- an author of educational comic books about the environment but also an educator and a conservation biologist.
Readers, let’s give a good, hearty welcome to this week’s guest!
Based in biodiversity-rich Ecuador, Alan wears several hats: he is an author-illustrator, an educator and a conservation biologist. Alan’s work is inspired by the majesty and fragility of nature and the need to do everything we can to protect it.
Alan combines his artistic creativity with his technical experience and knowledge to create scientifically accurate, educational children’s books full of quirky, comic humour and fun action, and usually bearing a message about how everyone can help preserve Nature.
Because he combines non-fiction with fiction, Alan’s creative process involves multiple steps that all need careful planning, right from researching the technical content of his books to creating the storyline, the original artwork, characters, and dialogues to designing the final books.
Alan, thanks for agreeing to be here today. Most interviews start off with the boring stuff, but I know what readers REALLY want to know.
If you could have any pet (real/fantasy/no-allergies/no worries about feeding it) what would it be?
A terrifying, invincible dragon that I could set loose to roast anyone I wanted!
A classic choice, but a bit more violent than most people. I hope you don’t have a lot of people on your ‘to-be-roasted’ list!
What do you write? And how did you get started?
I write and illustrate educational comic books, all with an environmental theme and usually with a message about getting involved and taking better care of nature.
It all started about 20 years ago when I was still active as a field biologist living in eastern Bolivia, which corresponds to the southern Amazon basin. One of my mentors, friends and colleagues is a renown ecologist called Louise Emmons. She was doing a lot of research in my neck of the woods and I was always involved. Louise was a big fan of my cartoons, and we decided to write up her research as a comic book. She wrote the stories and I did the artwork. This led to my self-publishing my first comic book, Fables of the Amazon, which is a book of short stories as comic strips, all with an ecology lesson drawn from Louise’s own research, and some from my own.
Years later I got my foot in the door for a consultancy with the Charles Darwin Foundation in the Galapagos Islands, and one of the products was my second comic book, all about Darwin and his legacy.
I didn’t get back to being an author until about 7 years later, when my publisher asked me to do a comic book about climate change. This was a subject that was not yet mainstream at the time, it was about 2015, and I was myself facing a challenge in my conservation job trying to understand climate change, so I jumped at the chance to create a comic about it. With a full-time job and family life, it took me about 3 years to finish that book, an 88-page comic. I did all the research first, and that took months because it involved consulting experts, interviewing them, reading papers, trawling the news and a whole lot more. It was finally published in December 2018, and I’ve been promoting and marketing it ever since.
Around mid-2019 I converted the paperback book to 3 ebooks, thus making a series. Just getting it from paperback to ebook was in itself a huge challenge and I learned a lot in the process.
What an amazing journey! With a fair amount of education.
What do you like to read?
I mostly read historical non-fiction and popular science, though I also like to vary that with fiction, also usually historical. I also very rarely like to read a mystery or gothic horror novel, though that is very rare. I also enjoy reading the classics. Strangely enough, I hardly ever read comics, though when I was younger I used to read the European style comic albums such as Tintin and Asterix, which by the way became huge influences for my own books.
Not a surprising mix, considering your background. And who doesn’t appreciate Asterix?
Name one commonly accepted piece of writing advice that doesn’t work for you.
Hire an illustrator on Fiverr.com.
I do them myself.
I don’t have your artistic skills, nor the dedication to learn, but I’ve heard you get what you pay for on fiverr…
Name one commonly accepted piece of writing advice that they can pry out of your cold, dead hands.
A good story has to have a compelling beginning, a rollercoaster middle, and a satisfying (or open) ending.
In book or comic form, structure matters for telling a story.
Shameless Self-Promotion time!
In 1859, Charles Darwin unveiled to the world a theory so controversial that it shook the very foundations of science and theology.
This funny, historically and scientifically accurate comic explains Darwin’s theory in clear language and provides thoroughly researched insight into Darwin’s thought process and the pressures he had to deal with.
As an educational graphic novel, the book provides an entertaining learning experience for curious kids and is perfect for science teachers who want to teach evolution in their classrooms. It is also great for any adult interested in natural history, Darwin and his theory, and Victorian scientific exploration in general.
The Adventures of Captain Polo series:
Have you become increasingly aware and concerned about the global environmental and climate crisis? You might find some of it quite overwhelming, not to say confusing.
The Adventures of Captain Polo series provides an innovative means of introducing the daunting topics of our planet’s climate and environmental meltdown to help kids as young as 9 not only understand the science but crucially also engage positively with the many solutions that already exist.
Through vibrant, humorous and adventure-packed stories presented as comic graphic novels reminiscent of the legendary Tintin, the reader will be swept up in an epic, global adventure in which Captain Polo the polar bear reveals the many ways in which climate change is impacting urban and rural communities as well as ecosystems and wildlife across the planet.
Fables of the Amazon: Fun Lessons in Ecology (co-authored with Louise Emmons)
“Fables of the Amazon delivers important forest lessons, animal facts, and moral tales through humorous stories and vivid images that will broaden children’s minds to the unique world of the Amazon.” — Readers’ Favorite
Natural history and ecology are fascinating but complex subjects. What better way to discover them than through a comic that is both funny and scientifically accurate? A perfect learning resource for nature-loving kids and adults, as well as the perfect classroom book for science teachers! Written by conservation scientists, this comic features facts about jungle animals drawn from actual field observations from the Amazon rainforest.