Graphic Science: Seven Journeys of Discovery

Graphic Science

Darryl Cunningham has a unique style for his non-fiction comics, which include How to Fake a Moon Landing (a collection of arguments for science and against popular myths) and The Age of Selfishness (about Ayn Rand and the international financial crisis). His graphic journalism would, without the pictures, work effectively as essays, although the images contribute to the ease of reading and the compelling arguments.

His pages manage to combine passion and facts over panels of remarkably blocky people and simple settings, highlighting the points he’s making through minimalism. Dialogue is rare in his layouts, instead using captions to describe history or key observations. While some of the panel art simply supports the more significant text, others boil down a concept to surprisingly striking images, all the more so for their simplicity.

Graphic Science cover

Graphic Science: Seven Journeys of Discovery continues in the same vein but takes a more person-focused approach. This is a collection of graphic biographies instead of essays, capsule biographies of seven scientists, selected for their struggles due to their gender or skin color or iconoclasm. Those covered are:

  • Antoine Lavoisier, who revolutionized knowledge of gases, oxygen, and elements, with a nod to his wife, who assisted in his studies before he was killed in the French Revolution
  • Mary Anning, whose life of poverty prevented her from being recognized for her fossil discoveries and knowledge
  • George Washington Carver, born a slave but died a respected leader and educator in agricultural science
  • Nikola Tesla, whose lack of business acumen doomed his electrical plans and discoveries
  • Alfred Wegener, explorer, adventurer, and meteorologist who came up with the single continent theory of Earth’s development
  • Jocelyn Bell Burnell, who discovered pulsars but was overlooked for the Nobel Prize because she was a female research assistant
  • Fred Hoyle, who studied the origins of the universe

Those last two chapters, in discussing the nature of the cosmos and what can be found there, has some of the most stunning art, as Cunningham deviates from his usual monochrome style to present some small but glorious starscapes.

These stories put the lie to the objectivity of scientific study, as many of the subjects struggle more than they should because of who they are (not well-off white men) or through possible issues of mental health. (At least one strikes the modern reader as potentially struggling with compulsive behavior.) Reading them as people, some who undercut themselves with mistakes or unusual behavior, makes their discoveries all the more powerful and interesting.

There are preview pages at the publisher’s website. I believe this is the only one of Cunningham’s books not to have a US edition, although it can be obtained easily enough through one of the various online stores. With graphic biography so popular, I’m not sure why that is.


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