With comics becoming more topical in recent years, many creators are tackling environmental causes in their work. While the titles below vary in genre and style, their message–that nature is formidable yet also fragile–remains constant. So with Earth Day coming up on April 22, here are 14 comics that cover topics from climate change to pollution, deforestation, endangered species, and more.
Climate Changed: A Personal Journey Through the Science
Philippe Squarzoni. Abrams ComicArts, 2012
These days, trying to discuss the environment without mentioning climate change is nearly impossible. French author Squarzoni covers many aspects of the thorny issue, including why it's happening, how it's happening, and what can be done about it. The book's strength lies in its combination of extensive research and personal discovery.
The Rime of the Modern Mariner
Nick Hayes. Viking, 2012
Cartoonist Hayes offers a modern take on Samuel Coleridge's Rime of the Ancient Mariner, setting the tale of his ill-fated seaman in the North Pacific Gyre (often called the "Great Pacific Garbage Patch"), a whirlpool littered with plastic trash. Like the original poem, the comic is a warning to humanity not to meddle with the natural order or else suffer grave consequences. Hayes visualizes the book with a multitude of swirls and hatches, evoking woodblock prints and classic tapestries.
I'm Not a Plastic Bag
Rachel Hope Allison. Boom, 2012
The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is also the focus in Allison's wordless graphic novel about waste and consumption. The book follows a plastic bag, among other discarded items, as it finds its way to the vast slurry of detritus, which Allison portrays as both a toxic blight as well as a unlikely of source of life. She also includes facts about the garbage patch as well as ways readers can become involved in stemming its growth.
Joe Harris and Martin Morazzo. Image, 2012–ongoing
Harris and Morazzo take the idea of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch and run with it in their farfetched series. Chas Worthington, heir to an enormous oil fortune, abandons his responsibilities and establishes a new nation on the garbage patch. This creates a flashpoint for conflict as "New Texas" struggles to maintain its sovereignty and stability among political and ecological crises.
John Muir: Earth – Planet Universe
Julie Bertagna and William Goldsmith. Scottish Book Trust, Creative Scotland, and Scottish Natural Heritage, 2014
John Muir (1838–1914) is widely considered to be one of the progenitors of the conservation movement, as well as the "Father of National Parks." Bertagna and Goldsmith chronicle Muir's life, from his childhood in Scotland to his prolific writings, friendship with Theodore Roosevelt (which culminated in the passing of the National Park bill), and founding of the Sierra Club in the late 19th century. Download the comic for free here.
Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind
Hayao Miyazaki. Tokuma Shoten, Viz, 1982–1994.
Before he became one of Japan's most revered filmmakers, Miyazaki was an animator and cartoonist whose first long form work, Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind, established his fondness for nature. Nausicaä is the princess of a secluded village that gets drawn into a conflict between two industrial nations, while an environmental disaster is brewing in the surrounding jungles. One of the story's central conflicts is man's contentious relation to nature, a theme that would play out in many of Miyazaki's films, including Nausicaä's adaptation.
Concrete, Vol. 5: Think Like a Mountain
Paul Chadwick. Dark Horse, 1996
The vagaries of environmental activism is explored when Concrete (formerly Ron Lithgow, a speechwriter whose brain was transplanted into a stone colossus by aliens) unwittingly becomes associated with a band of eco-radicals in Chadwick's award-winning series. Concrete wishes to help when he witnesses the unscrupulous practices of the logging industry firsthand, but he's wary of the group's legally-dubious methods.
Some New Kind of Slaughter
Marvin Mann and A. David Lewis. Archaia, 2009
Following the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami and Hurricane Katrina in 2009, Mann and Lewis explore the myth of the great flood, found throughout history including the Bible and ancient Sumeria. They trace the various flood stories to today's growing concern over climate change, and what can be learned by studying this prevalent narrative.
Delicious Island's Mr. U (Oishii Shuma no Ū-sama)
Akira Toriyama, Anjo's Rural Society Project, 2013
Dragon Ball creator Toriyama wrote and drew this 24-page comic as part of a brochure distributed by the Anjo Royal Society Project, a Japanese nonprofit that advocates agriculture and raises awareness of environmental issues with children. In it, an island where man and nature live in harmony is disrupted first by two curious urbanites who later help defend it against aliens that are trying to exploit its abundant resources.
Oil and Water
Steve Duin and Shannon Wheeler. Fantagraphics, 2011
Following the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, a group of Oregonians travel to the Gulf Coast and follow the lives of those affected by the disaster, including fishermen, wildlife rescue volunteers, and a government agent. Duin and Wheeler describe the difficult situation of a regional economy that depends on the industry responsible for the spill.
Breena Widerhoeft. Easel Ain't Easy, 2012
2011 Xeric Grant recipient Widerhoeft's debut graphic novel centers on Beatrice, a woman who moves from Wisconsin to northern California and finds herself in the middle of a dispute between a land developer and activists trying to protect a thicket of redwoods. Everyone she meets seems to have a legitimate stake on either side of the issue, giving the already volatile situation personal ramifications.
Wild Ocean: Sharks, Whales, Rays, and other Endangered Sea Life
Edited by Matt Dembicki. Fulcrum Publshing, 2014
Cartoonists profile 12 threatened oceanic species (including hammerhead sharks, manatees, blue whales, coral, albatrosses, and bluefin tuna), portraying their ways of life in a variety of stories. Instead of issuing a dour warning, the contributors celebrate each of the creatures, although the anthology does not shy away from warning of the surmounting threats to their survival.
Edited by Denise Mina. Freight Books, 2013
Produced in collaboration with the Edinburgh International Book Festival, IDP: 2043 images Scotland 30 years in the future, after rising sea levels have completely flooded the country's low-lying regions. The story is told in six parts, with contributors including Irvine Welsh, Mary Talbot, Kate Charlesworth, and Barroux, and looks at the new way of life that is forced upon the unsuspecting residents, all from a seemingly minor change in their environment.
While superheroes generally don't face threats such as climate change, that hasn't stopped many creators from weaving environmental messages into their monthly adventures. Characters like Swamp Thing and Man-Thing have both fought on the side of nature, often against manmade threats. In particular, Steve Gerber's Man-Thing and Alan Moore's Swamp Thing were cast as protectors of nature during their respective runs.