Marion Montaigne, using humor for science

Marion Montaigne is “Professeur Moustache”, a celebrity in the scientific research world as the cartoon strip character of the blog “Tu mourras moins bête, mais tu mourras quand même” (You’ll die less ignorant, but you’ll die all the same.) Montaigne’s androgynous professor uses humor to explain the science in everything from physics to ballistics to sex. DiscovHER explores the world and the work of an illustrator like no other!

Founded in 2008, the blog quickly established a fan-base, made not entirely of scientists. Its success led to a comic book series in 2010, which won the audience award at the 2013 Festival d’Angouleme because of its brilliant combination of science and humor. In 2016, Montaigne’s science gags will reach an even larger audience when the “Tu mourras moins bête” series starts screening on the European TV channel Arte.

Asking the burning questions

Montaigne pokes fun at science, to ultimately get people learning. “If man can land on the moon, why hasn’t he been able to dig to the centre of the earth?” one strip asks. What follows is Montaigne’s hilarious depiction of the Soviet Union’s Kola Superdeep borehole (the deepest artificial point on earth), along with the reasons why the project failed. Check out her comic strip here.

And asking the not so burning questions

In one of her sketches, Marion Montaigne treats the trivial question “Why test dog food on humans?”. Through her amusing drawings, we learn that by testing dog food on humans, scientists discovered that dogs are guided by their noses rather than taste. This means pet food manufacturers get away with anything as long as they get the scent right! Check out the hilarious strip here.

Bringing history to life

Montaigne excels at bringing quirky scientific research back to life. Like the story of Stubbins Ffirth; a 19th century trainee doctor determined to prove that yellow fever was contagious. With her signature wit, Montaigne depicts the lengths Ffirth went to in order to accomplish this goal: putting vomit from a fever patient into a cut in his arm and in his eyes! All in vain of course, since yellow fever spreads thanks to mosquitos...

Medicine is the funniest field

For Montaigne, certain sciences naturally lend themselves to humor. Like medicine: 44 blog posts - compared to just two for geology. And when she receives requests for trickier subjects – the Boson Higgs particle for instance - Montaigne doesn’t hesitate in refusing, as she told French journal Le Monde: “I don’t understand the first thing about it.” Today, Montaigne gets a warm welcome from researchers, gaining access to labs where she’s able hone new source material. For them, if Montaigne manages to demystify the hard sciences, that’s great, “But what they ask above all, is to laugh.”

Carving a career in cartoon science

While Montaigne was fascinated by biology in school, art studies beckoned. After the Atelier de Sevres, she studied at Estienne and Gobelins, specializing in animation. She got her break devising a jingle for the French TV channel TF1, and then worked for Arlequin Productions. All while nurturing her drawing skills and selling her comic books to the Gilbert Jeune publishing house. According to Marion, starting to draw about science came about naturally: 

When I read science news, I can’t help but tell my friends about it, and in cartoons, it works better.

Have you ever read science illustrations? Let us know at @4womeninscience!

For Women in Science

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