Wire Mothers: Harry Harlow and the Science of Love
What is love, exactly? Is it just a word people have invented to describe intangible emotions, or is it a real, quantifiable thing?
Oh, it’s real all right, and in the 1950s scientist Harry Harlow set out to prove it, in the face of the prevailing psychological wisdom that encouraged parents not to kiss their babies and led eminent behavioral expert B.F. Skinner to raise his own baby daughter in a glass box.
Writer Jim Ottaviani boils Harlow’s personal life and his life’s work down to a charming string of anecdotes and an engaging walk through his experiments with baby rhesus monkeys and two “mother” dolls, one made of wire and the other made of snuggly cloth. Harlow and his peers proved the babies’ need to be comforted by the cloth mother (which showed affection by being huggable). It was through this work that the word “love” finally started to make its way into science texts. (When Harlow got started, even “affection” was too much for science, which settled for “proximity.”)
To get us there, Ottaviani and artist Dylan Meconis rely on the contrivance of an audience surrogate, a new janitor at Harlow’s lab who finds the chain-smoking, insomniac scientist the night before a big presentation. It’s a little forced, but it gets the job done.
Black Metal Vol. 1
Every once in a while you read a comic so fun that you find yourself shouting affirmations of its awesomeness back at it. Writer Rick Spears and artist Chuck BB’s Black Metal is just that sort of comic—you may have a hard time keeping your hands from curling into devil’s-horns signs, the equivalent of a thumbs-up in the book’s world, by the time it’s over.
When twin-brother junior-high students Sam and Shawn Stronghand play a Frost Axe album, they learn of a war in hell and a magical sword. Playing the album backward, they summon a demon that hands them the sword itself, embroiling them in the battle. Guest stars include Norse war god Tyr, infernal ferryman Charon and Satan himself.
Chuck BB’s art is flat and built of outsized, abstract shapes, and a perfect contrast to the content. If the book looked like a heavy-metal album cover, the sense of humor would likely have been lost, just as it would have been if these weren’t little kids living through a metal fantasy. As is, it reads like the Saturday morning cartoon that previously only existed in your dreams.
Glister No. 1
Any new work from writer/artist Andi Watson is usually cause for celebration, but this new kid-friendly creation is his most promising in a while. Watson is constantly refining and reinventing his style, and with this book he seems to have taken a sharp zigzag from the path of greater and greater (or lesser and lesser?) minimalism he’s been travelling.
Here his art takes on more complexity; the shapes he’d reduced his art to are still present, but more details are hung atop them. It’s also colored and lettered to resemble a children’s book from your youth. You’d be forgiven for mistaking it for a 40-year-old kids’ picture book.
The story has a similarly timeless, classic feel to it. Heroine Glister Butterworth receives a haunted teapot in the mail, inhabited by the ghost of a writer who presses Glister into taking dictation as he finishes his novel (his ghostly hands can’t depress typewriter keys, you see), a Dickensian work that is hilarious in the extent of suffering it heaps on its poor orphan-boy protagonist.
The slim graphic novel also includes a back-up feature, starring the characters of Watson’s own long-defunct Skeleton Key series, which was probably his best and most accessible work—until Glister came along.