by Andy Wolverton
I’m always in favor of more graphic novels that have anything to do with science. Part of that comes from being a science idiot and wanting to learn more through a medium I can understand, like the sequential art of comics. Although you can pick up some interesting ideas about science from fictional stories, such as Jason Shiga’s superb Meanwhile (Amulet, 2010), I really enjoy more non-fiction based works such as Jim Ottaviani and Leland Myrick’s Feynman (also from First Second, 2011) and Jonathan Fetter-Vorm’s Trinity: A Graphic History of the First Atomic Bomb (Hill and Wang, 2012). And although Jay Hosler’s new graphic novel Last of the Sandwalkers is fictional, there’s more than enough science to hold my interest.
Hosler is no stranger to science or graphic novels. He is currently an Associate Professor of Biology at Juniata College (PA) whose previous graphic novels include Clan Apis (about the life cycle of the honeybee), Optical Allusions (the science behind vision), and Evolution: The Story of Life on Earth, all of which were published by CreateSpace, a self-publishing division of Amazon. Last of the Sandwalkers is Hosler’s first book published by a major graphic novels publisher.
Last of the Sandwalkers, simply put, concerns a civilization of beetles, which on the surface may sound rather boring, but in the hands of Hosler, the premise evolves into a grand adventure. The leader of this adventure is Lucy (who always wears a baseball cap), a fearless scientist who longs to explore the world beyond her desert home. The beetles joining her on this quest — some of them reluctantly — include the firefly Raef, the Hercules beetle Mossy, the curmudgeony Cape stag beetle Professor Owen, and more. (Hosler includes a helpful but not overwhelming “A Guide to Identifying Beetles” at the beginning of the book.)
The quest of Lucy and her friends is filled with adventure, danger, and comedy, made even more humorous by the beetles’ anthropomorphic display of human characteristics and foibles. Characters frequently wander off, led astray by some item (or being) of interest, only to need urgent rescue by another member of the party. Birds, velvet worms, and other creatures provide both avenues to dangerous situations and opportunities for scientific discovery. At times those scientific discoveries halt the action, allowing Hosler to introduce the reader to a new scientific concept or idea, yet he never dwells on these aspects long enough to seriously detract from the story (certainly not long enough to make us feel as if we’re in a lecture hall).
Hosler creates some wonderful illustrations filled with impressive detail, drawings that kids (and adults) interested in entomology and the natural world will find fascinating. The author also knows how to make his beetle characters likable, even lovable, to the point that we get caught up in their adventures because they’re so darn compelling. My only complaint about the artwork is a minor one: since this is a black-and-white book, depth perception can get a little cloudy, especially in scenes involving several beetles, long blades of grass, and fighting. Yet such visually confusing panels are relatively few.
We also get the feeling that some of these rescue situations begin to repeat themselves. At 300 pages, perhaps the book could’ve been a bit shorter, but for readers who’ve been looking for a science adventure like Last of the Sandwalkers, this number of pages might not be enough.
As a public librarian, I long to see more books like Last of the Sandwalkers, especially for young readers who can’t seem to get enough of little creatures that creep and crawl. Of course, you don’t have to be a young reader to enjoy Hosler’s work. All you need is a strong desire to have a great time with some fun characters.
Last of the Sandwalkers is recommended for ages 10 and up.
Get your copy of Last of the Sandwalkers as well as other titles mentioned in the review: