The importance of science comics

Popularization of science is currently on the rise in many countries. Apart from the traditional formats like blogs, podcasts and Science Slams, science comics are now becoming more and more popular. In our country, this niche is yet to be filled, so it’s a good opportunity to get noticed.  

Format-wise, science comics is a hybrid of the elitist culture of popular science articles and books that are written by professional scientists and journalists, and the mainstream comics culture. Despite the rapid development of this format, it is still often shunned by the scientific community.

The editorial of “Schrodinger’s Cat” has begun to create science comics since the last year. The idea was to work with representatives of different scientific labs and use comic strips to tell about the research they conduct. After several successful attempts, they decided to publish a whole book of science comics, which they are currently working on.

Comic by the “Schrodinger’s Cat”. Credit:
Comic by the “Schrodinger’s Cat”. Credit:

Comic strips about science attract public interest largely because there hasn’t been such a product before. Nowadays, it’s most important for scientists to understand that they have to use new communication channels in order to explain their results to the public, and science comics, a format aimed at a wide audience, offers lots of opportunities. In Western countries, this format has long become popular, and is now seen as a full-fledged cultural phenomena. Major Russian titles are also launching departments that focus on creating science comics, and the demand for them is quite high.


When working on a popular science text, its author often has to come up with metaphors - figures of speech that depict complex processes and phenomena. In comics, metaphors are also important, but artists can visualize them, so that the reader doesn’t have to “process” this information: this work has already been done by the authors. In comics, metaphors can be based on popular characters of the mainstream culture or be comparisons that explain complex phenomena in a simple manner. Depending on their purpose, metaphors can be of different types; what is most important is that the image has to have characteristics similar to those of the phenomena it explains.

Alena Lesnyak
Alena Lesnyak

Visualization of complex processes

In comics, the visualization of metaphors always has to do with the emergence of fictional characters. Along with real scientists, such things as colibacille, genome editing systems, and other scientific phenomena can become full-fledged characters of a science comic. The metaphor is considered successful if it is understood by a large enough number of people. Therefore, when coming up with one, its author has to consider how exactly it can correspond to people’s cultural experience.

Visualization of complex processes is different for comics and texts. Though you can use thousands of words to describe a process, the drawing has to be succinct and fun. Readers find it easier to comprehend processes as particular images. Even if a child won’t understand the concept, they will still take their time appreciating the imagery, and the grown-ups will understand and enjoy its meaning.

Alena Lesnyak's lecture at ITMO university
Alena Lesnyak's lecture at ITMO university

Why stories are not as fun as comics

Oftentimes, science comics are executed as some scientist’s diary. In such a diary, the researcher expands on their project in a light-hearted manner, as though they were telling about it to their friends. They tell enticing stories that you would want to listen to. Though real-life articles and logs are written in a more traditional manner, they can still become a great basis for comics.

When writing a text about some expedition, many details, events and things that happen to researchers are only slightly touched upon, so the reader finds it hard to imagine them. A good writer focuses on details that can explain details and funny moments. When drawing a picture, one has to work with a three-dimensional reality, so stressing particular features becomes all the more important.

The importance of drama

The events that happen to the comic’s characters uphold the story’s dynamics. Much as in texts, comics have to have a main idea that has to completed with arguments, tales and illustrations. The main idea develops and is supplemented with particular details. Dynamics and the feeling of drama emerge when there’s a main character and something happens to them: they overcome difficulties, meet other characters or finds themselves in circumstances that help them solve the problem, or make things worse. These problems and difficulties can be of any kind; what’s important is to uphold the narrative dynamics. The atmosphere of drama is most important in comics, as the authors have a limited number of images to “pack” their story in.

Scientists’ tales and jokes get a second life

As a rule, scenarists ask scientists for not just their results, but also stories about the circumstances they worked in. Oftentimes, real-life characters and events are introduced to the comic and make it a lot more entertaining.

Easter Eggs

Easter Eggs are secret details in computer games, movies or software that are put there by their authors. In comics, that would be fun details that are perceived by the readers due to their cultural experience (for instance, bacteria playing poker is an allusion to the popular series of pictures “Dogs playing  poker” by Cassius Marcellus Coolidge).

Easter Eggs allow authors to introduce details that would catch the reader’s eye, entertain them and make them think, remember the comic better. Such details are aimed at a particular audience and can be related to each other. For different audiences, there are different types of Easter Eggs: some are aimed at geeks and specialists, some at common readers. If you use different Easter Eggs in a comic, it will become adapted for different audiences.

“Dogs playing  poker” by Cassius Marcellus Coolidge. Credit:
“Dogs playing poker” by Cassius Marcellus Coolidge. Credit:


The comic’s style is yet another way to attract a particular audience. Some authors work in the Soviet-style tradition, some prefer art similar to Disney’s, others make their works look like those of Marvel comics.

Scientific authenticity

When creating a science comic, one has to understand that there are things one can joke about and those that have to be communicated to the reader in a clear and authentic manner. Drawings can come with additional explanations: schematics, diagrams or maps of things the scientist tells about. Complex phenomena should be depicted in a most comprehensive manner, much like explanations in research articles. In order to attain scientific authenticity, it’s better to consult specialists that know a lot more that the comic’s author. In comics expanding on interdisciplinary topics, such consultations are a must.

Who works on creating science comics?

Though all of the following functions can be performed by a single person, science comics by major titles are often created by teams.

Scientists explain the essence of a particular research finding and the circumstances they worked in.

Scenarists come up with the plot and metaphors, create the comic’s imaginary world. The most important stage of their work is choosing the characters, as the story largely depends on them. At the same stage, they decide on the scientific phenomena and processes that can be turned into fun images, on the Easter Eggs that can be introduced into the visual narration, and the quotes to use.

Artists use a scenario that contains all the necessary details to draw the storyboard and then the comic. In some cases, they are also given references (detailed schematics, diagrams, etc.) that they have to use to better explain the phenomena mentioned in the comic.