The first in a science comics trilogy designed to teach young readers about human biology, Gomdori Co.s’ Survive! Inside the Human Body (No Starch Press) is a rollicking children’s sci-fi comic that also works as a study tool. Inspired by the Sixties-era flick Fantastic Voyage (which memorably gave us the sight of a wet-suited Raquel Welch being attacked by antibodies), the Korean manhwa centers on Geo, a young boy “King of Survival” who accidentally winds up in the body of his friend Phoebe, after she swallows a miniaturized mini-sub carrying our hero and the ship’s inventor Dr. Brain.
Sent into the girl’s digestive system, the only hope is for our duo to make their way through her body without falling victim to Phoebe’s teeth, stomach acid or the various inhabitants – like a passel of pesky hookworms – living within the young girl’s guts. While Phoebe remains oblivious to the presence of a mini-sub inside her, Dr. Brain’s high-strung assistant Kay struggles to keep the girl from doing anything that might jeopardize our miniaturized explorers, resulting in a series of humorous body function jokes that you know will go over big with young student readers. At one point, we see Kay digging into a Korean chamber pot, hoping that he will find the miniaturized sub there. He doesn’t, since our duo are also set to explore the circulatory and neurological systems in subsequent volumes, though we do get a pixilated glimpse into the chamber pot.
The main focus is on Geo and Dr. Brain in that mini-sub, of course, with the latter pontificating on each area as they pass through or are threatened by it. In one chapter, for instance, when their tiny sub is threatened by stomach acid, they protect themselves by coating the sub with an enzyme produced by the only bacteria capable of surviving in the stomach. Scripter Seok-young Song has a knack for combining frantic over-the-top comic adventure with biological fact. There are text sections that also elaborate on the science in between each chapter of story, though I’ll be honest and admit that I skipped these on my first read-through as I was more invested in what Song threw at his heroes than in the learning thing.
Artist Hyun-Don Han presents it all in a cartoony yet informatively detailed style. His use of hyperbolic body language – when Phoebe belches, opening the way from her stomach to the duodenum, she really belches. Unlike Japanese manga, Korean manhwa is formatted to be read from left to right, though it does engage in many of the same visual conventions (our cast sweats profusely when stressed, for example). No Starch Press, which describes itself as providing “The Finest in Geek Entertainment,” has been publishing educational Eastern comics for several years now (see their Manga Guides series of books), though to this reader’s eyes, the Survive! books are the most aesthetically successful in their blend of kinetic action and learning matter. Recommended for the parent who wants their 8+-year-old to get a leg up on human biology – provided you’re not the type to get thrown by your kid snickering over poop jokes.