Science Comics featuring Andy Hirsch, author of DOGS | Librarian's Corner


Hello everyone,
Happy Halloween if you celebrate! Otherwise, if you're like me, hopefully you're having a very wonderful Tuesday.

I am so excited to be part of the Science Comics blog tour that highlights some of the fantastic non-fiction books that presents scientific information through the graphic novel format. If your students are like my students, you may have a hard time keeping any graphic novels on your library shelf. Kids love graphic novels, and the Science Comics series caters to the students' interest in the way it presents information to them.

I have several of the Science Comics books in my library and they are some of the most checked out non-fiction books we have in our collection.

Today, I have graphic novelist/author Andy Hirsch talk more about the Science Comics series.

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Why is science awesome?
Science offers us new perspectives on everyday experiences and helps us find wonder in things we take for granted. Take a step back from your dog, for instance (that's my specialty). If you could forget everything you know about them, you'd be left with a strange, hairy beast that doesn't speak your language but is allowed in your home, in your lap, maybe even in your bed! It's a bonkers situation! How? Why? Science has the answers, and it can help you see your old friend through new eyes. With that kind of mindset, a lot of things become awesome. It's contagious!

What makes comics a particularly amazing format to tell science nonfiction in?
Comics are flexible enough to share each piece of information in the most easily understandable way. That might be through text and vocabulary for one thing, visual metaphors that communicate at a glance for another, and intricate diagrams that invite you to linger for a third. Plus, the reader can move at their own pace and easily flip back and forth to reference what they've already learned. All the while, a narrative through line keeps you engaged and entertained. The last thing anyone wants is for science nonfiction to be dry, boring, and cause someone to turn away from a subject they're interested in. Comics are fun.

How did you do research to make your book?
I start by looking for the most up-to-date books for a general audience that I can find. I'm usually starting from the ground floor myself, and I need to learn the basics. This usually takes the form of a big ol' stack of books from the local library. From there I can follow interesting points back to their original sources in more specialized books and academics journals. Now that I have a basic knowledge myself, I can even understand most of these! It's an iterative process that leads to more specific information with each step. One particularly helpful tool that that Texas libraries have is a program called TexShare. It allows anyone with a public library card access to university libraries across the state and gives ordinary folks like me access to a huge wealth of sources that would otherwise be out of reach.

Andy Hirsch
Tell us a little about the process of creating your book!
All that research is step one. From there I try to organize everything in an intuitive way, making sure the information builds on itself so that I've presented the reader with everything they need to understand each new page. This can be tricky because with only a hundred-some pages there's not room to get super in-depth on every single point. When I present an exceptional case or interesting tangent, I want the reader to know enough to not just accept the facts laid out but to understand why they're worth sharing. The shape of topics from general to specific and back again combined with the order they fall in determines what kind of narrative is best suited to the book. The title "Science Comics" is in the right order because science is definitely leading the way. Once I have my story written, I design characters and do small drawings of how each page will be laid out. Like the research, each page goes from general (rough shapes in pencil) to specific (polished line art with color). And I can't forget the experts! Julie Hecht and Mia Cobb not only wrote a wonderful introduction to Dogs, but they shared their ample scientific expertise to make sure I had my facts straight.

What's the coolest thing you learned while you were researching your book?
The coolest thing I learned is also one of the first things, and it totally upended what little "knowledge" I was starting with. I had always assumed dogs came from wolves who humans intentionally adopted and tamed. That's the story, right? Turns out that's not the case at all! Rather, wolves essentially domesticated themselves. To make it short, individuals who were more tolerant of humans were able to take advantage of the scraps and refuse around human settlements, which is easier and safer than what wolves are used to. These wolves, better fed and longer living, tended to pass on their human tolerance to their puppies, and over generations this selection of friendlier and friendlier wolves led to... dogs! It was a totally natural process, and that still blows my mind.

What's the toughest part of turning science research into a comic?
It's probably keeping everything at an understandable level. It's very easy to get carried away and get super technical, and that goes back to my earlier point about giving the reader all the facts they need to understand each new page. If I want to talk about Dachshunds, say, the reader will already need to know about artificial versus natural selection, which means they should know about heredity, which means I need to explain genetics at some level and DNA, meiosis and mitosis... all that is to say that I have to be mindful of how deep I go. I think it's important to try not to gloss over the difficult stuff -- that verges on dishonesty to me -- but overexplaining can do more harm than good, leaving the reader with more information but able to absorb less of it.

Have you always loved science since you were a kid?
I think so, particularly because I've always loved puzzles. Science appeals in much the same way in that before you can figure out an answer, you have to figure how to even find that answer. There's a section in Dogs that asks whether different breeds of dog have predictable personality traits. That seems easy enough to measure with surveys, but to get quantifiable results in a controlled fashion, this team came up with a gauntlet of tests that involved everything from toys to ghost costumes to starter pistols. That kind of problem-solving is very much up my alley.

What do you recommend for kids who want to learn more about science and do more science?
Stay curious! Let one subject lead you to another, and follow whatever threads fascinate you. If you can't find what you're looking for, maybe no one knows yet, and maybe you're the one who's going to find out.

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A huge thank you to First Second and Gina for the opportunity to be part of the Science Comics blog tour--as a fan of the series myself, this is so cool learning and getting insight of what goes behind the scenes on the part of the author. If my library budget allows, I'm hoping to get the entire science comics collection next school year.

If you all want to follow the rest of the tour, you can find the schedule here. Connect with First Second for more graphic novel goodness on their social medias: @01FirstSecond

Happy reading,
Michelle

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