The Human Body Theater
By Maris Wicks
Brought to you by OBS reviewer Scott
The Human Body Theater by Maris Wicks is what Will Eisner would refer to as Educational Graphic Media. It’s a Graphic Novel, but one designed to teach and instruct, rather than tell a tale. There is, however, a tale to be told to pre-teens about the way the human body works, and in this regard, the hammer hits the nail. Covering the gamut from skeletal, digestive, reproductive, neural, and much more makes this 298 page read an interest for any budding health professional.
The art style varies dramatically. It’s called the Human Body Theater as the author dramatizes and divulges the anatomical information in the form of a skeleton, on a stage that introduces the revue, everything from bacteria, to brains to hair follicles and enzymes to noses and lastly skin. They are depicted lightly, in a friendly fashion, not taking away from the central theme of the book and (at least in the section on digestion) provides a little potty humor that kids would enjoy. On the other hand, there are quite intricate depictions of the various organs, tissue, muscles, and things, by way of example, like the ear. The panels are in a regular grid format that is known to become transparent to the reader and that suits the type of educational material presented.
The writing is, well, definitely over the heads of too young of a generation. Children 10-13, with a reasonable grasp of phonics, should be able to read the “often complex” wordage, like cytoplasm, endocrine, and hemoglobin. The work functions as an introduction to the entire human form, though, so the technicalities are there to provide correct usage, as well as to teach. Bouts of humor are more on a kids level. The digestive system chapter is a classic example of Wicks humor at play. Overall, the “tale of the body” builds from the bones and works its final way up to the skin. Like layers of an onion. Each time one is disclosed, more of the “skeleton” is formed.
Overall this is an entertaining (although some of the darker panels were difficult to read) story, with lots of factoids sprinkled throughout. Who knew that the kidneys process 2000 liters (440 gallons) of blood each day? It’s things like this that make the book a handy reference for young readers. I felt like I was back in Biology 101 all over again. This is no fault of Wicks, who does her work well, but rather the reason I went into mathematics and astrophysics instead. Jolting dead frog muscles with electrodes to see them contract and tighten just wasn’t up my academic alley.
Readers looking for a way to introduce their children to the functioning of the body, would well be directed to the The Human Body Theater. Just be prepared to offer a little help with the big words. It’s not Grey’s Anatomy (which still adorns my art reference section), but for a pre-teen it might be a little complex – for teens, I believe it would be too juvenile. The Graphic Novel may not be for everyone, but for someone, it might hold the keys to answering some of the great mysteries of our flesh and blood.