Broadening Skeptical Outreach Through Manga
No I don’t mean the psychic kind of medium, I’m talking about discovering a new means through which critical thinking can be taught. The notion of using Japanese manga comics to communicate a message about science or critical thinking would likely never have occurred to me, but thankfully it did to someone! That someone Canadian resident Sara Mayhew, graphic designer and mangaka (manga artist), author of Secrets of Sorcerers and Love Pet. Her current project is called Legend of the Ztarr and is available online here.
I first heard about Sara and her work on the Skeptics’ Guide to the Universe Forum where she posted an announcement about her upcoming talk at the TED conference. If you haven’t heard of it before TED is an annual convention on Technology, Entertainment and Design where speakers are invited to talk about their specialty in such fields. Other noted skeptics who are TED fellows include James Randi, Michael Shermer and Richard Dawkins so Sara is clearly in good company. The TED conference is just fantastic and I highly recommend you check out there catalog of lectures available in full online for free on their website.
Soon after I heard about Sara and her plans to take manga and critical thinking to TED I quickly had a couple of other encounters with her work. Sara was interviewed on episode #127 of the massively popular Skepticality podcast and was able to spread the word even further about her work and her plans. Sara also recorded a 2 minute video describing herself and her beliefs as part of a Nokia’s responsiveness program (embedded below). She also runs a very cool blog called “There Are Four Lights” the title of which is an awesomely nerdy Star Trek reference. It’s clear from her blog that her popularity has exploded and there are a number of posts detailing exciting events she’s participating in and work she’s done.
If you weren’t aware already manga is a form of Japanese comic writing and illustration that is becoming increasingly popular in the western world. Manga in Japan is far more than superhero comics (though there is plenty of that), instead it is an entertainment medium as ubiquitous and popular as television. There are manga comics for everyone from 6 year olds to housewives, business executives to school girls and everyone in between. Due to the common perception of illustration in the west as child-centered and the illogical ad hominem that western mangaka isn’t “genuine” it is extremely difficult to make it as a western mangaka. Sara is already making a name for herself as one of the most popular western manga artists and how awesome is it that one of her main goals is to spread critical thinking through her work!
You may be wondering how critical thinking and skepticism can be applied in such magical worlds as Sara’s manga? Well the answer is simple. Critical thinking is about far more than approaching claims of the paranormal with skepticism, it is about rationally and logically approaching all situations you encounter. The heroine character in Sara’s Legend of the Ztarr gets plucked from relative obscurity and told she needs to save the universe because of a prophecy her Father failed to fulfill. Rather than be swept away and confounded by the ensuing craziness she encounters, the heroine intelligently and rationally approaches the situation while simultaneously maintaining the air of charm and humour characteristic of the style.
So that’s all for now, I just thought I’d share my experience in discovering yet another medium through which skepticism and critical thinking can be taught. I look forward to following Sara’s success with her work and am sure we haven’t heard the last of her. I’ll also be sure to keep a look out for any other left-field skeptical communicators I encounter.
For now please check out Sara’s Nokia ad below and I’ll also embed a three part lecture given by Sara that she gave at the CFI’s monthly Cafe Inquiry.