When I first set about making comics about science and skepticism, the goal was deceivingly straightforward: Draw comics about science. In execution, the exercise is still, nearly two years later, a grueling, learning experience. In looking for guidance on how to concisely explain ideas in comic narrative, I often turned to the works of British cartoonist Darryl Cunningham.
No doubt, many of you already know the name, as his autobiographical comics about his work in a psychiatric ward and his recent piece of the controversial practice of gas fracturing have both been featured on Mad Art Lab before. Indeed, Cunningham is one of the most recognizable illustrators in the realm of skeptical comicism.
His latest work, Science Tales: Lies, Hoaxes and Scams offers an in-depth exploration of the current skeptical climate. Taking on eight topics ranging from electro-convulsive therapy to moon landing conspiracy theories, Science Tales is as much a coffee table book as it is a desktop reference volume.
Cunningham explores each topic as an investigative journalist. In the chapters about alternative practices such as homeopathy, he explains the historical context and rich histories of some the most absurd of practices, and guides the reader through how they have evolved over time, before summarily debunking them. Appearing as the narrator in much of his stories, he addresses the common questions and assumptions people have about the subject at hand. This technique works brilliantly in his chapter on evolution, which is a must-read for anybody on the fence about natural selection.
While critics may disagree, Cunningham tends to err on the side of being more fair than some of the subjects deserve. But it’s this objective look at hot-button topics, such as chiropractic medicine and anti-vax darling Andrew Wakefield, that allow Science Tales to be a great gateway into skeptical thought. It’s a book that you can hand to somebody and say, “Here is the history behind the subject.” without the reader being turned away by a perceived “agenda”. But make no mistake, the book’s subtitle is “Lies, Hoaxes, and Scams”, and Cunningham doesn’t pull his punches.
Artistically, Science Tales follows the same format as its predecessors, though it is clear that Cunningham has been honing his style to fine edge. With a controlled economy of line and minimalist page layouts, he focuses on the efficient delivery of facts, which makes his comics irresistibly sharable. His iconic lines are mixed with artistic treatments of photographs—often used to introduce key figures. While it sometimes doesn’t translate well to print, it never distracts from the work and gives his investigations an unmistakable documentary feel. New for Science Tales is Cunningham’s use of color, which is a welcome addition to his repertoire, and combined with the hardcover binding, makes it a classy addition to any skeptic’s comic book collection.
UPDATE: According to Darryl, the US version of the book will be available from Abrams sometime next spring under a different title. It will include the aforementioned strip on fracking.