Review: Spineless

Published On July 27, 2015 | By Richard Bruton | Comics, Comics For Children, Reviews

Spineless

By Jess BradleyTerry Wiley, with guest curator Irene Brown, Emily Rose Lambert, with guest curator Dan Skerritt, Samuel C Williams, with guest curators Vivek Nityananda and Erica McAllister, Sigmund Reimann, with guest curator Fiona Ware, John Gatehouse and Dave Windett, with the Environmental Records Centre North East.

Edited by Lydia Wysocki of Applied Comics Etc.

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Twenty thousand copies of this are being given away at an exhibition of marvellous mini-beasts at the Great North Museum Hancock, Newcastle in collaboration with Newcastle University.

Comics as an informational medium. Comics as an accessible educational tool. It’s a good, good thing that Lydia Wysocki, Newcastle University et al are doing… putting kids and comics and science together.

Trouble is, I have a complaint. Where was this a few months ago when I was leading an excited group of year 2 children outside in a series of bug-hunts as part of their Computing/Science lessons? I shall be keeping it for next year, that’s for sure.

The entire comic, it’s tone, ethos, quality, and sense of totally all-ages fun can be seen from the off, the cover/first page by Jess Bradley acts as both introduction, sales pitch and informational piece. Light, bright, easy to understand, gets all the essentials across. You couldn’t really ask for more.

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I’m older than dinosaurs!” – oh, the joy of that line, and those mini-beasty faces on the opening page by Jess Bradley.

Likewise, the comics inside, dealing with five mini-beast ecosystems; Reefs, Seashore, Rain Forests, Caves and even your very own back garden, are, to a greater or lesser extent, a combination of informative, educational and fun. Personal taste means I’m enjoying Bradley and Terry Wiley’s artwork the most, but it’s the sort of project where it’s almost churlish to pick and choose, knowing that the children and adults picking the comic up will be, for the most part, new to comics. And as such, every comic works, all of them doing the simple things very well, keeping the storytelling through the art nice and simple, straightforward. An outreach project such as this relies on clarity, on getting the message across really well. And that’s precisely what Spineless does very, very well.

Inside you’ll discover a host of fascinating facts, some I knew (the Preying Mantis has 3D vision), others I didn’t (the Byssus fibres that allow Mussels to stick so firmly to rocks was used in Ancient Egypt, with the addition of cow’s wee, to make golden thread). There are many more… immortal Jellyfish, the difference between Cucumbers and Sea Cucumbers, lobster life, Ethiopian church forests, the cave dwelling nematode that’s the deepest animal in the world (as in lives deepest, not deep thinking), the complex ecosystems of caves, all done in a lightweight comic style, open, involving, inviting. Plus there are activity sections; ‘make your own sea silk’, a backyard ‘bug search’, a how to guide to make your own insect hotel. All in all Spineless does pretty much all it needs to do, delivers a simple but informative, fun and educational lesson to one and all.

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(Coral Reefs – Terry Wiley, with guest curator Irene Brown)

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(Seashore – Emily Lambert, with guest curator Dan Skerritt)

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(Rainforests – Samuel Williams, with guest curator Vivek Nityananda)

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(Caves – Sigmund Reimann, with guest curator Fiona Ware)

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(Gardens – Dave Windett and John Gatehouse, with advisors Environmental Records Information Centre North East)

You can get hold of print copies from the Museum, but for those of us not fortunate enough to be able to get there in person, the Newcastle Science Comic website will have the digital version from 1st August 2015.

Oh, and in case you ever wondered. 20,000 16 page comics… 450kg.

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About The Author

Richard Bruton
- Started in comics retail aged 16 at Nostalgia & Comics, Birmingham. Now located in Yorkshire, he's written for the Forbidden Planet International Blog since 2007. Specialising in UK Comics and All-Ages comics, Richard's day job in a primary school allowed him to build the best children's graphic novel library in the country.

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