Friday, March 13, 2009

OPTICAL ALLUSIONS by Jay Hosler

OPTICAL ALLUSIONS is the latest book by Jay Hosler published by his Active Synapse Comics. Two of Hosler's prior books, CLAN APIS (the life story of a bee) and THE SANDWALK ADVENTURES (Darwin explains the basics of evolution to a follicle mite) are among my favourite modern comics, mixing some great art, imaginative storytelling and good humour with solid science to tell stories that also inform. Or as his company slogan says, "Probably Good For Your Brain".

As you'd guess from the title and cover, Hosler's newest book takes a look at the workings and evolution of the eye. It follows the quest of a walking brain named Wrinkles to find the lost eye of his bosses, going through time and space and learning things as he goes. Along the way he encounters Charles Darwin, the super-hero Cow-Boy (from Hosler's comic strip and one-shot comic book), pirates, characters from Greek myths and mad scientists. It's all very strange, but entertaining, and informative as well. I did think that in the last few chapters some of the technical details bogged down the story and didn't flow as naturally as they did in the first half, or throughout Hosler's previous books, but then he's trying to describe something quite intricate.

A major change in this book from the previous two is that it makes a big shift towards the educational in the form of illustrated text chapters between the comic story chapters to explore the concepts in greater detail. I mostly skimmed through those the first time through the book, but they seem pretty clearly written at a grade-school level and with some good humour and real-world examples to keep it from being as dry as science texts can be. Truthfully, being pretty far removed from the age those are aimed at, I'd have preferred to see a lot more comics and a lot less textbook (it's about a 50/50 mix), but I think both sections of the book will work for the intended audience.

Hosler's cartooning is great throughout, very expressive, with imaginative character designs of some of the most absurd things, while still remaining very realistic for the more science oriented stuff.

Overall I recommend the book, although with a few more reservations than I would CLAN APIS or THE SANDWALK ADVENTURES. Definitely check those two out, and if you like what you see get this one too.

Here's a page I really enjoyed, from the Darwin chapter:



You can read more about the book, including a preview of the first six pages, in articles at Newsarama and Comic Book Resources.

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