What do you get when you take a comic book artist, an inventor, a toy designer, and an MIT engineer and throw them all together set on a mission? You get Howtoons! Howtoons is the brainchild of comic book artist Nick Dragotta, inventor Saul Griffith, toy designer Ingrid Dragotta, and engineer Joost Bonsen, and its mission is to provide engaging content that teaches kids science and engineering, combining instruction with storytelling. Howtoons has a foundation of science and engineering education, inspiring creativity through art and imagination. But really, it’s a comic book unlike any other I have ever read. Here’s the skinny.
Howtoons: (RE)Ignition #1 follows the adventures of a couple of siblings, Tuck and his older sister Celine, as they use their imaginations and creativity to have fun-filled adventures. But Howtoons is more than just a story, it’s a learning experience. The opening pages of the comic go into great detail about energy, thermodynamics, global climate change, biology, and all sorts of complex scientific concepts, however they were all presented in a way that can be easily understood by just about anyone. But Howtoons is more than a good comic telling a good story with some science peppered in; this book is an instruction manual for fun that crosses Mythbusters with Martha Stewart, giving kids of all ages detailed schematics on building very cool toys with household and other easily found items. Right next to the plans for the Marshmallow Shooter (a pea-shooter style firearm that replaces the fire with a sweet treat) are plans for makeshift eye protection cut from a plastic two-liter bottle, and a flashlight made from a toilet paper roll. While these projects are fun to both build and use, Howtoons finds a way to incorporate science into these designs as well, pushing the educational aspect of the book without losing a single bit of entertainment value. Writer Fred Van Lente and artist Tom Fowler do an amazing job of not only telling a vivid and imaginative story, but also seamlessly sewing all of the design schematics and science lessons together with the other content, all without skipping a beat, with the whole ish being solidly pieced together in what could have easily been a mess of different content haphazardly placed in a comic book cover.
It’s very seldom that I don’t have anything bad to say about a comic book issue, but this is one of those rare instances where a book gave me everything I expected, plus a whole lot more. If I had to force myself to find something – anything – wrong with the ish it would be the way it deals with both the serious issue of climate change placed next to what is a story written specifically for children. Mixing important social topics with silly childhood adventure was a bit off-putting, but the ultimate goal of Howtoons is to entertain while educating, and if the book was nothing but gloom and doom about an uncertain future I doubt many kids would be so entertained.
I simply adored this book! It takes so many things that I love – comics, science, engineering, playing, spending time with my kids – and rolls them all into one very awesome comic book. From the initial opening that explains complex scientific themes in an easy to understand way, to the final pages of the book that describes the different types and uses of handsaws (something many kids may never get a chance to learn), I was thoroughly entertained and educated from cover to cover. Even better, I sat down and read the book with my 8 year old son, and after a trip to the local hardware store for some PVC pipe, we began and completed building his very own Marshmallow Shooter. Now, I can’t know for sure if he really learned anything at all, but it sure was fun trying. If you have young children of your own, or are just a kid at heart, go out and pick up a copy of this very different, very ingenious, very awesome comic book.
Writing: 4.5 Out of 5
Art: 5 Out of 5
Overall: 5 Out of 5