Interview: Falynn Koch on Bugs and Bats
Falynn Koch’s newest book in First Second’s Science Comics line, Science Comics: Plagues, came out last week, so I figured it’s a good time to post the interview I did with her at C2E2 last April. Koch is also the author of Science Comics: Bats, so we started with that. You can keep up with her work at her website, Twitter, or Facebook.
Why do you think people are interested in bats?
They are such weird little critters! How could you not be? They don’t have a bottom half—they are all upper body, they have just got a head, and a little body, and their wings. They are kind of weird animals like the platypus—I know that they are mammals, but they can fly, and they have echolocation and all that, so they are right on the cusp of being a million different things at once, and that’s what’s fascinating about them.
They are one of those really old, ancient creatures that did its own thing for so long that it’s just like a bunch of different qualities from a bunch of different animals, and that’s why a lot of people like them.
I think just the way they move—people don’t like that. A lot of people don’t like snakes because it’s hard to tell if they’re going to turn left or right, and spiders are the same way, and bats are a little bit like that too.
Everybody always draws their echolocation as one echo out and then one back, but they basically call out in every direction that they can; they just keep yelling out, because they want to get a 3D map. Because they base how they fly on chasing bugs, or getting around trees or the wind, they have a really sporadic movement, and I think that freaks people out. I can understand that, but I’m fascinated by it. There’s a bunch of bats that live in the church by my house and I specifically go at dusk to go watch them dart around and do their thing.
So you have had personal, up close experience with them?
Oh yes. I’ve also been to Austin, Texas, to see them at the bridge, and I’ve been to Carlsbad Caverns, too.
Where are there bats in Austin?
The Congress Avenue bridge. For some reason, when they built it out of concrete, it was the perfect bat sanctuary (that they didn’t know that they were building), and now millions of bats fly out in the summer, every single night, to go eat all the bugs at night, then they fly back in. When they first built the bridge, people were worried that they were going to try to exterminate them and keep them away, so [Bat Conservation International] made sort of a PR move to make them a tourist icon. There’s a big sculpture of a bat there, to let people know they are in the right spot, so instead of scaring people away, Bat Conservation International made Austin, Texas, a place to go to see bats.
I’ve gone out of my way to go see bats doing their thing in a couple different caves, bridges, things like that. I’m going to see Carlsbad Caverns again in the next year, and I keep telling my husband “We have to make it or else they’re going to migrate. If we’re not there by October, they’re going to migrate to South America and we won’t see them!”
I didn’t know this, but American Samoa has a national park where there are fruit bats. Technically it’s the only fruit bat I can go see that I don’t need a passport to go to, and I’m kind of interested to do that.
Is this your first graphic novel?
Yes. Which is funny because everybody knows me from doing minicomics and things like that, and when they see it, they go “Falynn! This is a book book!” It’s exciting. I do gallery shows, spot illustrations, minicomics, but I’ve never done a big book like this before, so it surprises people. It’s kind of been fun.
Yes. I have always loved drawing germs and telling the story of germs. The more I learned about them, the less germophobic or hypochondriac I am. I was living in New York City when the Ebola scare was happening. Everyone was worried it was going to come to America, and instead of worrying about it, I did some research on how it spreads, if it was possible, and it made me feel a lot better instead of freaking out.
Plague germs are kind of gross, though.
Yeah, I was like. “Are you sure? Plagues? Is everybody on board with this? Is it only gross ten-year-olds going to be into this?” And they said “That’s an audience,” and I was like, “Actually, that is me!” It was fun to draw. It was weird to research, but fun to draw.
How do you get a germ to sit still so you can draw it?
A lot of times when you see color pictures of germs, they just make those colors up because microscope [images] always used to be in black and white, and for books and things like that, they would color them in. Knowing that about those older photos of germs, you kind of can go anywhere you want with it. I don’t know what up or down is on the shape, which way they go, so it was kind of fun to give each basic shape color, personality, and stuff like that. Yellow fever has yellow in it, because why wouldn’t you, but other than that, there’s no right or wrong way to do it, so it was a lot of fun.
With bats, it’s very specific. You draw it a different way, it’s a different bat.
Did you learn anything new along the way?
[The book mentions that bats are poor swimmers.] They really aren’t good at it. Their wings aren’t really made for it. If they can get to the edge and pull themselves out of the water, then they have to dry off, then they have to climb something, because they don’t take off from the ground like birds do. The reason they love caves is because they have to sort of drop down. Very few bats have enough strength to get themselves going right off the ground. They need gravity assist, at least a little bit.
A guy came up to me at a convention and said “Did you know bats do swim? There’s a video of one.” We looked at it, and I was like “Oh I guess it is [swimming].” And then later on at this same convention a guy who teaches about bats came up and I asked him “Do they swim or not?” And he said, “I know what video that guy was talking about, and unfortunately that was a bat drowning, not swimming.” I don’t mean to wish harm on any bats, but I was glad I got my research right.
So the bottom line is they don’t swim?
They don’t really swim. If they are lucky they might be close enough to the edge where they could pull themselves out but then they still have to get up in a tree or something like that, so it’s not great news for them. But some of them eat fish, so they take the risk anyway.
Yes. The bulldog bat, which has the strongest echolocation of any bat, can echolocate into water, and they are able to echolocate fish before they dive down to get them. They are not huge fish—they are tadpole size—but the bulldog bat does take the risk.
What are you doing next?
I’m working on another book for First Second. It’s not part of the science series, they’ll have more detail on the new series, I will say it’s about baking. It’s not just about recipes—there are recipes in it—but also about the science of baking as well, what’s happening with proteins, and the fats, everything like that. If you take a piece of chicken and you make it hot, you’ve technically cooked it, but you can’t do that with baked goods—you can’t just take flour and an egg and put them onto a plate next to each other and wish them into a cake. You have to know a certain amount of science and how they are interacting. And even though I did go to culinary school, it wasn’t pastry school, so it was a great excuse to call all my pastry friends and have them help me out.
Will it be a kids’ book?
Yes, it will be in the same range. It’s sort of a sister series to the science series and when First Second has more information about that they’ll let everybody know.
About Brigid Alverson
Brigid Alverson, the editor of the Good Comics for Kids blog, has been reading comics since she was 4. She has an MFA in printmaking and has worked as a book editor and a newspaper reporter; now she is assistant to the mayor of Melrose, Massachusetts. In addition to editing GC4K, she writes about comics and graphic novels at MangaBlog, SLJTeen, Publishers Weekly Comics World, Comic Book Resources, MTV Geek, and Good E-Reader.com. Brigid is married to a physicist and has two daughters in college, which is why she writes so much. She was a judge for the 2012 Eisner Awards.
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