Maker Comics: Bake Like a Pro! and Fix a Car!
I adore First Second’s Science Comics line. Most all of them are terrific true-life graphic novels about interesting topics. Not only are they educational, they’re entertaining, and well worth reading.
Now the publisher has expanded their non-fiction line with the new Maker Comics, which are similar, but focused on craft and skills instead of intellectual knowledge. The first two books are very different in topics, but both are equally informative and practical, covering things most people would benefit from learning. And like Science Comics, they introduce creative characters and situations to make the lessons memorable.
Maker Comics: Bake Like a Pro! by Falynn Koch (Science Comics: Bats and Science Comics: Plagues) introduces aspiring magician Sage. While her fellow apprentices are learning transfiguration or fire wizardry, she is assigned to learn baking, which bums her out. But her mentor Korian introduces her to the alchemy of the kitchen, and she grows to love creating tasty treats.
I got a kick out of Koch’s expressive characters, particularly when it comes to the talking ingredients (who want to be eaten). They’re great reminders of the core principles, which Koch does a great job establishing. The lessons are meaningful, even to someone who already knows how to make cookies. I’ve cooked several of the items covered here, but I didn’t know nearly this much about how and why the recipes came together.
I hadn’t thought before about how baking is harder than cooking, because cooking at its core just means applying heat. Baking requires combinations of ingredients, and how you do that can vary a lot. An early lesson shows why shortcuts (including instant products) don’t work as well as homemade treats, and the science of what happens during baking is covered by talking cookies.
There’s a surprising depth of detail here, a wide variety of tools and techniques as well as such information as why you’d use different temperatures of butter or the chemistry of butter and sugar combined in the creaming method. Sometimes, this reminded me of a medieval-flavored episode of Good Eats. There’s a whole bunch of info on what makes up flour and how it reacts chemically, plus the same for eggs; different kinds of sugars; and how yeast works. There are also suggestions for bakers who want to swap out eggs or dairy.
The recipes included show how to make classic chocolate chip cookies, cornbread and banana bread, pizza dough, cheesy biscuits, apple pie, and sponge cake with buttercream frosting. There are more at the back of the book, including pound cake and lemon meringue pie. Also in the back are summaries of key information, including the different baking methods, how substitutions affect cookies, and different bread techniques.
Switching gears, Maker Comics: Fix a Car! by Chris Schweizer mostly takes place outdoors. Several students have come together for Car Club with Ms. Gritt in order to learn how to maintain their vehicles. The kids have different kinds of cars, from a fairly standard sedan to a junker that needs to be rebuilt almost from scratch.
From the beginning, our narrator emphasizes how achievable this all is. Tips are provided to keep things simple and affordable. The oil change section even explains why you may not want to do it yourself, based on costs and purpose.
Topics cover what basic tools are needed, how to check fluids regularly (and when you’d want to), replacing windshield wipers, finding the source of a squeak in the drive belt, and changing a tire. The comic format is perfect for this, as the reader can see, for example, how to check oil with a dipstick as the characters do it. The use and importance of various systems are explained, including brakes, the battery and electrical system, and in the back pages, spark plugs, exhaust, suspension, and more.
I doubt I’ll be doing any of the activities shown here, but I really appreciated knowing a lot more about how vehicles run, and I feel more prepared for an emergency, like a flat tire or needing a jump start. And some of the sections — such as the one on why it’s important to be a good, patient driver or how to properly clean your car, inside and out — don’t require any mechanical effort.
I like the way each book begins with a warning page, reminding readers of different ways to avoid injury and be smart and safe about the activities. That’s particularly relevant in the Fix a Car! book, which deals with the dangers of jacks and some of the chemicals contained under the hood. Both volumes have a ton of useful information. I was surprised at how much could be covered in just 128 pages.
Both Maker Comics volumes are due out the first week in February, and they can be preordered now from your local comic shop with the following Diamond codes: Bake Like a Pro! in hardcover (DEC18 1872) or paperback (DEC18 1871), Fix a Car! in hardcover (DEC18 1874) or paperback (DEC18 1873). (The publisher provided advance digital review copies.)