Trade Post: Feynman, Two-Fisted Science & Pumpkinheads

I’ve long been a proponent of local libraries. I use my area’s system constantly, requesting books and trades from several counties away to expand my literary horizons. But, it’s also fun to actually go to the library itself and just see what they have! A few weeks ago, after my son’s dance class, we walked over to the nearby branch and I had a great time perusing the stacks while he hung out with one of his friends. I walked out of there with a great stack of books!

One of the first books to pop out at me was Feynman, a First Second graphic novel by Jim Ottaviani and Leland Myrick. As it happens, back in 1999 I was wandering through the artist alley of a comic convention (either in Michigan or Ohio, I can’t quite remember). While I’ve adopted more of a New York City approach to bum rushing my way through those things now due to ever-bubbling anxiety, back then I used to be more open to talking to comic folks trying to hawk their wares. Jim Ottaviani was one of those guys and I walked out of that show with a copy of the Two-Fisted Science collection which showcased many scientists including Richard Feynman.

So, I was excited to read this comic biography dedicated to the man. To be honest, I didn’t remember much about that earlier book, but I did have a vague respect for the man. That was rejuvenated like whoa while reading this OGN. Feynman was a physicist whose mind worked on a different level. He not only worked on the Manhattan Project, but also explored quantum physics and re-wrote the book on how the very subject was taught. Feynman was an infinitely curious guy who appreciated art as much as science and did a lot for the world, but also was just a super interesting guy himself thanks in part to his carefree attitude towards social conventions. Ottaviani took a variety of different sources and wove a narrative that felt perfectly fleshed out — and rendered by Myrick — but also made me want to keep learning about this fascinating guy.

With that in mind, I dug out my copy of Two-Fisted Science which was by Ottaviani and a host of artists including Mark Badger, Colleen Doran, Steve Lieber and Bernie Mireault plus Paul Chadwick on the front cover and Guy Davis on the back! This graphic novel does feature Feynman, but also digs into Galileo, Isaac Newton, Robert Oppenheimer and plenty of others. It was interesting that Ottaviani used some of the same Feynman stories in this book that he would also translate to the graphic novel all those years later. It was a bit like reading a re-run, but it was also fun to see how two different artists can bring the same story to life in such vastly different ways!

I had a roommate in college majoring in physics who was surprised when I recognized Feynman’s name. I think I even let him borrow it which was cool because I didn’t know too many people who read comics then. One of the great things about this book is that it actually shows how varied the medium of comics can be. Many people only think of super heroes as subjects, not scientists. There’s also some incredibly out-there cartoony art in this collection that looks like it could have come from the underground comix scene in the 60s or the 80s movement. Two-Fisted Science gave me just a glimpse of what comics could really do while also dropping some knowledge in my brain!

Finally, I read Pumpkinheads by Rainbow Rowell and Faith Erin Hicks, another First Second book as it happens. This graphic novel follows high school pals, Deja and Josiah, on their last day working at an amusement park-level pumpkin patch. Josiah’s been pining for a fellow co-worker he’s never talked to, so Deja pushes him to finally meet her, while also grabbing as many delightful park delicacies as possible.

In addition to developing a beautiful world that felt both unique and familiar, this story does a great job of capturing the feeling that comes when a big part of your life ends, especially in high school. These main characters a seniors who love their job, but it’s the end of the season, so a major door is closing even if it’s not the one we’re used to seeing in films and TV. I had a job like this that I absolutely loved in high school (these are some nice rose colored glasses I scored recently) and was really bummed when I left. Heck, a bunch of people from Barry’s came to my going away party when I moved to NY!

I also really appreciated how well the character of Josiah was realized, mostly because he’s totally me. He’d rather keep something beautiful in his mind instead of ruining with something pesky like reality. It’s so much easier to just tuck yourself behind a shell and not put yourself out there. Overcoming that can be one of the hardest parts of life for people like Josiah and myself. It’s touch and I appreciate how Rowell and Hicks developed him and bounced him off of the incredible Deja, who reminds me of many great people in my life as well. That’s a good mix if you can get it.

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