University

Comic on UG greats

Science,
illustrated

Eight important scientists in the history of the UG, from Aletta Jacobs and astronomer Kapteyn to Nobel Prize winner Ben Feringa, have been immortalised in a comic book. The book, titled Masterminds is part of the eponymous exhibition in the University Museum.
12 October om 15:44 uur.
Laatst gewijzigd op 14 October 2021
om 11:45 uur.
October 12 at 15:44 PM.
Last modified on October 14, 2021
at 11:45 AM.

Door Rob van der Wal

12 October om 15:44 uur.
Laatst gewijzigd op 14 October 2021
om 11:45 uur.

By Rob van der Wal

October 12 at 15:44 PM.
Last modified on October 14, 2021
at 11:45 AM.

Rob van der Wal

Mark Hektor hadn’t been working at the University Museum for very long when they asked him to write his own comic. He was doing an internship as part of his studies in science communication and was pretty much immediately given a part-time position. Once he graduated, things accelerated, culminating in a comic book.

He used a different style for each story and extensively studied the portraits of each scientist he was drawing. ‘I study them to see if I can make any simplifications, like making some characteristics of the face a little more angular, or perhaps rounder. All those different styles made working on the book a lot of fun.’

In addition to the comic book, Hektor also wrote a children’s book for the University Museum, about astronomer Eise Eisinga and his planetarium in Franker. This book, Het Hemelbouwertje, will be published on Friday. Masterminds is already available at the University Museum and the I Shop university store.

Doctor and feminist Aletta Jacobs (1854 – 1929)

‘The advantage of a comic book over an exhibition is that I can make my protagonist do and say things. That really makes the story come alive’, says Hektor. ‘All my main characters are adults, except for Aletta. I wanted to make her look young, because the story is about her childhood. Aletta is the first woman to graduate in the Netherlands, at eighteen years old. I looked at her portraits in which she’s a little older and tried to draw her looking younger.’

‘There’s a lot of information on what Aletta was like as a kid. She was kind of a rebel, loved playing outside. I made sure to incorporate that tough part of her. But she also enjoyed putting on fashion shows with her dolls.’

Astronomer Jacobus Cornelius Kapteyn (1851 – 1922)

‘Kapteyn was a kind of withdrawn, quiet man. He’d had a pretty tough childhood. He was bullied a lot and his parents didn’t pay enough attention to him. He was often forgotten, and he played with animals a lot. Those are some of the more serious themes I’m trying to incorporate in the comic.’

‘I nearly ran out of time with Kapteyn’s comic. The one about Aletta Jacobs took a long time because I added a lot of details like shadows and line work. I wanted to create this comic as efficiently as possible. I reused Kapteyn’s moustache from an earlier comic, and I could easily adjust all the parts of his head on the computer.’

Physician Petrus Camper (1722 – 1789)

‘Camper is always described as someone who was very sure of himself. At one point, he found a dinosaur fossil, a mosasaur. No one knew about the existence of dinosaurs back then, and Camper was convinced it was a whale. That’s fun to read, because I can portray his ego in the comic.

The problem with people from way back then is that the only source material I have are portraits. They all vary, and not every painter was very good at capturing their subject. Drawing Petrus Camper was quite the challenge; was I supposed to draw inspiration from all portraits, or just stick to one?’

Psychologist Gerard Heymans (1857 – 1930)

‘Heymans was instrumental in the development of modern psychology. Earlier psychologist mainly focused on thinking about thinking. He realised that wouldn’t lead to any significant results, so he decided to set up psychological experiments. This made him the ideal guy to use in a comic to explain how scientific research works. Whenever he could, he would use his students or even his wife in his research.’

Physicist Frits Zernike (1888 – 1966)

‘One time, Zernike got stuck in a lift. The story goes that everybody but him panicked. Zernike stayed calm and fixed the lift himself. I thought it would be fun to create a really annoying and hyperactive character for him, just to see what would happen. I ended up creating Zernike’s fictitious great-great-great-granddaughter. She’s a round little character with a wide, square coat, and all she does is ask questions. Ultimately, Zernike closes the door on her and quietly returns to his work.’

‘Zernike’s real granddaughter saw my comic and said my drawings look exactly like her grandpa. That was a great compliment.’

Botanist and geneticist Tine Tammes (1871 – 1947)

‘Tammes was a professor of genetics, but she was also a botanist. She was always studying flowers and plants. I decided to create a photo comic about her, using my parents’ garden as the backdrop. Tammes is standing next to the chestnut tree I planted as a kid, and during one photo shoot, a ladybird happened to be walking by. That was such a lucky shot. I drew and coloured all the characters in this comic myself.’

‘I found a picture of Tammes wearing a long dress, but that’s not very practical for nature walks. So I gave her some boots and shortened her skirt a little.’

Chemists Sibrandus Stratingh (1785 – 1841)
and Ben Feringa (1951)

‘Feringa is the only person we had to ask for permission to include in the comic, although I don’t know how he feels about the final result. I loved drawing Stratingh, because I incorporated his initials in his hair twice. Just a fun little detail.’

‘Both Feringa and Stratingh made a car, albeit two very different ones. Feringa invented the first self-driving nano-car, while Stratingh invented the first electric car. It made sense to me to have them race the cars against each other. So that’s what I drew in the comic.’

Nederlands