Hi, I’m Laerie, an environmental microbiologist with a background in gut and soil microbiomes. I’m not an artist by trade, but a lifelong doodler and an amateur literature translator. I have always loved animated and kid-oriented science stories for the way that they can engage audiences of all levels in a compelling and educational manner. I fancy microbes and the huge range of abilities they possess, and in order to convey just how cool they are, I created Teddie—a tardigrade who can withstand any environment—to introduce learners to the microscopic world. He is a tardigrade of many talents, with special skills such as shrinking, which allow him to investigate all kinds of phenomena.

I knew I wanted to write an adventure about home compost piles and the bustling community that lives there, and what better challenge is there to solve than the mystery of stinky compost. Things like microbiology can seem complex and disconnected from our daily life, so I wanted Teddie to show readers that even seemingly mundane things like decomposing waste are an opportunity to apply the science we learn. If more people knew why compost heaps became smelly and how to remedy it, fewer people would probably give up on home composting. 

I started out with rough sketches on paper to both write the story and get an idea of the scene progression. Once the panels were finalized, I scanned them in and lined everything. Even with limited resources, only a tablet, it’s possible to create just about anything. I wanted to go with a more simplistic comical style, so I chose thick lines and blocky colours, and started the colouring process by completing an entire panel, adjusting the colours until I was satisfied with the look.

From there I completed all the panels in the same style and then followed the same process for shading. I decided to go for a more soft and cutesy style which makes the microbes more appealing. I kept the colours and textures for easy reference and carried them to the other panels.  Once all the pages were completed, I reviewed everything for accuracy and consistency.

 The trickiest part, I think, when creating something for younger viewers is maintaining a balance between not using so many specialized terms that the audience becomes disinterested or overwhelmed, and not underestimating what level of information young learners can take in with the help of definitions and metaphor. Most important, however, is creating an engaging story that draws readers in and allows them to empathize and form a connection with the science they are learning. With my experience in translation, I hope to be able to create more stories in other languages as well, and to connect audiences around the world while also bringing research from other languages to audiences in English. 

To view the comic on Imgur, click here.

Teddie the Tardigrade in The Smelliest Compost

By Laerie McNeil