Most people will have heard of Marie Curie, winner of two Nobel Prizes and the only person to have won it for different disciplines. But not may will be aware of the extraordinary life that she led. Marie Curie: A Quest for Light, published by IDW, is an accessible, biographical examination of an extraordinary woman’s life and it charts numerous scientific discoveries of the late 19th and early 20th century. It is a collaboration between the author Frances Andreasen Østerfelt, the acclaimed Danish astrophysicist Anja Cetti Andersen, and the magnificent artist Anna Blasczcwyk. Aimed as an educational book to teach young readers about the famous scientist, A Quest for Light is also a captivating, moving, and all round engrossing book for readers of any age.
From the Beginning
A Quest for Light reads like a well constructed lecture on the life of Marie Curie, interspersed with excerpts from her diaries and letters that give the book an intimate feel. The captions are clearly written for an ease of understanding, signifying the educational aspects of the book; however, there is still a lyricism to the words. On occasion, the simplicity of the text creates a deeper emotional connection. For example, when the writers say that ‘Mother is now too weak to leave the house’, it conjures up images of sickness within the family but it is also a very personal comment. The way that the distant narrator uses familiarity, such as the word “mother” when speaking about someone else’s family, produces an emotional attachment not often associated with educational texts. The familiar turn of phrase alters the narration from textbook to life story. It isn’t a monologue about a figure from history but the story of someone’s life, up close and personal.
From the very beginning, Østerfelt and Anderson make the reader welcome and comfortable in the life of Marie Curie which in turn makes it easier to relay the scientific information. The educational element feels secondary to the story of the characters and this allows for the information to seep into the reader’s mind, almost unnoticed. The scientific discoveries and pivotal moments in Marie Curie’s life become explicitly linked to emotional moments and turning points in her life, acting like exclamation marks for the educational aspect of the book.
Each chapter of the book touches several aspects of Marie Curie’s life but also highlights wider sociological concerns. The sexism inherent in the science world and the political turmoil within Europe are two of the more obvious themes that the writers bring out, but there is a wealth of knowledge embedded in the text and the corresponding illustrations. A Quest for Light is optimistic in tone, even through some of the more heartbreaking times of the scientist’s life. Any reader will be uplifted by the determination of Marie Curie but also the admiration on display by the creators of the book.
Collage and Representation
You could sum up the narrative in A Quest for Light as compelling and to do the same for the artwork you’d need to use the word outstanding. Anna Blasczcwyk’s work is an absolute pleasure to read and is visually all-consuming. From the moment you open this book you are pulled into the cut-out style and mix of abstraction and photographic representation. This merging of styles leads to the creation of something greater than the sum of its parts. The layered printed style reflects the complexities within the narrative, reminding the reader that there is always something else going on. This accentuates the emotional punches of the story in the same way that the familiarity of the narrator changes the way that readers interact with the text. Moments of despair and mourning engulf full pages while emerging loves and close families busy themselves on the page with panels running up against and even over each other.
The page design throughout A Quest for Light is provocative while still being simple to follow for the intended audience. A scene with a disturbing hanging has panels that tick tock across the page like the chiming of a doomsday clock, represented visually by bold red text, which culminates in a shockingly bright panel at the bottom of the page. The contrast between the panels and the coloring behind the panels marks the final image out from the page, emphasizing it and its importance. This technique of using the design to emphasize elements of the story is at the heart of Blasczcwyk’s work. Each page is a work of art to be discovered, admired and dissected.
The lettering and coloring is an integral part of the book’s design. The constant narration sits in unusual shaped caption boxes that have broken edges as if they have been torn from a book or are emerging directly from the artwork. This emphasizes the connection between dispossessed narrator and emotional story and bridges the gap between the reader and the characters. The more standard speech balloons still lack thick borders making them less intrusive, and the diary/letter excerpts blend beautifully with the artwork. There is a cohesion between each aspect of the comic artwork that makes it easy and pleasurable to read.
It has to be said that this book is not for everyone and some older readers may struggle with some of the chapters that feel more educational than others. But for the most part, if the subject matter is appealing, I would recommend this to anyone of any age. It magnificently tells the story of one of the most important scientists who ever lived and whose life influenced women for generations. Marie Curie led a fascinating and important life and the detail that is represented in this book is a fitting memorial. There is a growing movement in education to include more graphic narratives and biographies like this are definitely great additions to the educational system. There should be more books like A Quest for Light in the world. It is exciting, moving, educational, and visually magnificent.
Marie Curie: A Quest for Light is published by IDW Publishing and available at your local comic and book shops now.