The Stuff of Life

I 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 cover
The Stuff of Life
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When I saw The Stuff of Life: A graphic guide to genetics and DNA, I thought it would be another great book in the genre. Heck, it was both blurbed by Hosler and illustrated by Zander Cannon and Kevin Cannon, who previously worked with Ottaviani on two books, T-Minus: The Race to the Moon and Bone Sharps, Cowboys, and Thunder Lizards. Unfortunately, I was severely disappointed.

First, I found the premise silly. The framing sequence has an alien named Bloort 183 reporting on human genetics to the king, Floorsh 727. Aliens with goofy names? Ok, maybe they wanted something visually interesting, since this is a comic. Nope. The aliens are stalks with a flower on top with an eye in the middle. They’re lumpy and boring.

They feature in a very text-heavy, yawn-inducing introduction. Why does a book on genetics start with the formation of the planet Earth? I thought I was in the wrong volume. The overwritten text doesn’t work well as comics — the pictures illustrate the words instead of integrating with them. The art is quite good, actually; it’s a shame that the small size of the book and the copious amounts of text don’t show it off better.

By the time they start the genetics information, they’re throwing concepts, facts, and specialized terms at the reader rapidly. The alien nattering becomes a distraction instead of a way into the pile of jargon.

I’m not sure who the audience for this is. Younger readers will be put off by the relatively advanced vocabulary. Older readers (college level, for example) will likely find the comedy aliens too silly. I only made it 25 pages into the 150-page book before I gave up — it was making me sleepy. I will say, flipping through the rest, it seems very thorough and in-depth in covering its subject, but I was too bored to continue. There’s an excerpt at the publisher’s website if you want to see more.


4 Responses to “The Stuff of Life”

  1. Journalista – the news weblog of The Comics Journal » Blog Archive » Sept. 30, 2009: Free on teh internets Says:

    [...] [Review] The Stuff of Life Link: Johanna Draper Carlson [...]

  2. Gary Reed Says:

    Johanna,
    I felt the same way in both the anticipation and the disappointment. I found the “characters” to be obnoxious.
    Having said that, being an instructor in college biology courses, while I tend to “hate” all such characters, a lot of students do like them…so, I guess I can see the merit in doing it that way but it is not for me.
    Some of the biology aspects were off but again, this is written for newbies for the most part so it’s close enough to get the general ideas across.
    I was actually working on something similar and when I saw their announcement, I pulled back figuring I’m not going to try and compete with theirs and there is so much else in science to write about. Overall, I think this book was okay but hopefully, it will entice more to be produced so for that, it’s a good thing overall.

  3. Johanna Says:

    Wow, thanks for sharing such an experienced opinion. The point about the framing potentially being of interest to a different audience is a good one.

  4. Good Comics Out February 2 » Comics Worth Reading Says:

    [...] Earth (Hill and Wang, $18.95) to order sight unseen — I was disappointed by its predecessor, The Stuff of Life, and the “aliens explain things to each other” conceit is a tad precious — but [...]




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