Jim Ottaviani

Jim Ottaviani, author of the comic novel “Feynman,” stressed the importance of graphic novels in literature and the impact Richard Feymann’s life had on the physics community.

Photo Credit: Kiersten Holms | Daily Texan Staff

Physics meets graphic novels in Jim Ottaviani’s newest graphic novel about the famed physicist, Richard Feynman.

Ottaviani said most people aren’t aware of the many nuances that come into play when writing a graphic novel. He said he has to create the scene through his writing for artists to refer to when they are drawing out the graphic novels. 

“I think a lot of people are totally wrong about comics. There is definitely a lot that comes into play,” Ottaviani said. “I mean I might sit there and write out an 800-page script for a 200-paged graphic novel.” 

Many of the attendees at a speech by Ottaviani in Robert A. Welch Hall on Friday were physics majors, and physics graduate student Maria Becker said she was interested in the graphic novel because of her admiration of Feynman’s work on quantum mechanics. Feynman received the Nobel prize in physics in 1965 for his work in the field. 

“I was primarily interested in hearing about Feynman, and I knew the book was going to be here as well. Of course, I was also interested in the graphic novel,” Becker said.

Ottaviani detailed the planning, processing, drawing and editing of graphic novels. 

“The way it starts for me is page one, panel one. Give the artist a feel for the setting,” Ottaviani said. “You want to give the artists a feel for the setting by including those really minute details.”

Ottaviani shared some of the tricks he uses to make his graphic novels with the audience.

“If you want a surprise to happen, you put it at the top left-hand side of an odd-numbered page,” he said. “Then, the reader turns the page and bam!”

Ottaviani said that after he writes the scripts, his degree of usefulness to the project varies on how much he trusts the artist. He said sometimes he is very involved while other times he realizes he would just interfere with the artist’s creativity. 

Many were interested in the creative process that went into the graphic novels, but others were more interested in hearing about Feynman himself.

“I came to see him speak because I am a physics major, and it’s Feynman,” said physics junior Alex Reinhart. “It’s obligatory.”

Ottaviani said his admiration for Feynman inspired him to create his latest graphic novel. 

“I think, though, that part of what made Feynman great was his curiosity,” Ottaviani said. “The desire to learn and experience more made him great.”

Printed on Monday, October 3, 2011 as: Comic author Jim Ottaviani speaks about physicist, art to students 

The mere mention of the name Richard Feynman causes any physicist’s eyes to brighten. No doubt, Feynman was one of greatest thinkers of the 20th century, but he never acted like one. He was a goofball — a child in an adult’s body who loved life almost as much as the thrill of discovery. He happened to find his way into physics, but along the way got distracted by a number of hobbies, from cracking safes to drawing nudes to playing the drums. Known by his friends as an expert raconteur, eventually he put his stories into print and published collections such as “Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman” and “What Do You Care What Other People Think?”

Feynman,” the graphic novel by Jim Ottaviani and illustrated by Leland Myrick, adapts several of those stories along with some of Feynman’s lectures and speeches. The result is nothing short of marvelous. Each frame captures Feynman’s excitement, and the parts that delve into physics do so in as accessible a way as possible, allowing the reader to marvel at Feynman’s unique teaching style.

The best stories in the book are those that focus on Feynman’s mischief. While working on the atomic bomb at Los Alamos, New Mexico, he would spend his spare time trying to get around the security at the base. It was almost as if Feynman took “you can’t do this” as a challenge rather than an order. And being the brainy guy that he was, he’d typically pass the challenge with flying colors.

Ottaviani’s graphic novel covers many of Feynman’s stories, but also does a particularly good job of presenting some of the scientific ideas that the man immersed himself in. Feynman was a major proponent of the idea that if one could not form an introductory lesson on a subject, then he didn’t really understand it. As a result, he spent a lot of time presenting advanced topics to those outside the field, never explaining them in the traditional textbook manner and often preferring a less mathematical, more conceptual approach.

Though Ottaviani covers the science well and also hits most of the biggest feats of Feynman’s life, it’s slightly frustrating (though understandable) that he’s unable to cover more of the material from the books, lectures and talks. The graphic novel already clocks in at an appropriate length of 266 pages, though there’s likely enough material out there to more than quadruple that.

Additionally, the individual stories are appropriately abridged, offering something like an overview of the material that it’s adapting. While “Feynman” works as a standalone piece, it’s more effective when thought of as a companion piece or introduction to its sources.

“Feynman” does what it sets out to do and does it very well: It captures the essence of a great character, providing an entertaining portrait of his life, in his own words and from his point of view. It’s a beautiful tribute to a great man.

Printed on September 30, 2011 as: Graphic novel presents life of world-renowned physicist