Tomorrow is the 204th birthday of two of the most famous men of the last 2.04 centuries: Charles Darwin and Abraham Lincoln. Coincidentally, Darwin: A Graphic Biography has just been published by Smithsonian Books, who are based only 2 miles from Lincoln’s memorial.
Cover and interior pages from Darwin: A Graphic Biography
This is the first time a book I’ve co-authored has been available to buy in American bookstores (as well as the usual online places), so I’ve written a post about how it happened.
I had been a fan of Eugene Byrne‘s writing for years before our first book-length collaboration, Brunel: A Graphic Biography (2006). It was soon after that, while we were working on The Bristol Story, that we started thinking about a Darwin comic book.
Pages from The Bristol Story (2008) and Brunel: A Graphic Biography (2006)
Eugene knew the 200th anniversary of Darwin’s birth was approaching (Brunel had been a bicentenary project) and had told me about the excellent Darwin book by James Moore and Adrian Desmond, which I loved. We could see in Darwin’s life and ideas a lot of potential for another graphic biography. The Beagle voyage, it seemed to me, was perfect comic strip material and Eugene was fascinated by the history of the concept of evolution. We had seen Introducing… Darwin (1982), by Jonathan Miller & Borin Van Loon, but we wanted to use a more story-led format, which had proved successful with Brunel. We put together a proposal, which was commissioned by Andrew Kelly of Bristol Cultural Development Partnership (who had also commissioned both our previous books).
Cover and pages from the 2006 Darwin proposal
The first edition was only available in certain UK towns and cities, but there was demand for it from around the world. In the USA, librarians and teachers wrote requesting copies. In the Netherlands there was sufficient interest in the book for VPRO to invite me to take part in their documentary series Beagle, in het kielzog van Darwin.
Cover of the BCDP edition. Talking to Redmond O’Hanlon for Beagle: in het kielzog van Darwin
In Washington DC, Brian Ireley of Cornell University recognized the value of the comic book format and tirelessly championed Darwin. Thanks to his efforts, Smithsonian Books saw it and approached us about publishing a new edition for U.S. readers.
To have our biography of Darwin associated with the Smithsonian Institution, home of the most visited natural history museum in the world, seemed the perfect fit. Eugene and I spent several weeks last year revising the text and creating new artwork.
One of the panels created for the Smithsonian Books edition.
After more than twenty variants were considered, a new cover design was created using elements of my artwork. I’m really pleased with the cover and also with the paper quality inside.
My author copies arrived on Christmas Eve – good timing.
Reviews started appearing in January:
Publishers Weekly highlighted “its sense of humor and its novel approach to telling the life story of one of history’s most famous and misunderstood scientists“.
Graphic novel review site Grovel said “a fantastic springboard into the life and scientific times of the world’s greatest biologist“.
Multiversity called it “a slim but engaging account of one of the most influential scientists of the 19th century“.
Shortly before the publication date, Eugene was interviewed by The Graphic Novel Reporter, and Smithsonian Books collaborated with the National Center for Science Education to publish an online preview of a key section of the book.
And then finally, last week, Darwin: A Graphic Biography became available, from bookstores all over America and online from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Books A Million and others.
I’ll add links to more places to buy, more reviews and other activity around Darwin’s anniversary as I find it.