Ladies and gentleman, this is one comprehensive work. In a little less than 150 pages, you have a fantastic insight into evolution of life on earth. Built on the conceit that adorable aliens are studying us, we gain an outsider’s perspective on what’s up with homo sapiens’ insane lineage. Beginning at the beginning, readers are treated to a chronological look at life’s history.
Hosler, a science professor at Juniata College, does a brilliant job at building this narrative in teacher speak. First, Hosler gives you all of the building blocks of life. There are great detailed explanations of all varieties of cell structure and function. While involved, by laying this groundwork here, Hosler expedites understanding in future chapters. Readers will be asked to engage with this information throughout the book, as Hosler continues to build on it and vary it with a multitude of examples through time. He basically allows the chronology to speak for itself. That way, when one of the keen aliens points out an odd mutation in the Cambrian Period, or a species that doesn’t seem to conform in the Cenozoic Era, Hosler can address it directly, and the reader already has enough prior knowledge to understand the new information. To be sure, there is certainly a lot of information to ingest, but it’s not beyond an engaged middle-schooler. The aliens, cartooning, and prevalent gags help make this book not only about education, but entertainment.
Like any good scientist, Hosler allows some questions to remain unanswered. Since this whole narrative is through a third party, Hosler will highlight scientists (both classic and modern) and have the Cannons just draw them in. So, for example, Thomas Henry Huxley himself can tell you about his questions on the shared ancestry between humans and animals. Likewise, when there are more recent questions and studies, some of which still have no answer, Hosler lets them hang in the air, inviting the reader to pursue those answers for themselves.
As Hosler did a commendable job crafting the story of evolution, the Cannons did an amazing job bringing his lessons to life. The comic is told in a reliable 6-grid format, with some variety in panel size and number. There had to be consistency somewhere in this comic, because the content inside the panels can be worlds apart from each other. A conversation between the aliens might bounce from genetics, to geology, to dinosaurs all on a single page.
The Cannon’s cartooning has consistent, bold lines. The inking is thoughtfully placed, and all eyes are spheres – either dots or the nice, plump variety most animated shows boast. All this cartooning doesn’t hurt when the Cannons try their pen at drawing beings in proportion or even when they depict real scientists. Everything is rendered in the same bold contrast in black and white, so no matter what the narrative demands of their pens, it looks like a cohesive work.
What really unites the work is the use of humor in both writing and art. Hosler may throw in a pun here or there, but allowing the Cannons to personify every living thing on the page really lets the science content shine. You might have thought single-celled organisms were boring, but that was before the Cannons drew them in all sorts of scenarios: in a war zone, as a family, as slightly narcissistic -– whatever they could think of. The same goes for animals, fungus — heck, even water has a few lines here and there. Joking around like this in service of the content is a fantastic way to make their story highly engaging.
To be sure, there is a lot of information delivered in the nice and compact Evolution: The Story of Life on Earth. Helpfully, the book includes a pretty comprehensive glossary in case you forget a science term or two. Even if you don’t understand everything on the first go round, the authors have crafted a work built for revisiting. For work or pleasure, this comic will stand as a stellar reference work.
Evolution: The Story of Life on Earth
by Jay Hosler
Art by Kevin Cannon, Zander Cannon
Hill and Wang, 2011