Blastor the B cell. Sutura the fibroblast. Scathe the macrophage.
They're not the kind of names you usually see on the pages of comic books. But "Biowars" isn't a typical comic series.
Started last year by former med student Gabriel Shaoolian -- and already up to seven issues -- "Biowars" follows the adventures of Alex Hawking, who's been infected by a nasty germ. But instead of exclusively following Hawking around as he sneezes and coughs, the action begins inside the body, where the invading infection is battled by a team of "biowarriors." The powers these awesomely rendered characters have mimic their real roles inside our bodies, and their general badassness certainly makes you regard your immune system with a new level of respect.
The concept might sound overly didactic or even a little juvenile, but the super-high-quality artwork and thoughtful character development elevate the plot line from being just a boring biology lesson in disguise to something you actually want to read.
After an initial skirmish between the biowarriors with the infectious horde, the tale moves to the outside world, where we see Hawking being pursued by a shadowy figure who seems able to dissolve into walls. It all has something to do with research his father was involved with and a nefarious syndicate trying to squash evidence dad passed to son before he died.
It's this bouncing back and forth between the action in the real world versus that taking place in the tunnels and tubes inside the body that keeps "Biowars" a true page turner. Or, more aptly, I should I say "mouse clicker," as the comics are only available online either in PDF or browser form.
I spoke with Shaoolian to find out what his motivation was for creating a free series of comics (that's right, all "Biowars" issues are completely free), that turns the everyday functioning of our immune systems into a more epic, cinematic style of drama.
"I was a premed student at New York University where I took endocrinology my senior year and I had a phenomenal teacher named Dr. Scott," he told me. "In endocrinology I learned how the body is like a vast universe and how these cells can talk to each other. I learned how the immune system is very complicated and has special task forces. It has cells that have a license to kill other cells and cells that have to do reporting. It's just like we have police officers and we might have undercover people. I thought to myself, 'You know, if I could make this into an animated concept I could teach kids in a very entertaining way how the body works.'"
In addition to pumping out more comics in the series, Shaoolian says there are plans to create a "Biowars" game app and revamp the website to let readers dive deeper into the science behind the adventures of Blastor, Sutura, Scathe, and company. He told Crave that it should all be ready in about six months.
Till then, read up, enjoy this short video about how a comic book page comes to life, and please, cover your mouth when you sneeze.