I hear that quote all the time and from people of all walks of life both teens and adults. Even some who read comic books will reluctantly agree. And who can blame them? The big eyes, colorful pictures, and fast paced action certainly seem to be aimed at children.
Naoki Urasawa, author of Monster and 20thCentury Boys, is not your usual manga writer. You won’t find outlandish facial expressions, ridiculous hair styles, or unbelievable sight gags. Instead you’ll find realistic characters, multilayered storylines, and complex mysteries. Take a look at the two manga covers at the bottom of the page. The first is from Osamu Tezuka's Astro Boy. The second is from Naoki Urasawa's Pluto. Both covers depict the same character, and tell the same story but Pluto radically transforms one of Astro Boy’s first adventures into a complex mystery full of intrigue, betrayal and secrecy.
Pluto follows Geist, a German police officer investigating the murder, one by one, of the world’s strongest robots. The trail he follows leads across the globe, into a world radically changed by the introduction of robotic labor, and also into the past, exploring the terrible consequences of the 39th Middle-East War.
It pulls no punches portraying the gritty consequences of conflict and the quest for weapons of mass destruction. However, Urasawa does so by humanizing the characters, even (or rather especially) the robots. Each of them -from the very human Astro Boy to the monstrously inhuman Pluto- feel real to the reader. You can’t help but empathize with them even as you are reminded of their inhuman origin. Each chapter revealed new layers of the mystery and answered questions implied, by never asked in earlier in the series and even as I mourned the loss of favored characters, I loved how the story unfolded drawing me deeper into the plot volume by volume.
Pluto is a compelling mystery, one that treats the future as respectfully and honestly as any Asimov or Heinlein novel. Point to it the next time that someone dismisses the graphic novel you read as "childish" or use the ideas Pluto explores to debate the nature of humanity. Better yet, hand them a copy of Pluto, and let them discover it for themselves.
Don't miss my other Great Graphic Novels
The Bay Area Science Festival (October 29-November 6) is in full swing. Events and activities are scheduled throughout the Bay Area.
One of my favorite radio programs, Radiolab, will be at Berkeley’s Zellerbach Hall November 3 and 4. The innovative and imaginative team at Radiolab (from their website), “…believes your ears are a portal to another world. Where sound illuminates ideas, and the boundaries blur between science, philosophy, and human experience. Big questions are investigated, tinkered with, and encouraged to grow.“
Joining the fantastic Radiolab duo of Jad Abumrad and Robert Krulwich are comedian Demetri Martin and musician Thao Nguyen. The San José Public Library has Martin’s book, This Is a Book, and the movie, Taking Woodstock in which he plays Elliot Tiber, who played a somewhat controversial role in introducing the Woodstock producers to the Yasgur farm. Nguyen has toured with various musicians, recorded several albums released on the Kill Rock Stars record label and recently scored the documentary, American Teacher.
Join the San José Public Library in this celebration of science as it teams up with the Tech Museum to present the program: Got Bots? Robots with the Tech Museum at: