Dignifying Science
by Jim Ottaviani, et al
(G.T. Labs, 1999)

Despite all the social advances made in the last few decades, men still command most of the mass media's attention. The effects on public perception are considerable. Ask the average high school student to name one female scientist who's made a significant contribution and, at best, they'll mention Madame Curie. Ask a mainstream comics fan to name a female American comics artist, and they'll stare at you blankly.

Illuminating the life and accomplishments of seven great, much overlooked scientists with art by 10 of the graphic medium's best artists, editor and writer Jim Ottaviani sets out to change this sad state of ignorance in Dignifying Science.

Aside from a quick nod to Madame Curie, the stories here focus on the forgotten heroines of science. Rosalind Watson at last gets a small measure of her deserved credit for her pioneering work in DNA theory. Barbara McClintock's scientific dreams find root with humble fields of corn. Hedy Lamar puts in a surprise appearance, with her ironically unsung contribution to communications.

Unavoidably, the pressures of their society shape the stories of these women, and so this history of science also illustrates the intimate, human history of the 20th century. This lofty goal never interferes with Ottaviani's ability to tell a plain good story. The science is explained in terms that a bright 8-year-old could understand -- without being insulting to an educated adult. Even the most politically fraught histories are told without heavy polemics or an aggressive agenda.

Unlike too many "educational" graphic novels, Dignifying Science makes full use of the graphics offered by its medium. With genuinely rich black and white, each story is portrayed by a different artist -- or, in the case of Rosalind Smith, several different artists -- each chosen perfectly to enhance the feel of the story. Carla Speed McNeil's brilliant compositions and atmospheric inks bring the drama and frustration of Hedy Lamarr's tale to life. Rosalind Franklin's story uses four different artists, each with markedly different styles, to portray multiple viewpoints with a flair that only the comics medium can claim. Lea Hernandez perfectly conveys the elaborate, decades-long career of geneticist Barbara McClintock in a series of sharp, single-page spotlights that illustrate the basis of her work and the center of her personality with only the slightest assistance from dialogue.

For any comic fan, the list of names associated with the project -- Donna Barr, Jen Sorensen, Linda Medley, Anne Timmons, Stephanie Gladden, Roberta Gregory, along with those previously mentioned -- should be reason enough to seek out this work. For those who are fans and don't know it yet, this book may be the perfect introduction. It has adventure, drama, romance and a graphic display of what the comic medium can offer when real artists do work they love. It's so packed with stories of true heroism and extraordinary characters that they spill out of the book itself and onto the back cover. Now in its second printing and easily available online, there's no excuse not to grab Dignifying Science.

by Sarah Meador
5 November 2005

Buy it from Amazon.com.