Jim Ottaviani’s true-science comics are among the most interesting and educationally valuable comics being published today. Wire Mothers: Harry Harlow and the Science of Love, a collaboration with artist Dylan Meconis, doesn’t quite measure up to the best of Ottaviani’s efforts, but it’s still a valid peek behind the curtain at how science helps us understand the world around us and, as this book explores, even our human relationships.
Wire Mothers, operating as part of Ottaviani’s “science of the unscientific” series, tracks Harlow’s work with baby rhesus monkeys to discover how infants bond with a mother figure and, ostensibly, how love is formed. Ottaviani couches the story in an interesting framing sequence, enabling Harlow to relate his own academic experiences as he prepares for the biggest presentation of his career. In this case, however, the frame – combined with the juxtaposition of Harlow’s personal and professional life, and his encounters with respected psychologists of the day – adds a layer of confusion to an already jumpy narrative.
Harlow’s theories and his experiments – inhumane as they may have been – are fascinating, as are the telling ways that his own life reflect the need for love and affection that he studied. Illustrator Dylan Meconis does a solid job breathing life into Harlow and the major figures in his life. One sequence, Harlow’s Christmas Eve lock-out, was slightly difficult to follow, but the visual storytelling was effective by and large.
Even if it’s not up to Ottaviani’s usual standards, Wire Mothers remains an intriguing book, and a solid example of comics’ potential as an educational tool. With any luck, we can all read more about the life and research of Harry Harlow at our local libraries.