In 1970 Larry Gonick, a self-described ”lifetime doodler,” left Harvard’s graduate math program to become a cartoonist. His first comic efforts were mostly political and historical, including a cartoon for the Sunday Boston Globe about colonial Massachusetts. ”But I kept running out of material,” he says. ”So I decided to pick a project that would keep me busy for a long time.”
That project was the Cartoon History of the Universe, and Doubleday has just published the collected Vols. 1-7 ”from the Big Bang to Alexander the Great.” As a cartooning historian, Gonick takes a few liberties: A brontosaurus refers affectionately to a fellow dinosaur as ”honey tons,” Cro-Magnon artists slink through caves using their sticks like spray-paint cans, Pheidippides fantasizes about running shoes on his trek from Athens to Sparta. But don’t mistake the book for fluff. It’s a real history book — some schools have even adopted it as a text. Gonick, who’s just finished the Cartoon Guide to Physics, thinks his medium makes facts digestible. ”Cartoons are lifelike,” he says. ”They have movement and narrative; people aren’t intimidated by them.” His next project, Vol. 8 of the Universe series, will cover ancient Indian history. At this rate it could take him decades to get up to the present, whatever that is by then.