Reading Diary: Darwin: A Graphic Biography and Mind Afire: The Visions of Tesla

Two recentish entries into the growing field of graphic novel scientific biographies, both very good, both suitable for a wide audience: Darwin: A Graphic Biography by Eugene Byrne and Simon Gurr and Mind Afire: The Visions of Tesla by Abigail Samoun and Elizabeth Haidle.

If I had to count one of these a little bit better than the other, I would give that edge to the Byrne & Gurr's Darwin biography. It has a very amusing "Ape-TV" wrap around story conceit where an ape television program tells the life story of that strange human, Charles Darwin. As a result, the story never sags, the main points are told in a very engaging and entertaining way. Especially when you consider that the target audience for the book is probably middle school and slightly older and younger kids, the clear artwork and straight-ahead story telling work well. There's a bit of info-dumping at times, but the writing is clear and engaging. Overall, readers will get a very solid introduction to the life of Darwin with hopefully the more avid readers going the next step and seeking out more detailed information.

Samoun and Haidle's Tesla biography is also very good but not really aimed pre-teen or early teen readers. It's not a comics narrative to the same extent the Darwin book, more of an illustrated biographical essay. It works because the art is so gorgeous and Nikola Tesla's life was so bizarre and colourful. And the text is really just the right length: long enough to get a sense of Tesla's life and work but short enough to get through in one or two sittings. While the art is beautiful and perhaps the best thing about this book, the weakest is likely the decision to letter it in a fairly small cursive style. While it might have added to the old-timey feel of the book, it did make it more that a bit harder to physically read.

At the end of the day, both these books would be suitable for public library collections. Both books I would recommend for high school libraries while only the Darwin book would be suitable for middle school or younger children. Neither would fit that well in college or university libraries unless they were very serious about building a science graphic novel collection.

Byrne, Eugene and Simon Gurr. Darwin: A Graphic Biography. Washington: Smithsonian Books, 2013. 96pp. ISBN-13: 978-1588343529

Samoun, Abigail and Elizabeth Haidle. Mind Afire: The Visions of Tesla. Sonoma, CA: Electric Pen, 2013. ISBN-13: 978-1-60104-120-6

Other science graphic novels I have reviewed:

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