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Rosemary Mosco

Speaking to… Rosemary Mosco: science and comics

Rosemary Mosco

“I’m a lifelong nerd. I grew up reading funny daily comics like Bloom County, and filling notebooks with my own awful versions.”

This is part of a series of interviews with science communicators about science communication. Today we are Speaking to… Rosemary Mosco.

What is your scientific background?

I have an MS from the University of Vermont’s Field Naturalist Program, with a focus on online climate change outreach. I’ve also absorbed a lot of material through work with wildlife surveys and nonprofits. I try to get out and experience a lot of fieldwork, from hunting mudpuppies in the winter to chasing snakes in the summer.

Why do you think science communication is important?

Because every day, scientists are discovering the most incredible and vital facts about our world, and it’s absolutely important that the rest of us know what’s going on. Also, because my pet issue is climate change, and if we don’t all understand why it’s urgent, the animals and plants I love (not to mention the people) will suffer.

What type of science communication do you do?

I feel like I’ve tried almost everything! I’ve done podcasts, video games, writing, comics, workshops and field walks… and I’m sure there’s more I’m forgetting. It’s been really fun.

Have you always been into comics?

Oh yes — I’m a lifelong nerd. I grew up reading funny daily comics like Bloom County, and filling notebooks with my own awful versions. Books like Jeff Smith’s Bone have had a huge impact on me.

Do you find them a useful medium for communicating science, and why?

Science comics can be a quick read (like xkcd), or a long engrossing multi-page work (like Jay Hosler’s Clan Apis). In both cases, they can blend writing and diagrams in a way that’s not too intimidating. The only trouble is that it’s so hard to squeeze a concept into a strip without adding novel-length footnotes explaining the science. For your own sanity, you have to strive for balance in that respect.

What is it that comics do for sci-comm that media such as journalism, TV and Radio cannot offer?

Oh, I love science TV, and I worked in radio. I think that comics can work in concert with them. Short comic strips have the advantage that they be easily distributed through Tumblr or Facebook, and people can read them quickly. Also. it’s hard to print out an episode of Radiolab to put on your study room door.

Why do you think they aren’t as popular as other forms of sci-comm?

I’m not sure! I feel like I’m totally biased because I read a lot of science comics. What really surprises me is how few biology comics exist (I couldn’t say why… maybe it has to do with gender differences in science, but that’s such a complicated issue).

Can you give some examples of comics used for science communication that people may come across in the mainstream media?

There are a lot of science webcomics, like Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal and PhD Comics. In terms of print stuff, Jim Ottaviani’s been putting out AMAZING books about Feynman and Cope and Marsh and all sorts of scientists. They’ve gotten a lot of great press.

What are the limitations of using comics in communicating science?

Like I said above, I feel like there’s not always the space to explain all of my choices. Also, it’s so nice to hear directly from a scientist through videos or radio — putting a voice to a journal paper is nice.

How do you come up with the ideas for your comics?

I do a lot of hiking and reading. I shell out a lot of money on field books. Also, I have really brilliant biologist friends who send me information and laugh along with me.

What has been your favourite comic?

I really liked Science vs. Art (see below). I’d been doing a bunch of reading about their long and complicated relationship, and I needed to blow off some steam and express how much I love them both.

Science vs Art Rosemary Mosco
Science vs Art
Rosemary Mosco

Do you write comics on all sciences, or do you focus mostly on the nature/wild life side of it?

I pretty much focus on things like botany and wildlife. It’s what I studied in school, and I wouldn’t feel comfortable making jokes about, say, oncogenes. It’s hard to get started in a part of biology without a little bit of help from mentors.

What messages do you try to focus on in your comics?

Hmm. 1. Nature is infinitely complicated. 2. But that doesn’t mean that it can’t also be funny and heartwarming. 3. So we should take care of it.

Who is your main audience?

Anyone who’s interested :)

Do you have any tips for those who want to become science communicators?

Study some science. Be tenacious and creative, and cherish relationships with professors who encourage your creativity. Be aware that there isn’t a defined career path, so you may have to cobble together 5 different jobs, but that can be fun, too!

Have a look at what Rosemary is up to on her website or have a look at some of her comics on Bird and Moon. You can also follow her on Twitter at @RosemaryMosco