Our newest Affiliated Artist is Garfield Kwan, a fish physiologist and a scientific communicator. In his most recent project Squidtoons, Garfield works with other artists to translate current research into visually appealing yet scientifically accurate comics, illustrations, and infographics. Read the Q&A below to get to know the newest artist in the Alliance family!
Climate Science Alliance (Alliance): What inspired you to "illustrate science with farts, burps, and giggles"?
Garfield Kwan (Garfield): Squidtoons is my response to the politicizing and inaccurate depiction of scientific research. One big bonus is that comics are disarming and inviting - which is crucial for certain topics like climate change. Back in 2011, Senator Tom Coburn’s report came out criticizing NSF’s funding of wasteful / silly science projects. The one that tops the chart was the “shrimp on the treadmill” study. To the layperson, the title of this study does seem silly. However, this is actually an ingenious way of quantifying the energy level (the amount of time it can keep running) of an animal you cannot communicate with (the shrimp) under various conditions (changes in temperature, salinity … etc.). As an undergraduate researcher aiming to pursue a doctorate degree in fish physiology, I was furious at the misleading depiction and the helplessness of the situation. That is about the time when The Oatmeal published a piece that was very different from his earlier stuff – “Why the mantis shrimp is my new favorite animal”. He was able to combine complex educational concepts into colorful (often ridiculous) comics, and therefore provided the spark that Squidtoons spawned from (began in 2013 after I finished my undergrad).
Looking back, I realized comics had a deep impact throughout my life. I started reading comics long before I learned English. In Hong Kong, I read “Garfield” comics in Cantonese. When I immigrated to America, I chose my own name after the famous orange cat. Reading books in English was not easy, and I was often drawn back to Garfield comics (but in English). I’ve since realized comics are a perfect medium for teaching as the combination of (short) text and (appealing) images provides a more complete, beginner-friendly language. And since not everyone has the time or sanity to be an expert at a researcher’s level, Squidtoons can become the perfect advocate and bridge between the public and the research community.
Alliance: What role does science communication play in your life and your art?
Garfield: Science communication is my life. Marine biologist and other scientists across the field have to communicate as part of their job - I merely choose to do so with visual comics and artwork. As a future professor (hopefully), one portion of my lab will be dedicated to science communication to foster a new generation of scientific communicators.
Alliance: What advice would you give to a Climate Kid?
Garfield: Don't wait, start speaking up and fighting for your voice in this world.
Be sure to check out Garfield's book, Squidtoons! For updates and new projects, follow along here: