Sick of SCIENCE: Needing a Break

So if you’ve been reading my column for a while now you know I’m a working scientist by day, comic book commenter and podcaster by night. It’s not all that lucrative, but I survive and enjoy what I do. However, in writing a column about comics and science every week the wires have become a bit crossed. It always feels like I’m complaining that comics misrepresent science, always crying out, “You’re doing it wrong!” like some petulant pedantic fanboy (in the negative sense of the word). That’s not what I want, I love comics AND I love science. I think I need a break from the latter though. I do it all day every day and now I’m just tired. It’s the same way when you listen to any of the marvelous Word Balloon podcasts (proudly represented by this very site) and the creator mentions that they just don’t read that many comics. If you do something every day for a living it can be hard to find the enthusiasm for it in your free time. Not impossible, just hard. Imagine how tough it must be for photographers of nude models, it just all looks the same after enough time. Those poor bastards. But I digress. I’m more than just the science, people. Sure, science is my job and my passion, but I’m multifaceted like a quartz sample with hexagonal cleavage (sometimes I just can’t help myself).  I’d like to ignore the fact that I’m surrounded by science books, magazines, papers and notes and instead focus on all the comics that surround me. Yes, my office is a bit cluttered. You guys wanna just read about some comics? I’ll sprinkle in dashes of science here and there, but I need to get through an article without linking to Wikipedia articles on quantum entanglement and biochemical pathways for at least one week.

I don’t remember a time I wasn’t interested in both comics and science; Superman and dinosaurs to be specific. I had stacks of books about dinosaurs that I devoured with the vigor any young boy should. I wasn’t totally single minded though, I loved modern biology, astronomy, all that. And yes, I’m talking about myself at an age when I was still in a car-seat. I know this for a fact because my mom still complains that I pestered her with questions about the nature of the universe while strapped in on my way to daycare. I would not have done well with Calvin’s dad at the helm of my early education. But like any young boy I was also fascinated by superheroes. I think dinosaurs and superheroes fill similar psychological niches for boys: they represent fantastic and unattainable power. Even as tiny children boys are shown images of men that are absurd even by adult standards. Perfect bodies, quaking with masculine energy and a raw sexuality we can’t begin to understand but are told we should want to become. But we know dinosaurs are extinct and we know (maybe) that superheroes aren’t real so we retreat to the still powerful but less intimidating outlets these interests provide. That’s just a thought, and maybe not a very good one, but my articles, like science, are self-correcting. I reserve the right to modify statements in the comments should I be proven wrong (certain exceptions apply).

As encyclopedic as my knowledge was (and is) about dinosaurs from a very young age my knowledge of the superheroic was woefully lacking. I had seen some of the old George Reeves shows as reruns, the amazing Superman cartoon with Tim Daly was still a few years off, and didn’t have a steady supply of comics yet. My stories of the Man of Steel came from an unlikely source: my grandmother. Whenever we spent time together I demanded she tell me stories about Superman. I’m not sure why I expected her to have special knowledge of the Last Son of Krypton. She grew up on a farm in Colorado that I’d spent some time at so maybe I figured Kansas was nearby and they went to school together or something (Grandma actually rode a horse to school for a bit then went to boarding school, clearly I was an idiot). Grandma of course wanted to indulge her first and still cutest grandson so she always had a tale to tell. The problem was neither of us could remember Superman’s secret identity. The Kent part I remembered but his first name always stumped us. I’m pretty sure we ended up using Craig most of the time. So the Adventures of Craig Kent, close enough, right? The stories always involved natural disasters, I doubt Grandma knew any of the villains, so I have vivid imagery of Superman plugging volcanoes and rerouting mudslides. My Grandma has lived all over the country and survived every natural disaster save earthquakes, she had plenty of good examples of the earth attacking her. Even quicksand; my mom almost died, on a horse, in quicksand. I shit you not.

Cartoons like the 90’s Spider-Man and the aforementioned Bruce Timm creations appeared on the scene and that sealed the deal. In between grabbing the latest Animorphs paperback (do NOT disrespect the Animorphs!) I started bugging my mom for comics. The bookstore we shopped at would put together packs of comics, in no discernible pattern or order, but like many young comic readers those issues in the middle of storylines were mesmerizing and perfect in my memory even today. The end of the Trial of Superman? Brilliant! It didn’t matter that I didn’t know who the Eradicator was. The last appearance of Green Goblin? Definitive! (So definitive I can't even find a link to the specific issues, but it was Harry Osborn 1990's era goblin, FYI UPDATE: Hornhead provided the link to the issue in question, thanks!) It was his first appearance for me, but it was a hell of a finale too. My break from comics actually happened in grade school, I read voraciously, just not comics. In high school I’d wander into the graphic novel section of the bookstore and pick up things with cool art. It wasn’t until college when I became a true fulltime reader. Guess I’m a late bloomer.

Phew. Story time is over, I guess I really needed to get that all off my chest. If you’re annoyed by the lack of science I’ll drop a quick tidbit on you just for fun: Sperm whales only have teeth on their bottom jaw. And their name comes from an organ in their head, not some other feature, you perverts.

Ryan Haupt loves science, but sometimes needs a break to just feign ignorance. Alcohol helps. He drinks alcohol every week on his podcast Science… sort of, which isn’t really the break from science he might have hoped for.


  1. DUDE! ANIMORPHS!! Nice article Ryan and I believe this is the definitive green goblin issue. A true classic 🙂

  2. @Hornhead – Thanks! I think that is it, but I had a foil cover. Oh the 90’s.

  3. As a fellow scientist (not really…but sort of…trained as one but now work in consulting…) I really enjoyed this. What kind of research do you do, Ryan? Lemme guess…paleontology?

  4. @Paradiddle – Actually, yes.

  5. SWEET CHRISTMAS! I’m featured in a SCIENCE article! Ahhhh so awesome 😀

  6. Ryan, Animorphs DO rock! does anyone remeber the series with a pre Iceman Shawn Ashmore? Every kids dream is realized here; to turn into something else (this time an animal).

    Ryan, will you do an article on Animorphs? or even the Science of changing into an animal!

  7. Oh Animorphs, you really shaped my childhood. Whether it be your books or TV show; I will always remember you.

  8. @WeaklyRoll – I’ve got bigger plans than just an article…