Comics, scientific illustration & sleeping insects

What do scientific articles have in common with comics?

Well, they can both use arrangements of images to convey ideas.

Abstract comics expert Andrei Molotiu inspired me to keep an eye out for their overlapping approaches. He gave compelling examples of how “natural, physical phenomena can be structured by human activity to seem to echo, or be echoed by, abstract comics. For example, visual records of various scientific processes are usually arranged for publication in sequential art form”.

This is not only true for abstract comics — abstract forms that morph, meet, grow outward or shrink over time; it also happens in more figurative depictions. Image arrangements can suggest the movement of time, or can represent a kind of mosaic that gives an overview of different situations.

In two lovely studies about sleeping behaviours of bees and ants I learned that not only do insects sleep, they may also dream.

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A sequence that shows how an active bee (A) becomes a sleeping bee (D): time moves on as you ‘read the panels’.

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A ‘mosaic’ that shows different states of ant activities: awake and asleep. A contrast-and-compare puzzle. Note the differences in antennae and mouth. A dozing fire ant queen sleeps with her mouth open and antennae slightly raised; a queen in deep sleep has her mouth closed and antennae folded inward. When her antennae start to quiver in deep sleep, it may be a sign that she’s dreaming — kind of like rapid eye movements in larger dreaming animals, such as humans.

Knowing this, insects become ever-more mysterious yet relatable at the same time. These types of studies blow my mind, and also provide good starting points for how to convey aspects about these little lives through visual narratives. Yep, there is a comic in the making here.