Today I received a copy of Awesome ‘Possom volume 3 in my mail from Angela Boyle, a natural science illustrator and cartoonist who has curated and edited the fourth volume of Awesome ‘Possum. Before I had laid my hands on the book, I had imagined it to be a few-pages-long book that I would sit down and devour in the evening. Boy I was wrong. When I opened my mailbox, I was pleasantly surprised by a 400 page beast of a book. I flipped a few pages and was blown by thinking about the amount of cumulative effort and coordination that must have gone in realizing this book.
Excited, I sat down and started reading every word from the cover and beyond. Not having ever read an illustrated book, I had judged them to be the books for children. I was too old to enjoy them I had thought. When I sent the pictures of the book to my friends, “Aww that’s such a sweet children’s book” is what I got from these other engineers too. I think this is a disease we engineers have, assuming cartoons = children.
Not having experienced something like this, if that’s you, let me tell you, you should get a volume of Awesome ‘Possum to get rid of that delusion. It is indeed a fantastic book for children of all ages. But it is equally good, if not better, for adults! Adults would definitely extract a lot of great experience and knowledge out of it. That is exactly what I told my friends too.
First of course was a beautiful introduction by Ursula Vernon who has a peculiar hobby of taking pictures of moths, and does it despite being a not-so-great photographer or etymologist. With these hobbies in her life she has managed to do big things which I think will touch you better if you read the actual introduction yourself. Maybe, this book right here was a gateway to my own peculiar hobby I thought, and turned the page.
Being an engineer I honestly do now know a lot about animals. A few general things and when I manage to dig few obscure facts, I get excited, do more research and often write about them on my blog here. My point is that the natural world is inherently very fascinating. If you think it is not, you have not known a lot about it.
Awesome ‘Possom was a perfect exposure of the natural world for me. It talks to me about things like, how I should be thankful for little known scientists like Philip Henry Gosse, Anna Thynne and Jeanne Willepreux Power because of whom we are able to decorate our homes with glass boxes (aquariums) with little alien worlds in them. Or things like how rolling bees in sugar could sometimes be a better way to do a mite count and figure if the mite infection is above the threshold to proceed with a treatment. Because alcohol kills the bees.
I noticed a stark difference in the illustration style of each comic and conveniently found the name of the cartoonist or natural science illustrator on top of every page of that chapter. The works of these talented people from across the North America and the world, compiled into this book, refresh you with a diverse subject matter and illustration style every few minutes. And this is just the volume 3 I’m talking about. Then there’s 1, 2 and 4 which is up on kickstarter right now. Volume 4 includes cover art by Eisner-nominated Tillie Walden, creator of Spinning (First Second, 2017) and a foreword by Jon Chad, creator of Volcanoes: Fire and Life (First Second, 2016). I for sure am going to read all of them. In my free time I have been exploring the amazing works of various artists mentioned on this kickstarter page.
Say, Elise Smorczewski for example. She grew up on a farm that fostered a lifelong fascination with animals of all kinds. And Spratty, a cartoonist living near Philadelphia with their various human companions, two snakes, and two cats. They think reptiles are great. More importantly they have had first hand experiences and deep insights to share from their own experiences. Also, they are a wonderfully reliable to get your science facts from!
I have been finding that the snippets of wisdom I get out of illustrations actually stick as if I someone had told me about them. That’s because everything is so visual and is delivered in a way that is easy to digest. You do not get this out of reading dense textbooks. Especially true for people like me who are not directly involved in natural sciences research. We are not great at extracting knowledge out of reference texts without a significant amount of experience in that particularly narrow field. Just within the first few pages I had extracted enough things to delve deeper into and to write about them on my blog. I will be doing that as I go.
I know that the book / scholar world thrives on criticism. That’s not me. i get my style from reading people like Maria Popova of Brain Pickings who believes in book recommendations rather than book reviews. I want to do that. I do not deem myself capable to criticize the work that I myself am not capable of producing. The only thing I see is the endless value in the thousands of human-hours spent in producing carefully curated work for me.
Rattle snakes have infrared detectors on them. How is that not cool, especially for a person who works with infrared spectra on a daily basis. I realize the importance of having specialized detectors for getting the right information at the right wavelength range. And that reminds me of how a son and dad open up the rattle of a rattle snake in their youtube video to see how it works. And who would have known that rattle snakes also are great parents. The rattle snake illustrations making it easier for me to understand actual rattle snake research also inspires me to look for, or think about making illustrated research papers for the layman to understand my own field! This source of inspiration does not stop for hundreds of pages.
Do not forget to go explore the kickstarter to help the artists get their fair share for their hard work.