How comic books got me into DNA...

Jul 20 2011 Published by under Uncategorized

So earlier this week I posted how my love of sports accidentally got me interested in science but what got me interested in DNA? Easy, comic books. No I'm not joking either. Growing up I loved sports but I was also a bit of a comic book nerd. My two dreams going up were to hit a home run in little league baseball (mission accomplished) and to become a comic book writer (mission not so accomplished as of yet). Why a comic book writer? Easy, I can't draw for shit but I was drawn to the way the authors could use a sparse amount of words, panels, and the visual effect to somehow richly develop characters and convey a powerful story of the human condition.

Yeah yeah, fan boy, we get it you love comic books, but how does this relate to you giving a rat's doodoo maker about DNA. Once again, easy, the X-Men. Now coming up I read most of the great comic book cannons: Alan Moore's Watchmen and From Hell, Neil Gaiman's The Sandman, and Frank Miller's Sin City. But X-Men was the first comic book that I ever laid eyes and hands upon in the old drugstore in town when my dad took me to the counter to get a sandwich and a soda. Now this may sound archaic to many but yes in fact many drugstores and stores had lunch counters in them and they could make a jam out Lime Rickey.

So the premise of the X-Men were a group of initially humans that were "mutants" who had special powers. Initially I was enamored by their special powers and how they coped with being different from everyone else. This is what struck a chord with me as I was really the only brown kid amongst a see of white and black. I was short, skinny, had a funny last name, and looking for a place to fit. Due to my early onset of myopia and constant requirement of glasses during my primary education years, I was initially drawn to the character of Cyclops.

He was bound to wear glasses forever but he had a cool power where he could in a less than polite manner fuck some stuff up with energy beams that were emitted from his eyes. I was fascinated with his mutant powers and was jealous how come I couldn't do that. Why didn't laser beams shoot out of my eyes when I took off my glasses?

Simple dummy: its fiction and you aren't a mutant. But I didn't know that, so I had to figure out what a mutant was so I consulted my all knowing oracle of knowledge, my grandmother's Funk & Wagnall's encyclopedia set. Now I couldn't find mutant in that volume but I found the term mutation, spawning further searches for genetics, DNA, Mendel, and reproduction. But this wasn't enough for me, I made my dad take me to the local library where I was able to get my grubby little hands on a dogeared copy of James Watson's The Double Helix, which piqued my interest in DNA.

From their I would go on to grab a biology textbook and learn about Avery, MacLeod, and McCarty providing evidence for DNA as the hereditary material in the cell, Meselson and Stahl showing semi-conservative replication, and how this young upstart Kary Mullis's PCR process would revolutionize biology.

So while I may never become a comic book writer, I'm eternally grateful for my childhood indulgence that lead me down the path that would eventually make me a scientist.

11 responses so far

  • Jackson says:

    I actually had a similar experience, but it was with an episode of the X-men animated series partially about Charles Darwin, which led (in a very round about way) to Geology

  • Zen Faulkes says:


    Anyone been inspired to learn about science from DC?

    • Genomic Repairman says:

      Don't really know Zen, DC mostly had normal folk (Batman) or aliens (Superman) or people endowed with powers by aliens (Green Lantern).

  • Ria says:

    I was motivated by the same thing! Well, in part at least. The other motivation was the Dragonriders of Pern series by Anne McCaffrey. After reading DragonDawn, I became obsessed with becoming a geneticist so that I could create actual dragons using genetics. Granted, I was 12. And for those parents out there who think that 12 is too young to decide what you want to do with your life...well, I guess it depends on the kid. Or maybe I'm just unusually stubborn.

  • Arlenna says:

    That is an amazing way to find out about this shit!!!

  • Nabeeh says:

    When I was applying to doctoral programs a few years ago, I mentioned that comics were an element of my childhood that ignited my passion for genetics. My eventual dissertation adviser actually emailed me and asked me to completely remove my discussion of how comics got me interested in genetics from my statement of interest and resubmit it to the review committee. I was shocked, but refused to remove it from my personal statement.

    So many of Marvel's heroes and villains were scientists and/or doctors, yet professors remain reluctant to embrace those characters as tools to reach more children and students that are largely uninterested in pursuing and understanding science...

    • Totally, the Hulk was a scientist, Spiderman got bit by the spider in the lab. One of the cool thing about Marvel was that Science and Technology have always played pivotal roles in a many of their superhero story lines.

  • postdoc mom says:

    My daughter is getting into comics and I've been enjoying learning more about them. I think it is cool that so many of the bad-ass heroes are scientists. it's one of the few places here you see smart guys also being the cool guys. Although I don't necessarily agree with how they depict female superheroes physically, I also think that the ladies are pretty rad too. Where else do you see such strong and independent women?

    BUT we were reading a justice league book the other day and although it was a super cool story, they kept using bacteria and virus interchangeably- aacckkk!

  • FrauTech says:

    I was (and am) a huge X-Men comics fan. I always liked how the solutions to their problems were usually a measure of teamwork, their powers, but also The Beast making some interesting scientific device or The Professor or Jean Grey using technology to save the day. Always made them seem accessible. And I think their status as outsiders in a hateful world is a really powerful message as well.

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