Science Combines With Art To Produce Educational Comic Book

The true story of Hanny’s Voorwerp is now a comic book produced by two art and design students from Southern Illinois University Edwardsville under the guidance of researcher Pamela Gay in the SIUE Center for Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) Research, Education and Outreach. It will be released nationally Sept. 3.

  • Share on TwitterShare on FacebookShare on Google+Share on LinkedInEmail a friend
I never thought I’d get a chance to turn a true story into what feels so much like a fantasy piece.

Edwardsville, Ill. (Vocus) August 27, 2010

The true story of Hanny’s Voorwerp is now a comic book produced by two art and design students from Southern Illinois University Edwardsville under the guidance of researcher Pamela Gay in the SIUE Center for Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) Research, Education and Outreach. It will be released nationally Sept. 3.

According to Gay, reality is sometimes “cooler than fiction,” especially when it involves monster black holes, glowing green gas, and everyday people making extraordinary discoveries. “All of these realities came together in the story of “Hanny’s Voorwerp,” a real-life tale of scientific adventure that is being released at the Dragon*Con conference in Atlanta, which is considered the world’s largest fantasy/science fiction convention.

“The comic book was produced at SIUE, with line art by Elea Braasch and color by Chris Spangler, both art and design majors here,” Gay said. The comic book also was produced in collaboration with Bill Keel, a professor of astronomy at the University of Alabama.

Artists Braasch and Spangler transformed the story into a piece of art, drawing inspiration from Dave McKean’s work on The Sandman comic book series. “I never thought I’d get a chance to turn a true story into what feels so much like a fantasy piece,” Braasch said. “It’s been an amazing experience.”

The project also shows that science and art can make an interesting pairing. “I’ve always liked astronomy,” Spangler said. “This project allowed me to learn so much while exploring how to combine Hubble images and my own artistic ideas.”

Gay is known for her writings about astronomy and her involvement with Galaxy Zoo, an internationally recognized “citizen astronomy” project, and the highly acclaimed Astronomy Cast and the award-winning 365 Days of Astronomy podcasts. Both shows are produced as collaborations between SIUE and Astrosphere New Media Association.

“In summer 2007, Dutch schoolteacher Hanny van Arkel was exploring galaxies through the Galaxy Zoo citizen science project (http://www.galaxyzoo.org),” Gay explained. “In one image she saw a mysterious glowing blob of gas. She wasn’t the first person to see this blob, but she was the first person to ask, ‘What is the stuff?’

“Her simple question started her and a global team of astronomers on an adventure of discovery that would take them around the world and even into orbit,” Gay said. “This story, including how the Hubble Space Telescope helped solve the mystery, is told in the comic book.”

In the spirit of the “citizen science” nature of this discovery, the comic book was scripted through a citizen writing project. A team of authors was recruited at CONvergence, a three-day science fiction conference in Bloomington, Minn., in early July. Editing of this team project was provided by Gay and Kelly McCullough, author of the WebMage series.

The comic book will be released in digital and physical form at 10 p.m. Eastern time on Sept. 3 during a special event at Dragon*Con. Gay, Braasch and Spangler plan to be present, and the event will be streamed over the internet: http://www.ustream.tv/channel/voorwerp-comic-release.

The first 500 attendees of the event will receive copies of a special first printing of the comic. Online viewers will be able to download a PDF file from http://hannysvoorwerp.zooniverse.org. A second printing will be available for order via the website in mid-September.

The SIUE College of Arts and Sciences combines foundational education with diverse and highly-specialized coursework. Faculty help students explore diversity of ideas, experiences and people while learning to think and live as fulfilled, productive members of a global society. The College offers 44 degree programs in the arts, humanities and social and natural sciences.

SIUE offers the advantages of a small, liberal arts college with the low tuition rates of a state university. Our emphasis on undergraduate education, complemented by faculty research, creates practical applications for student learning. Located in the second most populated area of the state, this Illinois university draws students from all 102 Illinois counties, 42 states and 50 nations.

# # #