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Feynman

A comic review article by: David Fairbanks

Ask most of America to name a physicist and those who don't draw a blank will probably respond with either Einstein, Stephen Hawking or most likely a character from The Big Bang Theory. If you're lucky, they might say Carl Sagan. But the physicist that many of us plucky physics majors wanted to become most was usually one Richard Phillips Feynman. A lover of life and simplicity and art and music and women, Feynman was also one of the most brilliant physicists in the history of humanity.

Chances are, though, if someone outside of Physics knows who he is, it's probably because of his autobiographical anecdotes (collected in Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman and What Do You Care What Other People Think?) or a vague memory of an older gentleman dropping a rubber O-ring into a glass of ice water to explain to the world why the Challenger space shuttle disaster occurred. 

Frankly, this is a shame, as the life and adventures of Richard Feynman feel like a work of hilarious and tragic fiction, easily accessible to the scientifically literate and layperson. 

Jim Ottaviani and Leland Myrick try to bring that story to the realm of comics, giving us the charming Feynman in the pages of their graphic novel biography, Feynman.

For readers of Feynman's autobiographical works, Feynman will retread some familiar ground, from his youth to his safe cracking exploits while working on The Manhattan Project, from his Nobel prize to his quest for Tuva and his untimely demise, but there's a freshness present even in the familiar scenes. 

Feynman's near constant opposition to authority peppers his life, from his youth, to his time in Los Alamos, to his last days, explaining how seven astronauts lost their lives one cold January morning in 1986.

Myrick's loose pencils have touches of Feynman's artistic style floating about, while giving an emotional depth to the people in his life that had to be inferred in prose biographies. The cover alone almost feels more real than photographs of the man, having boiled down his essence into this inquisitive, sly smirk, the outward representation of the scientific curiosity that drove him every day of his life.

Bits from the Feynman Lectures on Physics are present too, as Feynman explains some of the more intriguing ideas posed by quantum mechanics in a way that is easily understood (though don't dare ask yourself “why,” because that's a very different beast of a question).

Ottaviani and Myrick don't really miss a beat, until the last third or so, where a significant number of pages are devoted to presenting physics lectures as comics. I'm impressed that they chose to provide a little education to the reader, and Ottaviani's background in physics is apparent here, but I think it may not be something everyone will like or understand. But there's nothing wrong with that, really, especially if a comic book gets a reader to go out and learn something exciting and interesting about our world.

Richard Feynman had a way of presenting the scientific to the non-scientifically inclined and making it understandable and interesting. Feynman manages to duplicate that experience pretty damn well, while portraying the life of one of the most brilliant minds humanity has ever seen. If you've got even a passing interest in amusing people or the way the universe works (and as a human, you damn well better), you owe it to yourself to pick up Feynman. Grab a drink and a snack, though, as you probably won't put it back down until you've hit the end.

 


 

David Fairbanks doesn't get many things right the first time. He studied physics in college, loves science, music, comics, poetry, movies, books, and education pertaining to all of the above. He will talk your ear off about Grant Morrison and Ben Folds, has an indie bookshelf larger than his Marvel, DC and Vertigo ones combined and if he ever actually grows up, more than anything else, he wants to still be happy as an “adult,” whatever that is.

Mostly self-indulgent ramblings can be found at @bairfanx and untilsomethingbreaks.blogspot.com.

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