The Cartoon Universe of Larry Gonick: Words, Pictures, and Information

    Larry Gonick

Seminar on People, Computers, and Design
Stanford University October 21, 2005

The comics reader sees images. The comics creator sees a complex process of abstraction. Word and image are both constrained by conventions peculiar to the medium and considerations governing maximum legibility and comprehension--conventions, incidentally, of interest to many other forms of graphic presentation. In non-fiction comics, the process is infinitely hairier, involving as it does the reduction of a body of knowledge to the tight and minimal confines of comics narrative. Almost-doctor Gonick will explain how it works, with pictures.

By training and, some would say, by inclination, Larry Gonick ( is a mathematician. Nevertheless, he stubbornly dropped out of graduate school at Harvard to pursue a full-time cartooning career. Gonick believed in the potential of comics to instruct and enlighten, not merely to satirize, and he's still a believer. For the past thirty years he's been doing non-fiction cartooning non-stop.

His books include the award-winning Cartoon History of the Universe (Books 1, 2, and 3), The Cartoon History of the United States, and more than half a dozen Cartoon Guides, which concentrate on science. For seven years, he wrote and drew Science Classics, a two-page comic strip-cum-article for Discover Magazine, and lately he's finally branched out into "ordinary" fictional cartooning with Kokopelli and Company, a strip for Muse Magazine.

Kokopelli and friends hit the bookstores this March in Attack of the Smart Pies, which Gonick insists on calling an allegory on missile defense despite its unmistakable resemblance to a children's novel. Publication was foolishly timed to coincide with the appearance of his latest science book, The Cartoon Guide to Chemistry (coauthored with Stanford chemist Craig Criddle).

He is currently hard at work on the Cartoon History of the Universe IV, from Columbus to the Constitution.

View this talk on line at CS547 on Stanford OnLine

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