I have a little announcement to make, so please allow me an unusually long post.
When I decided to become a freelance cartoonist in 2013, after finishing my PhD, I never seriously considered returning to academia. I simply didn’t think there would be an institution that would accommodate – even less support – my strange mix of interests. And probably there wasn’t, until Columbia University created the Presidential Scholars in Society and Neuroscience (PSSN for short) with the ambitious goal of creating:
a new paradigm for interdisciplinary university-sponsored research to advance understanding of mind, brain, and behavior, and the social foundations and consequences of new neuroscientific findings.
I only discovered the program in September 2015, when I first travelled to New York, and I just couldn’t believe my luck. The PSSN postdoc seemed like the position of my dreams and the next round of submission was only a few months away. I immediately started working on a proposal titled ‘Visual Narratives for Science Communication‘ and thinking of ways to bridge the gap between the apparently distant worlds of science and comics.
The good news is that my proposal was accepted! This means that I will have the chance to fully develop this interdisciplinary project and explore how we can use visual narratives to communicate science. I think the proliferation of science-inspired cartoons, animations and webcomics already proves their great potential, but as a scientist I want to go deeper and try to understand the cognitive mechanisms behind visual narrative communication.
Because I think scientists need new communication tools and I believe comics can help us. My hope is that soon they will not be considered just some ‘funny’ way to talk about science but an essential tool for science education. I hope one day to see a professional community of science cartoonists just like the community of science journalists we have today.
Finally – and this is one of the main reasons for me to write this post – I want to make clear that I can’t do this alone. We need interdisciplinary answers for interdisciplinary problems. Luckily, over the past years, I have already met many brilliant people, from many different fields, willing to support me. But I’m sure there are more out there who can contribute to this new emerging field. So, if you are interested in this project, whether you are a scientist, a journalist, a cartoonist, a designer, or any combination of these and much more… please DO get in touch. I’d love to hear from you, what you think and how we can collaborate.
I have big plans and more news will follow soon but in the meanwhile thank you all for supporting my work. I hope you will join me on this new adventure.
I made this crowd illustration for Ctrl Group, a research and design company working in the field of digital healthcare and health-related technologies. It was really fun to draw because this is such an exciting (and complex) new world. Health apps, personalized genomics, caretaker robots, brain stimulators… Who knows what the future holds? One thing is sure: these guys are going to design the hell out of it! Keep an eye on them.
Hey, did you know that you can now preorder the new issue of LÖK ZINE which is all about cryptozoology? Personally, I contributed with a double illustration about the shadow biosphere (also called ‘weird life’) a controversial theory which argues that since we always look for ‘familiar’ life (composed of the usual stuff: proteins, RNA, DNA) we may have completely missed some non carbon-based microorganisms which could have evolved here on Earth! However unlikely I think it’s a fascinating idea, especially as we start looking for extraterrestrial life which may not look at all as we may expect…
NOTE: the first half of the illustration was inspired by the petroglyphs carved in the so-called ‘desert varnish‘ which has been suggested as a trace of weird life. The second half of course was completely made up (although some sculptures that I have seen at the latest MoMA Picasso exhibition definitely provided some inspiration). Also, I strongly recommend this Mosaic article if you are interested in the ultimate question of “what is life?” (something that has always fascinated me as a biologist).
For a long time I meant to write something about the troubled history of the Human Brain Project, the EU flagship project which promises to create a computer simulation of the human brain by 2023. I am interested in this project partly because computational neuroscience was the subject of my PhD and partly because I think it raises many important questions regarding scientific funding.
When last year Graphic-News asked me to draw an article for them I immediately suggested this topic and here is my first piece of graphic journalism! Now finally available also in English:
(Full disclosure: I am one of the scientists who signed the open letter to ask for revisions of the HBP project).
Hi all, I hope your 2016 is going well. Mine started under the sun of Mexico, where I’m spending a whole month relaxing, reading and working on my next book about the science of sensory perception. Amongst the things I am reading there is a collection of short stories by Italo Calvino Sotto Il Sole Giaguaro. A friend first recommended it to me because the titular story is settled in Mexico but I then discovered that also the Calvino stories were meant to be part of a book on the 5 senses (unfortunately he died before writing the stories on touch and vision). Galvanised by this coincidence I decided to start the year with a little illustration based on the story about taste. It is about a troubled couple which, while travelling in Mexico, develops a strange obsession about food and its role in ancient Aztec rituals…
Here is a little excerpt from the original story (sorry English-speaking folks, you can look up the translation if you want: Under the Jaguar Sun):
“Non Mangi?” mi chiese Olivia che sembrava concentrata solo nel gustare il suo piatto ed era invece come al solito atttentissima, mentre io ero rimasto assorto guardandola. Era la sensazione dei suoi denti nella mia carne che stavo immaginando, e sentivo la sua lingua sollevarmi contro la volta del palato, avvolgermi di saliva, poi spingermi sotto la punta dei canini. Ero seduto li davanti a lei ma allo stesso tempo mi pareva che una parte di me, o tutto me stesso, fossi contenuto nella sua bocca, stritolato, dilaniato fibra a fibra. Situazione non completamente passiva in quanto mentre venivo masticato da lei sentivo anche che agivo su di lei, le trasmettevo sensazioni che si propagavano dalle papille della bocca per tutto il corpo, che ogni sua vibrazione ero io a provocarla: era un rapporto reciproco e completo che ci coinvolgeva e travolgeva.
Quick commercial announcement: I made these fireworks postcards to celebrate the new year. You can buy them in two color variants professionally printed from Thortful, or get the exclusive screen-printed and hand-cut edition from my online shop. They make a nice present for all your nerdy friends and they’re also a simple way to support your dear artist while he’s working on a new book 🙂
PS: I’m going to be drawing in Mexico for a while (because why not?) and I hope to post something from there, but if not I wish you all a happy new year and some non-religious humanist holidays.
I’m working on so many projects at the moment that I really shouldn’t have done this, but in the end I couldn’t resist the temptation of doing a little Halloween drawing (especially with all the beautiful ‘haunted’ houses I’m seeing around Brooklyn these days). So here you go, I have decided to pay tribute to some of my favourite mad scientists in comics, films and video games – how many can you recognize?
NOTE: while working on this I quickly realised that even in fiction scientists seem to be all middle-aged white males, so depressing… we really need more mad women in here! Luckily io9 already did some excellent research on the topic but I still think it’s fertile territory for cartoonists. Maybe it’s time to go back to my Rosetta character…
I had been in New York only for a few days when Scriberia wrote me from London to ask me if I wanted to do a scribituary about Oliver Sacks. I couldn’t imagine a more appropriate commission than celebrating the great master of scientific writing, who was born in London 82 years ago but lived in New York for most of his life, so I eagerly accepted.
Here is the final result, which of course you can also find on the Scriberia journal, together with many other illustrated obituaries. It was hard to choose the most relevant facts in his incredible life but one thing was sure: the colour had to be some shade of indigo (listen to this Radiolab episode if you want to find out why, and learn more about Dr.Sacks).
It’s scientifically proven that experiencing new environments is good for your brain. Or maybe not, maybe I just made that up. At least I hope it doesn’t do you any harm because after 7 years in London I have decided to relocate to New York for a few months. The choice was mostly dictated by ‘personal’ reasons but of course I’m pretty psyched to be in the homeland of many of my favourite cartoonists! I will try to explore the city (i.e. get lost) and draw as much as possible so hopefully you’ll hear from me soon… in the meanwhile if you have any recommendation for things to do around here give me a shout. Thanks!