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.
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.