Reading Diary: Graphic novel catchup: Laika, Neurocomic, In Real Life and The Cartoon Introduction to Climate Change

Here's a bunch of graphic novels I've read in the last while that are well worth your time reading and acquiring for your library!

Abadzis, Nick. Laika. New York: First Second, 2007. 208pp. ISBN-13: 978-1596431010

Laika by Nick Abadzis in a fantastic graphic novel recounting the life of the first dog in space, the Russian dog Laika. The book goes into quite a bit of social and political history of the Soviet union in the 1950s, giving a good sense of how totalitarian states sometimes make decisions. We also get an illuminating look into the lives of people around Laika as her fateful one-way journey approaches. I really like the way Abadzis mixes the biographical with the fictionalized to give a sense of history.

In particular, keeping too close to known details and personages might have bled a bit of the drama from the tale. At the same time, inventing too many characters or events would have done a disservice to how amazing the truth is. Great book, great art, highly recommended for all audiences. This would be a great book for any school library, elementary, middle or high school. Academic libraries that collect graphic novels on science should acquire this.


Doctorow, Cory and Jen Wang. In Real Life. New York: First Second, 2014. 192pp. ISBN-13: 978-1596436589

Cory Doctorow's story Anda's Game has been adapted before, but this expanded version by Jen Wang is much longer and more engaging than what I've seen done before. In Real Life is the story of a young gamer, Anda, and her introduction to some of the harsher realities of life through a massively multiplayer game. She discovers that the economics aren't so simple -- she might work hard to earn the "gold" she needs to succeed but those with ready cash can exploit sweat shop "gold farmers" in China and pay real life money for game gold. Which is cheating, in a way, but also emblematic of how the off-line world works. Entrenched, wealth interests have an advantage.

And of course, Anda being an idealistic girl wants to help out one such gold farmer, a boy in China who is being exploited by the people who run the gold farms. Action and adventure ensure, In Real Life is a fast-paced tale with a lot to recommend it. Wang's adaptation is solid and her art is both joyful and fun yet still able to convey the grittier parts of the story. If they book has a flaw, it's that it seems a little too pat and simplistic for this young western girl to save the poor developing world boy. The simplification of the world that needs to happen for this to happen weakens a book aimed at an older teen audience who could probably handle a bit more complexity.

Overall, I would recommend this book for any young adult. Any public, high school or middle school library would do well to acquire this book.


Klein, Grady and Yoram Bauman. The Cartoon Guide to Climate Change. Washington: Island Press, 2014. 216pp. ISBN-13: 978-1610914383

The best part of Grady Klein and Yoram Bauman's The Cartoon Introduction to Climate Change is the way is very clearly and concisely lays out the the current scientific understanding of climate change, presenting all the evidence in a clear and understandable way. From a brief introduction to earth science through the geological history of earth, the carbon cycle and some basic information on energy all the way to a solid introduction to climate science, Klein and Bauman cover all the basics. They also present one of the best explanations I've seen of the predictions of climate science in terms of extreme weather, water issues as well as implications for life on earth. Taking the long view, they also address what the implications are in a 100 year time frame and touch on what uncertainty means in the context of climate science.

Perhaps a bit weaker is the last section of the book, on actions we can take to combat climate change. They tend to focus on techno fixes that promise major fixes while only changing our lifestyles very little. The case they make that we can use the tools of capitalism and merely tweak our current system and still major changes in our carbon footprint isn't very convincing. Both Philippe Squarzoni's Climate Changed and Naomi Klein's This Changes Everything both make more convincing cases that we'll need more structural changes to deal with reducing our carbon output.

All that being said, this book is still worthwhile as an introduction and perhaps a gift to the climate skeptic in your circle. Bauman's narrative is clear and yet lively and amusing and Klein's art fits perfectly with the slightly zany tone. I'd recommend it to high school libraries and academic libraries that collect science or climate themed graphic novels or popular science.


Ros, Hanna and Matteo Farinella. Neurocomic. London: Nobrow, 2014. 144pp. ISBN-13: 978-1907704703

A book project supported by the Wellcome Trust, Hanna Ros and Matteo Farinella's Neurocomic is a bizarre and phantasmagorical visual journey through the world of neuroscience. The narrative is a bit strained at times, but the scientific material they do cover is solid and well presented. The art is a perfect compliment to the dreamy tale of exploration and neuroscience. Recommended, especially for an undergraduate audience.

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