Arts + Scene » Book Notes

Primates: The Fearless Science of Jane Goodall, Dian Fossey and Biruté Galdikas

By Jim Ottaviani, illustrated by Maris Wicks, First Second



The connection between Tarzan and Jane Goodall never occurred to me until Page 2 of Primates, when a young Goodall daydreams of swinging on vines, jealous of Tarzan's other Jane.

Primates, a graphic novel written by Jim Ottaviani and drawn by Maris Wicks, tells the story of three icons in the field of primate studies: Jane Goodall, Dian Fossey and Biruté Galdikas.

Goodall, the most prolific, serves as the backbone of the story. It's fitting, as it was her research that opened up the world of chimpanzees to the rest of the world. It was Goodall who first introduced Fossey, renowned for her anti-poaching advocacy, to Galdikas, researcher and rainforest conservationist. Galdikas gets the least attention, really serving to show the continuing legacy of Goodall and Fossey, two sides of the same coin. Goodall, blazing the trail and finding success, becomes the face of primate research, while Fossey slowly allows her passion to fight poachers to contract into anger and frustration.

Primates is a quick read at 133 pages. Ottaviani focuses on the story on how each woman truly came alive in the wild. Alternating between fictional storytelling and real life journal entries and using font to differentiate the two, Ottaviani captures the women's voices.

The artwork is simple but strong. Wicks' style, like that of many small press artists, is like an adult version of Charles Schulz's Peanuts. It allows Wicks to switch from whimsy to seriousness without jarring the reader, which lets Ottaviani be more expressive with his story.

The graphic element also makes the book more accessible to young readers, while adults can be immersed in the narrative. And ultimately, the art, with its cartoon-y exaggerations, serves the story. To the scientific community of the 1960s and '70s, chimps using tools sounded like something straight out of the Sunday funnies.

Primates is a fun, all-ages read that puts a spotlight on three fascinating women and allows the true story to shine — great for young girls looking for a strong role model, but meant for anyone who has wanted to feel the rush of swinging from the trees.

Add a comment