Author: written by Gomdori Co. (Seok-Young Song in actuality) and illustrated by Hyun-Dong Han
Publish Date: 2013 English translation
Publisher: published by No Starch Press
Catalog ID: Survive! Inside the Human Body Volumes 1: The Digestive System (ISBN 978-1593274719), 2: The Circulatory System (ISBN 978-1593274726), and 3: The Nervous System (ISBN (978-1593274733)
Where to buy: https://bookshop.org/shop/graphicmedicine
review by Kevin Wolf
Survive! Inside the Human Body Volumes 1: The Digestive System (ISBN 978-1593274719), 2: The Circulatory System (ISBN 978-1593274726), and 3: The Nervous System (ISBN (978-1593274733) written by Gomdori Co. (Seok-Young Song in actuality) and illustrated by Hyun-Dong Han and published by No Starch Press © 2013 English translation
These books are translated from Korean and come from South Korea. The term for Korean comic books is Manhwa (pronounced man-wa). The characters show exaggerated emotions through facial and body expressions, sweat and salivating, and jumping around. Narration comes from a disembodied head of the character narrating. The books indicate they are for ages 8 or more, but for better understanding I recommend them for slightly older students in at least middle school.
Each book in the series covers a different body system (digestive, circulatory and nervous). The main characters are Geo, who becomes miniaturized and travels inside Phoebe’s body; Dr. Brain, professor and trapped with Geo; Kay, a medical student; and Phoebe, a rambunctious fun-loving person. Dr. Brain in volume one concludes that Phoebe’s age is twelve based on having only 26 teeth. Geo appears to be about the same age. Geo and Dr. Brain travel in a lunar lander-like ship called the SS Hippocrates, shaped like a virus. The plotline is loosely similar to the 1966 movie The Fantastic Voyage written by Jerome Bixby, Otto Klement, and Harry Kleiner; the novelization was quickly written over two months by Isaac Asimov to match the movie’s release in 1966. The Survive! series, however, has more humor, educational information on the body systems and is directed toward a younger audience than Fantastic Voyage.
Geo is often confused about what he is seeing, while Dr. Brain explains the physiology. Kay wants to rescue them and does experiments from the outside while Phoebe’s body systems are being explored. The story cuts back and forth between Geo/Dr. Brain inside Phoebe and outside her body where frustrated Kay tries rescuing Geo and Dr. Brain; all while Phoebe is often having fun. Geo is concerned that he and Dr. Brain might affect Phoebe. Phoebe is bored with hanging around the lab (Kay’s place) and sometimes leaves to do her own exploring in the wider world. In volume 3, The Nervous System, a new character is introduced, the unnamed Research Director, an elderly balding man who wants to put an end to Kay’s experiments and make sure Dr. Brain is prepared for an upcoming symposium. All the characters are the same size and readily sympathetic without any of them talking down to the reader. The resolution of Geo’s various questions should help the reader understand each body system.
In between the graphic comic book story, there are two page spreads called Survival Science!, which provide more technical terminology and realistic pictures–sometimes photographs–of what is occurring scientifically. The images of the body systems in the Manhwa portions are like medical illustrations but more playfully rendered. Each volume can be read independently in any order, especially for their medical content. But to completely follow the Manhwa story-line they should be read in the order provided. There is no “story so far” at the start of the second and third volumes.
The drawing style is easy to follow with straightforward layouts, backgrounds when needed, medical illustrations, and appropriate colors.
There are a few negatives to these tales. Phoebe is the only female in the volumes and is the most childish of the characters. She is the least medically inquisitive of the four main characters; at least until the third volume where new synapses are created in the nervous system. The Manhwa tries to justify this because she’s very young. When Kay explains some medical information to Phoebe about her own body she often doesn’t believe him or is “grossed out.” Kay sometimes withholds medical information from Phoebe. She’s so oblivious that she never realizes that Geo and Dr. Brain are trapped inside her body. Geo, though also young becomes very interested in the body systems as he travels through them. Kay appears youthful, but clearly has more knowledge, being a medical student.
I enjoyed these books, due in part to my lack of detailed familiarity with these body systems. Though these volumes are meant for middle school and high school students, I found them entertaining and educational. I would guess that middle school students might read only the Manhwa portions of the volumes, though a lot of technical information is provided therein, while the Survival Science! portions might be more likely to be read by high school aged or older persons. Each volume is about 170 pages and includes an index but no information about sources or additional readings for those interested.
Volume 1: The Digestive System.
Survival Science! two-page explanations cover our incredible bodies with overviews of digestive, circulatory and nervous systems; nutrients (carbohydrates, fat and protein), vitamins, minerals and water; mouth (teeth, saliva, tongue) and proper teeth brushing; pharynx, tonsils/uvula/epiglottis, esophagus, and reasons for tonsillectomies; ‘doors’ or sphincters of the digestive system, cardia, pylorus, ileocecal valve, and anus; segmental movement in the stomach, gastric fluid, mucus, helicobacter pylori bacteria and ulcers/inflammation; indigestion including prevention, medicines (but don’t take them often), common problems, like inflammation, eructation and flatulence; small intestine (duodenum, jejunum and ileum); parasites (hookworms, roundworms, pinworms, tapeworms), prevention and anthelmintics; small intestine villi and folds and nutrient absorption; and large intestine (ileocecal valve, cecum, colon, rectum, and flora bacteria) and over 100 trillion microbes.
The digestive system adventure includes learning about Hippocrates (the man), mouth/tongue, salivary glands, teeth counts varying by age, travel through the gullet, stomach, small intestine, and large intestine.
The story opens with Geo, who’s smitten with Phoebe, waiting for her arrival at the airport. The first health problem that arises has Phoebe seeing double of Geo and Geo thinking she’s hungry. She missed the in-flight meal because she slept through it. The first piece of medical education is Geo saying “Just like machines need energy to operate, our bodies need food to function,” while a close look of Geo’s shirt shows a machine-like device in his stomach being energized as he dreams of eating. As one turns the page the scene immediately changes and they are outside a research hospital where Kay and Dr. Brain work and Geo had made an appointment for all of them to meet. Geo finds out that Phoebe came to town, not to visit Geo, but to visit Kay. Phoebe still hasn’t eaten and faints in the lobby which gives Geo a way to sneak beyond the security guard to Kay’s seemingly empty lab. Suddenly, a huge ship appears and out pop Dr. Brain and Kay.
Apparently Kay and Dr. Brain had traveled through the digestive track of a bunny on Dr. Brain’s creation, the SS Hippocrates, and were pooped out. Geo doesn’t believe Dr. Brain, so Dr. Brain takes him inside the SS Hippocrates and shrinks them. The rabbit kicks them into a bowl of cookies. When Phoebe enters the lab she sees the cookies and still starving she gobbles it down. The adventure of the digestive system begins in earnest. Geo is horrified about being eaten. We find out Phoebe is twelve years old because she has 26 teeth. Phoebe hears Geo yell her name, but refuses Kay’s request for her to spit out the food, that’s partially chewed, in her mouth but swallows instead.
Once they travel into the esophagus Geo learns from Dr. Brain that the digestive system has a one-way path from the mouth to the body’s end. He wants another way to escape the body! Slight hope of going down the trachea into the lungs and being coughed out are dashed when the epiglottis prevents that route. Geo is known as “the King of survival” so he accepts his fate on the long road to hopeful escape. Dr. Brain explains they will travel about 9 meters, but Geo thinks that’s impossible because Phoebe is “barely 1.5 meters tall.” Dr. Brain tells Geo to wait and watch; and that it will take about 32 hours!
Phoebe is still hungry and wants to eat and Kay doesn’t tell her where Geo and Dr. Brain really are, but indicates they had to go because of an emergency. At the stomach Dr. Brain explains reflux (or heartburn), having stomach acid go back up the esophagus, is prevented by the cardia a sort of “door” at the stomach’s entry which tries to allow food in but not back out. The SS Hippocrates shouldn’t be affected by the acid due to precautions made by Dr. Brain, but its protective coating was rubbed off. The crisis is averted by covering the ship with mucus that otherwise protects the stomach lining from stomach acid. They even find helicobacter pylori bacteria, which lives within the stomach, can help their ship stay intact as they move through the stomach. And to maintain Phoebe’s health, prevent ulcers or stomach cancers, Geo uses the SS Hippocrates laser to destroy all these bacteria and the enzyme (urease) released protects the ship. Geo’s video gaming skills come in handy here.
Phoebe overeats and Kay explains that if Phoebe doesn’t have enough water and fiber she might become constipated. She has indigestion instead with resulting gas and not allowing the SS Hippocrates to move on to the intestine until the excess food is broken down. Dr. Brain, prepared for most things, releases some medicine (simethicone) in Phoebe’s stomach to allow the pylorus to open. They travel through the small intestine on a river of gastric juices like riding a roller coaster. While traveling Dr. Brain answers questions like: Why is it called the small intestine when it is much, much longer than the large intestine? Until the end, the volume avoids bathroom humor. Kay, Geo and Dr. Brain figure out Phoebe has a hookworm parasite, which can live up to fifteen years in the small intestine. Dr. Brain finds he’s out of the antidote (anthelmintics). Kay comes to the rescue by providing Phoebe with anthelmintic pill which she takes in the normal way by swallowing.
The SS Hippocrates loses power and becomes adrift in the intestines, and is left to move as nature intended. The small intestine is lined with nutrient-absorbing villi. Villi are a natural fractal in that when one moves in one finds smaller versions of the same (microvilli here). Will Kay and Dr. Brain escape the body at the end of the large intestine or are they fated to continue to volume 2?
Volume 2: The Circulatory System.
Survival Science! two-page explanations cover arteries, capillaries, veins, and blood’s purpose; components of blood; liver’s purpose and hepatic diseases; heart structure, strength and evolution of the heart in vertebrates; trachea and lungs’ cleanliness, structure and function; blood types and heredity; skeletal system–where blood is made–and its flexibility; skin’s layers and melanoma; nose, it’s uses, defenses and affect on ones voice; and ears, how they work, keeping balance, and motion sickness.
The circulatory system adventure includes their ship (acting like a virus) being swallowed by white blood cells, pus (dead white blood cells), visiting the liver, heart, lungs and back to the heart, internal hemorrhage, bruising, sunburned skin, landing in the nasal cavity only to be sucked down the throat, through the Eustachian tube and eventually to the brain.
The volume starts with Kay searching for Geo’s and Dr. Brain’s ship, SS Hypocrates, inside Phoebe’s “poop” but not to be found in hundreds of samples, while Geo is trying to revive the unconscious Dr. Brains. The ship, SS Hippocrates, lost its chance from exiting at the body’s end, because it’s absorbed by the large intestine and enters the capillaries. Dr. Brain now wants to exit the body through the circulatory system. Geo expects to see red only for blood. Dr. Brain explains that blood is made up of 55% plasma (yellow) with water, nutrients, hormones and protein; red blood cells (discs) to carry oxygen (red because it’s made of iron), platelets for coagulation, and white blood cells. Dr. Brain explains that other creatures’ blood might not be red (e.g. some mollusks, like octopi, have blue blood because their respiratory system collects copper). Dr. Brain quickly realizes that he won’t be able to exit the body by way of the circulatory system because the blood in our body doesn’t leave. Dr. Brain says “It means we will stay here forever.” Geo points out they can leave if Phoebe cuts herself or has a bloody nose, but how can they get her to cut herself where they happen to be?
Dr. Brain jokingly calls the adventure he and Geo are having a once-in-a-lifetime (field trip) experience (literally “in” a life). Humor appears in the drawings as well, like Geo himself appearing to carry nutrients like a red blood cell through the hepatic lobules in the liver. We learn some Korean idioms, like Geo fears having a liver disease because he’s often told his liver was swollen by his friends, but then Dr. Brain explained it’s a Korean saying that means being daring or brave.
Dr. Brain explains urine is yellow because of the buildup of yellow bilirubin which will be more noticeable if a person has jaundice. I mention this as an example of how even the Manhwa parts can be technical though presented as an adventure.
Outside the body, Phoebe and Kay show examples of Korean culture like outdoor markets, and kids playing games (like neolttwigi, a seesaw game). While Phoebe’s heart races playing this game, Geo and Dr. Brain head for her heart and hear KAPOWW and BOOM repeatedly as her heart beat accelerates with her excitement almost bursting their ears from the noise. The heart muscle, as Dr. Brain explains, is strong enough to circulate our blood through 60,000 miles of tubing (veins, arteries & capillaries). After leaving the heart Geo is happy to enter the less violent lungs only to be upset when Dr, Brain tells him they will return to the heart soon with the now oxygenated blood. Cliffhangers occur inside Phoebe for Geo and Dr. Brain and to Phoebe herself, like when she fainted after breathing in car exhaust–carbon monoxide– and the blood isn’t getting enough oxygen. She’s choking, perhaps because she has a tiny irritant, being the SS Hippocrates moving in her body. Dr. Brain tells Geo they can recharge SS Hippocrates’ battery if they travel to the eye or near the skin’s surface because of the ship’s highly efficient solar panels.
After replenishing energy the SS Hippocrates nearly escapes by causing a nosebleed but is stopped by Phoebe using tissues to block her nose. Then they try to escape out an ear, but the SS Hippocrates is sent back because of an explosive sound wave that Phoebe helps make happen. That sends them into the lymphatic system, briefly allowing Phoebe to hear Geo’s voice as he screams his frustration though she doesn’t realize this sound is coming from inside her body. Finally, Geo and Dr. Brain head toward Phoebe’s brain and the nervous system.
Volume 3: The Nervous System.
Survival Science! two-page explanations cover brain structure; protecting the brain; brain’s oxygen needs, and blood-brain barrier; cerebrospinal fluid; more specifically cerebrum, brain lobes, and other animal’s brains and how size may not matter; neurons, synapses, neurotransmitters and disorders; brain waves via electroencephalogram (EEG) and imaging via computed tomography (CT) or computer axial tomography (CAT)/positron emission tomography (PET)/magnetic resonance imaging (MRI); eye structure (not quite accurate in that our blind spot isn’t shone nor explained), its connection to the brain, reason for sleeping and rapid eye movement (REM); brain stem structure and purpose, brain death (no recovery), vegetative state (rare recovery), and reticular formation; central and peripheral nervous systems, types of nerves and spinal reflex; and closes with medical research of the future like robotic surgery, neural implants (e.g. cochlear implants), and micro bubbles.
The nervous system adventure includes benign/malignant tumors, brain, optic nerve, spinal cord, legs falling asleep, alpha/beta/delta/gamma/theta brain waves, eyes, brain stem, and spine.
The nervous system volume opens with Dr. Brain finding a tumor pressing on Phoebe’s optic nerve. Kay recognizes that Phoebe hearing Geo’s voice, at the end of Volume 2, means that Geo & Dr. Brain are in Phoebe’s ears via her capillaries. There is a lab on the SS Hippocrates and Dr. Brain takes a sample of the tumor.
We find out Dr. Brain is scheduled to give a symposium lecture the next day with the “world’s greatest doctors” in attendance. Kay makes up excuses for Dr. Brain not being available, like his last-minute appendectomy. The Research Director, who previously removed Dr. Brain’s appendix, isn’t amused, and threatens Kay’s and Dr. Brain’s employment if Dr. Brain doesn’t show for his lecture.
The SS Hippocrates jumps around on Phoebe’s brain wreaking havoc from random emotions to slugging Kay. The reader sees new synapses being created as Phoebe learns about differences between the left and right hemispheres of the brain; she’s finally being inquisitive. Kay gives her an electroencephalogram (EEG) to find the SS Hippocrates is in Phoebe’s brain. The SS Hippocrates navigation panel isn’t working so Dr. Brain can’t situate the ship to re-find Phoebe’s optic nerve. Geo decides to somehow send a signal to Kay of their location; he’s hoping Kay is working on getting them out. The ship’s distress signal inadvertently sends signals to Phoebe that she has to pee; Kay sees the odd behavior but still has no idea where the ship is. Geo gets a magnetic resonance image (MRI) for her entire body. If there is anything that can be magnetized on the ship this would be dangerous to both Phoebe & the ship’s passengers, but the Manhwa explains the ship is made of a special alloy unaffected by the MRI; therefore won’t crash into Phoebe’s body. The ship will automatically turn off when it senses a magnetic field and turn on when the magnetic field stops. After the MRI the ship reboots and its navigational system works again. Dr. Brain realizes this was Kay’s response to Geo’s distress signal. Kay didn’t actually use the MRI to get an image; had he, perhaps he would have seen Phoebe’s optic nerve tumor.
Geo and Dr. Brain are trying to escape Phoebe’s body through her optic nerve. Phoebe falls asleep in the MRI and experiences rapid eye movements (REM). Finally, the SS Hippocrates escapes Phoebe through her tears and enlarges upon contact with outside light. Phoebe wakes to see the huge ship in the lab with Geo and Dr. Brain coming out. She continues to not understand that this ship a moment ago had been inside her. Phoebe, unable to move, collapses, while Kay argues with Dr. Brain about his travels. Dr. Brain and Kay yell at the same time, “There is a tumor in her brain!!!” Geo and Dr. Brain know because they saw it and grabbed a sample of it for testing and Kay knows because … which goes unsaid because they all see the collapsed Phoebe. She is rushed through the hospital; and test results indicate the tumor is benign. The tumor will still grow, so it can continue to have deleterious effects on Phoebe. It’s close to and can put pressure on the brain stem, which affects involuntary life-maintaining activities. The brain stems death will progress to brain death unless there are machines to take on our involuntary activities, like breathing; but such patients will never recover those involuntary controls.
Geo wants to destroy the tumor immediately, but Dr. Brain indicates it’s too deep within the brain. Dr. Brain claims there’s no known technology for the operation to remove the tumor. Geo suggests the obvious – for the ship to go back in Phoebe to perform the surgery from the inside (Volume doesn’t address whether a gamma knife or other directed radiation beam could be used to remove the tumor from outside the body). Kay is against such a solution, because during their past excursion in Phoebe they were lucky they survived, escaped Phoebe’s body and didn’t seriously damage her body along the way. Dr. Brain suggests using micro air bubbles, blasting them with ultrasonic waves to heat them, which Kay says is experimental; but they’ll still need the SS Hypocrates inside Phoebe to deliver the air bubbles and ultrasonic waves. Phoebe’s condition worsens. Dr. Brain fears Phoebe may not wake up, which forces their hand. Kay accepts they have to use the ship to save Phoebe. Dr. Brain, upgraded the ship’s safety features, added a surgical arm to the ship and a video connection; while inside they can get immediate advice from Kay on the outside. Dr. Brain wants a human surgeon to control the arm while watching the video feed. This isn’t so farfetched (except miniaturizing a ship with passengers) in that micro surgeries are now occurring following recent advances.
This time Dr. Brain will use a syringe to place the SS Hippocrates where he wants it to start; unlike the first time when they were accidentally swallowed by Phoebe. Dr. Brain can’t join Geo in the ship, so Geo, and Kay shrink with the ship to hopefully save Phoebe with Dr. Brain’s guidance. Dr. Brain, after freeing himself from the Research Director, injects the miniaturized ship into Phoebe’s spine’s lumbar region to follow the spinal fluid to the brain. Will she be saved? You’ll not only need to buy the book to find out, but to gain quite a medical knowledge, as well. I recommend the Survive! volumes to students in grades seven through high school who has any interest in learning about medical sciences as well as adults who are interested in understanding how the human body works.