Hey, ACS, Where’s My Comic Book?

BAM! Don't mess with Tesla. Credit: APS

BAM! Don't mess with Tesla. Credit: APS

If you read this blog with any regularity (I know there’s at least one of you out there, two tops), you’ll remember a post I wrote awhile back bemoaning the lack of chemistry coloring books. I had just come across a supercool version about biology—filled with stem cells and neurons and viruses, oh my!—and was wondering what a chemistry version (perhaps produced by the American Chemical Society) might look like. Well, that coloring book still hasn’t materialized, and now I’m even more miffed: The physicists have comic books. And notice that I didn’t say “a” comic book. They have many of them. I spotted a few of these at the American Physical Society (APS) national meeting, held in Baltimore, back in March. One called “Nikola Tesla and the Electric Fair” caught my eye, as well as a S-E-R-I-E-S of books about the original laser superhero Spectra (you know how it goes: She discovers her powers after a class on lasers and winds up being able to cut through metal and play CDs … just your typical teenage drama). These educational aids for middle school classrooms are distributed by APS.
Able to spot-weld a building in a single bound. Credit: APS

Able to spot-weld a building in a single bound. Credit: APS

But I wouldn’t even say they’re just for middleschoolers. I read all the way through the story of Telsa: It brings to life the epic battle between himself and Thomas Edison over alternating current (AC) and direct current. I guess I never realized that the “War of the Currents” ended when Tesla successfully used AC to light the infamous World’s Fair in Chicago (where the Ferris Wheel also made its debut). Via the comic, I also discovered that Tesla had a fondness (perhaps a little too much fondness) for pigeons. So even I learned something! But it wasn’t until I received a press release about Stephen Hawking’s new comic book that I was pushed over the edge to write this post and point out this educational trend.
Page from new Hawking comic detailing how he learned of his disability. Credit: Bluewater Productions

Page from new Hawking comic detailing how he learned of his disability. Credit: Bluewater Productions

“Stephen Hawking: Riddles of Time & Space” is produced by Washington-based Bluewater Productions. It chronicles the cosmologist’s life, including how he discovered that he had ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, and his dispute with scientist Fred Hoyle over the Big Bang Theory. You can get your print copy of it here for $4.33. Folks making comic books about physics is by no means a bad trend. But I’m once again left wondering, “Where’s the chemistry equivalent?” We may not have Stephen Hawking or Nikola Tesla to brag about, but surely we’ve got someone who’s got an interesting story to relate to the general public? Organic chemist R.B. Woodward, in all his Mad-Men-esque glory? One of the many bearded chemists of yore? What about Kevlar, the original polymer superhero? Or how about turning the periodic table of elements into superheroes, an idea originated by a graphic designer here? Readers, what kind of chemistry comic book would you like to see? (And ACS, when can we have one, pretty please?) Chemists are notoriously bad at tooting their own horns to the public (go ask someone on the street to name a famous chemist, and you’ll see what I mean). But I’m certain they’ve got interesting stories to tell—the tales have just got to be drawn out.

Author: Lauren Wolf

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  1. Don’t forget the Richard Feynman comic which is actually very good: http://www.amazon.com/dp/1596438274

    I’ve had ideas for a chemistry comic, but unfortunately I’m not a skilled enough artist. If anyone wants to get together for a collaboration (I write and you draw), my name links to my website and we can get in contact there.

  2. Jenna, I’ll put the word out for you, and we’ll see if there are any takers.

    In other news, I interviewed someone last week who saw this post and suggested Linus Pauling as worthy of comic superhero status. After all, he wore a beret:


  3. An idea for a short-short or part of a series in a single issue might be the story of August Kekulé’s dream about the snake eating its tail (ouroboros) that led to his theory of the structure of benzene.

  4. Many eons ago, when I was just a lad, there was a comic book series published by DC called Metal Men. The superheroes were all named for the elements and they had abilities which mirrored the element for which they were named. For example, titanium was invincible, mercury melted and becam a puddle which could flow under doors, etc.