Resource of the Week: 10 (ten) simple rules for drawing scientific comics

Screenshot of paper, highlighting rule number one, which is "You don't have to be good at art."
Screenshot of paper

Excerpt from the paper Ten simple rules for drawing scientific comics:

There are few scientists who haven’t heard of Randall Munroe, the artist behind the web comic “xkcd,” which features amazing graphic explanations on everything from climate change to data storage. These comics are widely appealing to a diverse audience and are posted on walls in laboratories and pubs alike. The ideas that they explain are complicated, but by simplifying them down to the core messages and by providing simple visual analogies, the comics educate and engage the groups that other media cannot always reach.

[…] There are a number of science- and academic-oriented comics in circulation, including xkcd, PHD, and the authors’ own Errant Science and RedPen/BlackPen.

An effective comic can communicate difficult ideas efficiently, illuminate obscure concepts, and create a metaphor that can be much more memorable than a straightforward description of the concept itself. Comics can be used to punctuate presentations or journal publications [1012] to increase impact. In public health education, comics have long been recognized as an effective tool for reaching lots of different populations for education on subjects like cancer [13], fitness [14], and diabetes [15], to name only a few. A recent trend is for scientists and artists (and scientist-artists) to capture the content of talks at conferences, or indeed entire meetings [16], as graphical notes [17]. […] Certain journals have a “cartoon” category for submission so that the comic will appear in a citable form in publication [18]. Broadly, all of these avenues represent different ways of promoting work to others.

[…] Here, we set out several guidelines that we hope will convince more scientists that drawing your own comics is simpler than you think.

The 10 rules outlined in the paper are:

  1. You don’t have to be good at art.
  2. Comics should be simple.
  3. Make it right, not perfect.
  4. Characters can improve engagement.
  5. Don’t punch down.
  6. Tell a story.
  7. Draw on what you know and find your own voice.
  8. Use your imagination.
  9. Sketch and draft.
  10. Practice, practice, practice and have fun.

Read the full, open-access paper, complete with illustrations (comics!) here. PDF version here.

Citation: McDermott JE, Partridge M, Bromberg Y (2018) Ten simple rules for drawing scientific comics. PLoS Comput Biol 14(1): e1005845. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pcbi.1005845