Friday , April 19 2024

Comic Review: ‘Club Microbe’ by Elise Gravel from Drawn+Quarterly

Club Microbe by Elise Gravel, published by Drawn and Quarterly, presents microbiology in a way both kids and adults will enjoy. This is a topic that can be exceedingly difficult to wrap one’s mind around with alien-looking, impossibly tiny creatures with complicated names, but Gravel tackles the smallest creatures with enthusiasm and curiosity. Without holding back from the history and nature of microbes, the book shows just how exciting the little beasties can be.

Delightful Art

Gravel’s art is much of what makes Club Microbe such a delight to read. She stays truthful to the complex physical constructs of the microbes with bean-shaped bacteria featuring wiggly flagella, spiky virus balls, and seemingly spider-robot bacteriophage. Yet she makes them adorable by adding features to give the naturally faceless microbes something to identify with. As the microbes themselves tell us when explaining the cartooniness, “Elise puts eyes on everything… and little teeth!” Suddenly the unfamiliar world of microbiology becomes welcoming, pulling the reader into the fascinating world of microbiology that they might otherwise overlook as being too far out there.

Like the Mushroom Fan Club and The Bug Club before it, Club Microbe covers a huge amount of material by fittingly using small introductions. Turning each page reveals something new, such as the families of microbes ranging from bacteria to protists to algae. They are illustrated in distinct ways so that even young readers can tell a microscopic fungus from a virus. Things get even more illustrated as Gravel goes deeper into the microbe family trees with collages of bacteria like the spore-heavy, elongated Clostridium tetani and the spiraled Treponema pallidum, giving the names for recognition without overwhelming the reader with too much facts at once.

From Dirt to Volcanoes

Though a short book, Gravel covers an immense amount of material in Club Microbe. In addition to introducing the microbes, she discusses the variability of microbe environments stretching from dirt to volcanoes to the reader’s own digestive tract. She shows how Prochlorococcus produces oxygen on a massive scale to keep our atmosphere breathable. In the final pages, she gives rapid-fire facts about microbes. The numbers are astounding with more germs in a human mouth than humans on the planet and one germ reproducing to create more than eight million in one day. By giving just a peek, Gravel encourages the reader to do their own research in finding out more.

Friendly and Super Useful

Gravel also examines humans’ interactions with microbes with her approachable method. She shows that the millions of germs in our bodies would be as much as a brick if added all together. They are broken up into “friendly and super useful” roles including influencing our emotional well being and how our bodies absorb nutrients. We use Saccharomyces cerevisiae to make bread rise and different types of lactobacteria to make cheese. While we need to be careful to avoid indulging nasty microbes that can make us sick, there are promising futures together with artificial oil and meat as well as pollution cleanup. As Gravel concludes, “So, have I managed to convince you that microbes are absolutely fascinating?” She does!

About Jeff Provine

Jeff Provine is a Composition professor, novelist, cartoonist, and traveler of three continents. His latest book is a collection of local ghost legends, Campus Ghosts of Norman, Oklahoma.

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