A serviceable graphic summary of Darwin’s life and achievement, pegged somewhere between educational use for preteens and a primer for adult readers.
The latest collaboration between writer Byrne and illustrator Gurr (Bristol Story, 2007) is a little odd in light of both the publisher’s reputation and the conventions of the graphic format—this is far more text-heavy than what readers of graphic novels have come to expect, and attempts at a playful sense of humor seem strained. To questionable effect, the narrative is framed as an episode of “Ape TV,” in which apes learn about the life of the unlikely scientist whose theory that mankind and the ape were part of the same evolutionary process would be so transforming. Once readers get past those apes and into the story itself, they learn that Darwin was an indifferent student and someone whose future by no means seemed secured, until he received an invitation to take a voyage that “would not just change Darwin’s life, it would change the course of history.” The commander of an expedition was looking for “a gentleman-naturalist as a companion,” someone who could keep him company as more of an equal than the crew under him. It says something about Darwin’s lack of immediate plans that he was able to commit to a journey that was anticipated to last two years yet lasted five. The animals he encountered seemed so different than ones he’d known that he theorized that if it weren’t a matter of different conditions that resulted in such “transmutation,” they might well have had a different creator. The text corrects common misconceptions concerning “social Darwinism” and “survival of the fittest,” yet is misleading in its attempt to reconcile creationism with Darwin’s theory.
More text than younger readers will want to wade through, yet framed in a way that might seem silly to older readers.