A lot of things may come to mind when we first think of comics. Speech bubbles, lots of action, superheroes. Of course (thankfully) there’s been a lot of variation in the art of comics, particularly in the last few decades. Environmentalism isn’t necessarily the general public’s first thought when it comes to comics, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t out there – there are many talented comic artists tackling the subject, not limited to Nick Hayes, Rachel Hope Allison, and even the revered Hayao Mizayaki. One of those artists now rising in popularity is Rosemary Mosco, creator of Bird and Moon Comics. Whether you realize it or not, you’ve probably stumbled across a few Bird and Moon pieces even if you aren’t an avid treehugger – they’re frequently circulated on social media not only due to their cute animals but their attention-grabbing punchlines. It’s all in a day’s work for Mosco, who has recently published an illustrated book on pigeons along with having a featured segment in the New York Times (along with a published collection of Bird and Moon comics). Bird and Moon doesn’t have a set storyline – but it does communicate themes important to Mosco. Yet this work wasn’t necessarily always her vision. As she says, “ I made my first webcomic back in 2004, and it was called Bird and Moon. It was very different from the comics I make now. It was a long-form story about a lonely bird who meets the moon. But it had some of the elements that I like to talk about today: animals navigating the built world and trying to find their place. After that comic, I decided that I wanted to talk more about the science part of that kind of story, so I started making shorter-form cartoons, but I kept the Bird and Moon URL. I’ve been making nature cartoons on and off since about 2005, with brief breaks for life events like grad school.”
Of course, regardless of her current achievements, that doesn’t mean Bird and Moon was an instant success. There are many well-established mediums that we use to learn about conservation – you’ve most likely indulged in a Discovery documentary or read a memoir from a former animal rehabilitator – and, though they exist, with some talented artists and writers to credit, comics are sometimes overlooked as a form to explore the subject. But you shouldn’t be turned away because the niche is often underexplored. “I think people learn in different ways. Comics have been shown to help kids learn, especially when they’re less interested in the material in the first place. But some people learn better by listening or by touching. I think comics can play an important part in that wider world of education. They certainly shouldn’t be left out,” says Mosco of her work in comics.
I personally love the medium of comics – as I struggle with ADHD, there are times I just can’t sit down for a two-hour nature special or a well-informed hour-long podcast. Comics can sometimes present lots of information in a bite-sized package, which is especially amazing considering how much many of us have left to learn. The compact nature of comics can be particularly helpful for younger readers, those who don’t have the time to sit down and read an article, or anyone who learns best with a visual aid. While long-form comics certainly exist and can educate, Mosco’s strips are short, punchy, and pack in lots of information in their often three to six panel format. Mosco says she’s especially proud of some Bird and Moon comics in which she consulted experts for their advice; while drawing animals is fun for anyone, she wants to ensure her work is truly well-informed.
Mosco’s work, despite its subject matter being scientific in nature, isn’t always serious. In fact, usually, it isn’t. Many of her pieces riff off of the snobbiness of birdwatchers, struggles in identifying similar species, and silly animal behaviors. These things are funny, sure – but they also make her work accessible. Learning about animals and the world around us is less imposing when it hasn’t fallen victim to gatekeeping by the more well-informed. The unfortunate truth is that Birding is a field dominated by wealthy white men. According to a 2011 study conducted by the US Fish and Wildlife Service, the average birdwatcher is likely to be around 53 years old, white, and have an above-average education and income. The same study found the total percentage of white birders to be approximately 93%. Addressing this inequity is vital because these topics are important to learn about in the face of growing threats like climate change and habitat loss, especially to those who may have been previously excluded from the conversation.
Many people are dedicated to animals and the environment. To some extent, all of us are aware of the current threats the Earth faces – everything from our excessive use of single-use plastics to the ever-looming threat of climate change. But it takes quite a lot of commitment to focus your career around these topics – particularly when your job is an atypical one, like being a comic artist. At the end of the day, the goal is to translate a passion for environmentalism into a beloved easy-to-read format. Mosco feels that, despite some of the struggles that accompany her line of work, it’s worth it. “Comics are a good medium for education in general. People share things that are funny, and comics can be short enough to share in emails, social media posts, etc. Plus, the visual aspect helps me share some of the weirder and harder-to-describe aspects of animal behavior and appearance. I think it’s the perfect medium for science outreach, so long as you pay close attention to accuracy and balance it against accessibility!”
Mosco’s advice for anyone looking to take some inspiration from her work? “If you’re going to make educational comics, pay attention to social science research and science communication best practices. Also, don’t be afraid to get silly. Humor can help you express your love for your study subject. Nature is weird and hilarious as well as beautiful and majestic.” Anyone who’s worked with animals in any capacity knows just how right Mosco is. Often, zoos and other educational programs try their hardest to push their animals in a serious light – because, of course, endangered and threatened species are no laughing matter. But, at the end of the day, animals are puzzling, frustrating, and often plain silly – and those are the things we ultimately love about them. And this is why Mosco’s Bird and Moon comics deserve a wider readership.
Bird and Moon’s playful strips are both a beautiful reminder that we all have something left to learn – and to let go and laugh sometimes. Her strips prominently feature, well, birds, along with almost any animal you can picture – snakes, frogs, small mammals – but there’s a humanizing aspect to them that many popular comics lack (despite featuring, well, humans). The strips are educational, but not pretentious; admittedly, some nature documentaries make me feel like the disembodied British narration is judging me for not having already known the distance a rhino can travel. Bird and Moon’s comics are punchy, smoothly and colorfully illustrated, and remain humble no matter how far Mosco goes in her career. There’s enough variety in topics & humorous bits to keep even those who aren’t ravenous about bird facts entertained. Hopefully, Bird and Moon will be around for many years to come to continue teaching us all under the guise of a bird-oriented laugh.