Friday, March 30, 2018

Science Comics: Robots & Drones: Past, Present, and Future

I have read all the entries in the Science Comics series published so far, and I am sad to say that this one, Robots & Drones is not one of my favorites. I can also be glad to report that it is still an enjoyable book, as it features excellent artwork and lots of interesting information. By no means is it a bad book; it just did not light my fire the ways some of the other volumes have.

In particular I felt this one lacked a hook that would draw me in and also unify the entire book. Perhaps what stuck in my craw was how hung up the book was on definitions and drawing distinctions on what defines a robot and how other devices and machines (like automatons or remote controlled vehicles) are not actually robots. It seemed to take for granted that the reader would be interested in robots and drones (and I have to admit I was and am), but it did not offer much to put a specific trajectory on that interest. The result is a lot of information, about what robots are (and are not), what computers are (and why they are not robots), and how drones fit into these configurations as well. The lack of narrative thread that left me wondering at times why things were being discussed in the order they were. I just felt like the book was hopping from topic to topic without much context (kind of like this review, eh?).

Still, I learned lots from it, like when the first robots were created (in the 1600s in Japan, in case you were curious), how the Mars rover maintains itself and its power supply, and the fact that an automatic coffee maker is in fact technically a robot. The opening vignette is a tale of the book's narrator, a fun little proto-robot named Pouli (the invention of Archytas in the the fourth century BCE), which added a playful touch to the proceedings and a much needed sense of continuity. There were also a few other impressive features, like a refresher about simple machines and a great timeline of notable robot/drone inventions over history that closes out the book. If you want to learn more about robots and drones, or if you know a young person who is into them, you could do a lot worse than select this book. It was fun to read; I just felt it was not overall as well composed as other volumes in this series.

Robots & Drones is a collaboration between writer Mairghread Scott and artist Jacob Chabot. Scott writes animated series and comics, and she has another original graphic novel The City on the Other Side in the works. Although he's got lots of credits on licensed characters' comics, Chabot I know best from his work on The Mighty Skullboy Army, which I feel is an excellent and funny series. It stars a cantankerous and sneaky robot, so I was hopeful that his artwork in this book would be equally as charming. I am glad to report it is as good, if not better, than I expected. For those interested in learning more about this book and its creators, you can read an interview with Scott here and an interview with Chabot here.

The reviews I have read about this book have been mixed. Johanna Draper Carlson was lukewarm about it and wrote, "There’s good information here, but I felt as though a lot of space was wasted on irrelevant information, leaving me confused as to just what the purpose and message of the book was." Kirkus Reviews summed it up, "A lighthearted, enjoyable introduction to a fascinating subject."

Robots &  Drones was published by First Second, and they offer a preview and more here.

A review copy was provided by the publisher.


  1. I haven't heard of this Science Comics series and will have to check it out.

    1. I have been impressed by most of them. They cover a pretty broad range of topics, too.