STEM-themed comics, which would seem to be a natural pairing (because nerds :), are a bit trickier to find than comics for reading or humanities. Many graphic novels make good discussion material for a history class (for example) without necessarily being about history. STEM is a little different—the range of specialized knowledge that falls under the umbrella of “STEM” usually demands that comics are tailored to a particular subject, audience, and/or curriculum.
But there are quite a few STEM-related comics since—if you know where to look.
Many are the product of various governmental and non-profit organizations seeking to make their content more appealing to kids. These range from single-panel “funnies” (like Sciencetoons) to hero-centric comic books like the United States Geological Survey’s Journey Along a Field Line. Many have the added bonus of being created with school curriculum in mind–but the downside is that, once funding dries up, the projects ofter go offline and become difficult to find. My advice: if you find comics you want to use in class, save them! While use for educational purposes should be no problem, make sure to get permission before reprinting comics or re-posting them online.
STEM-themed science comics:
- Science Stories: Amazing Tales from Rothamsted Research Lab: This online comic book features five stories based on insect research. Kid-safe but with middle- to high school-level content and vocabulary.
- Bird and Moon: Charmingly illustrated comics, mostly about plants and animals, that lean towards the humorous rather than instructive. Kid-safe and appropriate for most ages.
- Beatrice the Biologist: These cute short comics about the natural world are suitable for most ages.
- Science Comix: One-page comics about a variety of science topics—mostly natural history. Kid-safe. (Full disclosure: Science Comix are created by the author of this blog post 🙂 ).
- The Adventures of Archibald Higgins: Available in a variety of languages (including the original French and some English translations — brave their terrible website design and search the page for “Our officiel translator for english”). Kid-safe but with middle- to high school-level content and vocabulary.
- Max Axiom: Featuring a “super scientist,” these comic books on a range of science topics are developed especially for young readers.
- Earth and space science comics from Solar-Terrestrial Environment Laboratory. Kid-friendly.
- In book form, check out the Larry Gonick’s classic Cartoon Guides including Cartoon History of the Universe, Physics, and Genetics. You might also check out the manga guides from No Starch Press, including the Manga Guide to Physics, Calculus, and the Universe.
- Science: A Discovery in Comics: This comic book walks you through the very basics of what is science and on to a tour from ancient Greece to modern theories of physics.
- Boxplot: Appearing on Popular Science and NPR, Boxplot features comics accompanied by explanations of the science behind them. Probably best suited for upper grades.
- XKCD: “A webcomic of romance, sarcasm, math, and language,” XKCD’s comics range from soulful observations of daily life to science insider jokes that may require an advanced degree to understand. Not all of them are appropriate for all ages. Favorites include: Height (The Observable Universe), [Electromagnetic] Spectrum (mind the bodily fluids humor), Gravity Wells, and Science Montage.
- Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal: Intended to be funny rather than instructive, SMBC comics are not exclusively about science (ranging from science and philosophy to dirty jokes) and and many are not safe for work. Not kid-safe.
- PhD: A humorous comic about academia, PhD comics will probably be most appreciated by college students, but PhD TV has some great videos featuring real scientists and real research.
- Unearthed Comics: Mostly related to biology and planetary science, these one-panel comics are funny because science. Kid-safe.
- Newton and Copernicus: This comic follows the adventures of two lab mice. Kid-safe (if you don’t count discussions on the implications of using animals in research.)
- The Science of Superheroes, the Science of Supervillains, and the Physics of Superheroes: These books by Lois Gresh and James Kakalios use “classic” superhero comics as a way to talk about science and physics but, bewilderingly, are not themselves comics or graphic novels. In fact, they are very text heavy and quite dense. But if you care to read through them, you might use them to transform superhero comics into launching pads for discussions of science.
- Bonus: Although not directly educational, Fox Trot‘s geeky main character has always been a favorite protagonist of mine. Kid-safe.
This isn’t an exhaustive list. There are a few projects I’ve heard of that have since gone offline, and I’m sure there are many more I just don’t know about—yet! What STEM-themed comics/graphic novels am I missing?