Legend has it that in the 1950s, DC Comics concluded that the ticket to sure sales lay not with super-powered hijinks, but with gorillas: any comic with an ape on its cover was sure to outsell the ape-free issues. By that token alone, Primates, a new graphic novel by Jim Ottaviani and Maris Wicks about the lives and work of three seminal primatologists, should be a smash-hit.
Primates tells the connected stories of Jane Goodall, Dian Fossey, and Biruté Galdikas, known collectively as “Leakey’s Angels” in tribute to their collective mentor, archaeologist and paleoanthropologist Louis Leakey. Beginning with Goodall in 1960, each woman embarked on a long-term field study of a group of primates—Goodall, chimps; Fossey, mountain gorillas; Galdikas, orangutans—and, in the process, revolutionized not only the field of primatology but scientific perspectives on human evolution and the very definition of humanity.
Written by Jim Ottaviani and drawn and lettered by Maris Wicks, Primates draws from the diaries of all three scientists—as well as a slew of other sources detailed in a bibliography at the end to paint a compelling picture of their work and lives, deftly interweaving the three women’s stories in an account that’s equal parts biography and scientific history…
I have always love collecting comic books, getting into a really good graphic novel series, heck, I even have binders full of the collectible cards…
But I don’t think I’ve ever wanted a graphic novel as much as I want this one.
I know. I’d like to read this too cos science + graphic novels = time well spent in the bathtub. What I’m hoping is that this presents accurate information and at least a little critical analysis of some of the bad methodology of earlier primatology and ethology. The most prominent example I can think of is Fossey’s over involvement. I say this cos it would be a waste to write something about pioneers but not point out that pioneering work is rarely perfect and that we should learn from our predecessor’s mistakes instead of mythologising them as flawless. The recent scandal with Jane Goodall’s perhaps unintentional plagiarism is a good example too, but one which would probably be irrelevant to this novel. I’m looking for something with some substance and want to learn some factoids. I hope this delivers.
While I think critical analysis of earlier fieldwork would be great — I highly doubt that would be the case here. It’s more likely to be a whimsical, romantic compilation than anything truly academically substantive. However, I do feel that this book would be wonderful to the field by introducing more people to these wonderful women and hopefully inspire future generations.
So after paying rent and bills and realising I had a good amount of money left, the first thing I did was hightailed towards the bookstore and bought myself a copy of this graphic novel — and I definitely don’t regret it. Maris Wicks did an amazing job with the art. Everything Jim Ottaviani didn’t write in the narrative was skillfully implied in the art. This was particularly, and surprisingly, true for when they talked about Dian Fossey’s approach to poachers and overinvolvement in their conservation. Since this is a graphic novel whose main audience are young children (and of course awesome pseudo-adults like us), complex topics such as her approach and the controversy surrounding it was simplified in the writing, but the illustrations allowed adults to make more connections and understand that it was a pretty big deal. To be quite honest, I was surprised they even broached that topic to begin with. I was happy with how they handled that issue given the intended audience — I highly doubt they would had been able to portray it any other way.
Overall, I felt it was a good graphic novel and definitely don’t regret buying it. The authors thoroughly researched the topic beforehand using as much primary sources as possible and contacted the organisations to be sure the information written was accurate. Granted, certain issues were more simplified (Fossey’s escape into Rwanda, Louis Leakey’s interest in his students) and skipped (a lot of Galdikas’s stuff, unfortunately). The only qualm I had was that they did not spend much detail on Galdikas and the success of Camp Leakey — it instead focused on her first encounters with orangs. Besides that, I was proud with the way these women were portrayed and their research. After reading it all, I definitely wanted to email all the professors and authors of my favorite articles talking about research and hope maybe one of them will like me under their wing.
REAL EXCITED ABOUT THIS.
These photos are of Dreamers, children of immigrants without documents for this country, who were brought to the United States and never knew they were “illegal,” reuniting with their deported parents through a border wall in Nogales, Arizona.