(Posted May 27, 2003)

HUNTINGDON, Pa. -- Jay Hosler, a biology professor at Juniata College, says drawing and writing comic books is just like teaching -- both require a coherent and interesting storyline and an appreciative audience.

?The skills I use to tell a story visually and in writing are the same I use in class,? says Hosler, an assistant professor of biology. ?With comic books I?m just teaching to a bunch of people I can?t see.?

These days, Hosler is attracting more and more new students with the release of his latest graphic novel, ?Sandwalk Adventures,? a five-chapter, 160-page opus that follows the adventures of a tiny follicle mite who happens to make her home in the eyebrow of naturalist and evolutionary theorist Charles Darwin. The novel uses this science fiction device to tell readers how Darwin conceived his theory of natural selection and evolution, while delivering cogent, highly readable science and history.

Hosler?s story of a humble mite has been garnering some mighty big accolades recently. To date, ?Sandwalk? has been featured in articles in the New York Times, The Chicago Tribune and the Chronicle of Higher Education. Hosler started the project a little more than two years ago. He released the story in separate editions of single-issue comic books, which now are being packaged as an entire graphic novel.

?Essentially, my day is work and research mixed in with writing and drawing -- and my wife and I had a baby,? Hosler says, smiling.

Hosler has had a lot of practice producing comic images on the side. Several years ago, he published the graphic novel ?Clan Apis,? a five-chapter book about the life cycle of a bee called Nyuki. He also wrote four-panel comic strips in college and in graduate school. To date, ?Clan Apis? has sold about 4,000 copies, respectable numbers for a comic book that does not feature a muscular superhero. The first printing for ?Sandwalk Adventures? is 1,000 copies.

The book is available by special order through almost any bookstore or through amazon.com. It also can be ordered directly through Hosler?s Web site: activesynapse.com.

?The response to both projects has been very enthusiastic,? Hosler says. ?Finding an entertaining way to get information across is exciting for me and helps my teaching as well.?

In addition to Hosler?s revolutionary tale of evolution, the Juniata researcher meticulously studied his subject, incorporating information from 37 books and articles into ?Sandwalk Adventures.? It may also be one of the only comic books to list extensive (and entertaining) footnotes. ?When you write a story, through the research you find out some really amazing things that you want to put in the story,? he explains. ?But for a comic book, too much information would make the story cumbersome, so I put these interesting side facts in footnotes -- for a researcher, writing footnotes is a blast.?

Hosler, who does most of his writing and drawing during down times in his office, finds satisfaction when a well-drawn, well-written page emerges from the jumble of notes, articles and Post-its on his desk. ?It?s really like creating order out of chaos,? he says.

Spoken like a true Darwinian.

Contact April Feagley at feaglea@juniata.edu or (814) 641-3131 for more information.