Saturday, August 30, 2014

Evolution: The Story of Life on Earth

First, let me start off that I am predisposed to like this book. I have read Jay Hosler's other comics, including The Sandwalk Adventures and Clan Apis. Additionally, I met Jay at the Sequential SmArt conference at Juniata College a couple of years ago, and got a chance to hang out, chat, and socialize with him. I even got to eat ice cream at his house afterward with a group of other folks. All this is to say that I know him a lot better than I know the typical writer/artist featured on my blog.

I should also reiterate that I love his comics. They are smart, funny, and a joy to read. This book, a sequel to The Stuff of Life, continues the narrative where scientist Bloort-183 is trying to explain life on Earth to an alien king. Their species is threatened by a disease and they think that examining life on Earth will help them find a solution. So Bloort-183 continues from speaking about DNA to talking about evolution. And whereas the first book was more a report, this one is pitched more as a presentation being made to the king and young prince. And because the latter has not really done his homework, he asks lots of clarification questions, which makes this entire enterprise much more readable and approachable. There are still some dense parts where lots of concepts and vocabulary are explained, but I think this book works overall in terms of being accessible than the first, mostly because it is pitched much more conversationally. Basically, it is Jay Hosler giving a series of funny, smart lectures via images.

Part of the reason for this reading ease is the wonderful artwork by Kevin and Zander Cannon. These two artists are masterful storytellers who are able to balance the exposition and action with a sense of humor. Their characters are vibrant and alive, and their diagrams extremely helpful and informative. Certainly the great storytelling chops they possess are on display in these pages:
The two Cannons are well known for their anthology Double Barrel, with Kevin's narrative Crater XV and Zander's Heck. They also collaborated on the science-themed graphic novels T-Minus and Bone-Sharps, Cowboys, & Thunder Lizards. Hosler is an accomplished science writer, having already published a number of other graphic novels about biology, including the aforementioned The Sandwalk Adventures and Clan Apis as well as Optical Allusions. He talks about his work on these books in this interview.

The reviews I have read about this book have been rather glowing. Kirkus Reviews wrote, "the book may not win over science-phobic readers, but it’s a solid introduction," suggesting it for "adults who want a refresher and high-school teachers searching for a simple primer." Educator Scott Hatfield concluded, "Its engaging characters, informed content, and clever illustrations make this book an excellent selection for anyone, young or old, interested in learning more about evolution." Publishers Weekly stated that by the end of the book readers will find "that they've learned a tremendous amount about earth's evolution, and have had more than their fair share of amusement in doing so."

Evolution: The Story of Life on Earth was published by Hill and Wang, and they provide a preview and more here.

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