NASA People

Text Size

Japanese Science Cartoonist Hayanon Visits Goddard
Goddard scientists work with many cool things on a daily basis, but few get the chance to be drawn into comic book characters. On June 14 and 15, Japanese science cartoonist Hayanon visited NASA Goddard to interview earth scientists for new comic strips. Hayanon is a mangaka – a master of Japanese comics called manga – and she holds a bachelor’s in physics. She writes and illustrates comic strips about science topics such as auroras, global warming, and cosmic rays. These comics are mainly aimed toward children and non-scientists, though she has written for many audiences.

Hayanon was invited to Goddard by Dr. Robert Cahalan, chief of Goddard’s Climate and Radiation Laboratory. Cahalan wanted Hayanon to talk with Goddard earth scientists in order to create five new comic books. On June 14, Hayanon came prepared with her orange JAXA rocket pen to talk with Dr. Christina Hsu about aerosols and clouds, Dr. Claire Parkinson about ice, Dr. Charles Ichoku about fire, Dr. William Lau about water and monsoons, and Dr. Jim Tucker about land. Hayanon held a seminar on June 15 to discuss her work and demonstrate how she makes manga characters out of the scientists she interviews. After visiting Goddard, Hayanon visited the Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI) in Baltimore and the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in Cambridge, Mass.

As a child in the southern-most Japanese island of Okinawa, Hayanon liked to play video games and draw. She studied literature in high school, but when she got a boyfriend who was preparing for a math college entrance exam, she decided to take the test too. She passed the exam; her boyfriend did not. Hayanon went to study at the University of the Ryukyus and obtained a Bachelor of Science in physics. Upon graduation, Hayanon wanted to pursue different directions, and after briefly trying to be a musician, she decided to be a self-taught manga artist. Five years later, she realized she could combine her science background with her manga and she started working for the magazine Kodomo no Kagaku, “Science for Kids.” Over the past ten years, Hayanon has written science comics for magazines, newspapers, universities, research institutes, and JAXA. Some of her most recognizable comics are the booklets published by Nagoya University’s Solar-Terrestrial Environment Laboratory (STEL). These booklets feature the curious, blue-haired girl Mol and her talking dog, Mirubo, who visit various science sensei, or teachers. In 2007, an associate professor at The University of Electro-Communications in Tokyo gave her the title “science comic artist.” (Hayanon gave herself this pen name when she was a junior high school student.)

In order to create a comic book, first Hayanon needs a topic. Sometimes she thinks of a topic herself and seeks out potential resources, and sometimes a scientist or organization asks her to cover a particular subject. To help prepare for an interview, she sends a leading scientist a list of general questions about his or her research. She and the scientists go through these questions during the interviews so Hayanon can get a sense of the major issues in their topics of study. When she starts to write the comic book story, she focuses on making the science and story clear, putting it in a good order, making sure it is familiar for the audience, and being honest. Hayanon must then fact-check and proofread her comic. To create cartoon images of the scientists, Hayanon combines tracing and artistic interpretation. She draws her comics digitally because it is easier to work with her collaborators and assistants across Japan. It takes about a month to produce a comic.

Over the course of her science comic artist career, Hayanon has talked with many interesting scientists. One of her favorites was Dr. Yosuke Kamide of Nagoya University, a world-renowned expert on auroras. About a year ago, Hayanon started learning English so she could talk with scientists outside of Japan. This was her fifth visit to the United States--and her first conducting interviews in English. She intends to write these new comics in English for an American audience. She has written all her other comics in Japanese, and they have been translated into 25 different languages. When asked about possible differences between Japanese and American audiences, Hayanon noted that there are different preferences for color. “Japanese love pink!” she explained.

This has been a rewarding career for Hayanon. Her favorite fan encounter was meeting a young man who used to read her comics in junior high school and was inspired to become a scientist. The scientists at Goddard’s Earth Sciences Division are looking forward to seeing their research and stories put into manga form. To see some of Hayanon’s comic booklets online, visit
Katrina Jackson
NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md.