Episode 186: Drawing History: Telling the Stories of Science through Comics and Graphic Novels

Real Heroes

This 1942 Real Heroes comic book cover shows Louis Pasteur alongside military heroes.

How do you show what the inside of an atom looks like? Or how a scientist feels in the moment of discovery?

We decided to approach the human stories of science in a new way: by visualizing them. Our guests, historian Bert Hansen and author and illustrator Jonathan Fetter-Vorm, discuss how the comics of the 1930s, 40s and 50s relayed stories of “real heroes”—including doctors, chemists and physicists, and how new graphic genres are engaging readers and sparking their interest in history and science.

Fetter-Vorm and Hansen suggest that elements of surprise, emotion and showing the impossible work to engage readers in ways that written words alone cannot.

Show Clock

00:04 Introduction

01:15 Studio visit #1: Jonathan Fetter-Vorm in Brooklyn

03:54 Studio visit #2: University of the Arts in Philadelphia

07:00 Bert Hansen on the scientist as hero in old comics

09:06 ARCHIVE AUDIO EXCERPT: "Heroism in Medical Science" from Dupont's Cavalcade of America

10:37 Jonathan Fetter-Vorm on the element of surprise in graphic histories

14:33 BREAK: call to the community

15:06 Bob Kenworthy and Michal Meyer reflect on the science of it all

17:58 ARCHIVE AUDIO EXCERPT: Robert Oppenheimer reflects on the Trinity test

18:58 Jonathan Fetter-Vorm on the magical and the scientific

20:58 Closing credits

Show Notes

Links to content:

"Heroism in Medical Science" from Dupont's radio drama, Cavalcade of America

"Now I am become Death" Robert Oppenheimer speech

Related videos:

"Drawing Stories of Science with Jonathan Fetter-Vorm"  

"How the Public Became Interested in Medical Science"

"Science for Artists: University of the Arts Students Reflect on Animating Objects from CHF's Collection"  


Hosts: Michal Meyer and Robert Kenworthy

Guests: Jonathan Fetter-Vorm and Bert Hansen

Producer: Mariel Waloff Carr

Music Credits:

“Stabbings”- Moby, mobygratis

"Isolate"- Moby, mobygratis

“The Plaintive Heating Griddle”- Ergo Phizmiz, Free Music Archive

“Awake in the Dream”- Infinite Third, Free Music Archive

"Sunny Day"- The Rabbits, Free Music Archive

"Do What You Can"- Lee Rosevere, Free Music Archive

"My Friends"- Quiet Orchestra, Free Music Archive

“Tragic”- Semyon, Free Music Archive



Posted In: History | Medicine | Society | Technology

comments powered by Disqus

By posting your comment, you agree to abide by CHF’s Comment Policies.

The Museum at CHF

The Museum at CHF

Explore the fascinating history of chemistry and the role science plays in the modern world at our museum in Philadelphia.


Distillations Magazine
Support CHF and receive our award-winning quarterly magazine.

Join the Conversation

Distillations Blog logo
Our blog brings the stories of science and culture directly to you.

Stories from the Field

Listen to career insights and stories of scientific adventures from women in chemistry.