Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Profiles in Awesome: Webcomics of SCIENCE!

First, I'd like to mention that SCIENCE! is awesome. SCIENCE! is a way of re-envisioning science and engineering, a counterweight to the negative image that science has among so many people (particularly students) today. SCIENCE! isn't boring, overly complicated, or mechanical; it's a craft, an art, maybe even a superpower. SCIENCE! can be biology, chemistry, or physics, but it can also be biothaumaturgy or crisis theory, transhuman robotics, Frankenstein-style reanimation, or even magic (in the words of one of the webcomics I'm about to mention, "any sufficiently analyzed magic is indistinguishable from science"). You know those shirts that say "STAND BACK, I'M GOING TO TRY SCIENCE"? This is the SCIENCE they mean. Referring back to my previous post, SCIENCE! is quite clearly *not* a purely left-brain enterprise; it requires knowledge, skill, will, and the hubris to want to change the world. So, SCIENCE! is awesome.

So, on to the comics. First, Girl Genius. The setting is a Victorian-era world where a lucky few are blessed/cursed by the Spark, an intuitive talent for all things scientific and technological. Sparks can perform amazing feats of SCIENCE! on a whim, the likes of which normal people can't hope to achieve even with years of study and practice. Of course, they have a tendency to go insane, destroy themselves with their own inventions, or be brought to justice by angry mobs with pitchforks and torches. The hero is a girl named Agatha, who really wants to be good at science but isn't.... And so a steampunk epic ensues. I first discovered this comic on an off-week during exams; for three days, I did nothing but eat, sleep, and read Girl Genius. Not only are the art, characters, story, setting, etc., all amazing, it also updates regularly, three times a week, all the time, which is really rare for webcomics, and even rarer for good ones.

Second, Dresden Codak. This is a very weird comic in which Kimiko Ross, a college student, roboticist, and quantum physicist, explores the strange corners of science and philosophy, along with her possibly nuclear-powered friends Dmitri and Alina. It starts off very strange and random (but hilarious), but eventually gets into an epic saga of futurism and transhumanism (which is also still hilarious). It's a bit less accessible than Girl Genius, because 1) it's full of references to advanced science and obscure philosophy and 2) it's extremely surreal, but it's definitely awesome nonetheless, and even more awesome when you know what it's talking about. The epic saga ended last October, and it doesn't seem to be updating very often anymore, but it's still an awesome read, and unlike Girl Genius could (theoretically) be read in a single day. If you've ever dreamt of becoming the light guiding humanity into a scientific/technological utopia (and who hasn't?), you have no excuse not to read this comic.

As a side note, it occurred to me that the protagonists of both these comics are female. There doesn't have to be a connection or an underlying reason for this, but in my capacity as an untrained amateur sociologist I theorize that it's because SCIENCE! is all about breaking taboos and stereotypes, and one of the strongest stereotypes afflicting science in our society is that women don't do it. So, support the last, best hope for scientific progress: read awesome webcomics, and believe in the power of SCIENCE!

1 comment:

  1. Gonna give these a try, girl genius looks pretty cool :)