I'll be at the Ann Arbor Comic Arts Festival June 16 & 17 in Ann Arbor, MI! I don't do many comics shows/fests anymore because I'm busy working on books, so I'm SUPER excited! (Yay! I get to see HUMAN BEINGS!!!) I got to design the poster for the fest, and I'll be having my first solo gallery show of artwork! Here's a little promotional art (for the gallery show):
I'll share the poster on here soon!
One of the best things about living in the Boston area is being close to lots of stuff. Especially science-y stuff. Between all the universities and museums, there are loads of public lectures! It's an all-you-can-eat buffet...FOR MY BRAIN. A few weeks back, I went to a lecture on Microbial Life at the Harvard Museum of Natural History; it kicked off the opening of their newest exhibit (conveniently of the same name). The lecture was given by Roberto Kolter and Scott Chimileski. Here are my notes (in cartoon-form, of course):
I only draw during the lecture, so this was about an hour of drawing (minus the time I spent ooo-ing and ah-ing over cheese mites and tardigrades. How had I never heard of cheese mites before? I love both cheese and microscopic organisms; I have no idea why these little critters stayed off my radar for so long. They are the best. Okay, cheese mite tangent: over.)
Interested in lectures around the Boston area? This is a pretty good list.
I started these back in 2016, soon after Human Body Theater came out. Better late then never, right? So here they are: Human Body Theater Valentine's Day cards. Please feel free to print them out and use them as Valentines! And if you're hungry for more, check out my book Human Body Theater!
I skipped out on last year's hourlies because I was flying back from New Zealand (and figured people wouldn't be interested in 16 hours worth of me on a plane). I did fit them in this year though! Here they are, in their full-day glory:
Okay, okay. I know it's supposed to be "space", but this is my last field camp trip before I leave Antarctica. I've spent the past few days at Cape Royds, about 15 miles north of McMurdo station. Cape Royds is home to the southernmost Adélie penguin colony; 2,000+ Adélies call this little chunk of land home.
Two people stay at a small camp for the summer season here: scientist David Ainley and education/outreach extraordinaire Jean Pennycook, and they've been gracious enough to show me around the colony, and share their knowledge of penguins. And I get to take notes (and draw)!
These little birds are so expressive; I'm learning so much about their behaviors and social dynamics just sitting and watching them for hours. They live in a colony, and it feels like a city of penguins. And I get to be their guest. Thanks, penguins (and David and Jean)!
Just like everything I've had the chance to experience during my time in Antarctica, it's truly a privilege to be here.
Among the myriad of amazing opportunities I've had down here are the chances to attend the twice-weekly public lectures hosted by the scientists and researchers working on the station. The Sunday night talks are aimed at sharing science with the broad community, people who may not have an extensive background in the sciences, while on Wednesday nights the talks tend to be more technical and aimed more towards the science community.
One of the first people that I met down here was science fiction writer Kim Stanley Robison who was down for a week and half. Previously, he had visited Antarctica as part of the National Science Foundation’s Artists & Writers Program 20 years ago.
He gave a lecture on November 8 where he read a passage from his book Antarctica, a science fiction novel inspired directly from his experiences here some two decades ago. Set in a not-to-distant-future McMurdo, Antarctica touches on familiar issues: scientific research, management of natural resources, environmental conservation, as well as what it's like to live and work at the bottom of the world in a harsh, almost alien landscape. Afterwards, he showed a slide show of photos he took during his time in the Artists & Writers Program. His perspective, both from his present trip, and from his previous trip, made it very clear that his time in Antarctica had shaped his creative process and his life. 20 years later, the themes of Antarctica are not only persistent, but also exceptionally relevant. Where will we be in 20 years from now? How will my time in Antarctica shape my life and work?
I've said it before, and I'll say it again: nothing beats the experience of physically being down here. Hands-on learning has helped me to understand science that I would otherwise find a bit befuddling. Meeting folks with incredible skills and backgrounds from across the country, and even all over the world, has left me humbled. Frigid temperatures and whipping winds have made me appreciate my New England upbringing.
Thanks, Stan, for your reflections, both past and present. I look forward to reading Antarctica once I'm off the ice, so it can remind me of where I just was, and the place I had the incredible privilege to be.
Mt. Erebus. This was one of the first times in Antarctica that I've felt like I was in the middle of nowhere. And not just in the middle of nowhere...I felt like I was on another planet. Fang Glacier Camp is set up for folks to acclimatize before they head up to Lower Erebus Hut (LEH). Fang is at about 9000ft (2740m), while LEH is at 10950ft (3340 m). There is less oxygen in the air at higher altitudes, and you need to give your body time to adjust. This usually takes a week or two, but the stop at Fang helps.
The accommodations at Fang are pretty bare-bones: 4 Scott tents. Three are for sleeping in; it's 2 people to a tent. The fourth tent is for...pooping and peeing! It's about as glamorous as you can imagine: a bucket (outfitted with a styrofoam seat) for pooping, and a barrel with a funnel for peeing. Everyone gets issued "pee bottles" (1 L Nalgene bottles), and they are for exactly what you think they are for: peeing in! Then you can dump your pee into the pee barrel. This isn't just for Fang Glacier Camp; you take a pee bottle with you anytime you're going out in the field, even just a day trip! I'll talk more about pee bottles later, but let's just say I've gotten pretty good at peeing in a bottle.
Acclimatization does not always feel great; it's not uncommon to have a headache, fatigue, shortness of breath, even the HAFEs (high altitude flatus expulsion a.k.a high altitude farts). So, at Fang, your orders are simple: rest, eat, drink lots of water and take it easy. Little hikes around the area are okay too. I've never really be ordered to relax, so it was awesome! I felt pretty good, but I basically slept for a whole day. I tried to read as much as I could, but my hands were too cold. The outside air temp was around -4ºF (-20ºC) in the sun, and in the tent, it was between 5º - 15ºF (-15º - -10ºC). Since it stays below freezing in the tent, you have to put anything you don't want to freeze in your sleeping bag...so I slept with my camera, a 1 lb. block of cheese, a radio battery, and some bars of chocolate.
After two days, some of the folks from LEH came down to get us on snowmobiles, and take us up to the hut. I thought Fang looked otherworldly, but the LEH camp really looked like another planet.
The hut itself is very cozy, with a Kuma stove and a camp kitchen (complete with a gas stove)! Mountain tents, a Scott tent, and a temporary rack tent. There's a garage, along with fuel, solar and wind power stations. More about Lower Erebus Hut soon!
So, I'm here working on a nonfiction comic book about Antarctica. But the nerd in me can't help but notice how Antarctica feels so sci-fi. Star Wars is the most obvious correlation...Antarctica = Hoth, McMurdo = Echo Base, helicopters = x-wings, snowmobiles = speeder bikes (okay, okay, I know those were more of an Endor thing, but you get the picture). I know that sci-fi is often inspired by actual science, not unlike how my own work is inspired by actual science.
Instead of calling Antarctica very "sci-fi", I would wager that it's more appropriate to call sci-fi very "Antarctica". The Dry Valleys of Antarctica have been compared to the surface of Mars, polar gigantism produces marine invertebrates 100s of times larger than their tropical cousins, and thousands of meteorites have been collected from this continent's pristine, icy terrain, not to mention all the telescopes.
I guess what I'm getting at is...experiences that take you out of the everyday are incredibly important to creative work (and, I might argue, a healthy existence). I'm not suggesting that everyone try to visit Antarctica. But learning a new skill, building something, meeting a new group of people, cooking a new type of food, visiting a new town/city/state/country...all these things can add a little something. I'm definitely aware of limitations - budget, access, opportunity - many of those factors are why I create the comics that I do; to give people access to a place, process or perspective. And, maybe selfishly, to give myself that same access.
Greetings from the sea ice of McMurdo Sound! First off, yes, I am kneeling on frozen ocean. The sea ice here this time of year is about 2-3 meters thick. Those big chunks behind me are part of a pressure ridge; they are jagged cracks with openings to the sea water formed by pressure from a nearby physical object, in this case, Big Razorback Island (seen right above me). The openings allow Weddell seals to come up onto the sea ice and relax (or alternatively, give birth to pups).
B-009 has been doing population ecology work with Weddell seals since 1968! They tag and monitor Weddell seals in the areas near McMurdo station, and this includes weighing pups at birth, 20 days old, and 35 days old. From all of the data they collect, they can learn about generations of seals (lineages), pup survival rates, average age of adults, and even where adult seals prefer to give birth. This long-term research can help us understand these animals' relationship to their environment, and how past, preset, and future changes might impact them.
B-267 is looking at how seals physically cope with diving. These remarkable animals can hold their breath for over 90 minutes! That means they are able to survive with very low levels of oxygen for a very long time. If we can understand how they are able to do this, maybe we can help people who have suffered from strokes or heart attacks (both things that involve oxygen deprivation). Their work involves looking at blood and tissue samples from seals.
It would be an understatement to say that I love drawing these blub-dubs*.
*That's what I call seals.
I've been making mashed potato volcanoes since I was a kid, but this one has a special meaning: it's modeled after an ACTUAL volcano! Mt. Erebus is the southernmost active volcano on Earth. Which means that my mashed potato volcano is the southmost active mashed potato volcano (I suppose it's dormant now, since I ate it). Happy Thanksgiving!
Happy Thanksgiving from the bottom of the world!
This drawing is not scientifically accurate. (It's the leopard seal that would usually be eating the penguins.)
So. Why am I in Antarctica?
In February of 2015, I applied for this amazing grant from the National Science Foundation called the USAP Artists & Writers Program. It supports artists and writers in their creation of work that is directly inspired and/or informed by the United States Antarctic Program. My proposal? To make a 240+ page comic book about life and science in Antarctica. (I'll talk about how I put together my proposal in a separate post).
In July of 2016, I found out that I had received the grant, and that I would be headed to Antarctica for 2.5 months starting at the beginning of November 2016.
While I'm here my job is to essentially collect data - stories, experiences, sketches, notes, photos, videos - about what it takes to support and conduct scientific research in one of the harshest places on Earth. And with all that data, I'll have what I need to create a big ol' comic book.
But why? Why do I need to physically be here?
Well, I did a ton of preliminary research: reading books, interviewing scientists, scouring the internet for everything from scientific papers to videos of penguins (I did more than that, but hopefully you get the picture). But, no matter how much you saturate your life with information about a place, nothing comes close to the actual experience of going to that place. I first had this realization with my book Coral Reefs, where I got scuba certified and traveled to the Caribbean to dive on coral reefs. And even earlier, with Human Body Theater...I didn't actually go inside a human body, but I did get my EMT-Basic certification back in 2002, and that experience directly informed the content of my comics about the human body.
It's not just about being here. It's about access. Access to all the support and science folks who are down here, to their stories, their skills, their passions. Everyone is a celebrity to me, whether they're washing dishes, working on huge vehicles, or collecting samples to study back in a lab. I feel like I have an all-access backstage pass to some of the most interesting people on the planet, and that's something that I can only get by being here.
And it's not just about being here, and having access to this incredible community of people. It's about learning. Hands-on learning. My love of science was thwarted by how it was taught the older and older I became. Hands-on activities and experiments were replaced with more and more text and testing, and I suffered. I know that reading, writing, and math are integral to doing science well, whether it's biology, chemistry, or physics, but I just could not keep up. Years later, I found myself engaging with science once again, but as an educator, helping to teach the very same type of science activities that hooked me as a youngster. And that's when it clicked: I learn better by observing and doing. It made complete sense, I've always been a visual person. But I had never looked at what factors made me successful in learning a new skill or subject. So, now I have a mission: to learn as much as I can about the world around me, and take what I learn and teach it back in a way that makes sense to me. And there are two ways that I know to do this: 1.) In person, talking directly to an audience and 2.) In comics.
So, that’s why I’m here. To get my hands dirty. To experience scientific research in the field. To watch the sun stay up in the sky continuously for 2.5 months straight. To volunteer in the galley. To learn how to ride a snowmobile up the side of a volcano. To observe microscopic organisms from the coldest ocean on the planet. To figure out how it all fits into a story. To inspire others to get out and experience the world. Oh yeah, and to poop in a bucket. I’m going to tell you ALL about that too. And so much more.
That’s why I’m in Antarctica.
I’ve been in Antarctica for 2 weeks now.
Last Wednesday, I flew to a remote field camp to observe the work of 2 scientists and 2 divers studying single-celled organisms that live below the sea ice. I had never met any of them before.
Last Wednesday, it was Election Day back in the States. My home. (This is because I am living a day in the future, at the bottom of the world…Election Day was technically Tuesday.)
Last Wednesday, I learned how to chip dive holes, and scoop out the icy chunks into a neat pile, so the holes don’t freeze over.
Last Wednesday, I ate frozen pizza and drank beers with people I had met just hours before. Slowly, the shock of what was happening back home began to sink in, as we received intermittent updates.
Last Thursday, I woke up. Still in shock. I think I’m still in shock, but I have so much to do for the short time that I’m down here. I’m putting all my energy into my work.
I’m here on this frozen continent because of an amazing program, funded by our government, funded by our tax dollars. (Thank you, thank you, THANK YOU.) The 900+ incredible people who are here with me, the same. It pains me to think that this could so easily go away. And I don’t mean that selfishly. So many of the people here were inspired from a very young age to participate in science, to participate in the outdoors, to participate in the world. It’s programs like these, where we can come together and learn new things, help each other, help to understand each other, and help to understand the world, that make lasting impacts. Impacts that will likely span beyond our lifetimes. I want this opportunity to be here for future scientists, future adventurers, future humans from all walks of life.
There is internet down here, but barely. I can check my email. I can occasionally update Twitter/Instagram/this blog (but I usually need to do this very late at night/early in the morning). Part of me is homesick for my loved ones, my friends, my community, while part of me is grateful that I am cut off and distracted from the events back home. I don’t want my silence to be misconstrued as complacency or apathy. Just know that I am working my butt off, fighting the best fight that I know how: making comics that will inspire the next generation of scientists, thinkers, doers, problem-solvers, and eventually, voters. I will shout my comics-lungs dry, singing the song of why we need to care so much about each other, and why we need care so much about this planet that we call home.
I struggle with putting all these thoughts into words, and I can tell you that this is just the tip of the iceberg (pun = intended).
Please know that I’m thinking of you all, and of all our collective struggles, and how to best deal with what lies in front us.
Actually, I'M ALREADY HERE!! As I write this, I'm sitting in the Crary Lab Library, at McMurdo Station in Antarctica. Yeah, I still can't believe it. The short story is that 1.5 years ago, I applied for the USAP Artists & Writers Grant to make a graphic novel about Antarctica, and I got it! The long story is...well, that'll come later. It is an INCREDIBLE privilege to be a part of this program, and to have the opportunity to travel to one of the most remote (and cold) parts of the Earth! Also, PENGUINS!
Whenever I can, I'll be posting updates, photos, and drawings on Twitter, Instagram, and here! The internet is a little slow (think mid-nineties dial-up, but without those sweet, sweet modem sounds), and there'll be times when I'm out in the field for a week at a time, so apologies ahead of time if these posts are intermittent.
I look forward to sharing my adventures with you all!
Hi there! My latest book, Coral Reefs: Cities of the Ocean, is out! It's part of a new series from First Second Books called Science Comics! and its debut is joined by Dinosaurs: Fossils and Feathers.
If you want to read about my adventures, and why I love to make comics about science, check out this article I wrote for Boing Boing (and you can check out the Science Comics! Free Comic Book Day issue that I shared with Jon Chad and his story about volcanoes!).
Stay tuned as I'll be doing some events to celebrate the release of the book (and posting information about them here)!
I decided that my morning warm-up drawings should be rocks:
There's a reason, but I'll be posting about that on Friday!
Every February 1 is Hourly Comics Day: you draw a comic for every hour that you are awake. People all over the world participate. For me, it's a great exercise in drawing; I get to work fast and loose and in pencil (my favorite!). It's also an exercise in editing...what do you put in your comics? Personally, I find that there is a difference between comics that I make for myself, and comics that I make for an audience/put on the internet. This is purely my preference; I see my work as "work", and err on the side of caution when it comes to sharing personal stories. I have great admiration for people who share much more of their lives through their work. Here are my 2016 hourly comics, in order. Enjoy!
Well, not reeeeeeeally. Hi! It's Maris. Some of you might know me, some of you might not. To all of you, I say "Welcome!". This is my website. I mean, technically this is the "blog" portion of my website, but you get the idea.
Please look here, as well as on Twitter, Tumblr and Instagram to see more of my work and to follow my adventures. I will be updating weekly, posting everything from random doodles to underwater pics to new books projects. No matter what the content, I look forward to sharing it with you all!