How did the universe begin? What happens to stars when they die? Big Bangs and Black Holes: A Graphic Novel Guide to the Universe is a short, fast-paced introduction to the field of cosmology. Presenting the key theories that shape our current understanding of the origin and nature of the universe, this graphic novel captures the wow factor of studying the cosmos and shines light on the complex process of scientific discovery.
Producing a 64-page comic about some of the most mind-bending concepts in science is no mean feat, and writer/illustrator HERJI and physicist Jérémie Francfort present a strong offering. Narrated by cosmologist Celeste Aster and her sidekicks, niece Gabrielle and real-life astrophysicist Michel Mayor, Big Bangs and Black Holes uses a conversational tone to outline three big ideas in cosmology: Einstein’s model of space-time, the Big Bang, and black holes. Playful full-color illustrations pair challenging science concepts with accessible imagery: space-time is a beach towel covered with objects that distort its surface, redshifted cosmic background radiation is pastry being distorted by a rolling pin, and black holes are… well, so strange that the artist doesn’t resort to metaphor, instead presenting images of an astronaut falling past an event horizon and being stretched out in a memorable process known as “spaghettification.”
Big Bangs and Black Holes doesn’t shy from hard concepts, and it embraces as its central message that science is an ongoing journey of discovery. Each chapter details how we know what we know—usually a mix of astronomical observation and fiendishly hard math—and highlights questions that we have yet to resolve, such as the nature of black holes, whether current theories mesh with observations of “dark matter” and “dark energy,” and of course, why the Big Bang happened in the first place. Readers are encouraged to understand science not just as received wisdom, but an evolving body of knowledge they can follow and even, perhaps, participate in. As part of facilitating readers’ ability to see themselves as part of this conversation, the book attempts to be inclusive, despite depicting a field that has historically been dominated by white men. Dr. Aster, a white woman, is accompanied by her niece, a young woman of color, and astronomer Henrietta Leavitt is featured for her discovery of an important method for determining the distance of stars.
Due to its length, Big Bangs and Black Holes doesn’t function as a comprehensive overview of cosmology, but engaged readers will find enough here to guide future learning, and the eye-catching illustrations will serve as a useful aid to understanding the associated physics concepts. That said, this book is such a fast-moving overview of its topic that it may not connect with a wide audience. The jokey tone and illustrations feel most suitable for middle or early high school, but the vocabulary and complex material may be difficult for students of this age. Motivated young readers will have a blast, but science novices may wish this was a longer book with a bit more hand-holding along the way.
It’s not every day that you come across a graphic novel that gets into the nitty-gritty of astrophysics with a young audience in mind. Intelligent, goofy, and executed by an artist who’s mastered the nuts and bolts of illustrating science comics, Big Bangs and Black Holes is worth consideration for nonfiction collections serving young adults.
Big Bangs and Black Holes
By HERJI, Francfort Jérémie
Art by HERJI
Publisher Age Rating: 13-17
NFNT Age Recommendation: Older Teen (16-18), Teen (13-16)
Creator Representation: Swiss