Comics provide relief from the intensity of the research lab.
One of Brown University’s researchers is leading a double life.
OK, he’s not a costumed crime fighter—but he does fight to bring a little levity to the science world with his biomedical-themed cartoons, Biocomicals.
“In the daytime I’m Dr. Uzun. At night I’m Mr. Uzun, the cartoonist,” says Alper Uzun, PhD, assistant professor of pediatrics (research).
After wrapping up his work to identify the complex gene network responsible for preterm births and preeclampsia, Uzun breaks out his pen and paper. Each single-paned comic focuses on what he knows best: biomedical research. Biocomicals explores many facets of life in the lab, from the challenges of publishing academic papers to PhD defense jitters; a newer line of comics considers the perspective of the lab supplies themselves.
Uzun’s passion for drawing reaches back to his childhood in Turkey. With an artist mother, his home had ample supplies for creative exploration. As a kid, Uzun would bring drawing materials on visits to family friends. He recalls being careful to adjust the amount of paper to how fun the friend’s house was—less entertainment meant more paper.
“Other kids were bringing their toys. I was bringing drawing papers,” he says.
Uzun also credits the great cartoonists of his native country for stoking his drawing passion, including humorist Yigit Ozgur and the late political cartoonist Oguz Aral. Uzun focused on drawing comics because of the medium’s inherent freedom to create exaggerated characters.
“In mediums like oil painting you represent things the way they actually are, but in cartooning you can do whatever you want. You can make big noses, or funny faces—there’s no limit,” he says.
While Uzun uses Adobe software to easily add color and publish his cartoons to www.biocomicals.com, which are freely available for educational use, he always keeps a little notebook and pen handy for when inspiration strikes.
In a new venture, Uzun and his wife, Ece Gamsiz Uzun, PhD, assistant professor of pathology and laboratory medicine, are gathering off-the-wall questions from their 4-year old son, Kaan. Soon Uzun’s cartoons will answer fundamental questions like “how are Legos made?” or probe into the nature of morality by asking, “If Princess Leia and Han Solo are both good characters, how can their son be a bad guy?”
For Uzun, whether he’s cartooning a centrifuge tube’s reaction to being contaminated, or a PhD student who just can’t get off Facebook, he has one goal: “I try to encourage positivity and make life just a little more enjoyable.”