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Gonick's Comic Creation 

From his Potrero Hill studio, Larry Gonick is telling the history of the universe in a series of ... comic books. And behold, they were good.

Wednesday, Aug 20 2003
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Page 5 of 5

"Tolstoy thought the individual just rides the waves of history. But when you think of history as a wave, you're thinking of it in terms of" -- THWACK! -- "these periods when there's a lot of momentum and the thing is definitely going in a certain direction. But you also enter periods when it's not going in any definite direction. Things are very mixed up and nobody knows what's going on. [You] can't necessarily say whether you're in such a period -- but they exist, and when they do, small actions can have big effects.

"You imagine the system is a single point moving through a very high-dimensional space. So from seven-billion-dimensional space, you've got a point following a path through that space." THWACK! "That's the evolution of the system. And it comes to a point, and no matter how close you get to that point, you can't tell whether that thing is gonna go this way or that way, right?" THWACK! "The tiniest, the tiniest, little ball -- no matter how tiny a little ball you draw around that point, there will be points in there that cause the thing to go this way, and there will be other points in there that cause it to go that way. They're all mixed up. So at that point, the future of the thing is indeterminate." THWACK! "Tiny effects, you know?

"So, for instance, if you think about that in terms of the individual's impact on history ... a single person who's on the knife's edge of deciding one way or another could determine the entire course of history." THWACK! "Or he decides and a safe falls on his head, right?" THWACK!

Gonick pauses. He has sunk deep into his chair, a pillow at his back. It's a peculiar picture: a cartoonist with an advanced degree in math, discussing history by way of non-equilibrium chemistry, high physics, War and Peace, and cartoon slapstick. The world according to Gonick. All it needs, it seems, is Mother Goose.

"'For want of a nail,'" he concludes. "Right?"

About The Author

Tommy Craggs

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