Graphic novel creators talk about Power of Science Comics at the Center for Astrophysics Observatory Night | news
Writer Jim Ottaviani and writer and illustrator Maris Wicks spoke at Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics’ Harvard Observator Night 2020 on Thursday about how science comics can be a powerful storytelling tool.
“We use comics to tell these stories because comics make science and history accessible,” said Wicks.
The message from Ottaviani and Wicks ties in with the mission of the monthly Observatory Nights, which the Center for Astrophysics established in 1930 to make astrophysics accessible to the public, according to spokeswoman Mariclaire O’Neill.
“One big thing we’re trying to do with our Public Observatory Nights is to package the science that people are interested in so that it’s accessible to all,” said O’Neill.
The Observatory Night webinar featured Ottaviani and Wick’s latest graphic novel, “Astronauts: Women on the Last Frontier”.
Ottaviani has been writing comics about science since his first comic book in 1997. In 2007 he met Wicks through a project that became a New York Times bestseller: “Primates: The Fearless Science of Jane Goodall, Dian Fossey and Biruté Galdikas”.
“Astronauts” is the creative duo’s second project to record how women in the US space program fought against sexism. It tells the story of Mary L. Cleave, a pioneering astronaut in the early 1980s. Ottaviani and Wicks described Cleave as the perfect main character because she was an “eyewitness and creator of history” after starting her career after the first women traveled into space, but before female astronauts gained cultural acceptance.
During the webinar, Ottaviani and Wicks went through their creative process describing how comics can effectively communicate science.
“Science and comics really go together because so much science is visual,” said Ottaviani.
Wicks added that comics are also powerful because so much science is about miracles, something that is easy to convey in cartoons. She walked through the audience through a page in Astronauts where Cleave looks at the constellation Orion and explained how the visual and personal aspects of comics involve the reader in Cleave’s experience.
The webinar ended with a question-and-answer session in which viewers asked Ottaviani and Wicks questions about comics and the writers’ love for science. While attendees asked questions, Wicks also began drawing a bookplate for the webinar that included doodles for each audience question.
“Hopefully this triggers a little bit of this miracle,” said Wicks of the event. “If this pushes you to find out more about the space program, or even the latest developments in space, that’s great.”
Sarah E. Hogan, event manager for the Center for Astrophysics, said the webinar format has unique advantages.
“I’m proud that we can now bring it to people who are not just in the neighborhood of the observatory,” she said. “The internet has given us a real chance to spread that.”