News Article

Cartoonal Knowledge

Larry Gonick's ''Universe'' series -- We chat with the cartoonist turning world history into comic strips

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.

Originally posted Sep 14, 1990 Published in issue #31 Sep 14, 1990 Order article reprints