By Jill Palmer
Professor of Biology and graphic novelist Jay Hosler is showing his interactive science themed comic books at the Juniata Museum of Art from Apr. 6 through Sep. 9.
Hosler’s art show will allow people to explore life from the perspective of insects. Clan Apis is one of Hosler’s books that features insects as the main protagonists.
“Clan Apis is about a young honey bee. It’s a coming of age story that deals with her own fear of death. The story outlines the basic biology of bees, but it also deals with the very human element of not wanting to die and finding your place in the world,” Hosler said.
Hosler’s goal is to create stories that people can relate to and that will also help them learn about the natural world.
Viewers can learn about comic books as well as science. “The exhibition will have examples of artwork of course, but it will also have samples of artwork at different stages of development anywhere from basic drawings in a sketchbook all the way through a finished script,” said Hosler. “You’ll be able to see where the idea starts and how it is completed. There will be some interactive elements in which people will get to play with certain elements of comics: putting together panels in a certain sequence and moving them around, and drawing their own comics.”
Hosler takes a lot of inspiration from bugs. “I’ve always been fascinated with insects. There are all these stories about aliens and other worlds, and I like to point out to readers that there is an alien world right here underfoot and one that we often do not pay enough attention to. My stories act as both a mirror and a window. I tell stories that are about insects, but also have to do with family and friendship and things that reflect back upon our own humanity,” said Hosler.
This exhibition is a unique one for Juniata’s art museum. “Both galleries are devoted to this exhibition, which is unusual for the museum,” said Professor of Art History Karen Rosell. The extra space will be needed to house the many interactive elements of Hosler’s exhibit.
Hosler often uses science comics as a teaching tool in his classes. “For my general biology class, I have written comics on photosynthesis, ATP, and cellular respiration so that my kids can use those as a supplement to the textbook. They are a bit silly, but they also fold in a lot of the basic scientific information. The idea is that if I have characters, if I have silly things happen, if there’s humor, that will increase the likelihood that the students will want go back and read it again,” said Hosler.
Some would argue that comic books are not true art and cannot be an educational tool. “For me, comic books are a form of art that is highly interactive. The reader has to knit together what happens between panels. An artist has to be very skilled to make sure that they aren’t going to lose their reader and make the image clear enough to connect them and make it interesting enough so that the reader doesn’t get bored,” said Hosler.
At Juniata, students learn about comics in several different classes. “We study the artist Roy Lichtenstein in Modern to Contemporary Art class as well as American art,” said Rosell. “He is known for using comic strips as the inspiration for his work.”
Hosler is currently working on his next project. In this new story, a lonely little ant is born into a colony of leafcutter ants.
“She has nobody else to talk to, so she tells herself stories about their world,” said Hosler. “One day, she does meet an ant she can talk to, but that ant has a parasite inside of it, and she has actually been talking to it the entire time. The story is about unusual friendships and where certain creatures sit in nature.”
Like his previous comics, this story will combine Hosler’s greatest passions: science and art, together.