Free Comic Book Day: Why write science comics?
In honor of Free Comic Book Day, we present this essay by Maris Wicks, author of Science Comics: Coral Reefs: Cities of the Ocean, and the co-author, with Jon Chad, of "Science Comics," a free comic available in comics stores all over the world today. See the bottom of the post for an exclusive preview of Science Comics!
I often get asked the question “Why comics?” My answer usually boils down to “Because I can’t help it.” There’s obviously more to it than that -- when I discovered comics as a kid, I used the medium’s language to experience and interpret the world around me. Every car honk became a sound effect, every conversation contained within word balloons, every smelly thing accompanied by stink lines. Comics even allowed me to contemplate the passage of time in a profound way: one panel to the next could signify the passing of a second, while another one panel to the next could signify the passing of a lifetime. For an artsy kid who already thought about the world in such a visual manner, comics gave me an excuse to work in words.
And that leads me to perhaps a more important answer to the question “Why comics?” After spending years as an educator, and ruminating on my own personal experiences in education, I found that comics and cartoons were one of the most engaging ways to share information. Teachers and librarians have recognized that comics are often a way to get reluctant readers reading. Watching kids gobble up any kind of comics, and even better, create their own, is fantastic. So now let me ask a slightly different question:
“Why science comics?” Well, there’s still my initial “I can’t help it.” On a selfish level, I just really love science and want to find any way jam information about gastropods or the circulatory system or solar nebulas into my personal work. On a less-selfish, more reflective level, I will tell you that I was a reluctant reader and an average student who struggled in Math and English. Part of the reason that I struggled was that I was (and still am) a hands-on visual learner, and the older I got, the fewer of those experiences were available to me in the public school system. Add the social pressure of middle school to the mix, and I became a painfully shy kid who nearly slipped through the academic cracks. When I had difficultly learning in school, I believed it to be my own fault, and as a result, I felt dumb. It took years to realize that I wasn’t dumb, and that I could actively learn about any subject, even the ones that I had previously struggled with. I just needed to find the way that I learned best. But I only realized this as a grown-ass adult, and at that, one who had access to educational support in family and teachers.
With all that in mind, when I set out to create comics about science, I have “little Maris” in mind, and any other kids out there who are faced with similar struggles when it comes to learning. If I can take a subject and explain the way that it makes most sense to me, maybe it will resonate with others. Even now, as I write this, I’m thinking to myself that this article would work better in comics form.
I'm coming to Halifax to give the closing keynote on day one of Atlseccon on April 24th: it's only my second-ever visit to the city and the first time I've given a talk there, so I really hope you can make it!
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