Mad Science for the Modern Reader, a guest post by S. H. Cotugno
I’ve always loved a mad scientist.
I love the angst, the drama, the deeply human problems met with wildly ill-advised solutions. I love the bubbling potions, the lighting strikes, the cool lab coats. Mad scientist stories occupy a very particular niche between science fiction and fantasy, historical drama and horror. It’s a genre for the misfits and the weirdos, the kind of people who would rather spend their Friday nights unraveling the forbidden secrets of the universe than . . . well, I don’t actually know what normal people do on Friday nights. Party . . . alcohol . . . sex . . . thing? You tell me.
Mad science stories play out our deepest fears and desires in ways at once familiar and otherworldly. They can be rich sources for allegory and reinterpretation, especially for people from marginalized identities. Mad scientists are often outsiders, shunned by society for questioning the established order, and the monsters they create often resonate with those who have been made to feel less than human.
My favorite mad scientist story is Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson (you can tell I’m a true and very obnoxious fan because I omit the “The” in front of “Strange Case”). As a mixed-race, queer, and nonbinary person, I’ve always been drawn to characters who feel split between two worlds, and I can’t think of anyone who embodies that vibe more completely than Jekyll, a guy who would rather split his soul in two with a magic science potion than fit himself into any one of the boxes the world has laid out for him. Like, same, dude.
But mad scientists and gothic horror can be a hard sell for the uninitiated. They’re old, they’re a little campy, and everyone already knows the big twists. Also, I know I just wrote all that stuff about marginalized identities, but to be real, the text of these stories revolve almost exclusively around upper class cis white dudes with ambiguous sexualities at best. It is a stretch to label them as anything resembling diverse.
So, I get it. There’s a high barrier for entry for most people, especially young people who have a near-infinite sources of entertainment to choose from. But these are valuable texts, and I want new readers to be able to access the joy and meaning that I got out of them. In other words, I want to trick unsuspecting strangers into liking the same weird stuff that I do.
That’s why I wrote my debut YA graphic novel The Glass Scientists, a re-imagining of classic gothic science fiction set in a world of bubbling potions and misunderstood monsters. The story takes place thirty years after the death of the infamous Dr. Frankenstein. During that time, the citizens of London citizens have gotten awfully good at killing monsters, destroying laboratories, and generally wrecking anything new or strange-looking. Soon, every scientist within city limits will find themselves behind bars, unless someone can turn their luck around, and fast.
That someone is Dr. Henry Jekyll, young gentleman scientist extraordinaire. Two years ago, Jekyll founded the Society for Arcane Science, a community of scientific minds living and working together safely under one roof. He believes that mad scientists (or “rogue scientists,” as he prefers) could survive, and even thrive, if only they could improve their image in the public eye–and he plans to give them one hell of a makeover.
But Jekyll’s carefully laid plans fall apart when a mysterious stranger arrives, bent on destroying the Society from the inside out. Jekyll’s fellow scientists turn against him as his life spirals out of control, shattering his flawless reputation and threatening to expose his darkest secret . . . a secret that could ruin him and unravel the lives of everyone he knows.
The Glass Scientists delves into themes of identity and self-acceptance while diversifying its cast to better reflect the world today (not that Victorian London wasn’t diverse in its own right, but that’s a whole other essay).
But it’s also a lot of fun! At least one character gleefully shouts, “For SCIENCE!” while spearing a were-griffin with a harpoon gun. The reason for this is twofold. For one: I come from the world of animation, working on action-comedies like Gravity Falls, Star vs. the Forces of Evil, and The Owl House. I gotta make the jokes. And for, uh, two: I believe it’s easier to bring in new readers, especially reluctant readers, if you can offer them a breezy, fun story filled with vibrant colors and expressive characters. If you can make them laugh with you, you can make them cry with you. (And I do hope to make at least a few people cry.)
I believe it’s important to meet people where they’re at. Like, it’s okay if you’re main connection point with Frankenstein is a Halloween costume, or if the last time you thought about Dr. Jekyll was during a Scooby Doo rerun (okay, that’s a deep cut, but still). Let’s start there, then find the layers beneath that. Come for the fun sciencey tropes, stay for the heartfelt emotional journeys.
That’s the theory, anyway! (The . . . hypothesis, if you will? Science words!) But I do have a bit of evidence to back it up. The Glass Scientists began its life as a webcomic in 2015, during which time it attracted a loyal teen audience. At least, I’m pretty sure that’s the core audience. I don’t really understand how Google Analytics works. But I can tell you that teenagers are often the most vocal and creative members of my readership, producing fanart, fanfiction, cosplays, and even Tiktoks, a thing that both delights and frightens me because I’m a millennial, and Tiktok was not built for me.
All this to say: some very cool and nice people enjoy this thing I made! So if you’re a fellow lover of mad scientists, or if you would like to trick a friend (or enemy?) into liking them too, you might also enjoy The Glass Scientists!
Meet the author
S. H. Cotugno is a queer and mixed-race Victorian horror nerd born and raised in Los Angeles, California. They are a director, writer, and storyboard artist in the animation industry and have previously worked on projects such as Gravity Falls, The Owl House, and Star vs. the Forces of Evil. The Glass Scientists will be their first published graphic novel. You can see more of their work at SeeGoatRun.com or by following them on Twitter, Instagram and Tiktok (@arythusa).
About The Glass Scientists: Volume One
The gothic worlds of Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde, Frankenstein, and more collide in this graphic novel series about buried secrets, mad science, and misunderstood monsters. For fans of stylish reimaginings like Lore Olympus and gaslamp fantasies like The Night Circus!
London isn’t the safest place for mad scientists these days. After that whole ordeal with Frankenstein, angry mobs have gotten awfully good at hunting down monsters and wiping out anything they don’t understand. In fact, if it weren’t for one extraordinary young man, every out-of-the-box thinker would have been locked up . . . or worse.
That young man is none other than Dr. Henry Jekyll. He believes mad scientists would thrive if they could just fix their public image, which is why he founded the Society for Arcane Sciences, a place where like-minded eccentrics could come together to defy the laws of nature in peace.
But everything changes when a mysterious stranger arrives, bent on taking the Society in a radical new direction. With everyone turning against him, Jekyll’s life starts to spiral out of control, shattering all his carefully laid plans and threatening to expose his darkest secret—one that could destroy everything he has built from the inside out.
Volume One collects Chapters 1-7 of this thrilling, humorous, beloved webcomic, which is available in print for the first time ever. It also features a brand-new side story, a behind-the-scenes look at artwork, and more exclusive bonus content!
Publisher: Penguin Young Readers Group
Publication date: 10/03/2023
Age Range: 12 – 17 Years
Filed under: Guest Post
About Amanda MacGregor
Amanda MacGregor works in an elementary library, loves dogs, and can be found on Twitter @CiteSomething.
SLJ Blog Network