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Graphic Chemistry: The Science in Comics From Fantasy to Factual

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Published on Dec 9, 2014

What can we learn about chemistry from its representations in comics and graphic novels? We discover that chemists can transform themselves into superheroes, like Hourman with his sixty-minute Miraclo vitamin or The Human Bomb whose slightest touch can trigger explosions. And that chemical accidents can unleash the stretchable Plastic Man or The Flash, Fastest Man Alive, but also the nastiest Bat-villain, The Joker.

The comics medium is also a highly efficient way to convey educational information, from biographies of famous chemists or product promotions for Rayon and rust prevention to surprising and enlightening cartoon strips to engage all ages with the science.

The Royal Society of Chemistry itself recognised comics in 2012 when it awarded the Bill Bryson Prize to cartoonist and Oxford chemistry student Jess Hamm for her superhero team Flask in a Mask, starring Agent Reagent, Heatproof Matt, Periodic Mabel and Hazmat Cat.

Paul Gravett gave an illustrated tour of how chemical characters and stories appear across the whole spectrum of comics, everywhere between sheer fantasies and hard facts. Paul is a comics historian, author of Comics Art (Tate) and co-curator of the Comics Unmasked exhibition at The British Library.

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