Fake a Moon Landing is less personal but still has a point of view, which is that there’s good science and bad science, and it’s important to be able to tell the difference. (You can see excerpts from the book, and his other work as well, on his blog.) I spoke with Cunningham about both books during a quiet moment at MoCCA.
ROBOT 6: Do you have a background in science?
Darryl Cunningham: I worked as a care assistant in an acute psychiatric ward, and after a few years, I thought I would do training to be a mental health nurse. I did a three-year course, which is very, very academic — more academic than it needs to be. Through that I learned how to write essays and research things, and to be skeptical about research, to look at how things have been properly peer reviewed, [whether] the evidence has been replicated, that kind of thing. I got a sense of how science works. After eight years of doing this, I was completely burned out. I couldn’t continue — I had a major crisis, really, started suffering from anxiety and depression, and I had to leave that work, but out of that whole experience, Psychiatric Tales came out.
I got into the habit of researching and have been able to boil down a lot of information into a comic strip format. And I listen to science podcasts when I’m drawing — some are famous ones, like The Skeptic’s Guide to the Universe — and listening to these, I realized there was a whole series of hot-button issues that came up time and time again that people didn’t really understand, things like the idea that the moon landing was a conspiracy, the MMR vaccination controversy, and evolution, not so much in Europe but very much here. I had the whole book structured for me and ready to go. All I had to do was research, write, and draw it. [Laughs] It took the better part of a year.
Conventions | The Orange County Register previews WonderCon, which returns this weekend to Anaheim, California, and selects some of the highlights from the programming schedule, including panels dedicated to “Batman: The Zero Year,” The True Lives of the Fabulous Killjoys, and Joss Whedon’s Much Ado About Nothing. [Orange County Register]
Conventions | The Detroit News runs down the upcoming slate of Michigan conventions dedicated to comics, anime, fantasy/sci-fi, horror and collectibles, ranging from Shuto Con to Kids Read Comics! to Detroit FanFare. [The Detroit News]
The Olympics are over, and London returns to normal. Surveying the Twitter feeds and blogs of that city’s comics creators, we see a very mixed reaction to the Games of the XXX Olympiad. Some loved it, others hate sports so much they fled the city for the duration, and some cynical souls were total converts after Danny Boyle’s epochal Opening Ceremony. Here’s a selection of reactions from U.K. comics folk.
Did you know there’s a Rich Johnson as well as a Rich Johnston? Rather than being a wispy bearded gossip-monger, the man we’ll call The Other Rich is a teacher-turned-cartoonist, influenced by the tradition of the great DC Thomson comic anthologies The Beano and The Dandy. I loved the work he produced as the nation got swept up in euphoria and expectation. His Bradley Wiggins tribute, the Wigbot (above), reminds me of the joke that originated after the Beijing Olympics: the British are good at any sport that involves sitting — cycling, rowing, sailing — but not so much the other stuff. Continue Reading »
Creators | Alan Moore will make a rare convention appearance in September — his first in 25 years, according to this article — at the inaugural Northants International Comics Expo in Northamptonshire, England. To attend Moore’s hour-long talk on writing comics or the hour-long question-and-answer session, convention-goers are required to donate graphic novels to the Northamptonshire Libraries, which will have a table at the event. [Stumptown Trade Review]
Creators | Mark Waid gets the NPR treatment, as Noah J. Nelson interviews him about his digital comics initiatives. “I got news for you: I’ve been doing this for 25 years, and this is the hardest writing I’ve ever had to do,” Waid says of creating digital comics. [NPR]
Publishing | Abrams ComicArts editorial director Charles Kochman discusses the publisher’s spring lineup, which will include William Stout’s Legends of the Blues, Darryl Cunningham’s What the Frack, a history of Bazooka Joe comics, and a Will Eisner artbook written by Paul Levitz. [ICv2]
First, a heads-up on the British Invasion of Toronto: This weekend, Toronto Comics Art Festival will host a number of creators from the United Kingdom, including Sean Azzopardi (Necessary Monsters), Darryl Cunningham (Psychiatric Tales), Joe Decie (Accidental Salad), Tom Gauld (Goliath), Lizz Lunney (Depressed Cat: Nine Miserable Lives) and Luke Pearson (Hilda and the Midnight Giant). Publishers Blank Slate, Nobrow Press and SelfMadeHero will also be in attendance. I ran into some other British creators at MoCCA this weekend; you’ll be hearing about that shortly.
Comics | Gary Northfield shows off some of the art from his comic Gary’s Garden, which runs in the weekly children’s comic The Phoenix:
Part autobiography, part made-up nonsense (well, mainly completely made-up nonsense to be fair), Gary’s Garden delves into my favourite thing ever – me spying on the comings and goings of all the little dudes and dudettes who dwell in my garden.
This makes me wish more fervently than ever that The Phoenix would get an app or somehow make itself available outside the UK, digitally or on paper. Adding to my pain: Jim Medway offers a peek at his new comic Chip Charlton & Mr. Woofles of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.
The UK comics scene is bustling, with 2000AD celebrating its 35th anniversary, a new kids’ comic making waves, and tons of creators working on tons of new projects.
The indy publisher Blank Slate, home of Psychiatric Tales and the anthology Nelson, will be publishing a collected edition of Nick Abadzis’s Hugo Tate, and in anticipation of that, Abadzis has set up a Hugo Tate Tumblr for photos, thoughts, and even the odd page of comics.
I think we already knew this, but it’s good news anyway: The UK publisher Myriad Editions sent out a press release announcing that they will publish Darryl Cunningham’s Science Tales in April.
If you’re a regular Robot 6 reader, you will probably already have seen some of Cunningham’s work, as we have linked to it several times; his comics are little mini-documentaries that take on controversial topics and debunk bad science. He has posted a number of the chapters of Science Tales on his blog and in a recent post he compared their popularity. His chapters on Evolution and the Moon Hoax are literally off the charts with over 250,000 hits each, while his autism/vaccine story, The Facts in the Case of Dr. Andrew Wakefield, which made the rounds of the comics blogosphere, got about 40,000 hits. Cunningham observes in the post that many of the visits come from folks who are interested in the topic covered, rather than comics per se:
It shows, I think, that the comic strip medium has a huge audience waiting out there beyond the tiny bubble of fandom. Readers coming to my blog to read these chapters were not the usual comic book crowd. They were drawn to to read these comics because of the subject, not because of the medium. Many noters commented that they didn’t usually read comics at all.
You can see this in the comments to each comic, which generally include a lively, but civil, debate about the topic at hand. (The readers also do Cunningham’s editing for him, pointing out typos and other small errors.) The posted chapters serve as the beta version of the book, but for fans of Cunningham’s work (his Psychiatric Tales is already available in the U.S.), the print edition will be well worth seeking out.
The U.K. comics scene has been heating up of late, and we can only hope that 2012 will see a British Invasion of the comics variety. The BBC has coverage of the latest development: The launch of The Phoenix, a weekly children’s comic published by David Fickling (whose David Fickling Books is an imprint of Random House). The name is apt: The Phoenix is a reprise of an earlier attempt, The DFC, which garnered a lot of praise but shut down after 43 issues. The Phoenix is launching with a nice lineup of stories and talent, including Neill Cameron, Simone Lia, Gary Northfield and Jamie Smart (who draws Desperate Dan for the long-running weekly The Dandy). Unfortunately, it’s print-only and not available digitally, so most U.S. readers won’t get to see it just yet.
Meanwhile, Strip Magazine, a monthly comic dedicated to serialized action tales, has released its second issue. Unlike The Phoenix, Strip is available digitally as an iPad app, which means we Yanks can read it, too. (I think the high point of my year was learning that The Beano and The Dandy are now available as iPad apps.)
If you’re not quite ready to let go of Christmas yet (hey, it’s supposed to be 12 days!), check out the classic British Christmas comics that Lew Stringer (another talented artist) has posted at his blog. It’s a fascinating look back in time. Dandy artist Andy Fanton posts a more modern Christmas comic (very much in the Dandy style) at his blog.
And finally, we had the U.S. release last week of Nelson, the collaborative graphic novel by 54 creators, each of whom contributed a chapter about one day in the life of a young woman. The contributors include Roger Langridge, Duncan Fegredo, Warren Pleece, Posy Simmonds and Darryl Cunningham, and publisher Blank Slate is donating the proceeds from the sale of the book to the homelessness charity Shelter.
Creators | Some military personnel are upset that comics legend Stan Lee received the Honorable Order of St. Barbara award in July during the week of Comic-Con International, as the award is “traditionally reserved for career cannon cockers in the Army and Marine Corps who have made their mark on the field artillery or air defense communities.” While the award credited Lee, who served stateside in the Army during World War II, with writing “several training manuals and films for the artillery and all other branches of the service,” the co-creator of the Fantastic Four and other Marvel properties said he didn’t recall ever doing so. A spokesman for Maj. Gen. David Halverson, commander of the Army Field Artillery Center at Fort Sill, Okla., who signed off on the award, said it “was given to a former soldier and WWII veteran whose contributions, both in the Army and beyond, are in keeping with and representative of all the high standards of achievement and selfless service associated with the Honorary Order of Saint Barbara.” Lee actually missed receiving the award, as at the ceremony he also received an Army Certificate of Achievement and left before the second award could be given. [Air Force Times]
Darryl Cunningham, creator of Psychiatric Tales, has a new medical comic up at his blog, this one taking on the pseudo-science of chiropractic therapy. He takes a pretty strong line in this, as in his other comics debunking the vaccination-autism connection and global-warming deniers. Cunningham’s style is a bit monotonous — six panels per page, most containing a text box with narration — so reading the comic is like watching a documentary. It doesn’t make for an action-packed experience, but it is a good way to bring the reader through a complicated topic like this, introducing information a little at a time. The comic will eventually be published in his book Science Tales, where, he promises, he will provide references and background material. In the meantime, it’s a great short course in the subject.
Darryl Cunningham has posted a fascinating new comic at his site, Murderer’s Eyes, the (apparently true) tale of a man with many strange delusions—among other things, he believes he was kidnapped by mass murderers and that their eyes had been transplanted into his head. As fascinating as this man’s many delusions are—and I urge you to read the short comic just for that—Cunningham’s explanation for why he doesn’t belong in a mental institution is equally interesting. This story is destined for the second volume of Cunningham’s Psychiatric Tales, the first volume of which was just published this spring, but grab the chance and read it now.
Darryl Cunningham is carving out a nice little niche for himself as the Malcom Gladwell of comics, with sequential-art debunkings of moon-landing hoax theories, homeopathy, and the link between vaccines and autism. In his latest comic, he takes a look at climate change, both the scientific reasoning behind it and the political controversy surrounding it. Cunningham’s cartoons tend to be a bit didactic, leaning on text boxes to convey chunks of facts and statistics, but they also do a good job of explaining the issues in a straightforward way; this is as good a primer as you’ll get on the topic, and it’s a nice read, too.
Darryl Cunningham has just posted a new chapter of his Uncle Bob adventures on his blog. It’s both whimsical and sorta heartbreaking—anyway, you’ll probably like it better than Cockbone, so go take a look! The book is due out from Blank Slate sometime next year.