*The Sandwalk Adventures — Recommended

In this scientific fantasy, two mites living in the follicle of Charles Darwin’s eyebrow tell each other myths about the creation of the world, involving a motley collection of humorous gods. It’s sort of a cosmic game of telephone, taking events and making them bigger and different in the retelling over generations. For some unknown reason, Darwin is able to hear one of them, Mara, when she speaks. Their resulting conversations about how life came to be touch on myth, religion, and evolution.

Hosler presents a charming portrait of Darwin as a lovable, somewhat doddering old man. (But then, wouldn’t you be confused if a microscopic insect living in your eyebrow started talking to you as if you were a god?) This adorable portrayal fits in with the even simpler shapes of the insects; part of the time they’re just talking circles, but as cartoons, they all work together.

The Sandwalk Adventures cover
The Sandwalk Adventures
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This cartoony style also makes the scene where Darwin smacks himself in the eye of less concern. It’s hard to worry about someone with little stars going around his head in circles… especially when his mites are yelling “AAA! He’s a vengeful god!” The friendly approach and art style make it all plausible.

The book is very funny, with quotes like “What a relief. I’m hearing voices but they aren’t talking to me.” Many of the jokes stem from reality, including odd bodily functions. It turns out, for example, that follicle mites don’t have butts. Willy’s complaints about this design make for humorous interludes, but there are underpinnings of something more serious. The humor makes the subject understandable and memorable.

Hosler works in concepts like “testable hypothesis” in a clear manner. If you’re not careful, you’ll learn something while reading. Beyond the story, there’s also pages of annotations that give background on the events and a bibliography for further reading, providing more information on Darwin’s life and times.

Getting past the expected disbelief on Darwin’s part is handled well. It could be generic or clichéd, but instead, it’s done with a straightforward approach that makes the humor funnier. Mara approaches him as a penitent. Anything he does is ok by her, because he’s a god. Aside from the exploration of belief, this is also a metaphor for unconditional love. Although it seems like it would be desirable, it carries a great deal of responsibility on the part of the beloved.

Mara’s knowledge of the truth begins to affect her life, as others worry about her changed behavior. She’s having trouble pretending that the myths passed down from generation to generation mean as much to her as they once did. Oral history of this type is necessary to maintain a culture without the ability to write or otherwise preserve their knowledge. As a side effect, the stories are often more interesting and gripping than what really happened. Who’d want to remember something mundane? This myth-making illustrates another type of mutation, as storytellers put themselves into their stories and change them over time.

Myths come from misinterpretations of real events. Instead of vomiting up the oceans and creating the world, for example, Darwin was actually seasick. This series also contains numerous allusions to classic philosophical questions and religious quotes and paradoxes. What do you do when your god says he’s not a god? Better yet, once he teaches you not to believe him, he’s got to provide proof for anything further he says. The most important lesson is the distinction between the questions of why they exist (which is metaphysical and outside the realm of science) and how they came to be (which involves a mechanism and is so subject to a testable hypothesis).

There are many more themes included, of course. Mara learns the hazards of altering stories when her instructional tale about passing traits onto the next generation becomes a laser-powered battle between Charles Darwin and a giant space beetle. Various aspects of evolutionary theory are explained through illustrative examples, as when a bacteria-filled pimple illustrates selective pressure on the usual process of natural selection. Hosler also does a wonderful job of capturing realistic family interactions, whether sibling spats or maternal love.

The mites are excellent stand-ins for typical students. They aren’t interested in what happened unless there’s adventure and monsters involved. They aren’t old enough — and they’ll never be old enough, given their two-month life spans — to understand the significance of Darwin’s excitement over skulls and fossils. Yet they have an innate curiosity, wanting to know where they came from, which leads Darwin into an explanation of his theories on natural selection.

Several myths about how evolution works are corrected, including reminding us that individuals don’t evolve. The more I read this story, the funnier and more insightful it seemed. I’ve never before found this particular philosophical debate this entertaining or educational. Not everyone sees the beauty and wonder of science; some prefer fanciful adventure stories. This series is the best of both.

More information can be found at Hosler’s web site or the Active Synapse web site. Hosler previously created the Clan Apis graphic novel.

Similar Posts: Online Darwin Anthology Seeks Short Comics § Optical Allusions § Ardman Pirates Movie Trailer § Learning About Comics From Movies and a Quote of the Day § Tokyopop Manga Grants Girl’s Wish


8 Responses to “*The Sandwalk Adventures — Recommended”

  1. Greg Morrow Says:

    Me, too.

    Hosler’s a talented cartoonist and an effective instructor. This is a terrific book, and (as I recall) quite suitable for all ages. It’d be one of the books I’d give an elementary school kid to foster an interest in science.

    The field of non-fiction comics in America isn’t very big, but the average quality is remarkably high.

  2. Comics Worth Reading Says:

    [...] The wonderful Jay Hosler (author of The Sandwalk Adventures and Clan Apis) has made available a charming five-page comic story called The Diabolical Dr. NoNoNo. It’s about how children interact with their world as experimenters and how parents must balance protection with allowing them to explore. And it’s just adorable! And thought-provoking, of course, like all of his work. [...]

  3. SPX Impressions » Comics Worth Reading Says:

    [...] Hosler – Picked up Optical Allusions, The Sandwalk Adventures, and Cow-Boy. All look excellent. Since my seven-year nephew likes science and comics I plan to [...]

  4. Optical Allusions » Comics Worth Reading Says:

    [...] streak of graphic novels that make science fun. Clan Apis told us of the life cycle of a bee. The Sandwalk Adventures used a mite in Charles Darwin’s eyebrow to explain evolution. But Optical Allusions may be [...]

  5. Online Darwin Anthology Seeks Short Comics » Comics Worth Reading Says:

    [...] more comics about Darwin? Check out Jay Hosler’s Sandwalk Adventures. [...]

  6. Jacks of Science » Blog Archive » Learning Science through Comic Books, A List Says:

    [...] a tale of two mites living on a eyebrow follicle of Charles Darwin. Comics Worth Reading has a nice review. Also check out Clan Apis, Hosler’s comic about honey-bee life and insect [...]

  7. The Stuff of Life » Comics Worth Reading Says:

    [...] like true science comics, like the works by Jay Hosler or written by Jim Ottaviani or the Manga Guides to various fields. The Stuff of Life [...]

  8. Coming Up: Good Comics Due February 2011 or Later » Comics Worth Reading Says:

    [...] Hosler’s true-science comics (like The Sandwalk Adventures, which explains evolution, or Optical Allusions, about how eyeballs work) are astounding, so I have [...]

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