November 2010

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We are tantalizingly close to having a finished book! Here are the first two reviews of Evolution: The Story of Life on Earth. So far so good!

publishers-weekly

Publishers Weekly
Evolution: The Story of Life on Earth

Jay Hosler, Kevin Cannon, and Zander Cannon, Hill and Wang, $18.95 (160p) ISBN 978-0-8090-9476-9
Featuring the same amusing characters as those found in Mark Schultz’s The Stuff of Life: A Graphic Guide to Genetics and DNA, Hosler’s sequel does for natural selection what its predecessor did for human genetics. The intrepid Glargalian scientist, Bloort 183, has returned and serves as the book’s principal narrator. This time he has invited King Floorsh 727 and Prince Floorsh 418 on a tour of the newly opened Glargalian Holographic Museum of Earth Evolution. Hosler (Clan Apis; Sandwalk Adventures) is also a professor of biology and provides readers with much more than a simple graphic primer on evolution. With the Cannons’ wonderful illustrations providing a visual anchor, Hosler discusses everything from the atomic to the planetary, from endosymbiosis to mass extinction. The book, like its predecessor, may be too dense with information–for instance, the 54 million years of the Cambrian period is covered in a mere six panels. However, readers should find at the end of their journey through Bloort’s Holographic Museum that they’ve learned a tremendous amount about earth’s evolution, and have had more than their fair share of amusement in doing so. (Jan.)

kirkusKirkus
A graphic introduction to evolution, full of cheerfully silly but educational digressions.

Repeating the conceit of their The Stuff of Life: A Graphic Guide to Genetics and DNA (2009), Hosler (Biology/Juniata Coll.) and the Cannons reintroduce their alien professor, Bloort 183, who delivers an illustrated lecture on the inhabitants of the bizarre, newly discovered planet Earth, which contains the first life known to exist outside the professor’s own world, Glargal. The occasion is an exclusive, pre-opening royal tour of the Glargalian Holographic Museum of Earth Evolution. His audience, King Floorsh 727 and a precocious son, do their pedagogical duty by interjecting appropriate questions. Notwithstanding the comic-book format, Hosler does not dumb down his subject but provides a precise overview of evolution beginning with the cooling of the primordial Earth, the origin of life and the rise of single and multicellular organisms down through geological eras. A comical biography of Charles Darwin leads into an accurate description of the mechanism of natural selection—random variation within a species with survival of advantageous traits—and the text proceeds smoothly to the origin of species, sexual selection, evolutionary constraints, vestigial organs and extinction. Despite the advertising and imaginative, droll illustrations, the book may not win over  science-phobic readers, but it’s a solid introduction.

An accessible, nuts-and-bolts explanation of evolution for adults who want a refresher and high-school teachers searching for a simple primer.

OK, I have incorporated ideas from Martin’s comments (which you can read in the comment section of this thread – thanks, Martin!) as well as discussions with a few colleagues here on campus. As Martin astutely pointed out, these comics are a balancing act between clarity and correctness. My hope is that I can be mostly both, but there will always be omissions of details. With any luck, the judicious use of language can create an accurate representation of the process and diligent educators can fill in finer points as they see fit.  As always, the process of making these pages has contributed quite a bit to my understanding.

Photosynthesis_pg07bPhotosynthesis_pg08

Kinda. Let me explain. In the spring of 2007 I made a trip to the east coast to give talks at Williams College and the Center for Cartoon Studies. Both places were great and I was very happy to have a chance to talk to students and experience a part of the country where I hadn’t spent much time before. Unfortunately for the students, my talks were stunningly mediocre and I undoubtedly provide a cautionary tale for both future cartoonists and biologists. I visited the CCS is in White River River Junciton, VT first and at the end of my visit a huge snow storm hit. I had to get out of Dodge fast and the fastest route from White River junction to Williams was not the best in snowy conditions. This is where Stephen comes in.

Stephen is on the faculty at CCS, a Vermont native and one of my favorite cartoonists. His work with Alan Moore on DC’s Swamp Thing was the first time I was exposed to his amazing artwork. He is also the author of Tyrant, a biography of a T-rex that is one of my all-time favorite comics. Its factually accurate story about dinosaurs. And, as if on cue, a relevant cover appears…

tyrant

Ok, back to me in peril. The snow was coming down heavily and I was driving in unknown terrain that included mountains. I grew up in Indiana as the son of a teacher who taught driver’s education in the summer, so the snow doesn’t usually freak me out. This had me a little nervous.  Especially the going-over-strange-mountains part. Anyway, Steve jotted down some direction on the back of an envelope that would take me on a route with fewer precipitous drops. As I was cleaning up my office today, I found those directions.

Bissette_envelope

This envelope was propped up over my speedometer so I didn’t have to take my eyes off the unplowed roads.  Unfortunately, I just realized that he didn’t sign it (why would he?) and there are no identifying doodles (again, that would be superfluous). So you’ll just have to take my work for it that this is a Bissette original. And go check out his blog MyRant. It’s in the blogroll on the left column of this page. Right now he has some sweet monster illustrations up. Mmmm, giant reptiles….

Most of the time when I finish page, I can identify things I would do differently but they are usually outweighed by a healthy delusion that the page is pretty good. Not so page 7, previously posted here.  When all was said and done I couldn’t get over how bad the lettering was. That concern led to the realization that I was trying to cram two pages worth of material into one page. Not sure why I felt compelled to try to squeeze so much in.  There are no page limits on the web, after all. The tight squeeze also meant that certain visual and textual elements had to be left out. So, I have expanded the content from the original page 7 into two pages.

Here are the new pages. An explanation of the changes follows below.

Photosynthesis_pg07b
Photosynthesis_pg08

I didn’t add any panels (still just 9), but the added space gave me room to do a number of things. Fist, the lettering isn’t a mess, all jammed up against the art. As a result the images are easier to follow so you make out what is going on. This is particularly important when watching the chlorophyll electrons absorb and pass energy. The extra room also allowed me to add details that I think provide visual continuity; drawing the chlorophyll in the antenna complex in the first panel of page 7, the high energy/low energy dashed lines  underscoring the energy state of the electron and the flashlight. I also took the opportunity to provide additional detail/clarity such as the inclusion of pheophytin and plastoquinone in the explanation.

The plastoquinone was an important addition since the previous page 7 left readers with the impression that the electron just popped off and floated away instead of reducing the plastoquinone molecule. I’d like to think this ‘do-over’ has made the sequence clearer (image and text) as well as more accurate. Comments are welcome.

Doodle oops!

I forgot to post Karen’s second Doodle. It must have been the coma inducing food consumption I did over the Thanksgiving weekend. My system is almost clear (although there remains some residual adipose right around my equator) and my mind is  little less foggy. Here is a terrific Doodle on Dogs. Once again. click on the link above the image for the large version.

Dog Doodle pages

Dog Doodle pages

Seriously, I have been waiting for this article to come out. I had the opportunity to work with my friends and colleague Mike Boyle on a figure for his latest paper (published in the journal Inflammation & Allergy – Drug Targets). As you can see from the first page, the article looks very scientificky…

untitled

…but behold Fig 1. Sequential images employed to explain an idea? That’s no figure. That’s a comic!

untitled

It’s a comic that took a lot of back and forth as we took a complicated process and worked out the essential core ideas and how best to explain them with words and pictures. I’m not claiming this is the first time this kind of thing has appeared in a peer-reviewed science journal (I’d be shocked if it hadn’t), but it is the first time for me and I have a blog, so I’m telling everyone. Plus, I’m kinda needy.

Have a great Thanksgiving!

The latest page of the photosynthesis story features my explanation of how the energy of a photon is absorbed by chlorophyll in the photosystem. I was going for some wonky imagery here with the hopes that the novelty might help the idea of excited electrons stick in students’ brains. i mean, if floating disembodied heads don’t do it, what will?

Photosynthesis_pg07

Kevin Cannon and Zander Cannon (aka Big Time Attic) are marking the countdown to the January 4th release of our Book Evolution: the Story of Life on Earth with a countdown of dinosaurs. The images are from a big two-page dinosaur spread in the part of the book that discusses the those Magnificent Monsters of the Mesozoic. They started 96 days before the release and today’s is one of my all-time favorites: Iguanodon. As a kid i can remember reading about how Gideon and Mary Mantell discovered some mysterious teeth that were later classified as the teeth of Iguanodon. I revered the Mantells as the discoverers of dinosaurs and in fourth grade wrote an essay about how they should be the next people featured on a US postage stamp. Anyway, here is today’s BTA image. You should visit the Big Time Attic Blog for more science comic goodness.

054_iguanodon

You are in luck. I have not one, but TWO new Doodles by Karen Romano Young.  Today’s is about the effect of oil from the Deep Water Horizon on gulf ecosystems. Karen has a gift for integrating text and images in interesting ways. For me, reading these pages feels like a walk in the woods. As your eyes stroll across the page you can follow the textual path or stop for a moment to admire the scenery. And like any bit of exploring in nature, you inevitably run into some cool critters. Be sure to check out Karen’s page for more. I have included an image below to whet you appetite, but it is small. Click on the link above the image to download the pdf of Karen’s Doodle.

Deepwater Doodle

Deepwater Doodle pages

Well, last weekend was a blast. Lisa and I share a birthday (Nov 21st) and we celebrated by cooking, cooking, cooking. Friday I had my Animal Behavior class over for homemade pizza and holiday ornament making. Lisa put on a dazzling display of pizza making with everything from pesto and cheese to Malaysian chicken pizza.  The students made their own combos for some interesting…experimental pizzas (the class focuses on experimental design so perhaps that isn’t surprising). After gorging ourselves we made craft stick Christmas tree ornaments and ate dessert. The students brought the dessert and they were a fitting topper to the night. Cupcakes, cakes, apple tarts and a pecan cheesecake. All homemade and all very good. Max and Jack were thrilled to have college kids in the house. Max loves to talk to them about science and Jack loves a receptive audience for his improvisational antics. The night adjourned with everyone rolling to the their cars or waddling upstairs to bed.

On Saturday we went geocaching with our friends the Whites. This is a birthday weekend tradtion for us. Afterward under Lisa’s tutelage, we all made calzones. I prefer the cheese-filled ones, but others packed all sorts of interesting stuff in theirs. The hiking we did as we geocached offset some of the calories we consumed later in the evening, but it a net caloric gain for me. I didn’t complain. Max and Jack enjoyed playing with Sarah and Joanna. I believe they uploaded the first installment of a planned on-going space adventure.

On Sunday, we had our other traditional birthday gathering: Lisa’s homemade chicken and noodle with our friends the Hsiungs. It was another festival of consumption and, of course, it was all so very, very good. We topped it off with the chocolate mouse and pecan squares the Hsiungs cooked-up for the occasion. Max and Jack had a rollicking time with Rebecca and Ben as they had a serious Nerf shoot-out in the basement.

Now, I know what you’re thinking. It was Lisa’s birthday and she cooked three big meals over the weekend? Jay, you are the worst husband ever. But, I swear she LOVED it. She kept raving about how theis was the best birthday weekend ever. Frankly, she’s like a Bizarro-Hosler. If it were me, I would use my birthday to go out to eat every night of the weekend. Of course, Lisa’s food is so much better that a restaurant that I am unwilling to complain. Instead, I marvel at the energy she derives from creating in the kitchen. Oh, and I do the dishes.

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