Astroid Belter was released a little while back, a newspaper comic bringing together 76 scientists, writers and artists to produce some 44 pages in newspaper format comic given away free at the British Science Festival – Newcastle 2013. Great idea, damn fine execution.
For a start, I’ll always have a soft spot for newspaper comics, there’s just something about them that makes me feel all nostalgic and lovely, a tactile experience I can’t help but enjoy. Add in the fact that I’m a lover of all things scientific, and this was going to have to go wrong in a big way to make me dislike it.
Short review; it doesn’t go wrong, it’s actually pretty fab.
The whole thing absolutely rattles along with vibrant enthusiasm, science and comics mixing up silly and sensible, with a variety of artistic styles, some you’ll love, some you wont (it’s an anthology, what else do you expect?), but most of all, it really does manage to get over the idea that science in all its forms can be incredible and epic. Job done I reckon.
Inside Astroid Belter there’s comics about all sorts of things; robots, time travel, global warming, body parts, poo, bugs, energy, life stories of famous scientists, puzzles to complete, practical instructions to do your own science experiments, and much, much more. The comics are created by scientists and comic artists working together and although it occasionally veers into the preachy, mostly it does a fabulously concise and informative job of getting over that science isn’t about boffins doing “astoundishing science“, it’s about being curious, about asking questions, about understanding the world around us and about discovering, building, communicating. Asteroid Belter does a damn fine job of getting this over in a number of really good comics.
Okay then, how about having a look at some of the very best…
Loved Michael Duckett and Paul Thompson‘s Historical Map of the Science of Newcastle. Loads of information packed into two pages, something children should love investigating, and a perfect illustration of how varied and original the works in Asteroid Belter manage to be.
After seeing Adam Murphy‘s Corpse Talk every week in the Phoenix, it’s no surprise to see him do something similar here with the science of climate change and extreme weather (alongside scientist Prof. Hayley Fowler), but I love his full page with the fixed panels, switching characters and background colours.
Sarah Alhazmi and Selina Lock, working with scientists Ruth Plummer and Deborah Stocken, come up with something brilliantly cute in ‘A Guinea Pig’s Guide To Cancer Drug Trials‘. It’s not only a sweet idea, using a guinea pig to talk about human guinea pigs, but it really manages to tug at those heart-strings when the cute turns into heartbreakingly serious, as we meet some of the terminal patients who agree to undergo the tests, and see them having to explain to their children that they’re doing this not for themselves, but for those of us who may need the treatment in the future, that’s just powerful storytelling.
Tom Curtis and Jess Bradley‘s ‘A Day In The Life Of A Poo‘ is utterly silly, and ridiculously cute with Bradley’s artwork making even this most urrggh of subjects playful. And the official science warning; ‘Humans do not eat or play with poo‘ – funny.
Matthew Gan and James Wilkinson‘s ‘Fantastic But Foolish Scientists‘ is another double-pager that is sort of, but not quite comics, mini bios of various famous scientists, highlighting some of their famous achievements, as well as some of the more esoteric and interesting things they did in their lifetime… which means you’ll not only find out that Newton discovered gravity and the visible light spectrum but that his mom only let him go to university when he proved hopeless at running the family farm, or that Ada Lovelace’s brilliant mathematical skills that enabled her to be a crucial part of Babbage’s Analytical Engine were no help to her at the bookies, or that Nikola Tesla was just a little bonkers, the breakthroughs in AC currents, radio and x-rays going hand in hand with believing he’d received radio messages from Mars and thinking he was being stalked by a white dove. But the silly bits of scientist’s lives make them wonderfully flawed, and to children and adults alike, that merely makes them even more fascinating and brilliant.
Of course, not all science necessarily plays up to the brilliance of scientists. Sometimes it’s refreshing, not to mention reassuring for children to realise adults can be completely in the dark about this sort of thing. Thank goodness cartoonists like Nigel Auchterlounie are always willing to put themselves up as representatives of the ill-informed and totally in the dark science wise folks out there…
In two-pages he sets himself up beautifully as the scientific incompetent, a conversation with a fellow dad at a ball-pool about quantum physics showing us all that it’s okay to be an idiot as long as you’re an idiot who wants to find out more, you may know that Schroedinger has something to do with a cat, and you may confuse Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle with Heineken, but comparing Schroedinger and Heisenberg with Deal Or No Deal proves to be surprisingly insightful….
Finally, we’ll end this review with what I thought was the best thing in Asteroid Belter; Time Travel Is Awesome by Ian Mayor and Will Campbell. This is a single pager that plays with the ideas of time travel brilliantly. Sure, I’ve seen it done before, but the cleverness and invention of this is what makes it work so well, combining elements of time travel with the structures of comics, the idea that each panel to panel transition is a literal moment of time travel.
Initially it looks simply fun, but as you delve further into the page, you start to realise this is actually so clever, panels referencing and influencing panels, both past and future. Brilliant…