Created by: Dr. Susan Nasif (Author/Artist), Joaquin E. Pereyra (Colourist), Adam Wollet (Letterer). Edited by Dr. Lina Fadel.
In the age of ever-growing anti-intellectualism, fueled by distrust for scientists and science itself, these are the kinds of comic stories we need the most. Adventures takes on vaccination, a subject that brings out the some of the worst in people and makes it a story of good versus evil (or cops versus robbers, if you don’t mind my childhood nostalgia). Combining important scientific information and narrative storytelling, Susan and company have created an introduction to virology that can delight and inform both children and adult alike.
Adventures begins in modern day (mid-2010’s) Europe, where the villains of our story – a slew of deadly human viruses led by “Trojan Prince” Hivi (HIV) – are leading a misinformation campaign against vaccinations in an effort to win-the-war and ensure their survival. Of course, by win-the-war, these viruses mean the infection, and ultimately death, of millions of human beings. In a clever and sinister twist, the anti-vaccination movement is thus created by the viruses themselves by playing on the fears of parents and the public. It is only natural that a new mother would pause and reconsider conventional medical advice if there were reports – truthful or not – that vaccines might hurt her newborn, right? The imagery of evil grins and cackling throughout the viruses’ misinformation campaign is enough to make any reader instantly more suspicious of any information presented to them.
If the reader stopped here in Adventures, I think I would be afraid that rather than provide guidance on the importance of vaccines and being careful with evidence selection, they would be left wondering “well, who DO I trust?”. Luckily, our creators immediately show the consequences of a failure to vaccinate in the form a child’s anger at his parents when he comes down with the mumps – spurring the introduction of our heroes, a team of virologists: the Regatjes (literally: “The Little People of Rega Institute, Ku Leuven, Belgium). Without spoiling the plot, there follows a scuffle in which our heroes must outmaneuver the villains lest the anti-vaccine movement succeed in tipping the war in favor of the viruses. There’s also some fun play with miniaturization (which is still, as the comic admits, science fiction – but maybe one day!):
Roughly halfway through the comic, we are introduced to the history of vaccination and the idols of microbiology, renowned scientists such as Pasteur, Sabin, and Hilleman. For younger readers – the true target audience – this may be the first introduction to these remarkable figures of history. Even as someone familiar with the history of science, it was valuable to see these pillars illustrated through the transitional, panel-to-panel style of comics to paint a more complete view of the history of vaccination. Up until the last few pages of Adventures, there is an amazing balance of visuals and narrative to keep the story both flowing and informative, but toward the end this balance breaks down slightly, as if there is simply not enough room to say all that needs saying. This is, of course, true, as we are reminded throughout that there is more to come in later volumes – a natural and common, but unfortunate, consequence of the medium itself.
In addition to hitting the good guy vs bad guy story, as well as the bright, appropriately playful illustration and colouring, Adventures is a LARGE comic – all important considerations for a children’s book. Traditionally speaking, modern comics are roughly 10in x 7in – smaller than the paper in your printer, but larger than a novel. Adventures clocks in at nearly 12in x 8.5in – larger than that printer paper, and fondly reminiscent of the picture books we’re introduced to as children. This makes the text easy to read, the illustrations identifiable and vibrant, and the comic fun to carry around (more important than you’d think)!
All-in-all, I’d call The Adventures of the Regatjes a fun first introduction to vaccines for children, an important reminder for adults, and what I hope is a first step towards a complete history of vaccination in comics form, full of citations, criticism, and all (nudge nudge)!