Ocean Science Gets Its Own Comic Book


Garfield Kwan, a fourth-year PhD student at Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California San Diego, has a passion not only for science, but also comics. His love for the two resulted in the creation of Squidtoons, a website he launched in 2013 that illustrates science with “farts, burps, and giggles.” Kwan has always been interested in science, outreach, and communication and hopes Squidtoons can help educate the public about science through its visually-appealing yet scientifically-accurate comics.

Kwan is now hoping to expand the site’s reach with the June 26 release of a new book, Squidtoons: Exploring Ocean Science with Comics. The book covers the anatomy of 19 various organisms including the weedy seadragon, the California mantis shrimp, the bone-eating osedax worm, and the tuna crab. While Kwan aimed for the book to appeal to children, he hopes it will also appeal to millennials, a generation that grew up enjoying digital media such as The Oatmeal, a popular comics site.  

“Every single piece we created involves lengthy research at the primary literature level,” said Kwan, noting that a single comic can take months to complete. “Following the scientific paper review process, Squidtoons’ comics are drawn and written as accurately as possible. Our contents are backed by research papers, reviewed by qualified scientific experts, internal editors, and myself, before being published.”

In addition to Kwan, the Squidtoons team includes chief scientific illustrator Dana Song and editor Kaitlyn Lowder. Each team member brings something unique to the table, an asset that has helped develop the Squidtoons book. As a marine biology student, Kwan's studies include how fish otoliths (tiny structures in the inner ear involved in balance and hearing) calcify, and how they are affected by future ocean conditions. Song, the artist and co-author of the book, is a UC San Diego alumna with a background in public health. Lowder is a Scripps PhD student studying ocean acidification on crustacean exoskeletons.

Fortunately for Squidtoons, their work was noticed by an accomplished comic artist who referred the team to Andrews McMeel Publishing. Kwan said the publishers were excited to sign them on after being presented with the team’s pitch.

Many of the comics in the book involved collaboration with Scripps researchers and alumni. For example, “Gimme Babies or Gimme Death,” a comic introducing seadragons and their breeding program, involved Birch Aquarium aquarist Leslee Matsushige and Scripps alumnus Josefin Stiller. The comic “Sharktunes” highlights a recent study led by Scripps scientist and alumnus Andy Nosal on the perception of sharks being influenced by background music and “Market Squids Can Handle Stress, Yo” highlights a recent study led by Scripps alumnus Mike Navarro on embryonic market squid response to ocean stressors.

Kwan hopes to see Squidtoons become his primary outreach tool to communicate his research as he pursues a career in academia. He also hopes to continue collaborating with other researchers who want their work illustrated through comics.

Squidtoons: Exploring Ocean Science with Comics can be purchased at the UC San Diego Bookstore and the Birch Aquarium gift shop after its release date on June 26. It is also available online at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and Indiebound.

For more information on Squidtoons, please visit: https://www.squidtoons.com/.

- Shawndiz Hazegh

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