Director’s Commentary: Darryl Cunningham talks Graphic Science
After his delightful run of Super-Sam strips here on the blog a good number of years ago, Darryl Cunningham crafted one of the first books out of the then-new Blank Slate Books stable, the extremely honest, emotional, empathic and powerful Psychiatric Tales, which moved us so much both Richard and I ended up filing a review each. It isn’t often a book gets two reviews from different people on the same platform, and I think that gives you an idea of how impressed we were.
In the years since he’s brought us a number of works, from the hugely enjoyable Uncle Bob Adventures to Supercrash, which used the comics form – and an enormous amount of painstaking research – to make the causes of the global financial meltdown accessible and understandable. His latest work, Graphic Science, is about to be published by Myriad Editions, and celebrates the work of seven scientists often overlooked for reasons of class, gender, ethnicity, and highlights their importance to our understanding of the world, but also illuminates societal and institutional problems and biases. Here’s Darryl to tell us a little about Graphic Science:
After I finished my previous book, Supercrash (the story of the 2008 financial crisis), it was almost a year before I began my next project. After several false starts I finally settled on the idea of a book composed of biographies of seven scientists, covering a two hundred year span (Seven Scientists was an early title). Part of this was a reaction to Supercrash, in which I had to draw men in suits in nondescript offices for two hundred pages. A historical timespan, I thought, would give me more to get my teeth into drawing-wise and make it more visually interesting for me.
From the start I didn’t want to cover Einstein, Newton, Darwin or any other the other big guns. I wanted people who were slightly off the beaten track. Scientists who had both interesting lives and who did interesting work. Many is the scientist who may have done stellar work, but whose life story amounted to not much more than being in a lab for their entire lives. I was looking for something more colourful and it took me awhile to find seven people who fit my criteria. This often meant picking subjects who were involved in scientific controversy or who were caught up in the turmoil of their time.
So we have Antoine Lavoisier (father of French chemistry), Mary Anning (English fossil hunter), George Washington Carver (American botanist), Nikola Tesla (Serbian-American electrical genius), Alfred Wegener (German meteorologist, geologist and Artic explorer), Jocelyn Bell-Burnell (Northern Irish astronomer), and Fred Hoyle (English astronomer).
Because of who I picked, this book is not only a story of science, but of war, revolution, gender, racism, slavery, hunger, obsession and mental illness. If any of these subjects interest you, then this is your book.
As is my way, I don’t thumbnail. I literally just start drawing page one and work through to the end of the book (I always tell people, don’t make comics the way I do, because the way I do it is all wrong). Working on non-fiction is a big help here, as the outline already exists. I know where I’m going. The main challenge is fitting all the information I need into the required number of pages. There are never enough pages. A big part of getting it right is paring the story down to the essential elements of the story without losing any of the drama or truth.
I spend an enormous amount of time reading books on my subjects and researching them online. I do this until I know the subject backwards and forwards. Wherever possible I have the subjects speak in their own words.
The way I draw is a combination of pen on paper and digital. Inked pencils on A4 card, which are scanned into the computer, where colours and text are added. The digital lettering I use is a font made from my own handwriting.
Book covers are hard and I don’t think I’ve always got it right in the past. It has to be a strong image which presents to the reader the essence of the book. It still has to look good when reduced in size to appear in advertising and it has to be clearly distinguishable on a book shop shelf to a potential buyer from across the room.
So here is Mary Anning, fossils at her feet, staring out into the vastness of the cosmos. Questioning, wondering, as all scientists do, about her place in the Universe.
FPI would like to thank Darryl for taking the time to share some thoughts on his new book with us. Graphic Science is published by fine Indy press Myriad Editions in October, and is available to pre-order now. You can follow Darryl via Twitter and his blog here.