Learning Graphically – Comics About Science

Learning Graphically – Comics About Science
way things work.jpg

I was a comic book fan way before I was a mom. I’ve always liked exposing my kids at an early age to simple forms of complex ideas; I think it makes concepts familiar, letting kids get comfortable with sometimes difficult topics before they’re presented with the adult, “serious” versions – comics are the perfect medium for that! (Anyone remember the old Classics Illustrated comics?) Don’t worry that kids might be too young for these books – I’ve noticed my kids read them before they were really ready to understand everything they read, then came back to them when they were older and got more out of them. There are a number of comics about science and technology; these are just some of our favorites. If anyone has others they especially like, I’d love to hear about them in the comments!

Though not really a comic, I have to start with David Macaulay’s The New Way Things Work. His adorable (and smart!) little mammoths lead us through wonderfully illustrated explanations of simple machines to complex machines and on to the digital age. He also has a number of books on the inner workings of castles, big structures, and what’s underground – there are lots more.


We own most of Larry Gonick’s books; they’re classics. He’s written guides to statistics, chemistry, genetics, the environment, physics, and more – our favorite is the Cartoon Guide to Physics. He’s also the author of a most excellent series on history.

We recently discovered the Max Axiom series for younger kids. The main character is a superhero type, and each book explores different concepts like electicity and sound. The comics are very accessible and easy to understand, and each one has a list of books for further reading. (the bio of Max Axiom says he lives in Seattle – I wonder if he goes to Dorkbot?)


Two-Fisted Science and Dignifying Science are both are written by Jim Ottaviani and illustrated by a number of comic book artists, including David Lasky. Two-Fisted Science is a collection of stories about scientists, including Feynman, Heisenberg, Newton, and Liebniz. Dignifying Science is about Marie Curie, Rosalind Franklin, and other women in science. Neither of these books go into a lot of depth, but they’re both great jumping off points.

Then there’s the awesome Howtoons by Saul Griffith. Saul has a Howtoon in each issue of Make, they’re great projects for kids!


My son just zoomed through several books by Jay Hosler, a professor of biology at Juniata College – he kept cracking up as he read; Hosler’s books are as entertaining as they are educational. I enjoyed them just as much as he did (if not as vocally). Clan Apis is a tale about bee life, as seen through the eyes of a bee. Optical Allusions is about the evolution of vision (told by a brain!). And Sandwalk Adventures is the story of Darwin’s life and his theory of natural selection, told through a conversation between Darwin and two of his eyelash mites.


I found several science comics that are online and free, like MIT’s Adventures in Synthetic Biology – if you’re interested in Spore, you’ll be interested in learning about synthetic biology. And the Small Science Collective has downloadable small science zines, about biology (A Gut Feeling; Hole in yer Head), human behavior (Fake Smiles; Do You Have Gaydar?), computing (DNA Based Computing), lots more! Jason at Hackszine recently talked about Google Chrome’s tech overview, written by Scott McCloud, author of several books about the comic format. Maybe we’ll start seeing more technical documentation told through comics!

I’ve stuck to science-related comics here, but Scott McCloud is the author of 3 comprehensive books about the comics medium itself; Understanding Comics, Making Comics, and Reinventing Comics.

I know there’s lots more out there, let me know if you have favorites. I’d like to see a comic about the Periodic Table of the Elements. What would you like to see a comic about?

8 thoughts on “Learning Graphically – Comics About Science

  1. Aud1073cH says:

    I’ve got the first The Way Things Work – I love those wooly mamoth!

  2. peter says:

    yeah, i got the first one when i was a kid, and then the new one came out and somehow my parents decided to get me that one too. the new one is just the old book with an extra section which actually does a pretty good job of explaining digital stuff

  3. Mad Maxine says:

    Cool! I wish I had access to these when I was in grade school/middle school. I may just have to read them for fun and a refresher now. I saw the one on Manga statistics, and I really need to go check that out.

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