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Science and Cartoons

Science and Cartoons (Japan edition)

In the first post I made about Japan, you can see some examples of picture books on science and nature which the conference organisers had put together. One of the things that struck me was the way they integrated illustration in a rather artistic, children's literature style with approaches more common to technical illustation or photographic representation.

Some other books I found (looking in kids bookshops) were possibly even more exciting... Science Manga.

Doraemon Science communication - covers

More under the cut - warning to any on dial-up, this is pretty photo-heavy.

I was very excited, I almost dribbled. Admittedly, this may be a personal reaction - the books I look at for my thesis, Horrible Science, apply rather Beano-style illustrations to scientific exposition, so it was great to see a similar mix in another culture (though really, Science Manga, how could you not be excited - it's like Richard Dawkins meets Pokémon).

It's interesting to think about the effects of mixing these styles (e.g. the rather anarchic tone of much cartooning, with the more didactic tendencies of kids non-fiction). Especially, as I found in a second hand book shop recently, actual Beano Science does exist.

beano science

Although we might also think that fixing the fictions of cartoon characters with factual communication could be confusing, there are pedagogical uses in the more fantastical elements of cartooning. For example, employing a sort of 'fantastic voyage' device to allow readers a form of eye-witness (via protagonists) into places you wouldn't otherwise be able to go (n.b. Knife and Packer, the Magic School Bus series and Russell Stannard all do this sort of thing too, Stannard without much recourse to images, it can be entirely textual). Here we see Doraemon and friends traveling inside the human body.

Doraemon Science communication - insides 2

Finally, just in case you thought this was new. I found this image of the digestive system in the history of science museum in Tokyo. Can you see all the little people in the intestines? All images are links to flickr - you can find a few more examples in the set there.

Ancient Japanese diagram of the body - close up


What a variety of illustration -- the Flickr set is really good! I think the style of manga lend itself to science for some reason -- maybe something to do with the linework, spatial and time shifts that aren't standard in western cartooning traditions… (see Scott McLoud's Understanding Comics).

Looking over all the shots, it seems hard to tell what kinds of books we're looking at. There are some very clean, DK-esque layouts in the Flickr stream that are totally different from the younger children's picture books and the quick and dirty Doraemon cartoons printed on what looks like newsprint. Do you know about where these cartoons are sold and how popular they are? It would be interesting to find out if they are read like 'regular' cartoons, or used in schools, or bought by parents. There is definitely something horrible-sciency about them (hey, a new science project adjective!)

Also, did you get the chance to bring a few examples back with you? It would be great to take a look at these in the flesh. Maybe at a table as part of the workshop on popular science books, hint hint.

I have one Japanese book. I also bought more cartoon-type sci books in the US... so may well make it my workshop at the pop sci day

you can find good science research cartoons on Vadlo - biology search engine.