The prevailing culture is surprisingly and frustratingly simplistic when it comes to graphic books and comics. As late as 2017, we’re still at the stage that most people in the USA (and the UK), if asked, will associate the form with the superhero genre: people in capes and/or masks fighting crime and/or saving the world. The other association is with the Sunday funnies. This is unfortunate, and, in case you don’t know, far from the case in other places such as various European and Asian countries where the boundaries between written and visual literature are less rigid.
The confusion of form (visual narrative on the page) with genre (the subject of the narrative itself) drives me nuts, as it makes it very hard to get people to broaden their minds and reading habits to include so much of the wonderful work that is going on in the comics and graphic books world that is far away from superheroes. Furthermore, several people use it as an excuse to maintain a rather high-handed distain for the whole form, since (as far as they’re concerned) it has associations that are decidedly and irredeemably low-brow. As a result, the level of visual literacy we have in the culture is dismayingly low.
This situation is helped along nicely by the fact that even some of our finest standard bearers of the literary arts (and its relatives) compound the error by misclassifying comics and graphic work in their sections. Have a look at some (online or printed) newspapers’ books sections or even dedicated literary reviews and you’ll often see comics all lumped together as a genre, like crime fiction or travel writing, or cookbooks. (Yes, my dear friends at the wonderful site LARB, I’m afraid you’re a major example too.) It’s almost like it is a way of making it easy for those easily offended by the stink of “picture books” to avoid it all in one go. In reality, though, comics should be everywhere in those book sections, in every category – in memoir and biography for sure (there are so many striking examples), history, sport, food, travel, crime, etc…. and of course science, and as you may know, my current book project will be adding to (and expanding the scope of, I hope) that latter section.
All of this is by way of introduction to the above image. My graphic book is about science, and real people engaged with science ideas. It’s not an adventure story, and it certainly isn’t about superheroes. But yes, I could not resist a cheeky wink back at the whole issue I described above… so there will be a point where you open the book and stumble upon a bit that looks like you’ve picked up a superhero book! It’s another example of my elaborate idea of a joke. So maybe I’m adding to the problem, or maybe I’m showing that we should just drop the pretentious boundaries and mix it all up…? I don’t know.
Either way, this was a fun drawing to do. It is actually a small part of a full splash page. For those of you interested in process, I thought I’d include the original rough drawing I did when I was writing and planning this story some years ago, the pencil work I did to make it into a proper ready-for-prime-time drawing*, the inked final version, and the painted final version.
*There’s a lot of digital scrubbing around on it after I scanned it in, making adjustments (e.g. her hand was huge!) and preparing for the inking stage. There was one point where I was trying to clean up the pencils and just use those as the final for painting but in the end it was too messy and I decided it would be quicker to just do a fresh inking job. I can’t recall if this is real ink or digital ink… I did this several months ago.