OAKLAND, Calif. — Science is always painted as a subject diametrically opposed to art, but some of the best scientists have talked about their thinking process as one that’s very creative in scope. Einstein, for instance, often discussed the possibilities of imagination, and he famously described his own imaginative process at the age of sixteen, chasing after a beam of light. That science is seen as stiff and staid while art is loose and wacky is a dichotomy that the best scientists would (probably) disagree with.
I recently came across Unearthed Comics, a web series by artist Sara Zimmerman, who writes that she sees the world “through my chocolate-flavored glasses.” Her single panel illustrations house a quirky sense of humor about scientific ideas, with one liners about anything from global warming to the violent realities behind meteor showers. The comics are forming part a book called Unearthed Comics, which she successfully funded on Kickstarter last week. “Though it touches on many fields of science,” noted Zimmerman in an interview with Hyperallergic, “anyone with a basic understanding of the world around us will enjoy the humor in this book.”
It got me thinking about how comic artists online in general are working with science. xkcd, of course, is probably the best-known in this field, with its dark humor and distinctive visuals that both touch on scientific concepts and poke fun at nerd culture. Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal is another favorite, with multi-panel explorations of time travel and divine will and the meaning of teeth baring in different creatures. There’s also PHD Comics — the initials stand for “Piled Higher and Deeper” — which, as its title suggests, also touches on the world of academia and graduate school.
What makes comics about science effective probably has less to do with teaching actual science lessons — Einstein, after all, still ended up with complex mathematical equations to explain his theory of relativity — and more to do with their role as a sort of entry point and fuel. Web comics that speak to popular audiences can give science just enough cache to make it interesting to the average individual, and after banging your head over a difficult concept, it can’t hurt to laugh a little too. Zimmerman might agree:
I am currently focusing more on science and environmental topics because I feel that the world needs to bring attention to ways WE can be the solution to global environmental and social problems. Through a shift in focus and determination of hope (which is generally found in scientists), we as a global community can inspire and make change. However, the first step is bringing attention to these issues, and the easiest, most delicate way to do so, is through humor.
See Steve Martin’s play “Picasso at the Lapin Agile” where Picasso meets Einstein and discuss their perspectives on relativity and cubism, two sides of the same coin.
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