The library is a great place for readers to discover comics, and it’s a great place for comics readers to check out things that they want to try without spending their hard-earned cash. I’m looking at comics that I find in the New York Public Library system.
If you’ve read Mark Schultz’s comics (and you should), anything from his own creator-owned series Xenozoic Tales to his DC superhero work on Superman: The Man of Steel, you won’t be surprised to find out that Schultz is interested in scientific endeavors. Artists Zander Cannon and Kevin Cannon (who are not related, I am assured) have twice now collaborated with true-life science-driven comics writer Jim Ottaviani, on the paleontological Cowboys, Bone Sharps and Thunder Lizards (for which Schultz illustrated the book cover) and the outward-looking T-Minus: The Race to the Moon.
So perhaps it should be no surprise to find Schultz and the Cannons working together on The Stuff of Life. The Stuff of Life is exactly what its subtitle claims, a guide to the cellular workings of DNA and RNA, with particular attention paid to the knowledge that we’ve gained as a result of our study of the human genome. Schultz tackles genetic disorders, heredity, recombinant DNA technology and cloning, and he does it all in an orderly, clear manner. The Stuff of Life is wrapped around a framing device of an alien reporting his discoveries of human DNA to his superior, as the cute little asexual aliens are facing a genetic malady of their own and need to learn how others species have learned to deal with similar crises. It’s a great technique, since the alien ruler is able to ask questions and repeat information in a way that enforces the researcher’s lessons. Also, the Cannons make the little alien critters adorable, so kids coming into this will want to see what happens to them. Similarly, the Cannons do a great job finding visual means to depict the cellular processes that Schultz describes, using diagrams, anthropomorphic cells and organelles, and easy-to-grasp cartoons to support the hard data Schultz provides.
Heavy on scientific jargon, the script is sometimes difficult going, particularly in the first chapter when Schultz breaks down cellular life and spends pages upon pages elucidating cellular reproduction and the myriad enzymes that enable cells and DNA to replicate. Less patient readers may be tempted to surrender during the early going, but Schultz does pull back on the technical aspects after the initial groundwork’s been laid, then discussing the scientists who’ve unlocked the puzzle of our DNA and the practical applications of this important information.
The Stuff of Life is essentially a science book in comics form, which makes it incredibly valuable to young scientists and those who’d like to know more about the practical benefits of scientific research into stem cells and cloning technologies. The information can be slightly overwhelming at times, but it is presented clearly and the important biological groundwork is laid early so that readers can understand exactly how this research can benefit humankind. After all, the alien Squinch race in Schultz and the Cannons’ book is facing a dilemma due to their failure to understand their DNA. How can we fail to use our knowledge as best as we can, particularly when you can find great comics like The Stuff of Life at your local library.