Women Discoverers: 20 Top Women in Science


By Marie Moinard & Christelle Pecout, translated by Montana Kane (NBM)
ISBN: 978-1-68112-270-0 (Album HB) eISBN: 978-1-68112-271-7

Comics and graphic novels have an inconceivable power to deliver information in readily accessible form, and – like all the best teachers – can do so in ways that are fascinating, fun and therefore unforgettable. Here’s a fresh entrant in a wave of historical and biographical visual celebrations seeking to redress centuries of gender injustice while providing true life role models for the coming generations.

Crafted by writer, editor and journalist Marie Moinard (En chemin elle recontre, La petite vieille du Vendredi) & Christelle Pécout (Lune d’Ombre, Hypathie, Histoires et légendes normandes), Les découvreuses is a cheery hardback – or digital – compendium made comprehensible to us, via translation into English by those fine folk at NBM.

As the name suggests, Women Discoverers focuses on twenty female scientists who generally – without fanfare or even fair credit – changed the world. Some are still doing so. A combination of comics vignettes and short illustrated data epigrams preceded by an impassioned Introduction from Marie-Sophie Pawlak (President of Elles Bougent scientific society), the revelations begin an extended strip history of the achievements of the peerless Marie Curie whose discoveries in chemistry and physics practically reinvented the planet. She is followed by brief vignettes of French biologist Françoise Barre-Sinoussi (discoverer of the HIV retrovirus), Canadian physicist Donna Théo Strickland (laser amplification) and African-American Dorothy Vaughan whose mathematical and computing skills served the world at NASA.

It’s back to comics for Ada Lovelace who revolutionized mathematics by inventing computer programming, after which single page biographies describe the achievements of lengths undertaken by French mathematician Émilie du Châtelet to attend men-only institutions in the days of the Enlightenment.

Although separated by centuries, mathematicians Emmy Noether (Germany 1882-1935) and Grace Alele-Williams (born in Niger in 1932) both excelled and triumphed despite male opposition but their stories pale beside the strip-delivered hardships of actress, engineer and mobile phone pioneer Hedy Lamarr

Another Nasa stalwart, mathematician/astrophysicist Katherine Coleman Goble Johnson, famously calculated Apollo 11’s life-saving orbit, while paediatrician Marthe Gautier discovered the origins of Downs’ Syndrome and Iranian mathematician Maryam Mirzakhani’s geometry discoveries were tragically cut short by illness…

The shameful treatment and fate of British researcher Rosalind Franklin also ended in a cruelly early death and belated fame, unlike French mathematician, philosopher and physicist Sophie Germain whose many (posthumous) triumphs never brought her inclusion in the numerous scientific organisations barring female membership during her lifetime.

Whereas Marie Curie’s daughter Irène Joliot-Curie won similar accolades to her mother, astrophysicist Jocelyn Bell Burnell discovered pulsars only to have her (male) supervisor steal the credit. At least she’s still alive to see the record set straight…

In pictorial form, astronaut Mae Jemison reveals her life and medical successes on Earth, before this potent paean closes with a trio of one-page wonders: Kevlar inventor Stephanie Kwolek, Navy mathematician Rear Admiral Grace Murray Hopper (writer of the COBOL programming language) and Chinese chemist Xie Yi whose advances in nanotechnology have made the world a very different place.

Sure, you could Google them, but this book is a far more satisfying and charming alternative and the very fact that you probably haven’t heard of most of these astounding innovators – or even a few of the more ancient ones – only proves, without doubt, that you need this book.
© 2019 Blue Lotus Prod. © 2021 NBM for the English translation.

For more information and other great reads see http://www.nbmpub.com/

Wage Slaves


By Daria Bogdańska, translated by Aleksander Linskog (Centrala)
ISBN: 978-1-912278-06-0 (TPB)

It’s rare to see an international indie comic that combines personal revelation and intimate expression with hard-hitting reportage, so massive kudos to relative newcomer Daria Bogdańska who documented her eventful life thus far with uncompromising veracity while becoming a successful social activist battling corruption, authoritarian ennui and exploitation of immigrants in real life as well as this powerful and joyous paperback tome.

Having left her abusive home in Poland at 15, Daria travels across Europe, supporting herself with a succession of “under-the-table” and “off-the-books” jobs of varying legality and daily uncertainty, until she applies for and wins a place on a college course in Sweden.

After arriving in Malmö and hooking up with old friends, she finds accommodation of a tenuous nature, but, like so many others, has to work to pay for her studies. Being a temporary resident, she has no social security number and finds herself in the crushing trap of being unable to secure steady or even legal employment…

While constantly navigating the minefield of Sweden (Hell, any nation’s) Catch 22-based social security system, she finds casual work as a waitress and dogsbody for a chain of bars and curry houses run by an immigrant turned local bigwig…

As the year progresses, she notices things are pretty hinky even by the standards of the illicit economies she’s been exposed to in the past. At one point, the hard-working, occasionally partying student realises she’s supported herself for six years all over the world and never once had legitimate employment…

A little research reveals the nature and level of exploitation her non-white co-workers are enduring in pursuit of the Swedish equivalent of a Green Card, and something snaps. Daria decides something has to be done and boldly risks everything by joining a union…

Brutally frank, charmingly earnest and carrying a potent punch of virtue triumphant, Wage Slaves is a subtly engaging peek at the life too many youngsters have to endure, and one you should refresh your own comfortably numb social conscience with.
© Daria Bogdańska & Centrala. All rights reserved.

Amazing Athletes – 50 Remarkable Athletes of History


By Till Lukat, translated by Cecil Bronswear (Centrala)
ISBN: 978-1-912278-13-8 (HB)

We’re all in need of role models and actual heroes – these days more than ever. Here’s a charming little (245x x 330 mm) hardback compendium aimed squarely at kids but delivering a mighty sardonic kick for all lovers of competition and achievement.

Comics and graphic novels have an inconceivable power to deliver information in readily accessible form, and – like all the best teachers – can do so in ways that are fascinating, fun and therefore unforgettable. Berlin-born world traveller Til Lukat splits his time between there and Bristol these days, crafting award-winning comics such as Tuff Ladies and this compilation of sporting memorabilia.

Listed here, with no patronising division into sex-based niches, is a wittily engaging primer of the greatest exponents of victory, defeat and all aspects of sporting accomplishment, delivered as a portrait, minicomic and fact-packed text block. The fun begins with an introductory spread recalling the ‘Good Old Times’ of ‘Milo of Croton’ before jumping to 19thcentury cyclist ‘Henri Desgrange’ and mountain climber ‘Alexandra David-Néel’.

Other entrants include the proud, famous, notorious and simply tragic such as ‘Francisco Lázaro’, ‘Johnny Weissmüller’or ‘Yuliya Stepanova’ as well as the generally unsung like ‘Alfonsina Strada’, ‘Helene Mayer’, ‘Jesse Owens’, ‘Fanny Blankers-Koen’, ‘Toni Stone’, ‘Barbara Buttrick’, ‘Tamara Tyshkevich’, ‘Wilma Rudolph’, ‘Katherine Switzer’, ‘Florence Griffith-Joyner’, ‘Tonya Harding’, ‘Ellen MacArthur’ and many others.

Crucial moments in sporting history are précised in spreads such as ‘Christmas on the Front’, ‘Equality: 1 Disability: 0’, ‘A Clean Game’, ‘Kicking Apartheid’ and ‘The Dark Side’ while adding intrigue if not lustre is the ‘Sibling Rivalry’ of Rudolf and Adolf Dassler (you should look them up, or better yet buy this book) to seal a superbly entertaining deal combining comics dash with athletic glory.
© Till Lukat & Cambourakis 2017. All rights reserved.

A Quick & Easy Guide to Consent


By Isabella Rotman with Luke B. Howard (Limerance Press/Oni Press-Lion Forge Publishing Group)
ISBN: 978-1-62010-794-2 (PB) eISBN: 978-1-62010-815-4

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Crucial Companion for Every Social Gathering of More Than 1 Person… 9/10

It’s going to be a seasonal holiday unlike any in living memory for most of us. In Britain, we’ve stringently locked down, been let loose to run rampant in dangerously close proximities and then locked down even harder and with more targeted complexity. For Christmas, as we’ve been not-so-good, the populace can now mix and mingle as we see fit, with no real curbing of contact. What could possibly go wrong?

All that preamble is my convoluted way of introducing what should the ideal accompaniment to the party season or any relationship…

I’ve frequently argued that comic strips are a matchless tool for education: rendering the most complex topics easily accessible and displaying a potent facility to inform, affect and alter behaviour. Here’s another superb example of the art form using its great powers for good…

The Quick & Easy Guide series has an admirable record of confronting uncomfortable issues with taste, sensitivity and breezy forthrightness: offering solutions as well as awareness or solidarity.

Here, Maine-based cartoonist Isabella Rotman (Wait What?: A Comic Book Guide to Relationships, Bodies and Growing Up; You’re So Sexy When You Aren’t Transmitting STIs) and New Orleans colourist Luke Howard collaborate on a cogent and compelling primer covering the irrefutable basics When, Where, Why and most especially What can be taken as Consent.

This is such a charged issue that the light and informative lecture is preceded by a very clear and well thought out Content Warning defining terms and the specifics of situations, with firm regard to gender, scope and even an Informational Disclaimer… that’s how hot a topic this is …

Terms are examined and situations explored during a tenuous first encounter between two healthy young adults, but as things heat up, a phantasmal guide pops in to steer the participants and give voice to their suppressed concerns, through chapters such as ‘What is Consent?’, ‘Consent is Simple’, ‘What is Sex?’ and ‘Consent Must be Freely Given!’ all emphasised through sidebars like ‘Tell Them What Turns You On!’ and an enumeration of what definitively ‘Have Nothing to do With Consent!’

The dialogue and show-&-tells are punctuated by quotes from professional Sexual Consent Educators, augmented by role plays, quizzes and a section outlining and defining the current (US only) ‘Age of Consent’ laws, before asking ‘Is Everyone Fully Informed?’ This last is primarily about all the many factors – physical and emotional – potential partners should always be apprised of, but also broadmindedly enquires ‘What About Kink?’ and even tackles the ever-present ‘Fear of Rejection’

In closing, the convivial confrontation offers a list of potential faux pas in ‘So Don’t…’, a summation ‘In Review…’ before providing a ‘Yes. No. Maybe So Checklist’ as well as a selection of ‘Safer Sex: Contraception’, ‘…STI Risk Reduction’and ‘…Activities’ suggestions.

Being wise beyond her years and probably acutely aware of how inventive humans are, the author closes with sagacious questionnaire ‘Anything Else?’ plus a fulsome Bibliography and list of Resources to contact including Sex & Relationship Education, appropriate Hotlines and inline Checklists

I hail from a fabulous far-distant era where we happily ravaged the planet without a qualm and believed emotional understanding led to universal acceptance. At the same time, it seems most of us never really stopped being the greedy cave monkey obsessively snatching whatever it wanted with no consideration of others or even consequences. We’re apparently a little more in tune with the planet now, and finally learning to share and play well with others…

This witty, no-nonsense treatise offers sage advice on becoming our best selves by dealing with our selfish natures – something that really should have been bred out of humanity eons, if not centuries, ago. It should be made compulsory reading in every school and college (and pub, and nightclub, and scenic natural beauty spot, and cinema and waiting room and…)
A Quick & Easy Guide to Consent ™ & © 2020 Isabella Rotman. All rights reserved.

Planet of Science – the Universal Encyclopedia of Scientists


By Antonio Fischetti & Bouzard, translated by James Hogan (Europe Comics)
No ISBN: digital only

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Celebrating Humanity’s Greatest Miracle – Science! … 8/10

I saw this and thought of you…

Comics and graphic novels have an inconceivable power to deliver information in readily accessible form, and – like all the best teachers – can do so in ways that are fascinating, fun and therefore unforgettable.

A paradigm example is 2019’s La Planète des sciences – Encyclopédie universelle des scientifiques – which is now available digitally in English if not yet as a solidly reassuring tome. A bright and breezy introduction to a number of researchers and discoverers famed and not, it combines a page of personal history, biography and unflinching commentary on 37 notable personages who have added to global scientific knowledge, each accompanied by a smart, punchy and pertinent gag strip by underground cartoonist Guillaume Bouzard (Caca bemol, JeveuxtravaillerpourleCanardEnchaîné, Lucky Luke).

Presenting the facts is Dr Antonio Fischetti, author (Cats and Dogs under the scientist’s magnifying glass, Idiotic and Relevant Questions about Mankind); science journalist; educator (at the National Conservatory of Arts and Crafts, National Conservatory of Music and Dance in Paris, Louis-Lumière School and La Fémis); and author of a weekly science column for Charlie Hebdo.

The Continent is happily awash with factual albums and graphic novels – and not just biographies – and this is one of the most entertaining I’ve seen in years, opening with Dr. Fischetti’s explanatory postulate on why these particular 37 candidates and his cognitive methodology, before the visual revelations begin.

Divide into rough, ofter overlapping time frames it all starts in Ancient Greece with the lowdown and high points of Thales, Pythagoras, Hippocrates and Archimedes, before jumping to 780-850 for the story of Al-Khwarizmi.

Spanning the 15th – 16th Century, we meet Leonardo da Vinci, Nicolaus Copernicus, Ambroise Paré, Giordano Brunoand Galileo, before 17th – 18th Century pioneers Réne Decartes, Antonie van Leeuwenhoek, Isaac Newton, Carl Linnaeus and Antoine Lavoisier get their moment in history’s hindsight and spotlight.

Representing the 19th Century are Charles Darwin, Claud Bernard, Gregor Mendel, Louis Pasteur, Alfred Nobel and Dmitri Mendeleev after which the revolutionary 19th – 20th Century hones in on Ivan Pavlov, Max Planck, Marie Curie, Albert Einstein, Alfred Wegener, Alexander Fleming, Erwin Schrödinger and Trofim Lysenko. By now its probably clear to most of you that this is no simple hagiography: same of the folk here are here because of their effect on scientific progress and it’s not all smiles, acclaim and awards…

The procession ends with the 20th – 21st Century (because, as of this writing, time travel has not been satisfactorily confirmed or reproduced under laboratory conditions) with controversial and occasionally still-living paragons Konrad Lorenz, Alan Turing, Alexander Grothendieck, James Watson, Peter Higgs, Yves Coppens, Jane Goodall and Emmanuelle Charpentier. Sure, you could Google them, but this book is a far more satisfying alternative…

The very fact that you probably haven’t heard of some of these latter savants – or even a few of the more ancient ones – only proves without doubt, that you need this book. QED: What more can I say?
© 2020 DARGAUD – Fischetti & Bouzard. All rights reserved.

A Secret History of Coffee, Coca & Cola


By Ricardo Cortés (Akashic Books)
ISBN: 978-1-61775-134-9 (HB)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Potent, Punchy and Thought-Provoking Fodder to Ponder and Enjoy after Overindulging… 9/10

The astounding power of graphic narrative to efficiently, potently and evocatively disseminate vast amounts of information in layered levels has always been best utilised in works with a political or social component. That’s seldom been better demonstrated than in this stunning and scholarly work from Ricardo Cortés.

Born in 1973, illustrator/artistic intellectual activist Cortés has had a sublimely seditious career thus far. He made waves in Vanity Fair, Entertainment Weekly, The New York Post, The Village Voice, San Francisco Chronicle, and been challenged on CNN and FOX News after his controversial children’s book Marijuana: It’s Just a Plant – written by Marsha Rosenbaum – was mentioned in Congress. He followed up by illustrating Adam Mansbach’s Times Best-Selling Go the F**k to Sleep and sequel Seriously, Just Go to Sleep, and created the colouring book I Don’t Want to Blow You Up! about famous Muslims who aren’t terrorists.

In 2011 he received a grant from the Department of Cultural Affairs’ Greater New York Arts Development to create Jury Independence Illustrated – a public booklet dealing with Jury Nullification produced with the intention of educating potential jurors about their powers to acquit if they disagree with specific laws or judicial rulings. Clearly a born troublemaker…

This particular project is a brilliantly engrossing exploration of acceptable addictions blending scrupulously scholarly reportage with a seductively beautiful selection of captivating images and historical reproductions.

The story starts with the origins and history of ‘Coffee’ from its mythic discovery as a berry fruit for goats in Ethiopia, through being taken up by Yemeni traders who disseminated “qahwah” throughout the Islamic world. A proven intoxicant, concerns over its salubrity, morality and legality grew and it was soon being trafficked by desperate men. In the 16th century the beverage was banned in Mecca, Cairo and elsewhere, but its taste and effects were impossible to resist.

By the time “kahveh” reached Turkey, trading in the beans carried the death penalty. As “Coffee” it reached Europe in the 17th century, touted as a miracle cure-all for everything from headache to miscarriage and grew explosively into an intellectual’s seditious vice. In 1675, Charles II ordered it suppressed and closed England’s Coffee Houses by Royal Edict.

Things got even stranger in 1820 after the alkaloid “Caffe-ine” was finally distilled from the coffee cherry…

The rest of caffeine’s turbulent and torturous legal and commercial progress to today’s status as the world’s most popular stimulant is followed by the story of ‘Cola and Coca’ in which caffeine’s other singularly popular method of natural dissemination is examined. The Kola Nut of West Africa is amazingly high in the stimulant alkaloid and has been used for centuries – if not millennia – as an energy-intensifying fortifier by the various tribes and nations either by chewing the raw nut or brewing a drink called “cola”.

Cola is one of the most popular ancient beverages on Earth and when in 1886 Dr. John Pemberton devised his own formulation – dubbed Coca-Cola – by adding a dash of coca leaves, his medicinal tonic, after an initial shaky start, grew to become the most monolithic drinks brand on Earth.

…But not, apparently, without a little government help…

Coca originated in the Andes, where for centuries indigenous peoples used the herbal bounty as a pick-me-up. Indios chewed coca leaves the way we do gum in the west and in 1499 explorer Amerigo Vespucci brought back tales of the wonder herb’s propensity to promote feats of concentration and endurance. In 1859, Dr. Karl Scherzer returned to Austria after a 2-year scientific voyage aboard the Frigate Novara with 60 pounds of coca, as previously requested by German pharmacologists. Soon after doctoral student Albert Niemann isolated from the samples a new alkaloid which he dubbed “Coca-ine”. This fresh medical marvel – its transparent crystals easily derived from coca leaves – was from 1884 enthusiastically prescribed by the likes of Sigmund Freud for melancholia. Oculist Carl Koller discovered it to be an incredible regional (or as we now say “local”) anaesthetic, allowing unprecedented new surgical procedures to be performed. It became a popular treatment for toothache, labour pains, nervousness, fatigue, impotence, asthma and as a cure for morphine addiction – hence Pemberton’s inclusion of the stuff in his health tonic.

By 1889 cases of compulsive use and abuse began to be reported, leading to heated medical debate, and when the era’s obsessive racial concerns were added to the mix (“cocaine made negroes insane” and it was peddled by “greedy Jewish doctors”) the writing was on the puritanical wall for the foreign import.

On a rising tide of public disapproval, the 1914 Harrison Narcotics Act prohibited Cocaine use and coca importation in the USA. However, due to some truly unbelievable backroom dickering, the already powerful Coca-Cola Company secured a constant supply of the banned substance – re-designated “Merchandise No. 5” – for their Schaefer Alkaloid Works in New Jersey – still thriving today as the Stepan Chemical Company. This mercantile miracle was all due to diligent work of Commissioner Harry J. Anslinger of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics and Ralph Hayes, a former aide to the US Secretary of War and – from 1932 – a vice President of the Coca-Cola Company.

Anslinger was a rabid anti-drug zealot, so just why did he spend 40 years – under seven different US Presidents – enforcing draconian and often expensive, nigh-impossible bans on a vast number of natural pharmaceutical products whilst actively securing and defending Coca-Cola’s uninterrupted supply of cocaine? He even facilitated clandestine schemes to grow coca on American soil and his campaign was so successful that American policy became UN and global norms, forcibly negating all the proven scientific benefits of resources which grew naturally in countries which could never afford Western drugs and chemical advances.

Trust me; you only think you know the answer…

Astonishingly addictive and intoxicatingly revelatory, Coffee, Coca & Cola offers an impressively open-minded history lesson and an incredible look at the dark underbelly of American Capitalism. Exposed here through telling research and beguiling illustrations is a catalogue of hypocrisy wherein successive political administrations and big business always found ways to place commercial interests ahead of any specious moral imperative ingenuously forwarded by the “World’s Cop”.

Learn here how corporations and statesmen conspired to ruthlessly crush the traditions, customs and rituals of other nations and cultures (as recently as 2010, America acted to suppress many sovereign South American countries’ social, spiritual, medicinal and nutritional use of coca) and continue to prevent poor countries utilisation of such ancient natural resources as caffeine and cocaine whilst peddling products inescapably wedded to both American Expansionism and Ideology…

A stunning, hardcover coffee-table book (also available in digital formats) for concerned adults, this captivating chronicle is a true treasure – or perhaps in the parlance of the idiom, I might just say – lip-smacking, trust-quenching, cool looking, stimulating, motivating, hard talking, fool busting, fast thinking, hard quizzing… and unmissable.
© 2012 Ricardo Cortés. All rights reserved.

A Quick & Easy Guide to Queer and Trans Identities


By Mady G & J.R. Zuckerberg (Limerance Press/Oni Press)
ISBN: 978-1-62010-586-3 (PB) eISBN: 978-1-62010-587-0

Here’s a handy rule of thumb for getting along. People get to decide what to call themselves. You get to accept and agree with them, as long as no one is being actually harmed. That assessment is to be made by Law, not personal belief or some higher calling. If you can’t accept their definitions of themselves, you have the right to leave people alone and never interact with them.

Okay?

We are the naming primate. If we encounter something unknown and/or scary, we give it a description, definition and title and accept it into our ever-expanding understanding of Reality. It’s what enabled us to take over this world. Naming things is generally a good thing and allows us to navigate our universe.

Some people, however, use the power of naming to isolate, ostracise and wound. They are not doing it right. People like us have plenty of really fitting names for people like them when they abuse our gift…

Seriously though, it seems like every time we make a move towards greater inclusivity, some faction of retrograde, regressive backwards-looking churl and biological luddite manufactures a reason why we can’t all get along.

I personally favour retaliation, but the only way to truly counter them is with understanding, so here’s a book that offers plenty of names and definitions we should all be adding to our lexicons…

I’ve frequently argued that comic strips are a matchless tool for education: rendering the most complex topics easily accessible and displaying a potent facility to inform, affect and alter behaviour. Here’s a splendid example of the art form using its great powers for good…

The Quick & Easy Guide series has an admirable record of confronting uncomfortable issues with taste, sensitivity and breezy forthrightness: offering solutions as well as awareness or solidarity.

Here, coast-to-coast cartoonists Mady G. and J. R. Zuckerberg collaborate on a bright and breezy primer covering the irrefutable basics on establishing one’s own sexual and gender identity (including the difference between those terms), safely navigating all manner of relationship and exploring the spectrum of experiences available to consenting adults.

A major aspect of us People Primates is that we spend a lot of our lives trying to work out who we are. It takes varying amounts of time for every individual and lots of honesty.

It’s like most work. It can be unwelcome, laborious, painful and even dangerous and nobody should attempt it too soon or alone.

Moreover, all too often, assistance and advice offered can be unwelcome and stemming from somebody else’s agenda. In my own limited experience for example, any sexual guidance offered by anybody with a religious background is immediately suspect and a waste of breath. Perhaps your experience is different. That’s pretty much the point here. In the end, you have make up your own mind and be your own judge…

Unlike me, A Quick & Easy Guide to Queer and Trans Identities takes no sides and offers no bias as it runs through the fundamentals, but only after a Foreword from cartoonist and author Roz Chast and an Intro by Mady lay out the rules of engagement on the attaching and utilisation of the labels and roles gradually becoming common modern parlance…

The micro lectures are set during a wilderness trek where an agglomeration of troubled humans have a group teaching encounter under the supervision of a “Queer Educator” endeavouring to define for them the nature of ‘Queerness’

The useful commentary, educational asides and plentiful laughs are generated by a colony of snails avidly observing proceedings like a raucous and bewildered Greek Chorus. Such gastropods, as I’m sure you recall from school, are either male, female, hermaphroditic or something else entirely, depending on what time it is. Now that’s perspective…

Subjects covered with forthright verve, clarity and – crucially – wry wit begin with ‘What is Queer?’, proffering terms for defining Sexuality and Gender as subdivided into Bisexuality, Asexuality, Pansexuality amongst other permutations. These and later lessons are illustrated with examples starring primarily neutral vegetable critters dubbed The Sproutlingswho are conveniently pliable and malleable…

‘What is Gender Identity?’ digs deeper, discussing Gender vs Sex via a little biology tutorial before ‘Now… What’s Gender Expression?’ expands the debate, determining modern manners and ways of signalling the world what one has decided is a person’s (current, but not necessarily permanent) status. The lecture comes with carefully curated real-world examples…

This is all fine in an ideal world, but contentious, often life changing problems that can occur are tackled head-on in ‘What Does Dysphoria Mean?’, detailing examples of the traumas accompanying the realisation of not being how you believe you ought to be. Divided into Physical, Social and non-binary Dysphoria, the examination includes ways of combatting the problems and more case histories courtesy of the human wilderness students…

In swift succession ‘So, what is Asexuality?’ and ‘What does it mean to Come Out?’ offer further practical thoughts and prospective coping tactics before vital life lessons are covered in ‘Here are some Relationship Basics’.

Also included here are an “Outro” by Zuckerberg and a section of activities including ‘Design a Pair of Friendship Jackets’, ‘Create Your Own Sprout-sona!’ and ‘How to make a Mini Zine!!’ as well as information on ‘More Resources!’and Creator Biographies.

I hail from a fabulous far-distant era where we happily ravaged the planet without a qualm but believed emotional understanding led to universal acceptance. We’re apparently smarter about the planet now, and it’s wonderful to see that the quest to destroy intolerance and ignorance still continues. This witty, welcoming treatise offers superb strategies for fixing a pernicious issue that really should have been done and dusted decades ago.

Hopefully, when we all share appropriate, non-evocative and un-charged terms for discussing human sexuality and gender – such as seen here – we can all make decisions and assessments that will build a fairer, gentler world for everybody…
A Quick & Easy Guide to Queer and Trans Identities ™ & © 2019 Mady G & J.R. Zuckerberg. All rights reserved.

A Quick & Easy Guide to Sex & Disability


By A. Andrews (Limerance/Oni Press)
ISBN: 978-1-62010-694-5 (PB) eISBN: 978-1-62010-706-5

Comic strips are an incredibly powerful tool for education, rendering the trickiest or most complex topics easily accessible. They also have an overwhelming ability to affect and change behaviour and have been used for centuries by politicians, religions, the military and commercial concerns to modify how we live our lives. Here’s a splendid example of the art form using its great powers for good…

The Quick & Easy Guide series has an admirable record of confronting uncomfortable issues with taste, sensitivity and breezy forthrightness: offering solutions as much as awareness or solidarity. Here, disabled cartoonist A. Andrews (Oh, Hey! It’s Alyssa!) shares experiences and highlights situations too many people would prefer never having to think about…

Before we go any further though, let’s just state something that ought to be obvious. Most human beings want and have sex.

Even amongst the majority, that encompasses a variety of preferences, techniques and practices generally undertaken in a spirit of cooperation and carried out on a sliding scale of satisfaction and success for (at least one of) those taking part. The goal however, surely must be mutual gratification for all involved, right?

Sadly, for a large section of humanity, this fundamental function presents many difficulties. Most have been previously addressed in many learned clinical tracts and therapeutically-themed sources but this welcomingly frank cartoon lecture isn’t one of those. It’s a chat session led by a person who’s lived some of those difficulties and who uses passion, humour, common sense and earnest language to cope. Think here not about achieving sex, but rather making your version of sex better, if not best…

After starting out with some daunting statistics from the Center for Disease Control and World Health Organization to establish the state of play for disabled people (Earth’s largest minority group, accounting for 15% of global adult population), Andrews quickly moves to the meat of the matter in ‘Disability Sexuality’.

Defining different forms of disability – congenital, acquired, intellectual and invisible – and outlining intersecting impacts on individuals as well as tackling the differences between sexuality and gender, naturally leads to an examination of ‘Myths About Disabled Bodies’ before revealing the big secret… ‘Communication’

Following short and pertinent questionnaire ‘Activity Time’, the talk about talking resumes with ‘Instead of … Try This…’ and more sage advice, plus a fascinating ‘Self-Care Plan’ and the value of preparedness and tools, enhancements and toys in ‘Getting Down’, ‘Positioning’ and ‘Aftercare’

Also included is a listing of additional information and resources in print, podcast and web formats.

I hail from a distant era when we believed understanding led to acceptance, so it’s wonderful to see that the quest to destroy intolerance and ignorance still continues. This witty, welcoming comics guide tackles an issue that really should have been done and dusted decades ago, but until disability (and race and gender and sexuality and body size and even bloody hair colour) lose every shade of meaning and connotation except purely descriptive, books like this one will remain a necessity and utterly welcome…
A Quick & Easy Guide to Sex & Disability ™ & © 2020 A. Andrews. All rights reserved.

The Period Comic – A Girl’s Easy Guide to Puberty & Periods


By Florence Igboayaka & Martin Okonkwo
ISBN: 979-8-60215-669-0 (PB)

Comics are an incredible resource for dispensing information and – more importantly – changing or reinforcing attitudes. Text and illustration working in union have been used for generations to educate: efficiently and clearly demonstrating practical methodology whilst relating the most difficult theoretical material. They also have the added bonus of being kid-friendly by their very nature…

This particular independent paperback (or digital) treatise is a no-nonsense introduction into the implications and ramifications of female puberty, offering in fictive form explanations, advice and practical solutions to demystify and defuse a distressing and all-too-often traumatic time in every woman’s life.

Aimed at girls aged nine and above, the lesson focuses on schoolmates Anabel, Ada and Misha as a weekend sleepover turns into an impromptu social biology class. Introduced through potted biography pages before our tale opens, the trio are happily primed for their revelatory rite of passage following a Friday afternoon Health lecture in Chapter 1: Growing up & My Body.

Encompassing ‘Puberty. What’s that?’, ‘Help! I feel weird’, ‘Do boys change too?’ (to which I can’t help but interject, Yes, but sadly not enough and far too slowly), ‘Fill your plate with colour’ (sensible dietary advice, albeit perhaps owing more to cultural bias than the latest science) and ‘Don’t pop that pimple’, the basic science and biology is covered in easy to assimilate steps. There’s also a wealth of sensible tips on how to cope with the progression of physical changes and why one should adjust clothing requirements accordingly…

More specific information is sensitively delivered in Chapter 2: What Are Periods? beginning with ‘Help! I’m Bleeding’, punctuated with few of the most common methods of countering the cyclical crisis before we graduate to ‘How long will this last?’

Chapter 3: Period Hygiene then asks and answers ‘How can I protect myself?’, revisiting ‘How long will this last?’ before finding time and space to reveal and challenge the iniquities of ‘Period Poverty’

Chapter 4: What to Expect During Periods advocates ‘Be prepared’, and asks ‘Are cramps and PMS normal?’, leading into an aspirational Q&A session to end proceedings.

Speaking as exactly who this book is not aimed at and least likely to benefit from its efforts, I have to say The Period Comic is far from perfect but it’s a great start in normalising the commonplace function which modern society has somehow made both shockingly taboo and simultaneously unworthy of notice.

How we can attach so many appalling and absurd reactions to something so ubiquitous and inevitable has always astounded me (I know for absolute fact of one husband and father who won’t allow his wife and daughter’s period (let’s all stop calling them “sanitary”) products to be stored in the bathroom – or even mentioned in the house!) and we sadly seem a long, long way from any kind of parity in accepting that all humans are as much muck and mire as we are dreams and aspirations.

If this tract helps its target audience avoid unfair stigma and the unjustifiable twaddle of mythology and outright bigotry that’s grown around the process of menstruation, I’m all in favour.

Perhaps, it’s a touch too self-laudatory in places and there’s a tendency to overstress the hygiene aspect whilst underplaying the still too-prevalent negative social stigma. My female associates and intimates also assure me that there’s lots more this primer could and should cover – such as ecologically sustainable alternate methods of coping with the cycle – but all in all, this is a supremely sensible, minimum fuss treatment of a natural occurrence that really shouldn’t be a sensitive issue in any modern egalitarian society. Why not see for yourself and or check it out with your own youngsters?
2019. No © invoked.

Philosophy – A Discovery in Comics


By Margreet de Heer with Yiri T. Kohl (NBM)
ISBN: 978-1-56163-698-3 (HB)

I’m feeling the urge to big up the transformative and informational aspect of comics, so expect a few educational reviews – the books, not my blather about them – over the forthcoming days. Here’s an old favourite to start you off…

It has long been a truism of the creative arts that the most effective, efficient and economical method of instruction and informational training is the comic strip.

For well more than a century, advertising mavens have exploited the easy impact of words wedded to evocative pictures, and public information materials frequently use sequential narrative to get hard messages over quickly and simply – unless you’re a graph designer for the British government.

Since World War II, carefully crafted strips have been constantly used as training materials in every aspect of adult life from school careers advice to various branches of military service – utilising the talents of comics giants as varied as Milton Caniff, Will Eisner (who spent decades producing reams of comic manuals for the US army and other government departments), Kurt Schaffenberger and Neil Adams.

These days the educational value and merit of comics is a given. The magnificent Larry Gonick in particular has been using the strip medium to stuff learning and entertainment in equal amounts into the weary brains of jaded students with his webcomic Raw Materials and such seasoned tomes as The Cartoon History of the Universe, The Cartoon History of the United States and The Cartoon Guide to… series (Genetics, Sex, Computers, Non-Communication, Physics, Statistics, the Environment and more).

Japan uses a huge number of manga text books in its schools and universities and has even released government reports and business prospectuses as comic books to get around the public’s apathy towards reading large dreary volumes of public information.

So do we and so do the Americans. I’ve even produced the occasional tract myself. The medium has also been used to sublimely and elegantly tackle the greatest and most all-consuming preoccupation and creation of the mind of Man…

In 1972, Margreet de Heer was born into a family of theologians and despite some rebellious teen forays to the wild side of life – fascinatingly covered in the ‘Know My Self’ section of this fabulous graphic primer – studied Theology for 9 years at the University of Amsterdam. After graduating in 1999, she decided to become a cartoonist – and did – but also worked at the wonderful comics and cool stuff emporium/cultural icon Lambiek in Amsterdam.

Whilst there – and before becoming a full-time professional in 2005 – she collaborated with industry expert Kees Kousemaker on a history of Dutch comics. In 2007, with commissions in publications as broad and varied as Yes, Zij aan Zij, Viva Mama, Flo’, Jippo, Farfelu and NRC.Next, she began a series of cartoon philosophical reports for the newspaper Trouw. These prompted a perspicacious publisher to commission a complete book on this most ancient of topics. Filosofie in Beeld was first released in 2010 and translated into English by NBM two years later as Philosophy – a Discovery in Comics.

This gloriously accessible tome – available in hardback and digital editions – is crafted by a gifted writer with a master’s grasp of her subject, and opens with the core concept ‘What is Thinking?’, examining the processes of mind through a number of elegantly crafted examples before moving onto ‘Who Do We Think We Are?’

Those paradigms of ‘Self-Awareness’, ‘Logical Thinking’, ‘Language’, ‘Symbols’, ‘Abstract Thinking’ and ‘Humor’ are captivatingly and comprehensively covered before the history and cognitive high points of civilisation are disclosed with ‘The Foundation of Western Philosophy’.

This potted history of ‘Dualism’ relates the life stories, conceptual legacies and achievements of ‘Socrates’ and the ‘Socratic Discourse’; his star pupil ‘Plato’ and the universal man ‘Aristotle’: all winningly counterpointed by a balancing sidebar autobiography in ‘Know My Self’ plus some cogent observations and a few comparisons with the Eastern philosophy of ‘Unity’

‘Medieval Philosophy’ then deals with the influence of the Christian Church on ‘Augustine’ and ‘Thomas Aquinas’; the “Great Thinkers” of early Europe by examining the warring concepts of ‘Free Will’ and ‘Predestination’ and explores the lives of ‘Erasmus’ and ‘Humanism’; ‘Descartes’ and his maxim ‘Cogito Ergo Sum’ and ‘Spinoza’, whose consummate faith-based dictum was ‘Know Thyself’

The charming, beguiling foundation course continues with ‘What is Reality?’ bringing us up to the modern age with ‘And Now’ comprising another brilliantly clever diversion as de Heer includes the ‘Personal Philosophies’ of families and friends.

Her husband – and this book’s colourist – Yiri bases his outlook on the incredible life of outrageous comedian ‘George Carlin’; her aged friend Gerrit looks to ‘Nietzsche’, mother-in-law Yolanda modelled herself on Cambridge lecturer and intellectual ‘George Steiner’ whilst De Heer’s little brother Maarten prefers to shop around, picking up what he needs from thinkers as varied as ‘Aldous Huxley’ to cartoonist ‘Marten Toonder’. The author bravely puts her money where her mouth is and reveals her own thoughts on Life, the Universe and Everything before asking again ‘What Do You Think?’

This is a truly sharp and witty book – the first of a trilogy also examining Religion and Science – which adroitly reduces centuries of contentious pondering, violent discussion and high-altitude academic acrimony to an enthralling, utterly enthralling experience any smart kid or keen elder would be happy to experience.

Clear, concise, appropriately challenging and informatively funny Philosophy – A Discovery in Comics is a wonder of unpretentious, exuberant graphic craft and a timeless book we can all enjoy, comics fans or not.
© @2010 Uitgeverij Meinema, Zoetermeer, TheNetherlands. English translation © 2012 Margreet de Heer & Yiri T. Kohl.