Beatrice the Biologist is THE science webcomic to follow… and book, and science blog, and iPad/iPhone game… phew! Beatrice the Biologist creator, Katie McKissick, is one busy bee. With a love of biology and an undying passion for educating the world, Katie can be found busily blogging, drawing, doodling, creating books, and more, all in the name of science.
I found Katie’s work while stumbling around some science sites on Facebook and was immediately drawn to her Amoeba Hugs comic. I enjoy how Katie takes an element of science that is often misunderstood by the public and translates it for the layperson to both understand and find the humor within it. As you go through her comic archives, you will find that Katie’s comics are easy-to-comprehend, balanced between refreshingly simple and yet humorously complex, and bring levity into something as serious as science.
Additionally, Katie writes for the Symbiartic Scientific American blog and has a book coming out this next winter. Her writing is wittingly funny, yet personal, which subtly welcomes readers into the depths of science, regardless of their expertise. If you are looking for a break from the redundant media sources and discover a need to expand that brain of yours, I highly recommend checking out Katie’s Beatrice the Biologist works for a gentle, yet humorous introduction into this beautiful world of science.
Katie was sweet enough to take some time between her multitude of projects to answer my questions in this exclusive interview below:
Interview with Beatrice the Biologist creator, Katie McKissick:
Q. Biology is a large part of your life. What memorable moment made you decide you wanted to pursue a life in biology?
A. Hm. There is no single moment I can point to. I fell in love with science over the course of my high school education (whereas in middle school I thought science was poop). I knew I wanted to major in either chemistry or biology in college, but I never thought about what I would really do with a science degree afterwards. I just kept telling myself I would figure it out.
Q. You were formerly a high school biology teacher. How did your Beatrice the Biologist drawings and ramblings come about?
A. When I was teaching I always looked for ways to make the material fun or funny for my students. When I left the classroom I decided to start a blog about all the common misconceptions I found my students had, discussing them in a silly way to make it more approachable.
Q. How was the initial response to your launch of Beatrice the Biologist?
A. Pretty tame. For a good two years, I wasn’t sure what I wanted Beatrice the Biologist to be. I was just experimenting and playing around with it, and I had very few eyes on it then. But very slowly I built a readership that liked my goofy perspective on science.
Q. Your mission for Beatrice the Biologist cracks me up: “To make science fun and interesting for the casual reader. I firmly believe that science is important, fascinating, and relevant to every day life, and my goal is to make everyone on the planet agree with that (and pretty much everything else I have to say).” Out of all of the things you offer, what venue do you feel reaches the widest audience?
A. The really straight-forward, short comics. Which is funny because that wasn’t at all what I set out to do when I started Beatrice the Biologist. I wanted to write articles for the most part, with just one visual to accompany it. As I kept writing, I started writing posts with multiple images, and the word to image ratio continued to evolve until I was doing posts that were single-panel comics. And that’s when I got a lot more feedback from people.
But I think that’s due to the fact that people find and consume my content primarily on social networks like Facebook. People don’t visit my website, beatricebiologist.com, anywhere near as often as they find me on Facebook. And on a platform like Facebook, people tend to not click links that will take them elsewhere and don’t want to read a long, rambling status (and I don’t either). Self-contained images are great for Facebook. People can read, respond, and move on very easily.
But while I’m happy that so many people get to see my work on platforms like Facebook, I am getting sick of feeling like I’ve been reduced to a Facebook page, rather than a science webcomic blog, which is what I feel I’m doing.
I have a complicated relationship with Facebook. It’s a great way for people to find and interact with me and my work, but I’m expected to pay $50 per Facebook post for all of my fans to actually see it (but I don’t ever do that). Even when something gets hundreds of likes and dozens of comments, which bumps it up in the Facebook algorithm-based queue, not even half of the people who “like” my page end up seeing it.
Similarly, when a comic like “When We Are Hurting” gets shared tens of thousands of times and seen on 2.3 million people’s Facebook feeds, it makes no impact on my actual website page views. It’s weird.
Q. What few Beatrice the Biologist writings or drawings would you say best sum up your message?
A. As far as my longer posts go, there are a two that I think are really central to my message. One is “Biology Doesn’t Support Gay Marriage Bans.” In the aftermath of California’s passing Prop 8, I couldn’t stop thinking about how a one-man-one-woman law was not really scientifically feasible to enforce because of the various intersex possibilities I knew about. So I wrote my most controversial post. The link, sadly, cut off the word “bans,” so at first glance it looks pretty bad!: http://www.beatricebiologist.com/2012/02/biology-doesnt-support-gay-marriage.html
And as far as my general philosophy goes, this is a good glimpse into my brain. A post about interconnectedness: http://www.beatricebiologist.com/2010/06/interconnectedness.html
As far as comics go, this is a good Beatrice overview:
Q. You designed the iPad/iPhone game, Amoeboid. How did that process go?
A. My husband planted the idea in my head, always saying I should make an iPhone app. I wasn’t sure what that would be, though. But over the course of a few months, I started hatching this idea for a game about a little amoeba that would have the side effect of teaching the player about a few different kinds of microbes—protists.
A friend of mine used to work at a multimedia production company and knew a great programmer named Niilo Tippler. I got his email from her and asked him if I could pay him to build the game I had in mind. He recruited his longtime friend and colleague, illustrator and animator Chris Tokunaga, to do the artwork.
The actual process was a blast for me. Chris drew sketches of the characters (based on photos of the protists I sent him), and Niilo programmed the game mechanics. For months I got email updates about the progress, and I got to give my feedback and direction, and eventually—voila! A great little mini game starring an amoeba!
The best part is that Niilo and Chris so enjoyed making Amoeboid that they started their own mobile app development venture called Tip-Tok and asked me to join them as the producer! Last year we released our second game, Chicks in Tanks, and we’re in the planning stages of our next one. It’s been a great experience, and I made two new friends. Awwwwwww.
Q. I love your post about the “Ups and Downs of Producing Online Content.” How did you get the position of writing for the Scientific American?
A. I became Twitter-acquainted with Symbiartic writers Glendon Mellow and Kalliopi Monoyios. This January I met them at Science Online—this science communicator conference held in Raleigh, NC. They got a budget to bring on a third blogger to the science and art Scientific American blog, and they asked me! I had major impostor syndrome. I swear my first thought was that they had emailed me accidentally. I suppose that says a lot about me. But I’m beyond honored and excited about being a SciAm blogger. I just hope I’m doing it justice!
Q. You are a busy woman; writing, drawing, creating fabric, creating iPhone games, and now making videos. (I love the Flame Challenge video, BTW). What is your favorite venue for teaching the mission of Beatrice the Biologist?
A. The comics are really fun for me. I love the challenge of taking a concept and distilling it into a cohesive comic strip with as few panels as possible. And I just love drawing and coloring. I’m a 5-year-old trapped in a 29-year-old body. I’m happy that people see my comics and feel like science is fun, funny, and approachable.
Q. Producing online content has its ups and downs. What has been your most exciting experience that has come out of Beatrice the Biologist? What about your most valued lesson?
The most exciting thing was when an editor from a publishing company emailed me because she had seen my work and wanted to know if I was interested in writing a book. I was so excited I felt like someone had punched me in the chest. That’s how everyone feels when they’re excited, right? Right?!
I just finished the manuscript, and I’m told the book What’s in Your Genes? will be out in December or January! I’m looking forward to seeing it in print and feeling the wind knocked out of me again.
The hardest lesson I’ve had to learn is to not pay attention to mean comments. But I’m not sure I’ve learned it well enough yet; it’s a work in progress.
Q. Do you have any people who you’d like to credit and thank for helping you get the publicity of where you are today?
A. My husband Kip Barnes has always been ridiculously supportive and helpful as I’ve bounced Beatrice ideas off him or had countless “what the hell am I doing?” crises.
Bora Zivkovic, the blogs editor for Scientific American, has been a huge help as well. I reached out to him for advice, and he told me to come to Science Online. I did, and it was the best week of my life! Plus, as I said earlier, there I got to meet Glendon and Kapi from Symbiartic, and have since joined their team! And thanks go to them too!
Elise Andrew of IFLS helped me get a lot of exposure when she shared a couple of my comics on her well-known Facebook page.
Q. Do you have any upcoming projects or publications that we should keep an eye out for?
A. Be on the lookout for more Amazon self-publishing projects from me (coloring book, anyone?), as well as some new projects in my Etsy store. Watch out. I have a hot glue gun, and I’m not afraid to use it!
Q. How can your followers best support you?
A. They can like me on Facebook, follow me on Twitter, buy Amoeboid, buy my books, buy a signed print, send me an email professing their undying love to me, and tell their friends about how unceasingly awesome and entertaining I am. (See below for some helpful links)
Q. Anything else you want to add?
Follow Beatrice the Biologist:
- Website: http://www.beatricebiologist.com
- Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/beatricebiologist
- Twitter: https://twitter.com/beatricebiology
- Amoeboid: https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/amoeboid/id523512655?mt=8
- Doodles at: http://beatricedoodles.tumblr.com/
- Fabric: http://www.spoonflower.com/fabric/2207519
- Etsy shop: http://www.etsy.com/shop/BeatricetheBiologist?ref=seller_info
- Amazon (Amoeba Hugs)
- Little Cells on Amazon
- Shop: http://www.printfection.com/beatricebiologist
If you would like to submit a webcomic for review, please contact me.