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Pow! Splat! Take That, You Darwin Disparagers!
November 30, 2002
"Your species will make perfect slaves for our dung mines!"
gloats Kor-Guu, the giant purple space beetle, wielding a
glinting dagger in one hairy insect claw. "Come out and
fight, you frail little thing. Let survival of the fittest
decide this planet's fate!"
The old man clutching a wooden staff bravely stands his
ground. "You fiend!" he shrieks. "We'll fight you to the
It could be a scene from the latest Tolkien movie, except
that in this case, the bearded ancient routs his opponent
not with Gandalfian magic but with science.
"Do you have any children?" the old man thunders as Kor-Guu
leans in for the kill.
Flustered, the beetle confesses he has none.
that case, Kor-Guu, I win," his adversary declares. "I may
be an old fellow, but I've had several children.
Evolutionary fitness isn't a measure of physical prowess,
you chitinous cretin. It's an index of reproductive
success. In fact, until we hear the pitter-patter of baby
Kor-Guus, your fitness will remain a big, fat zero."
The defeated beetle scuttles off - presumably to attend to
the urgent business of procreation - and the old man
continues on his walk.
So it goes in the pro-evolution comic book world dreamed up
by Jay Hosler, a biology professor at Juniata College in
Huntingdon, Pa., as a way of combating the creeping
influence of creationism.
Though the Supreme Court outlawed the teaching of
creationism in public schools 15 years ago, that hasn't
stopped school boards from finding creative ways to smuggle
it into the classroom. In August, Georgia's Cobb County
school district voted to give students equal instruction in
evolution and its biblical alternatives. For two years,
until a state school board overturned the policy in 2001,
students in Kansas weren't required to study evolution at
all. And last month, the state of Ohio adopted science
standards that critics worry make it all too easy to
incorporate "intelligent design" - which posits a Darwinian
universe shaped by God - into the curriculum.
"Intelligent design is creationism," Mr. Hosler grumbled in
a telephone interview. "They have taken a dirty word and
made it sound scientificky." And in his goofily inventive
"Sandwalk Adventures" series, which made its debut last
December, he's having none of it. Here, Charles Darwin is a
superhero; evolutionary theory is his powerful (if
difficult to draw) secret weapon; and Mara, a talking
follicle mite living in his eyebrow, is his willing if
misinformed acolyte, determined to understand his ideas.
(The fanciful sequence involving the purple space beetle is
something Mara dreams up to explain Darwinian theory to her
bored and skeptical family.)
In four slim, black-and-white installments published over
the last year - the fifth and final one is to arrive in
comic book stores next month, and by March the entire
series will be available as a single volume - Mr. Hosler
narrates Mara's gradual conversion from theological to
evolutionary explanations for creation, while managing to
be surprisingly faithful to Darwin's life. From the layout
of Down House (Darwin's beloved home in Kent) to
"Flycatcher" (the nickname he acquired during his voyage on
the Beagle) to the series' title (taken from the sandy path
where Darwin like to stroll), Mr. Hosler crams his story
with biographical detail.
Still, it's a safe bet that scholarly exactitude isn't the
only thing driving sales, which Mr. Hosler says have
averaged about 1,400 copies an issue. An expert in sensory
biology whose last foray into cartooning was an
award-winning biography of a bumblebee, Mr. Hosler says he
abhors the idea of "educational comics." Hence the action
sequences and mild scatalogical humor (Mara and her brother
spend a lot of time joking about the fact that follicle
mites lack derrières).
Lest readers be confused about the distinction of fact and
fiction, Mr. Hosler has included clarifying footnotes.
"Follicle mites don't have eyes," he writes in a
full-disclosure note at the end of the first installment.
"They don't have uvulas, either. Oh, and they don't talk.
Just wanted to be clear on that."
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