Department of Mind-Blowing Theories
Department of Mind-Blowing Theories is the latest collection of Tom Gauld’s cartoons. I’ve loved his literary-themed comics, because they’re funny and smart. (Drawn & Quarterly has put out two previous collections, You’re All Just Jealous of My Jetpack and Baking With Kafka.) There are plenty of cartoons out there about family life, for instance, but Gauld really emphasizes the life of the mind, whether it’s writers and their solitary pursuits or gags that require knowledge of literature (or at least the titles).
This collection is focused instead on science, which didn’t work quite as well for me, although if my time in labs wasn’t quite so long ago, I might have enjoyed them more. The first cartoon sums that idea up nicely, with “Cards for Scientists From Their Non-Scientist Relations“, particularly the one that says “we still don’t understand your work at all, but we are very proud”. That feeling persists throughout the book, that scientists are misunderstood by the general public, and these comics want to make them feel better about that, that they aren’t alone in their work.
That said, some of my favorites here are
- An Escher-like staircase drawing with a request for directions to geometry class
- Hashtags for alchemists
- The need for fancy equipment and gimmicks because “people like a bit of a show”
- “Obsolete scientific theories that would make good heavy metal band names”
- Science hell, which involves being lectured by someone who “once saw something on the internet about your field”
As you can see from my description of the comics, sometimes the concept may come through without the art being, strictly speaking, necessary, but the images, often with symbolic figures, make it all more elegant, conveying the idea more concisely. And then there are those where the image is all, such as the one about confusing growth serum with hand sanitizer. Or the one that requires noticing a squirrel out the window, or the one with a ridiculously elaborate connection of wires, antennae, and machines and a punchline about it being exhibited at the Tate Gallery.
My favorite, though, may be two women in a typically overloaded office, books and papers everywhere, talking about finding a solution but forgetting what the problem was. It’s not particularly scientific, but boy, could I relate.