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Graphic Science: Seven Journeys Of Discovery

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Graphic Science: Seven Journeys Of Discovery back

Darryl Cunningham


Page 45 Review by Jonathan

"In my boyhood I suffered from a peculiar affliction due to the appearance of images often accompanied by flashes of light which marred the sight of real objects.
"When a word was spoken to me, the image of the object it designated would present itself vividly to my vision. Then I observed to my delight that I could visualise with the greatest faculty.
"I needed no models, drawings or experiments. I could picture them all as real in my mind. But I never had any control of the flashes of light to which I referred.
"In some instances I have seen all the air around me filled with tongues of flame.
"Their intensity increased with time and seemingly attained a maximum when I was 25 years old.
"During this period I contracted many strange likes, dislikes and habits. I had a violent aversion to the earrings of women but I was fascinated with the glitter of crystalline objects with sharp edges and plane surfaces.
"I would not touch the hair of other people, except at the point of a revolver.
"I would get fever by looking at a peach.
"I counted the steps of my walks.
"And calculated the cubical volume of soup plates, coffee cups and pieces of food.
"Otherwise my meal was unenjoyable.
"All repeated acts or operations I performed had to be divisible by three, and, if I missed, I felt impelled to do them all over again, even if it took hours."

Can you guess the mad scientist yet from that bonkers introduction?

No? I'll give you one more clue...

"I was interested in electricity from the very beginning of my educational career."

Yes, it's Nicola Tesla!

Once again, Darryl Cunningham returns to educate and entertain us in equal measure with seven - count 'em! (not you Tesla, you'll be here all day!) - biographies of scientists who were just as fascinating in their everyday lives, if not more so, as they were for their discoveries. I would imagine that most people have probably at least heard of Tesla, but the other six will be far less well known to many, particularly if science is not your thing.

But that's precisely why you should read this work, because not only does Darryl regale us with fun facts about his chosen luminaries, plus considerable detail about their particular privations and hardships that they endured, but he also clearly expounds the hypotheses and theories - some considerably more valid than others - for which his quorum of boffins became... okay, well, not well known to the general public, but certainly celebrated within their preferred fields of science. Though not all within their lifetimes unfortunately.

So in addition to Tesla we have Antoine Lavoisier who managed to debunk the then held theories about the composition of air and the illusory element Phlogiston before ultimately going to the guillotine during the French Revolution. Mary Anning, who did so much to further our understanding of geology and fossils but went almost completely uncredited purely due to her gender. George Washington Carver, one of the last Americans to be born into slavery who fought against racial discrimination throughout his entire life whilst working on modernising agricultural techniques. Alfred Wegener, who first put forward the concept of Pangea, though because it was before our understanding of how plate tectonics worked was frustratingly unable to provide a convincing mechanism to support his theory whilst alive. Jocelyn Bell Burnell, who discovered pulsars and who was denied even a share of the Nobel Prize for her discovery due once again to gender discrimination. And finally Fred Hoyle, who whilst he did some sterling work on explaining the abundance of all the various elements in the Universe, wasn't averse to coming up with outlandish theories on pretty much anything and everything seemingly whenever the fancy took him, which contributed to costing him a Nobel Prize.

Moving forward from the mid 1700s to the modern day with this work, what Darryl so admirably demonstrates is that all of these very different individuals had a really deep compunction and relentless drive to experientially comprehend the world and universe around them, despite the relative paucity of information that was available to them. Their stories, of what they struggled with personally, as well as professionally, undoubtedly helped shape their formidable minds and thus to help advance our collective human understanding.

As we move ever further into the modern era of collaborative big science, with huge teams of people working globally on petabytes of data, often provided purely by computer modelling as much as experimental output, it's perhaps becoming harder and harder to envisage individuals making such radical leaps in understanding, often against the conventional wisdom of the time, as our learned colleagues here all did.

For as we iterate ever closer to complete intellectual understanding of, well, everything in the Universe, with our rapidly burgeoning computer power, and indeed the advent of artificial intelligence driving virtual research many orders of magnitude faster than a human mind could even conceive of, you also get the sense that there are going to be fewer and fewer opportunities for such intuitive geniuses to help us spontaneously burst out of our currently held intellectual cul-de-sacs.

Fortunately, there will always be a need for comics, particularly ones by Darryl. It just occurs to me, actually, that there is a lovely dual meaning in the title for this work. For not only is Darryl detailing these scientists' seven individual journeys of discovery, but he's also very kindly providing us all with seven journeys of discovery of our own to engage upon.

Art-wise it's the usual comically clinical, wittily engaging style which has served him so well to date with his previous works: PSYCHIATRIC TALES (we've more stock on its way!), SCIENCE TALES and SUPERCRASH. Though I am rather sad not to see Darryl's own talking head this time around! He does however provide a very inspiring foreword, I must say. But I do always manage to spot something different each time, and here I found myself marvelling (no pun intended) at some Jack Kirby-esque moments whilst Darryl was illustrating some mysterious goings-on deep in outer space. It also reminded me he did an amazing sequence of cosmically crazy character designs that he put up on social media a few months ago which I really, really hope end up getting used in something!

I will leave you with part of the concluding paragraph of his foreword, which, as I say, I found very rousing. From my perspective, he himself is doing exactly what this call to action exhorts us all to do...

"Be a scientist in your own life. Change things the way these seven people did. They were not superhuman. They struggled much as we do. Yet they have transcended their lives and given much to the world."