If you want to learn a new skill but find it daunting to dig into technical texts and instruction manuals, you will want to explore Maker Comics, a series of single-topic educational graphic novels. So far, Maker Comics includes a handful of different books. This review will cover Bake Like a Pro! by Falynn Koch and Fix a Car! by Chris Schweizer. I have not read other books in the series, but will assume these two are representative of Maker Comics as a whole.
Each book in the series focuses on a central topic (car repair/maintenance, baking, gardening, drawing comics, etc.) and takes readers through some background information, then step-by-step instructions for a variety of tasks. Bake Like a Pro! outlines a number of recipes, ranging from simple chocolate chip cookies to the more advanced sponge cake with Swiss buttercream frosting. It also works in a lot of information about the science of baking. Fix a Car! details projects ranging from checking fluid levels and jump-starting a car to changing the oil and replacing a drive belt, along with diagrams and details about how cars work. Though the books wrap the information in fictional premises with characters and plots, the majority of what’s offered is non-fiction and instructional.
As a librarian who facilitates a makerspace, I was very interested in checking out these comics. For the most part, the characters and stories of each book are decent, but fairly thin. They exist to dress up the educational content and make it more accessible, and they do achieve that, but these aren’t books to go into expecting a compelling plot. That said, the characters of Fix a Car! were more interesting and memorable for me than in Bake Like a Pro!
The information offered can, at times, be a bit dense. Based on the length of the books, I expected them to be quick reads, but each took longer than I anticipated due to how much is packed into the pages. There were also many moments I needed to stop and think about or absorb some of the more technical information being explained. On one hand, this is good, because it means there is a lot of useful content, but it can also result in the comics being difficult to get through without sufficient motivation. For me, reading them occasionally felt like homework, or like struggling through a textbook. Readers with a more casual interest in the subjects, or those without the appropriate grounding or education level, may find the comics somewhat challenging.
My other big concern was the amount of time spent on each task or recipe. The books are split, roughly equally, among the various projects, but I would expect some to have more time devoted to them due to the difficulty level. For example, Fix a Car! spends around as much time on washing and detailing a car as it does on changing a drive belt, which seems like an odd balance to me. Similarly, in Bake Like a Pro!, we spend quite a while on chocolate chip cookies, while lemon meringue pie is relegated to a recipe in the back of the book without additional instructions, simply encouraging readers to combine methods learned previously. As such, the comics are better at the beginner level than for the more advanced topics they cover. I walked away feeling like I could attempt checking my car fluid levels or changing a taillight bulb, but that I wouldn’t be comfortable enough to try changing my own oil or replacing a pulley in the drive belt system.
The art styles of the comics vary, due to different creators, but both were well-done. Schweizer does a good job depicting complex car systems in a way that is relatively easy to follow, while still keeping his characters loose and expressive. Koch goes for a different approach, making just about everything cute and anthropomorphized, from the ingredients to some of the appliances to the microscopic elements featured in the higher-level scientific explanations.
Maker Comics are certainly a more accessible way to approach learning a new skill than advanced technical documentation, textbooks, or manuals. While they aren’t perfect, they can be useful as introductions to the topics they cover, empowering readers to tackle at least the lower-level projects contained within. As parts of them can be a bit of a deep dive into the science or can be a little dense with technical explanations, they will be most interesting to those with an existing interest in the topics or strong motivation to learn the content.
The publishers recommend both books for ages 9-13. Bake Like a Pro! could work for this age level, but there is no reason older readers won’t enjoy it, as well. I would recommend Fix a Car! for older readers—beginning around high school—especially as teenagers who may have their licenses and even own cars will find the information more helpful and relevant.
Maker Comics: Bake Like a Pro! and Fix a Car!
By Falynn Koch
Maker Comics: Fix a Car!
By Chris Schweizer
First Second, 2019
Publisher Age Rating: 9-13