Update: The book (click on right for larger view of cover) will be in bookstores in the USA at the end of October (2017), and in the UK a short while later at the beginning of December! I’m delighted to be able to announce that it has a foreword by Frank Wilczek, too! You can see read more about it in the MIT Press Fall 2017 catalogue (page 9 of a pdf link) here, on its own page on their site here, and you can already pre-order at a special price on Amazon (pre-orders are helpful for getting a book launched well – so don’t be shy).
Below is some of the older (in-progress) material I had here about the book. Maybe still interesting if you like learning about how things are made.
This page collects together a little information about the forthcoming graphic book on which I’ve been working for many years! Before I revealed (on my blog) what my (then secret) project was about, I’d refer to it in posts as “The Project”, so watch out for that in any early posts that you might read (I’ll list some below). I’ll keep that as a useful term of reference, but sometimes will also use “The Dialogues” since that is the main working title:
…or something close to that.
So what shall I say about the book? Well, first of all, it should be on bookshelves in late 2017 or so, which is an exciting thing to be able to say, given how long I’ve been exploring making the idea a reality. [Edit: I’ve parted ways (amicably) with my existing publisher, so I’ll update this soon! I fully intend the book to appear in 2017, under one publishing scheme or another, so don’t panic!]
The book itself is a graphic book featuring science, or (if you prefer) a graphic novel featuring science. I tend to use the term “graphic book” these days and not graphic novel since people immediately think that it is a novel, and with the science component, perhaps even science fiction. That is not the structure or subject matter of the book at all. Rather, it is a series of short pieces that you can dip into. The core pieces are conversations between various characters (fictional, yes) about real science. The graphic format allows me to visually introduce you to the people in conversation, explore their world, and sometimes the world of what they are talking about.
You the reader are an eavesdropper on these conversations, and you’re reading about science ideas and discoveries concerning various topics in contemporary research (relativity, cosmology, black holes, particle physics, stars, supernovas, etc…) by being a witness to these conversations. Think of this collection as a modern and visual version of the dialogues that accompanied some of the ideas of the early Greek philosophers, or the ideas of Galileo that changed the world of science forever. Instead of intellectuals wearing period clothing, the characters in my book are everyday people, in everyday situations: cafes, clubs, trains, bars, or just walking along. You’ll wonder a bit about who those characters are, and what cities they’re in (the locations are real), and perhaps you’ll see some developments of the relations between these characters, intersections with other conversations, and so forth. Perhaps you’ll even see some of yourself in some of the characters, and the conversations, since one of the reasons I wrote this book is that I hear these kinds of conversations around me a lot as I go about my business through the city of Los Angeles, and other cities around the world. I wanted to capture a bit of the spirit of such conversations, as I don’t think I’ve seen anything like that as the focus in the published world, graphic or prose. I find (from what I overhear and from the many people who stop me to say they’ve seen me on a science show of one kind or other) that a broad variety of people are interested in science, and talk about it and try to understand it – Science is not just for scientists, it is for everyone!
There’s a limit to how far one can go in depth in a given topic in this format, so instead of trying to be a set of in depth lectures, this book is a great way to dip into a subject or subjects from a perhaps unexpected angle and then (using the glossary, footnotes, bibliography) find your way to other books and sources of material to learn more.
I hope the book will therefore be a useful resource for people of all levels of interest, and a fun way – through character and situation – to encounter fun and sometimes startling ideas about how the world works!
The idea for this book has been a long time in the making (over 15 years) and I got started on actually making it a reality in 2010. You can read about that in some of the first posts mentioned below. It took a while to get to where I am now because I first wanted to take some time out to teach myself to draw properly (if you read this blog you’ll know a bit about what I do in that department – practice, practice, experiment, practice, which is the best way to get good at anything) so that I can do all the art myself.
I also wanted to teach myself a whole lot about the production of graphic novels, etc. (Yes, sometimes to my peril, I’m a junkie for the autodydactic approach to things…) So I’ve done all that now, but the book will take a while longer because… well, even a professional takes a long time to do all the art for a graphic book. (Also, this.) You can see a few samples of panels and other things on the blog, and on this page. So… hold on for a while longer. I hope it will be worth the wait!
And no, just because it has pictures, the book is not for kids. It is not full of cute characters going on an adventure, or facing life-changing self discovery, etc. That’s a great type of book, but maybe I’ll do that another time. Right now I’m trying to write a book where the starring character is actually the science itself. I feel that the graphic book format (note, format not genre – people confuse the two here a lot) is mature enough to routinely have science ideas laid out in a full book, up front, and not hidden behind the cloak of history or biography or adventure of some sort.
(You’ve no idea how difficult it is to pitch such a book to publishers, especially in the USA. The science book people don’t know what to do with all the pictures, and the graphic book people (even the ones who aren’t looking for capes) are freaked out by the science and/or can’t understand why there’s no hero and villain! This is why, in the end, an adventurous and forward-looking small academic publisher overseas turns out to be a good home for such an experiment – took me 10 months to work my way to that point.)
So yes, what I am saying is that I think that there is room on the graphic book market for a very different kind of science book that is about ideas, but still of broad audience reach, without being a more familiar “lecture comic” or biography of a scientist, which I did not want to write for this project. Such books are great of course, just not what I want to do. The lecture comics tend (not always) to be more “zany” in tone than I’m going for (of course, there’s nothing wrong with that), but still usually have the sort of “voice of authority” aspect that I think is not for some readers, whether it be in prose or graphic form. The science biography graphic books are sometimes closer in tone to some of the graphic novels a lot of readers who don’t consider themselves “comics fans” consume alongside their other prose, but in most (not all) cases, they really are character-driven, and the science (even if it is the profession of the individual being written about) is almost secondary – I want the science in this graphic book to be the starring character. Also, the science ideas I’m talking about are so visual, but relatively few books on these topics present it that way (because they are prose books), so I’m going to have a go at that in the graphic book here and there too (actually a lot of the lecture comics do that aspect very well too).
Overall, I want to open up the range of what is called a science book (graphic or otherwise) by putting this book out there. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with the books that are out there already (graphic or otherwise), I just think that there’s a greater variety of approaches to be tried if we are to try to excite a greater variety of people to engage in science. I don’t know how successful this book will be (that’s up to you, potential reader, to show you want more variety from publishers by getting a copy), but I hope to at least show what’s possible, compared to most of what’s out there now.
To find out the big over-arching answers to the What!? Why!? How!? Are You Insane!? aspects of the book idea, look for older blog posts with “The Project” in the title:
There are several other posts specifically about examples of technique, subject, approach, and so forth. And there are other posts about the usual random subjects this blog touches on that may well have bits of sketches or other ideas that may make it into the project. Many of them are not collected here. I’m not sure how best to find them. Perhaps I will try to help with some of them by making a category/tag called sketches.
Lunch Time in Colour
Seminar in Progress
Colourful Science Chatter
More Chatter about Physics
Ok, Here Goes
How is That Supposed to Work Exactly? (Part II)
How is that Supposed to Work Exactly?
Random Party Snippet
Happy New Year!
No, I don’t think so, 2
No, I don’t think so, 1
I hope to update this from time to time, but just in case, search around for more recent posts on the topic.
By the way, some sketches and samples of various sorts (not all related to the book) can be viewed in this album. You can play a slide show: