Author: 1. MK Reed (writer) and Jonathan Hill (art) with color by Nyssa Oru; 2. Grady Klein & Yoram Bauman, PhD; 3. Philippe Squarzoni (translated from French by Ivanka Hahnenberger); 4. Lauren Redniss; 5. Edward O Wilson (Adapted by Jim Ottaviani & C M Butzer); 6. Andrea Wulf (writer) & Lillian Melcher (illustrator); 7. Birdie Willis (writer), Ril Abrego (illustrator) & Kieran Quigley (color); 8. James Romberger
Format: 1, 2, 3, 7, 8 Paperback; 4, 5, 6 Hardcover
Pages: 1. 128; 2. 216; 3. 480; 4. 262; 5. 240; 6. 272; 7. 80; 8. 112
Publish Date: 1. April 2019; 2. June 2014; 3. April 2014; 4. October 2015; 5. November 2020; 6. April 2019; 7. & 8. March 2021
Publisher: 1. First Second; 2. & 5. Island Press; 3. Harry N Abrams; 4. Random House; 6. Pantheon Books; 7. Boom! Box; 8. Berger Books
Catalog ID: ISBNs 1. 978-1626727908; 2. 978-1610914383; 3. 978-1419712555; 4. 978-0812993172; 5. 978-1610919586; 6. 978-1524747374; 7. 978-1684156481; 8. 978-1506719351
Where to buy: https://bookshop.org/shop/graphicmedicine
Author website: 1. https://www.oneofthejohns.com/ & http://toot.mkreed.com/; 2. https://gradyklein.myportfolio.com/ & http://standupeconomist.com/about/; 3. unknown; 4. http://laurenredniss.com/about/; 5. https://gt-labs.com/ & http://cmbutzer.com/; 6. https://www.andreawulf.com/ & http://www.lillianmelcher.com/; 7. https://graphicpolicy.com/tag/birdie-willis/ & https://graphicpolicy.com/tag/kieran-quigley/ ;8. https://postyork.com/pages/james-romberger
- Wild Weather: Storms, Meteorology, and Climate
- The Cartoon Introduction to Climate Change
- Climate Changed: A Personal Journey through Science
- Thunder & Lightening: Weather, Past, Present, Future
- Naturalist: A Graphic Adaptation
- The Adventures of Alexander von Humboldt
- Seen (True Stories of Marginalized Trailblazers): Rachel Carson
- Post York
Books Reviewed by Kevin Wolf
Public health, which effects a large population, can sometimes have a greater effect than working on each person’s health, separately. Such public health issues as pandemics, sanitation, and food safety have sweeping effects on any population. Climate Change is the primary topic discussed in many of the works reviewed here. On September 9, 2019, the United States’ Center for Disease Control last revised the public health effects of climate change under the title: CDC Policy on Climate Change and Public Health. Though they expect the environmental impact to vary by location, some of the significant health effects raised include: mass population displacement, worsening respiratory disease, and mental health strains. Among other desires, the CDC wants to be a resource “on the health consequences of climate change … [and] develop and implement preparedness and response plans for health threats such as heat waves, severe weather events, and infectious diseases.” The science is becoming clear that carbon dioxide (CO2) and other even more detrimental greenhouse gases are primarily caused by human practices (e.g., deforestation, agricultural, industrial, transportation, and other sources). Though the U.S. Congress has been reluctant to act, most countries joined to act collectively under 2016 Paris Agreement (from the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change) as “a legally binding international treaty on climate change” to limit global temperature rise to only 1.5◦ – 2.0◦ C (2.7◦ – 3.6◦ F) above pre-industrial levels by limiting greenhouse gases. The non-fiction graphic works reviewed here cover two main themes. The first is climate change books (Wild Weather, The Cartoon Introduction to Climate Change, Climate Changed, and Thunder & Lightening) and the second is specific environmentalists (Naturalist, The Adventures of Alexander von Humboldt, and Seen, True Stories of Marginalized Trail Blazers: Rachel Carson). There’s one additional fictional work (Post York) reviewed of a dystopian warning, if humans don’t greatly reduce or stop greenhouse gas dispersion. At this time, we can slow the negative effects, but it will take decades or longer to reverse them. Since some of the graphic works reviewed here repeat some of the same statistics, I’ll try to mention any statistics only once here. I provide some background of an earlier environmental issue (i.e., pollution) that was human-caused but subsided because of actions by activists (environmentalists), legislation, enforcing healthier changes, and seeing real results. So, solutions are possible, though they require collective, science-based, and regulatory efforts.
Because of events in the United States like Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring (1962), the fish in Lake Erie dying, and heavy smog in Los Angeles California in the 1960s, among other concerns, President Nixon asked for funding and creation of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in early 1970. Those were the days when Democrats and Republicans in the U.S. Congress could find agreement. Congress approved the funding and creation of the EPA in 1970. To more widely increase understanding of human impact—especially air, water, and land pollution—on the environment, Senator Gaylord Nelson of Wisconsin suggested an Earth Day celebration. The Clean Air Act passed in 1970; later amended to protect the ozone layer; and the Clean Water Act was expanded in 1972. These acts together reduced the level of smog and cleaned up Lake Erie and other U.S. waterways. The North American Great Lakes, where Lake Erie is located, are about 20% of Earth’s fresh water.
There are public health departments trying to address climate change. For example, the comic Climate Changes Health is available online and developed by the Climate Health Action Team, Seattle & King County Public Health; written by Meredith Li-Vollmer (Graphic Medicine Liaison for Public Health) with artwork by Mita Mahato. The comic is in color with about twenty pages and one panel on each page. It’s written with local effects in mind (e.g., radio on a picnic table announces “Another record day of heat is forecast for King County”) with an image of Mt. St. Helens in the background. It mentions potential ensuing health problems: exacerbating asthma and deaths from extreme heat. One should expect warmer weather to be friendlier to mosquitos and ticks, resulting in more West Nile Virus and Lyme disease infections. The food supply from the ocean and local farms will be affected. Rains with sewage contamination can lead to toxins and molds spreading. Mental health is a concern. The last third of the comic provides some suggestions to reduce our carbon footprint (e.g., energy efficient appliances, more fruits/vegetables and less meats/dairy, reuse/repurpose/repair, plant trees, increase public transportation usage, community gardens, and so on). They close with a link to a Blueprint for Addressing Climate Change and Health.
The climate change reviews were somewhat frustrating for me. I hope for action, but fear inaction. We will have ourselves to blame if we persist in pushing huge amounts of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. Without big reductions in greenhouse gases, we should expect greater natural backlash (tornadic forces (see August 2005’s Hurricane Katrina’s impact in Climate Changed (390-401)) / flooding / droughts / forest fires / mudslides / ice melts / oceans rising / climate refugees / extinctions). Industrial practices should change to match what we’d like individuals to do to reduce greenhouse gases. Regenerative farming, where practiced, has hopeful benefits because, among other things, it’s meant to reduce atmospheric carbon. We need less finite-resource destruction and more renewable-resource-usage, less throw away and more reuse, conservation, energy efficiency, and reducing carbon footprints to provide some of the solution.
Wild Weather: Storms, Meteorology, and Climate
Wild Weather: Storms, Meteorology, and Climate by MK Reed (writer) and Jonathan Hill (art) with color by Nyssa Oru explains weather through a fictional newscaster named Stormin’ Norman Weatherby, the meteorologist. Weatherby, who opened with 12” to 18” of snow prediction, is angered by newscaster Chase McCloud who says, “So much for global warming! Ha Ha!” (3) McCloud is mimicking some climate change deniers. Weatherby explains meteorology and global warming. Meteorology is the term for short-term, daily, weather predicting. Ability to make predictions has greatly improved with the advent of weather reporting and data collection sites and satellites, and modeling from that data. Climatology is for long-term weather predicting. To reduce confusion, “global warming,” though our atmosphere and planet surface is warming, has been replaced by “climate change,” which is human-caused more extreme weather conditions. Wild Weather is part of the Science Comics middle-school series published by First Second (:01). I recommend, especially for middle schoolers, Wild Weather as a good introduction to meteorology and climate change.
The Earth moves naturally in many directions at the same time (e.g., because of the moon, the earth tilts relative to the sun which causes seasons in northern & southern hemisphere). The graphic work discusses air pressure/winds and how they can be aggravated by climate change. Climate change is due to the earth’s atmosphere’s heat-absorption-rate increasing because of excessive greenhouse gases, especially carbon-dioxide.
The illustrations are somewhat stiff and pedestrian; the coloration and shading are excellent. There are some minor typos (“roation” instead of “rotation,” 34). The best images are of rain, wind, cloud-types, and two-page spreads showing wonderful meandering of characters moving back and forth across both pages. It shows the Enhanced Fajita Scale—named after Tetsuya Theordore Fajita, University of Chicago, Japanese-American—for tornadic winds. During a tornado, it’s best to take shelter in a windowless room in the middle of a structure; and preferably in a basement or underground. Other explanations include precipitation, lightning strikes, and climate change (81-100); especially over the last 150 years for the latter.
“Several years of hotter-than-average temperatures, month after month, are a serious concern … (82)” from industries, methane, and carbon-dioxide. These higher temperatures change weather patterns, including increased flooding with ocean levels rising, increased droughts with wildfires, increased rainfall, hurricanes and tornados; secondary follow-on disasters could include erosion, mudslides, food crop destruction, species extinctions, and climate refugees. Wild Weather provides a few suggestions to reduce climate change, such as using less fuel, reduce carbon footprint but not how; it does indicate where to pre-plan for an emergency, including a weather-caused one (98, 118-119). The back of the book includes a glossary, weather tools, and Q & A of Wild Weather Myths Debunked (e.g., “Should I open my windows during a tornado to equalize the pressure inside my house? Absolutely not! …” (115)) by consulting meteorologist, Alicia Wasula.
The Cartoon Introduction to Climate Change
The self-proclaimed—and who would doubt it—”world’s first and only stand-up economist,” Foram Bauman, PhD and Grady Klein, freelance cartoonist, has another graphic work in their “The Cartoon Introduction to … [I’ll be leaving this phrase out of all their titles]” series. Their titles include, Economics Volumes One: Microeconomics (2010) and Economics Volume Two: Macroeconomics (2011), Statistics (2013), Calculus (2019), and—reviewed here—Climate Change (2014). Klein’s wonderful cartoony, blocky drawing style is on display on the book cover, the only color image, while the contents are in black, white and grey with very light grey backgrounds, if any. Narration is in black ink, while voices speak often in light/dark grey (which is harder to read). Metaphors abound, such as a scale to weigh carbon dioxide (CO2) reduction benefits against cost; and a superhero falling through the atmosphere but not allowed back out because of greenhouse gases. Climate Change is technically detailed, while covering their topics as comedic lectures fitting Bauman’s teaching at Lakeside High School in Seattle. I recommend this graphic work.
They begin Climate Change by stating two stories will “dominate the 21st century:” Economic Growth (as a positive; while expecting world population to crest at about ten billion) and the negative side being the second story: Economic growth’s environmental impact as developing countries “all try to live like Americans. […] overfishing, pollut[ing], … [with] habitat loss …” (page 6) This negative of developing countries acting like the U.S. smacks of wanting to control the actions of developing countries, while not changing the U.S.’s own negative actions! “This book will help you make up your own mind [on how threatening climate change is and] what [we] can do about it.” (9) Part One of Climate Change provides simplified history from earth’s creation 4.6 billion years ago to pre-industrial climates to human-causing significant climate deviations; Part Two shows the future if humans keep making it worse; and Part Three what might happen, if we work on prevention and hopeful cures. Human climate change causes include deforestation and fossil fuel consumption. The ozone (O3) layer has been recovering since phasing out chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs); called for in the Montreal Protocols (1987). Ozone reflects back ultraviolet (UV), while CO2, the planet’s current big pollutant, absorbs UV. Note the COVID-19 pandemic reduced outside activities for a while, which promoted activities by other animals and temporarily reduced CO2 emissions. The climate has been always changing from non-human (natural) causes; but now humans are having a big effect.
Humor is sprinkled throughout (e.g., yoga instructor says, “Empty your mind … and focus on something oderless, colorless, and invisible:” CO2, 39, emphasis in original). Climate Change does an excellent job of explaining the human causes of climate change, how it’s measured (see carbon dioxide growth graph, 46), and how greenhouse gases warm the planet. “During last 2 million years CO2 levels varied between 180 ppm and 280 ppm … and during hothouse earth periods [no polar ice caps], they were much, much higher. … Since the start of the Industrial Revolution in the late 1700s we’ve increased CO2 levels from 280 ppm to 400 ppm.” (emphasis in original, 61) There’s a predictive graph—if humans don’t change their environmentally dangerous practices, but have the rest of the world following the practices of rich countries—then we will triple our current CO2 emissions by the year 2100 (82) with the atmosphere at 1,000 ppm resulting in lots of detrimental changes (83-120). In the 1900s the oceans rose 7 inches (92). We should expect two- to six-foot rise in oceans this century from increased CO2 (93) and likely won’t stop rising for centuries more; many more droughts & floods (97); more acidic oceans (98-100); and 40-70% of all species dying off (104)! And this is only the tip-of-the-what-used-to-be-an-iceberg of how bad it could get.
And on the positive side the book (133-196) provides potential ways to reduce atmospheric greenhouse gases, including global climate agreement (this book pre-dates the Paris Agreement of 2016. Technological greenhouse gas reductions are discussed (e.g., cleaner renewable energy; carbon capture; improved efficiency). Market-based suggestions include developing price tag for carbon usage; governmental regulation (e.g., improve car mileage; appliance efficiency); carbon tax or cap and trade. Other suggestions include, reduce other more-dangerous-than CO2 greenhouse gases by using them to generate electricity/energy; planting trees to reduce impact of deforestation; buy carbon offsets (e.g., if I go on plane trip then someone will plant trees to offset my carbon use). The ultimate goal is reducing greenhouse gases enough to end human-created climate change!
There’s a very helpful glossary/index (197-205) at the back.
Climate Changed: A Personal Journey through Science
Philippe Squarzoni had been reading about climate terms, like “greenhouse gases” and “global warming,” and felt he knew almost nothing of what news people were really talking about; which led him to his own research and this graphic work: Climate Changed: A Personal Journey through the Science. Squarzoni brings experts forward to explain their findings and presenting results of various studies of reputable entities. The author has a lot of personal doubts and guilt permeating this graphic work; starting with ambivalence about where to begin and how to end it. (14) Climate Changed has many beginnings: page 8 (author’s story), 16 (climate change causes—greenhouse gases), 72 (more of author’s story), 76 (interviews of experts and IPCC—Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change), 138 (Godfather movie), 148 (running out of time to make a correction), 224 (New York City and global story); and many endings: 296 (books & movies), 302 (is there still time?), 357 (2001, a Space Odyssey movie), 362 (can energy consumption sources change?), 384 (more movies), 390 (politics and what’s possible?), 460 (author). Squarzoni breaks up detailed explanations with personal anecdotes, and other media examples. Climate Changed provides more detailed data than in Klein and Baumann’s Climate Change. I highly recommend Climate Changed for its explanations, detailed information, and suggestions to slow and reverse one of humankinds’ clear and present dangers.
The climatologist and Director of the Dynamic Meteorology Lab of the Institute for Research in Environmental Science (IPSL), Hervé le Treut, said, “By the 1960s or ‘70s, we had already passed the point where the atmosphere could naturally purify itself. And now it’s pretty clear we’ve changed the natural course of things and this planet is getting warmer.” (92) Is it irrevocable or can it be slowly reversed? Computer models simulate expected results with credible likelihood of occurrence. “All the calculations lead to the same conclusion: Our emissions of greenhouse gases will lead to an increase in overall temperature of the planet.” (94) There’s real danger that the temperature will rise 9◦ to 11◦ F in the 22nd century (2100s) if humans continue our pattern of greenhouse gas emissions; “we’re either headed for a warmer world or much warmer world,” le Treut said (108-109); and it would take “thousands of years to get from there back to today’s levels…” of CO2 emissions; all modeling has temperature rising for centuries, the primary questions is how fast and how high?
Climate Changed’s author, being French, looks into France having loose quotas around the 1997 Kyoto (Japan) Protocols on CO2 limits; decides he knows very little about what those Protocols mean; and embarks on educating himself. He’s upset by the “2003 heat wave …[when] 15,000 people died … in France?” (32) Climate Changed is the result; and because he’s teaching himself from scratch, he’s teaching me and anyone else who reads this amazing graphic work what it all means with possible solutions. Along the way, Squarzoni explores the outdoors in illustratons, interviews many experts, tries to cover all aspects of causes-and-effects of climatic changes; and even questions his own actions (e.g., should he take a plane trip to a conference?). Without some greenhouse gases the world would have a temperature of 0◦F (-18◦C) which is unlivable because it’s below water’s freezing temperature. “On the other hand, Earth’s atmospheric carbon is well below the unlivably hot 750◦F (400◦C) on the deadly surface of Venus, where the atmosphere is 95% CO2.” (48)
Carbon is one of the building blocks of life on Earth. Humans are making the atmosphere out of balance with respect to greenhouse gases; and natural processes can’t reabsorb it as fast as we’re pushing it into the atmosphere. Greenhouse gases include carbon dioxide (CO2, increased twelve-fold since 1850 and rising rapidly), methane (CH4; doubled since 1850 and rising rapidly; and 73 times more heat-trapping than same quantity of CO2; 60), nitrous oxide (N2O; increased exponentially since 1750s; stays in atmosphere 120 years; traps heat 250 times same quantity of CO2; 62), other greenhouse gases (that are multi-fold worse heat-trappers than CO2; see Climate Changed for details). Manufactured goods take twice their weight in carbon emissions to manufacture (185) even before they’re used. One can get lost in the details, but it’s worth trying to understand how far humans must go to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in order for nature to stabilize the climate. Energy forms are critical (e.g., nuclear, and renewable sources are among the least carbon producing). “A complete melt-off of the Greenland ice sheet, which is three times the size of Texas and in some places up to 1.5 miles (2.5 km) thick, could lead to a 13- to 20-foot (4- to 6-M) rise in sea level.” (203)
Climate Changed discusses when some energy sources peak and decline and its potential impact on the globe. And Hélène Gassin, environmental management specialist and Commissioner of the French Energy Regulatory Authority (CRE) says, “It’ll only take burning one-third of the known [oil] resources to explode past climate-thresholds. If … we want to limit global warming … at least half the reserves [back in 2012] of fossil fuels need to stay in the ground.” (313-314) See graph on page 347 for conservation and renewable CO2 controls.
Fixes have to have developed countries greatly reduce greenhouse gas production, while developing countries permitted to improve their quality of life while minimizing climate change. As Climate Changed explains the U.S.’s (5% of world’s population) historical ambivalence: producing 25-30% of the greenhouse gases (268), creating National Parks, 25% of its land is protected, while 20% of its “cars” are SUVs (four times CO2 emitters than smaller cars); passes the Clean Air and Clean Water Acts, but is unwilling to ratify the Kyoto Protocol, and (post-Climate Changed’s publication) signs the Paris Accord under President Obama (2009-2016) and rescinds it under President Trump (2017-2020) and rejoins again under President Biden (2021-). Squarzoni narrates, “If all human beings lived like the average American, we would need five or six [Earths]. … This world we live in is limited. Our planet is a finite ecosystem … The time for constraint lies ahead.” (269-270) Some countries (e.g., Russia) have infrastructure built on permafrost which, under warming, will shift and need rebuilding.
Climate Changed is Drawn with almost photo-realism in black and white with fine lines, excellent shading. Headlines are periodically provided; for example, “Global warming causing 300,000 deaths per year” according to the U.N. (250). “Certain disease vectors [i.e., animals that carry viral or bacterial diseases, such as bats, mosquitos (malaria), fleas/tics (yellow or dengue fever and Lyme disease)] …are moving into zones where the inhabitants aren’t immunized.” (253) Some of the discussion about epidemics (e.g., 252-255) seems understated in light of our current COVID-19 pandemic, occurring well after Climate Changed was published.
There’s a discussion between who we are and where we need to be (between growth and stability) on pages 286 – 294 in words and pictures is hard to swallow but very ambitious. Some images are confusing, like while an expert narrates how to cut energy in half by 2050, the author and his partner are diving from the sky carrying light saber, sword or high-capacity rifle to violently destroy a car, metaphorical consumer, and blow away Santa in a “Nuclear Power Christmas Market.” (363-378) Climate Changed refers to the French Megawatt Association (Association négaWatt) for ways to save energy in transport, housing, and manufacturing.
Climate Changed takes on climate skeptics (414-420). Finally, alleviating climate change hazards are addressed. “Green recovery” (i.e., new technology, hybrid cars, etc.) espoused by Al Gore and some others isn’t enough, according to Hervé Kempf (environmental journalist); energy consumption must be reduced. For example, public transport should be primary over personal vehicles; and support forests over deforestation. Jean-Marie Harribey, economist, said, “In international negotiations, we can impose [greater] restrictions on countries based on the level of their responsibility for environmental degradation … with cleaner production processes than those of the developed countries.” (448) But developed countries mustn’t stop developing countries from meeting them at much less than halfway to limit the damage from greenhouse gases. Perhaps, a crisis (e.g., pandemic, systemic racism, weapons overuse, extinctions, natural resource limits) will force humankind to change their ways.
The back of Climate Changed provides sources, the experts quoted with their illustrated image, an extensive bibliography, and an index. Some of that bibliography is mentioned throughout the book. A reader can find a teaching guide for Climate Changed at abramsbooks.com/resources. The publisher indicates “Climate Changed is printed on FSC-certified (Forest Stewardship Council) paper from responsibly-managed, environmentally-sound sources” and it won the 2012 Jury Prize at Lyon Comics Festival.
Thunder & Lightening: Weather, Past, Present, Future
Thunder & Lightning: Weather, Past, Present, Future by Lauren Redniss opens with hurricane Irene-caused destruction (49 dead, estimated $16 billion cost) 2011 flood that also brought chaos to Woodlawn Cemetery.in Rochester Vermont. Some chapters follow types of weather (cold, rain, fog, wind, heat) in specific locales. Thunder & Lightning does an excellent job explaining specific events meteorologically, mythologically, or realistically (e.g., page 39-42 gives medical ailments from being struck by lightning) in words and pictures; and with fascinating stories of events throughout the world. The chapter on Heat (89-109), while heavy with shades-of-orange saturated images, provides some discussion on climate change; so, does the Dominion chapter following religions’ impact (142-149). To counter the heavy weight of the Heat chapter, the next chapter (Sky, 111-127) is only drawings of bluish skies with intermittent clouds. The author includes human-caused immediate weather during war (153-171), for profit (173-185), and pleasure (187-203). This graphic work is fascinating and beautifully illustrated. Each chapter highlights one or more historical stories that emphasize the chapter’s title. I highly recommend it.
Artic cold chapter (7-26) comes with medical occurrence of temporary snow blindness (photokeratitis, ultraviolet reflecting on snow burning unprotected corneas). Near Svalbard islands in 1600s and 1700s whales were hunted almost to extinction; scurvy was common; medical care was generally unavailable; and burials not possible because of frozen ground, but “freezing slows decay and retards growth of microorganisms.” In 2012 this area was found by Russian scientists to be “a natural cryobank;” where organic matter is preserved by freezing so some unknown day it might be unthawed and resurrected (17). “Pea-souper” fogs in London required ambulances to use guides on foot. In December 1952 thousands (primarily young or elderly) died from respiratory failure when pollution-mixed fog blanketed London. 1956 saw British Parliament approve the Clean Air Act; and extended in 1968. (50). Such city smog occurs now in “Beijing, Shanghai, Tehran, New Delhi, and Los Angeles” (50). Thunder & Lightning mentions the Scottish island, Inchkeith, as a “one-time quarantine” of those ill with the plague or syphilis. (64) “Föhnkrankheit is the illness associated with Föhn (wind); causing headaches, insomnia, malaise, suicide/murder for some. (73).
I suggest spending lots of time looking at the imagery. This is an illustrated work with a rare word ballooned speech by experts. Most quotes are part of the text. Redniss created lush drawings with a lengthy Note on the Art (239). The illustrations blend in with the text; while the paragraphs are shaped to be part of the drawings. Redniss created the type font for Thunder & Lightning. There are extensive endnotes; many of those interviewed are named throughout the book
Thunder & Lightning was the 2016 winner of the PEN/E. O. Wilson Literary Science Writing Award for “writing that exemplifies literary excellence on the subject of physical and biological sciences; coincidentally the graphic memoir of E. O. Wilson (Naturalist) is reviewed next. Redniss’ Radioactive: Marie & Pierre Curie, A Tale of Love and Fallout was a finalist for the 2011 National Book Award.
Naturalist: A Graphic Adaptation
Jim Ottaviani is well-known among those delighting in science biographical graphic works. His works include, Astronauts: Women on the Final Frontier (2020), Hawking (2019), The Imitation Game: Alan Turing Decoded (2016), Primates: Fearless Science of Jane Goodall, Dian Fossey & Biruté Galdikas (2013), Feynman (2011), Dignifying Science: Stories of Women Scientists (1999), Suspended in Language: Niels Bohr’s life, discoveries, and the century he shaped (2004), Bone Sharps, Cowboys, and Thunder Lizards: Tales of Edward Drinker Cope, Othniel Charles Marsh and the Gilded Age of Paleontology (2005), and Wire Mothers: Harry Harlow and the Science of Love (2006). The latter was one of the first book reviews I did for www.graphicmedicine.org. All of Ottaviani’s graphic works are co-written with an artist who provides the wonderful imagery to match Ottaviani’s words. These works usually include extensive notes and bibliography. His newest graphic work with artist C. M. Butzer differs in that it’s not a biography but an adaptation of a scientist’s memoir; namely: Naturalist by Edward O. Wilson (1929-). I haven’t read any of Wilson’s works, though I know they’ve been highly honored (e.g., Pulitzer Prizes in 1979 and 1991, among about 20 awards). Wilson’s original Naturalist was published in 1994, and he has written many other works since. My brief review will be of the adaptation without knowledge of Wilson’s works. Reading about Wilson’s joy of science, research and expertise is inspirational. I highly recommend this adaptation.
Naturalist remains in the first person, starting by situating humans in evolving nature on a finitely resourced earth with “ecosystems and species … vanishing at the fastest rate in 65 million years.” (2). We, the readers, follow professorial Wilson talking to his young self. Wildlife is labeled throughout the graphic work. At age 7 a fishing mishap with a pinfish pierces his right pupil and within months becoming a cataract and lens removal; so (better than) full sight remained only in his left eye (20/10) while he was blind in his right eye. Even as a kid, nature (“Fire ants!” aka, solenopsis geminate, 8) in Pensacola Florida was exciting. By age thirteen, he made his first scientific and published discovery of fire ants as the earliest finding of the species in the United States.” (45) While in the boy scouts he learned a lesson after being bitten by and treated for a poisonous pygmy rattlesnake bite. From age sixteen ants became his entomologic specialty (i.e., myrmecology) as we see ants walk across the bottom of page 64; and soon to be preserved in small bottles of alcohol. He remembers outdoor places and their wildlife, more than people. Heredity led to some hearing loss (bird watching, unless visible, was out!). Wilson enjoyed ritual habituation (“the people I find it easiest to admire are those who concentrate all their courage and self-discipline … toward a single, worthy goal,” 26).
Over eleven years he was in fourteen different public schools (his father’s work led to the moves); nature was Wilson’s steady companion; and Washington’s Natural History Museum—where even as a youth he’d send specimens—and Zoo were teachers. Even his walkabouts are educational as he rattles off the names of flora and fauna (“I developed a liking for lizards, marmosets, parrots, and Philippine tree rats.” 35).
He was the first in his family to go to college (University of Alabama); open to white Alabamans. Wilson befriended Professor Bert Williams who offered Wilson a research assistantship (RA) in his campus lab. “The several best teachers of my life have been those who told me that my very best was not yet good enough.” (73) He spent a lot of time exploring Alabama’s almost subtropical environment and discovered a font of butterfly and ant varieties, snakes, lizards, and more with fellow (no females visible) students. They collected specimens for research and U of A’s collection. He received his Bachelor of Science in three years at age 20; and in 1950 went to University of Tennessee (TN) for his PhD; where Professor Arthur Cole, entomologist emphasizing ant classification, taught. Though officially forbidden by statute but unlikely enforced, Wilson taught evolution in TN to an introductory biology class. Recall that Dayton TN was where the Scopes Monkey Trial occurred in 1925.
In 1951 Wilson started teaching at Harvard, because they have the world’s largest ant collection. In spring 1953, Wilson was given a 3-year junior fellowship with stipend at Harvard. Wilson was able to travel to the Cuban and Mexican tropics; he found rare ants in Cuba (92) to add to Harvard’s collection. One ant species (macromischa squamifer) glistens gold with poisonous glands (“In the natural world, beautiful usually means deadly. Beautiful plus a casual demeanor always means deadly” (94)). He found ant genera that hadn’t been previously studied. He went up the volcanic mountain, Pico de Orizaba, highest in Mexico (third highest in North America; and also climbed 150 years earlier by Alexander Von Humboldt; see next review); Wilson was first to catalogue the ant species along the way (where there are birds, expect ants).
In 1954 Wilson gets the opportunity to go to New Guinea with expenses covered by Society of Fellows and Museum of Comparative Zoology. Wilson was the first entomologist to collect ants there. He had fallen in love with a poet, Renee Kelley. While he was away, they wrote daily, 600 letters in all. It was nearing the end of any scientist-explorer traveling alone; in the future such research was usually done in teams. Wilson felt he was walking in Charles Darwin’s and Alfred Wallace Russel’s footsteps; shown etched in the stars above his university and professorial gaze. The South Pacific has thousands of islands; and islands are wonderful ecological systems to study. Wilson says plants and animals are great storytellers; and we have to learn to understand their stories. Wilson finds in Fiji invasive, non-native ant species only; and is saddened by the destruction of native flora by “pigs, goats, and other highly competitive forms introduced by human commerce.” (108) He found the opposite true at Mount Mou, New Caledonia, December 1954; with ALL species, including ants, new to him; he writes “Take me, Lord, to an unexplored planet teeming with new life forms” (109). We see several one-page spreads of a few letters from Wilson to Renee, while the image shows his activity that day, and ending with Renee in the lower right emphasizing something she read in the letter (108-112).
In the late 1950s because he gets a job offer elsewhere, to not lose him Harvard gives him tenure. “My central aim was the classification and analysis of the ants of New Guinea and the surrounding regions of tropical Asia, Australia, and the South Pacific … My daydreams were mostly about the origins of biological diversity. … They then turned into narratives …” that sub-species aren’t really real, but arbitrary, until they evolve into another species (125-128). He developed other theories with colleagues, including character displacement (species separating and physically differentiating, even if staying in same location; enriching biodiversity).
Wilson defined scientific culture as “verifiable knowledge, secured and distributed with fair credit meticulously given.” (130) Wilson and James Watson, DNA co-discoverer, mutually disliked each other in the 1950s and 1960s; Watson felt biology was at the molecular/cellular level as simply chemistry/physics; and Watson disrespected Wilson’s biology as stamp-collecting! While Wilson, an environmental biologist, wanted another such ecologist added to staff, Watson said, “Anyone who would hire an ecologist is out of his mind.” (133) And no one defended Wilson! The molecular biologists under Watson formed their own department. “Ecology” wasn’t spoken of again for about a decade. Wilson narrates, “Only later did I sense the anthropological significance [of his battle with Watson]. When one culture sets out to erase another, the first thing its rulers banish is use of the native tongue [like the word ‘ecology].” (133) Wilson calls G. Evelyn Hutchinson “the father of evolutionary ecology” (136)
Wilson recognizes that (small) Islands allow studies of an environment as a branch of population biology; and such environments are in balance which can be quantified. Wilson developed species-equilibrium theory: when number of extinctions equals immigrations there’s equilibrium in the number of species. He also developed testable hypotheses; and with others developed mathematical models. It included, getting permission to kill off all species from a micro-island and documenting its repopulation. Wilson narrates, “we never faced opposition from government officials or the public” (162). Within 250 days to a year (depending on islet size and distance from other islets) species equilibrium returned; Naturalist images during a lecture presenting his results slowly changes to water covered with islet scenery at his feet. From then on equilibrium was maintained; resulting in Wilson/MacArthur’s book The Theory of Island Biogeography; this work supports conservation to allow natural habitats to maintain equilibrium.
Regarding Wilson continuing emphasis on ants, he states, “By my estimate between 1 and 10 million billion  individuals [ants] are alive at any moment. All of them together weighing, to the nearest order of magnitude, as much as the totality of human beings …” with ants the dominant insect for at least [the past] 50 million years. To reinforce human’s low value to the world, Wilson writes “Only a dozen or so species—the crab louse, for instance—depend on [humans] entirely. But if ants disappeared, tens of thousands of other plant or animal species would die off as well, weakening land ecosystems almost everywhere. They are everywhere [except the poles] and they are important” (172-173) Scales metaphorically show the ants vs. humans balancing; though the scale probably should’ve favored the ants.
Wilson’s research led to hyperbolic controversy among scientists. Wilson (Sociobiology, illustrated by Sarah Landry, 1975) tried to merge anthropology, sociology, and biology (194-215). This work was deemed sexist and racist with its emphasis on heredity and not learned behavior. Margaret Mead came to Wilson’s defense calling American Anthropological Association’s censure attempt against Wilson’s work as a form of book-burning. “I contended … that heredity interacts with environment to create a gravitational pull toward a fixed mean [i.e., human nature].” (207) Secretly a group of Harvard professors met (including Stephen Jay Gould) wrote a letter published November 13, 1975 which said in part, “[Sociobiology] provided an important basis for the enactment of sterilization laws and restrictive immigration laws in the United States between 1910 and 1930 and also for the eugenics policies which led to the … gas chambers in Nazi Germany.” (211) Wilson believed if he had stopped with insect to human behavior, there would have been no controversy; and perhaps discussed human sociobiology later the controversy may not have arisen. In the end he felt the attack was “political, not evidential.” (212)
Wilson was awarded the National Medal of Science in 1976 and a 1979 Pulitzer for On Human Nature; “literary and political, not scientific, validation.” (213) In 1980 Wilson joined a panel of professors for each to give “the most important problem facing the world in the coming decade” (220); and Wilson chose “mass extinction,” which, if it occurs, would take millions of years to recover from “the loss of genetic and species diversity by the destruction of natural habitats. … And this marked my debut as an environmental activist.” (220) Toward the end of Naturalist Wilson reflects on his life’s works and philosophies. Wilson, if he could start again, would go to even smaller natural habitats as a microbial ecologist (As the book reviewer, I’d like to think if it was today—Wilson’s Naturalist was published in 1994)—he would study the microbiome in the human body; or perhaps someone else can take up Wilson’s mantle and thoroughly study the good and bad of the human microbiome of healthy and unhealthy persons, in various parts of the body (e.g., skin, mouth, intestinal, etc.), of persons at many ages and backgrounds (e.g., stress-filled/calm, eating habits, those with/without IBS, those born vaginally/C-Section, etc.) and publish their results). I could see a Nobel prize in medicine and/or chemistry coming from such research.
The imagery in Naturalist is beautiful. Ants are drawn like medical illustrations; people and scenery are drawn realistically except with no shading. Humorous events, like animals walking off a map (136) or ants being part of Wilson’s makeup (125-6) among others provide fun scenery. There’s a mini-comic within the larger narrative (184; to test a result three ways!)
The Adventures of Alexander von Humboldt
The Adventures of Alexander von Humboldt by Andrea Wulf (writer) & Lillian Melcher (illustrator) opens with German-born Humboldt (1769-1859) near age ninety introducing himself and leading the reader to his past adventures. When I write Humboldt, I mean the person; as opposed to Humboldt, this graphic work. Humboldt was a polymath: geographer, naturalist, explorer, scientist, had an eidetic memory, and authored numerous books. Humboldt covers his 1799 – 1804 self-financed travels to and explorations of Spain’s colonies primarily in South America with Spain’s King Carlos IV approval, and going on to North America before returning to Berlin, Germany. Humboldt reads like a travel journal with side stories to complete Humboldt’s background. In the Author’s note at the back of Humboldt, Andrea Wulf relied on Humboldt’s books, letters, notes, and diaries; “dialogue is imagined but based as closely as possible on Humboldt’s own descriptions.” Humboldt sought connections of flora and fauna throughout his travels. He took detailed measurements and gathered specimens everywhere he went. Humboldt is beautifully drawn with primary source material on display throughout the book with Melcher’s overlaid images. Humboldt was celebrated worldwide for his nature studies and books. A memorial example is Humboldt Park—statue shown—opened in 1920 in Chicago Illinois U.S.A., though Alexander von Humboldt was never in Chicago. I highly recommend Humboldt.
photo by Kevin Wolf
There is so much amazing information and illustrations presented in Humboldt that I can only touch on a few—though it might appear to be a lot—here. The reader feels the struggles of Humboldt’s and Aimé Bonpland’s (companion and botanist) during these years of travel. The struggles included illness, insect and piranha bites, dreadful weather, deserts, loss of specimens, fear of death led to their making multiple copies of the descriptive manuscripts with publishing instructions sent back to Europe intermittently, and near death falls around mountainous regions. Whenever Humboldt encountered a new creature, he collected various species and planned future experiments on them. He met up with other scientists (e.g., botanist José Celestino Mutis in Bogotá) and their research along the way. Wulf/Melcher show some magnificent historical paintings—made long after Humboldt’s travels but of the same areas (such as, The Heart of the Andes (1859) by Frederic Edwin Church (1826-1900) who was inspired by Humboldt’s writings; and now in New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art.)
Humboldt, Bonpland, Carlos Montufar (son of the Provincial Governor of Quito New Granada—now part of Ecuador), and José de la Cruz (real person but an amalgam of all servants in Humboldt) climbed the highest known for-its-time mountain, Chimborazo (20,549 ft.). With no extra oxygen, gloves or outer garments, they had little protection from cold; and as they climbed higher, they, reaching 19,413 feet, became nauseous from reduced oxygen. This was the highest documented altitude anyone would reach for decades. Wherever they went Humboldt made measurements and gathered samples; he taught everyone to do the same. Bonpland being the botanist was in charge of the plants’ identification and collection. (Wulf/Melcher show more recent plant specimens). At times, many plant specimens had to be discarded due to mold infestation.
They carried 42 sophisticated (for its day) measuring instruments. Instruments included telescope, barometer, chronometer (precise timekeeper), and a dip needle (measure magnetic fields). Among others, they measured temperature, sky’s blueness, height of sun on horizon; and documented astronomical observations, altitude, longitude, animal dissections, air components, water’s boiling point at various altitudes, humidity, and magnetism. He kept a diary, which he would later use to publish observations and draw conclusions.
Humboldt found, “The natural world is a living whole and a wonderful organic web where everything is connected—from the smallest fleck of moss to the tallest tree …” Humboldt acts as an omniscient narrator when he says, “In June 2012, exactly 210 years after our climb, five climate scientists followed my footsteps up Chimborazo. They used my data to analyze the effect of climate change in the vegetation and came to incredible results: …The plants have moved 1,500 feet upward since [my] time. Global warming is strongly reshaping tropical plant distributions.” Humboldt coined the German word Naturgemälde (literally, “nature painting”) which means interconnectedness of natural phenomenon (e.g., food crops follow humans; politics and economics shaped by plants (“empires have been built on tea, sugar, tobacco”); explain continents shifting with coastline shape and plants similar in South America and Africa. Humboldt showed this pictorially with quantifiable measures and plants in published pictures and charts. Wulf has Humboldt digress into tales of past and future—even after he was long dead—to explain some of his discoveries and their implications.
Humboldt studies volcanoes, believing them all to be connected underground, “like a gigantic furnace deep inside our planet. Volcanic eruptions, earthquakes, and tsunamis often happen at the same time.”
Humboldt found that indigenous S. Americans were way beyond the simplistic beliefs that Europeans held. They had a written language; knowledge of astronomy; calendar measures (including leap years); architectural precision with Inca roadways in the mountains even better than old Roman roads. Unfortunately, the Europeans tore up the stone roads to build their churches, leaving mud roadways in their wake. Indigenous stone cutting was precise without iron. Jivaros (indigenous) could quickly learn German, French, and English with the dialect of their instructor. Because of Humboldt documenting Mayan Incas’ culture from Indigenous stories, many other scholars got interested in extending his research.
Humboldt found deforestation caused lakes to drain; the forests protected the lakes from evaporating. “When forests are destroyed, the springs dry up, the riverbeds remain dry during one part of the year but turn into torrents whenever the rain comes … carrying away the loosened soil and devastating the land. Everything is interaction and reciprocal. … The effect of man’s intervention is incalculable. Deforestation, monoculture and irrigation can have catastrophic impacts on nature.”
Medical issues arise at different points in Humboldt. Humboldt’s father died when Humboldt was nine. On the voyage shipmates came down with typhus and some die. Humboldt collected plant and animal specimens in S. America. Tomatoes—a new fruit (or might you say it’s a vegetable?) to Humboldt and Europe—called ‘arse blockers’ locally because they caused constipation, originated in S. America. Humboldt sent seeds back to his mentor (Carl Ludwig Willdenow, 1765-1812) in Germany. Humboldt and Bonpland sickened with fever during their travels and Bonpland was given a local cure made from tree bark; Carl Ludwig Willdenow, at Humboldt’s request, later named that plant Bonplandia trifoliata. The indigenous get syphilis from the Europeans. Humboldt injures his back and coccyx in a fall, and recovered after two days. While exploring a volcano, they acquired blisters, cuts on bleeding hands, and burned faces. Though not mentioned in Humboldt, some medications come from the rainforest plants of South and Central America (e.g., Novocaine and Cortisone). Banisteria used to make the medicine Ayahuasca (indigenous call it “teacher;” shamanic psychoactive antioxidant).
They also battled nature, as when a hurricane buffeted their ship with perhaps 45’ waves. The storm is pictured with small roiling close-up images (including Bonpland retching overboard) among the giant waves to give the reader a strong sense of sea sickness. For distraction while onboard, Humboldt attempts to calculate when they will drown from the storm.
The few women that appear in the story come across as shallow, only wanting to gossip about Spain’s Queen or smitten by Humboldt; while he seems more interested in Carlos, volcanos, and his instruments. Humboldt never married; and here Wulf indicates from his writings about Carlos and other’s opinions that Humboldt was gay. Humboldt wrote, “I never had a wife, but I’ve always been too busy for a family. To me a married man is a lost man…”
The end of their Americas trip is in Philadelphia and Washington DC. Humboldt wants to meet Thomas Jefferson, third U.S. President. They see the Charles Willson Peale’s mastodon; Bonpland meets William Bartram, famous botanist; they see Caspar Wister, anatomist (wisteria plant later named after him); and Alexander Wilson, ornithologist, discusses N American birds. They found Mexico City was much more impressive than DC. The Whitehouse is only half finished and partly furnished. Humboldt is upset about working slaves. He tells Jefferson about his adventures; which gives the reader an excellent summary of their five years of travel. Wulf has Humboldt saying, “I’d like to believe it was me who first inspired James Madison about protection of the environment. … [in an 1818 speech] Madison insisted that nature couldn’t be made subservient to … mankind. He repeated my warnings about deforestation and highlighted the catastrophic effects of large-scale tobacco cultivation on Virginia’s once fertile soil. … Madison called on his fellow citizens to protect the environment.”
Bonpland, Carlos, José and Humboldt return to Europe in July 1804. What a legacy! As (prescient) Humboldt tells us, “There are more places, plants and animals named after me than anyone else!!” Humboldt found the ocean current from Lima Peru to Guayaquil Ecuador was very cold; it’s now called the Humboldt Current; though the locals had known of this current for centuries before Humboldt; Humboldt knows he was only the first to measure its temperature.
Humboldt’s wonderful imagery is an exploration in itself. The inside front and back covers provide Humboldt’s excursion map. I often page through the work without reading the story, just looking at the images and design. There’s an old-timey feel to the illustrations with some deliberately discolored and the illustrations are on a light-brown sand-dune colored paper. All word balloons are hand drawn; and the lettering appears to be done by hand (it’s not). There are historical documents interweaved into the beautiful drawings and credited at the back of Humboldt by page number; sadly, Humboldt is actually unpaginated. Some of Melcher’s images are added on top of primary source materials and look to be paper cutouts. At about the midpoint of Humboldt, there’s a foldout of a mountain scene opening onto multi-scenes, including a mountainside with a 100+ genus/species names, German phrases in the sky, and oversized humans seemingly climbing the picture of a mountain speaking of a “botanical journey.” A cave Humboldt visited was named after him in 1975 as Venezula’s first national monument (Monumento Natural Alejandro de Humboldt). The drawings by Melcher seem to mimic Humboldt’s own drawings from primary documents. The reader sees some fourth wall breaking as when Humboldt narrated that “I wanted to say that Lillian Melcher [at her drawing board] didn’t draw the penguin … it looks very similar to her style, but I assure you that I sketched it;” A German zoologist later named the penguin: Spheniscus humboldti after Humboldt. Wulf and Melcher acknowledge support from many people and institutions (e.g., waving fees for many of Humboldt’s illustrations).
Humboldt provides sources and an Author’s Note, but not detailed notes citing specific sources. For that, one would need to read Wulf’s 2015 award-winning non-graphic history of Humboldt, The Invention of Nature: Alexander von Humboldt’s New World. According to Melcher’s research many people—like the German author Goethe (1749-1832), Charles Darwin (1809-1882), the revolutionary Simón Bolívar (1783-1830), and naturalist John Muir (1838-1914)—were influenced by Humboldt.
There are very few shortcomings in Humboldt that I found from my research in developing this review; and I by no means have the depth of knowledge that Wulf clearly has. Sometimes it’s hard to understand what Humboldt truly did or knew versus what Wulf writes which includes modern understanding of ecology and other sciences. For example, Wulf has Humboldt speak of electric eels producing around 600 volts; but Allessandro Volta published his paper on the voltaic pile in 1799; and “volt” wasn’t coined until 1861, after Humboldt was dead; according to a recent article Humboldt “remained skeptical about the intrinsic animal force being … electricity” let alone how to measure it. Humboldt did meet Volta in 1805 after he returned from the explorations in Humboldt. Another example is that Humboldt sees some incognitum or mammut bones (similar to mammoth); but Humboldt called them “mastodon” bones; “mastodon” wasn’t coined until 1817. This might be picky, but Wulf provides many digressions that have Humboldt explain how his work is applied after his return to Europe and even long after his death (but not with respect to the mastodon). On the truth-side, there is some discussion of information being lost by Humboldt because of his not understanding indigenous languages, and the loss of specimens from mold, deterioration, and sea storms.
Humboldt has won many awards, including Wissensbuch des Jahres 2019 / Science Book of the Year 2019; Best Nature and Travel Books of 2019, Kirkus Reviews; Deutschlandfunk Kultur (German radio culture): Best Non-Fiction Books 2019; Winner ITB (International Travel Books) Book Awards 2020, Category: Special Travel Books.
Seen (True Stories of Marginalized Trailblazers): Rachel Carson
Bill Moyers, famed journalist, wrote in 2017
“The centenary of Rachel Carson’s birth has been the cause of much celebration … and of some renewed criticism. Criticism aside, few can debate the impact that SILENT SPRING has had on our natural world, and in inspiring citizens around the globe to work to protect it. Many credit Carson with inspiring the creation of the EPA, as well as the passage of the Clean Air Act and the Endangered Species Act, and laying the groundwork for the environmental movement. Before her landmark book, biologist E.O. Wilson writes, ‘Ecology was near the bottom of scientific disciplines in prestige and support; few Americans even knew what the word meant.’
“Carson does not call for the complete ban of DDT and other pesticides in SILENT SPRING. She writes, ‘It is not my contention that chemical insecticides must never be used. I contend…that we have allowed these chemicals to be used with little or no advance investigation of their effect on soil, water, wildlife, and man himself.’
“In 1972, 10 years after SILENT SPRING was published and 8 years after Carson’s death, The Environmental Protection Agency banned DDT in America, with exemptions for health emergencies and some agricultural uses. Many believe Carson and her reputation contributed to this decision, but, in defending its ruling, the EPA sites substantial scientific evidence of DDT’s adverse effects on wildlife and increased insect resistance to the chemical.”
Written in the first person as Rachel Carson, the biography Seen (True Stories of Marginalized Trailblazers): Rachel Carson by Birdie Willis (writer), Ril Abrego (illustrator) & Kieran Quigley (color) starts with wee one Rachel gasping at the birds outside her window; while her adult self narrates, “If you learn to love nature, you will want to protect it. … I am a writer who loves nature” (9-10; page numbers are generally on pages without panels). The Seen series “illuminates the triumphs and struggles of important historical figures who aren’t found in traditional textbooks, but deserve to be remembered for their contributions to humanity and their inarguable strength and courage in the face of impossible odds.” Her most known work, Silent Spring, was a bestseller in its day. Rachel Carson is the second book in the Seen series. I speculate the primary audience will be the curious or young people. I found this work too short for my taste. This tiny colorful book (5” x 7”) rapidly moves Rachel from childhood to her calling.
She graduates college with a Baccalaureate in biology, and later acquires a Master’s in zoology and genetics. From ocean travels, she understands “how everything is connected.” (14) She’s hired by the Baltimore (Maryland USA) Sun as their nature writer. She recognizes sexism in the newspaper business. She later, but not mentioned in Rachel Carson, becomes a marine biologist for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife service.
She writes two non-fiction books about the sea (Under the Sea Wind, 1941, Oxford University Press; and the National Book Award winner, The Sea Around Us, 1951); but gives friendly names (e.g., Scomber the mackerel) to some of the creatures in the 1941 book for readers to connect to nature. Rachel Carson has her learning of a pesticide, DDT, in a movie theater “Headlines in Chemistry!” but without showing any images from the movie, so it took me awhile to figure that out (22). The DDT is widely sprayed in a fog and is supposed to kill mosquitos, fleas, lice and black flies, which are carriers of typhus, malaria, yellow fever, plague and many other diseases.
According to Rachel Carson, Rachel was against killing off any species, because the repercussions weren’t known (e.g., what other species were dependent on them as a source of food or otherwise?); nor to indiscriminately spread pesticides (e.g., when children are present or in waterways). She finds worms that consumed DDT poison birds even a year later; and insect generations can become resistant to DDT. She writes Silent Spring, partly as allegory (a potential future from uncontrollably poisoning our world) and partly her findings; published in 1962. We see a reporter ask Rachel, “Then it isn’t true that you’re entirely against the use of pesticides?” And her response, “Correct. I only posit that these chemicals should not be used so indiscriminately when the long-term side effects have not been studied.” (52; matching Moyers’ above)
DDT (dichloro-diphenyl-trichloroethane) was a pesticide that did a good job—for a time, until resistance occurred—of killing insects such as mosquitos and black flies. Mosquitos are malaria vectors. DDT initially was a great help in preventing malaria in troops during WWII; it became publicly available in 1945. It’s now considered “bioaccumulative and toxic chemical” by the EPA (U.S. environmental protection agency) because it takes over 15 years to degrade and is stored in fat tissue as it moves up the food chain. Controversy later surrounded DDT (e.g., see J. Gordon Edwards, PhD, Entomology Professor, San Jose State University posthumous article: “DDT: A Case Study in Scientific Fraud” published in July 2004’s issue of Journal of American Physicians and Surgeons.) Countries now have discretion in using DDT non-haphazardly to avoid insect resistance (see Scientific Tipping Points: The Banning of DDT Parts I and II by Tim Londergan, Emeritus Professor of Physics, Indiana University).
There are a few errors that occur in Rachel Carson. In Rachel Carson, the author mistakenly indicates DDT won the Nobel Peace Prize (23); Paul Hermann Müller won the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1948 related to DDT “as a contact poison against several arthropods.” Another is an image of Rachel Carson in a personal diving bell suit under water without an oxygen source (25).
Rachel Carson has had many posthumous awards and tributes; such as President Jimmy Carter awarded Rachel the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1980. After treatments for breast cancer, and continued cancer spread to her liver, Rachel Carson died from a heart attack in 1964 at age 56. A Bibliography and Teaching Guide (including understanding the comic form and presentation) for grades 6-10 is provided at the back of Rachel Carson. More information about Rachel Carson can be found at https://rachelcarson.org/.
Post York by James Romberger provides three climate change dystopian scenarios. These scenarios are almost wordless with intermittent dialogue; and are fictional but reasonable predictions. They have a cinematic Run, Lola, Run—the movie where slight event changes has a big effect on results—feel to it. Beautifully inked with scaliorsco shading emphasizing the stark reality of what might be left of human existence. Outboard motoring around decaying buildings of nearly abandoned flooded streets of New York City, and perhaps helping animals above and below the water line; OR death and fleeting artistry; OR fresco art to attempt a permanence while continuing to rule over the remaining creatures. And closing with the source of Post York: freeform lyrics by Crosby (James’ son) from a poetry slam. An afterward indicates this piece began in 2009 and was extended to consider additional endings with Questions & Answers of more scenarios (e.g., what might the impact of pandemics like COVID-19 be?); and selected sources are documented. I highly recommend Post York to give a harsh warning of where our descendants might end.
Romberger is artist or author of many graphic works. For example, he co-authored 7 Miles a Second (1996; reviewed at graphicmedicine.org), graphic memoir of David Wojnarowicz, AIDS activist; and authored the comic book series For Real (latter’s Issue One: The Oven (2019) about Jack Kirby’s PTSD was reviewed here.
Am I a Wolf who cried wolf? When I’ve talked to other people about giant, human-caused, impending-but-unknown-timed disasters, I’ve heard others tell me variations of the phrase “that’s morbid,” or changing the subject, or sarcastically “on a lighter note …” when people want me to shut up about the topic. In childhood it was pollution; from high school into my 40s it was nuclear weapons’ destructive forces; and now it’s climate change. The common denominator of these subjects is humans overstepping nature’s ability to catch up and correct dangers we create. We also have to find solutions or nature will take its course. It took humans to enact the Clean Water and Clean Air Acts and create the EPA; and to develop treaties to end above- and below-ground testing of nuclear weapons, control the quantity of nuclear weapons arsenals, and mutually-assured-destruction as an argument to maintain nuclear weapons. We humans need to live on our finite world within the narrow parameters allowed to slow and ultimately reverse our abuse of nature. We need long term thinking, planning, and actions to maintain nature’s livable environment. The graphic works reviewed here, discuss climate change and the need for greenhouse gas reduction methods; and environmentalists or ecologists, reviewed here, are among the people who look at natural phenomenon and our impact on them. I hope we can make this Earth healthier for a very long time to come!