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Adult Books 4 Teens
Inside Adult Books 4 Teens

Atomic Comics: How and Why

from graphic novel guest blogger Francisca Goldsmith:

If you have the feeling that cartoonists seem to be producing a small stream of sequential art nonfiction about the builders and building of the atomic bomb, you aren’t wrong. If you still haven’t taken the opportunity to explore how and why one or two isn’t “enough,” however, it’s time to reconsider.

Currently, those of us in the library and school worlds were born in the Atomic Century, while the youth with whom we work were, even at the top of the age spectrum, relatively unconscious of history until the 21st.  Unlike some other historical military strategies, however, they have long since come into contact with fall out from the Trinity project: some live in communities powered or poisoned by nuclear plants, but almost all of them have had dental X-rays administered while they lay under the weight of a lead apron. And, by high school, they have begun to sort through how the explorations of past generations echo and scream into contemporary life.

As Jonathan Fetter-Vorm so elegantly shows in his very compact and concise book, reviewed below, atomic power became a reality through a confluence of scientific experimentation and discovery, scientists’ personalities tending to a sharing of ideas in every working stage, and military order being brought to a politically inspired goal. The best way to communicate all these factors influencing and becoming coordinated with each other is through the sequential art medium:

  • Difficult scientific concepts can be presented visually as well as verbally
  • Personality can be depicted at the moment of any interpersonal interchange
  • Differences in disciplinary interests (science vs politics vs military approaches) can be revealed without having to persuade the viewer that one is “better” than another, requiring the reader to think and decide for herself

If you haven’t touched a single book about the building of the bomb, start with Trinity.  But don’t end there:  you have a whole list of atomic comics to read in order to get the biggest picture of the past—with its window on our present.

In Barefoot Gen, Keiji Nakazawa reports the harrowing results of the atomic bomb through the experiences of a child on the ground.

Science cartoon creator Jim Ottaviani and cartoonist Leland Myrick’s biography of  Feynman includes the Nobelist’s connection to the top secret development project.

Suspended in Language, also by Jim Ottaviani working with artist Leland Purvis, goes the distance to show how Niels Bohr’s life influenced not only the development of quantum mechanics, but also the interactions of his fellow scientists.

FETTER-VORM, Jonathan. Trinity: A Graphic History of the First Atomic Bomb. illus. by author. 154p. charts. diags. illus. map. bibliog. Hill & Wang. 2012.  Trinity

Adult/High School–Fetter-Vorm, in his debut sequential artwork, combines accessible atomic science with political, military, and science history. Using primary-source material from many of the players in the story of the development and deployment of the atomic bomb that putatively ended World War II, he has fashioned a clear narrative, using images to portray both scientific processes and the array of interpersonal relations among scientists and government officials as the bomb was conceived and then developed. The various personae, including the general in charge of the multi-location effort and the various scientists whose impetus for building the bomb centered more around discovery than weaponry, are distinguishable by face and posture; the words spoken by any of these historic individuals Fetter-Vorm has tried to document as accurate. The increasing tensions of both war and the scientists’ painful ambivalence about the destructive power of the bomb receive evenhanded treatment, making this small volume an excellent introduction to the many nuances of human ingenuity meeting up against military strategic planning. Teens interested in political history, as well as science, will find this insightful. The format evokes quick engagement with a complex piece of history.–Francisca Goldsmith, Infopeople Project, CA

Angela Carstensen About Angela Carstensen

Angela Carstensen is Head Librarian and an Upper School Librarian at Convent of the Sacred Heart in New York City. Angela served on the Alex Awards committee for four years, chairing the 2008 committee, and chaired the first YALSA Award for Excellence in Nonfiction for Young Adult committee in 2009. Recently, she edited Outstanding Books for the College Bound: Titles and Programs for a New Generation (ALA Editions, 2011). Contact her via Twitter @AngeReads.