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Saturday, January 21, 2012

Feynman

Feynman
a graphic novel by Jim Ottaviani and Leland Myrick

It is no wonder this book made the 2011 Cybils Graphic Novel Shortlist! And I'm so glad it did. I looked back at my notes and saw this little list: Funny, Interesting, Educational!

The book is made up of vignettes -- sometimes they connect sequentially to one another, sometimes not -- and they give you a sense of what he did and who he was, rather than discussing scientific "contributions."

The book is written as though it were an autobiography, which makes sense because Feynman wrote several books about his own life. I had tried, some years back, to read Surely You're Joking Mr. Feynman, but couldn't.  I was missing out on all the jokes my older brother thought were so funny. So I was particularly glad the graphic novel worked for me. Because Ottaviani draws from extensive, impressive research ("our stack of Feynman material is over a meter high..." he says in the bibliography), those who've read Feynman's books will find new in with the familiar.

I was unsure of whether or not I'd like this one, despite all the good I had heard about it, because I hadn't liked Ottaviani's T-minus: The Race to the Moon. Good news! I found Feynman easy to follow and engaging -- even fascinating.

When Jacob first saw me with the book, he said something like, "Oh, Feynman. He was a notorious ladies' man."

"Hm!" I thought. "I wonder how that will be treated in the book!"

I liked the way that you got a sense that he was a ladies' man without explicit description. The ladies' man stuff is all implied. Myrick's art depicts nudes in the book: during art class, at the bath house, and in the topless bar Feynman defended in court. Myrick's art style is such that the nudity is not offensive to me.

The art from panel to panel is very styled, while still firmly planted in reality. It was amazing how Myric made Feynman look a different ages, back and forth, but kept him similar enough that I still knew it was him. Myrick's use of color is worth mentioning, too. It defines the end of a story and the beginning of the next. It helps us figure out emotions associated with events. All in all the art is top-notch.

The book made me laugh (I adored his personalized pencils) and it moved me. Five stars.

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