Science cartoonist Katie McKissick (AKA Beatrice the Biologist) made the long trek from the left coast to this year’s New York Comic Con, and AiPT was there to speak with her about how teaching led to cartooning, and the various arenas she’s participated in since stepping away from the chalkboard.
AiPT: Now, Beatrice isn’t your real name. Where did that come from?
Katie McKissick: I just always liked that name. So when I was starting a blog, I just wanted a pen name, and I chose Beatrice because I happened to like the name a lot. And I liked the alliteration with “biologist,” so I just kind of went with it.
AiPT: So you are, or were, a biology teacher?
McKissick: I was. I taught in [the Los Angeles United School District] in Los Angeles; you know, public school. Taught high school biology and I really, really liked teaching in a lot of ways, but I left the class in 2008 when they were laying off teachers and freezing pay and everything. I liked the theory of teaching a lot more than the day-to-day, actually doing it, so I wanted to kind of [do] more, like, teacher support and write things that teachers could use. I like lesson-planning more than I actually liked teaching, even though I love kids; I loved my students, but it was so hard for an introvert. That interface with 200 people every day? Oh my God. I would go home and be like, “I CAN’T FUNCTION; I’m so tired.”
So I started a blog. At first I was writing articles about science for a high school audience, and then I started incorporating more and more visuals. It used to just be one part of it, but then slowly it turned into just comics.
AiPT: Have you been successful at all getting those into classrooms? Do teachers approach you ever?
McKissick: Yeah, I know that a lot of teachers use them as kinds of springboards into lessons and things. I have a teacher who actually teaches intro bio at a college level, who commissions comics from me because he wants [comics] about a certain topic; so he’ll ask me to do things. And a children’s book I did, an after-school program in Ireland, actually, uses it as their text for 5-year-olds.
AiPT: What else do you do? I know you blog for Scientific American also.
McKissick: Right. I blog over at Scientific American, I made an iPhone game, for a game company called Tip-Tok. It’s still on there. It’s called Amoeboid; it’s free. I kind of do my own thing. I work also for the [University of Southern California] engineering school, the Viterbi School of Engineering. I kind of do this sort of stuff for them. I do comics for them, I’ll do explainer videos for them, a lot of stuff for them. I do some freelance, also, for Irridescent – it’s like an engineering after-school program. They do stuff in schools, they have after-school programs; they’re really great. I also do some lesson-plan writing for education publishers. Anything I can do that makes science or engineering fun for people I do it.
From McKissick’s Scientific American blog, Symbiartic
AiPT: Anything else you want to promote?
McKissick: I have this new comic collection book out, Ecstatic Dandelions. That is a collection of the comics from last year.
AiPT: Tell me about [What’s in Your Genes?]
McKissick: This one is my only real published work, from an actual publisher. It’s at Barnes & Noble and everything. It kind of happened, what I thought was sort of backwards. They contacted me and said, “We really want a fun book about genetics.” They were basically in a meeting, “Oh we should really have a fun book about genetics,” and one of the editors in that meeting, she reads my blog, and she was like, “I think I know who can do that for us.” So she emailed me and said, “Would you be interested in doing this?” I thought it was a joke at first. The title of the email was “Growth opportunity?” and I was like, “Is this spam?” I was like, “Oh my God, a thousand times yes.”
I sent her a writing sample so she could pitch me as the person [to write the book]. They said yes and I spent – I did it over three months. I was just like, every night, pounding away, doing all the illustrations and stuff. It was really fun; I would love to do another one. It was like a full-time, three months. I just locked myself in a cave. I emailed all my friends, I’m like, “I will not be seeing you until July, bye! Have a good one!”