Science Comics have journeyed back in time to the discovery of dinosaur fossils, into the center of a volcano, and deep into the mystery of the human brain. In The Digestive System, a cheerful bacteria leads readers on “a tour through your guts,” showing the intricate, gross, and amazing portions of the human digestive system.
After an introduction from a gastroenterologist, E, a friendly bacteria, shows up to start the tour of your mouth. Occasionally pausing for mitosis, E explains the functions of the teeth and tongue, different kinds of nutrients, and the amazing properties of saliva. Meeting various cells and bacteria along the way, they are swallowed down the throat and into the stomach. With fantasy-style jokes, like a wizard saying cholecystokinin as a spell and controlling the release of gall from the gall bladder, E travels with readers through the absorption of nutrients, the function of proteases, lipids, and more. E finally travels down into the colon, where they are reunited with their family and make a startling discovery about their identity. It all ends with a final journey down through the plumbing and a cheerful goodbye from E.
This text-heavy comic can be daunting, moving rapidly between humorous cartoons about flatulence and rumbling stomachs to diagrams of the functions of villi. There is a glossary in the back, as well as some additional diagrams of the digestive system of a sampling of animals, but the main focus of the book is moving quickly through the various parts of the digestive system and the information can sometimes get a little confusing. However, Viola does a great job of periodically reviewing what has been covered so far in a broader overview, which will help readers who have gotten in over their heads.
Ristano’s art is both humorous and scientific, with cut-aways of cells, organs, and diagrams that branch into larger magnification so readers can see exactly what is happening. There’s also a lot of humor woven into the story, from the expected potty humor to more classic fantasy tropes—you could almost play the book as a Dungeons and Dragons tour, with grouchy bacteria, laid-back fiber, and daring quests into the far reaches of the gut. The liver is shown as a factory workplace with signs reading “In Gut We Trust” and “Detox” as liver cells are hard at work. Lymph nodes, shown as red blobs with blue hats, drag off a suspicious peanut and send a message to the brain, causing an allergic reaction. A bacterium merges with an archaeon and becomes a powerful eukaryote, determined to rule the world (or at least its bit of stomach).
This is both dense and light-hearted, an informative combination of fart jokes and scientific exploration, which will be of most interest to strong readers who still like Captain Underpants-style humor. Biology teachers will find this a refreshing review for how the digestive system works and tweens with an interest in medicine will be the perfect audience for this latest Science Comic.
Science Comics: The Digestive System: A Tour Through Your Guts
By Jason Viola
Art by Andy Ristaino
Macmillan First Second, 2021
Publisher Age Rating: 9-13 years old
NFNT Age Recommendation: Tween (10-13)