The Mary Sue Exclusive Comic: Nicole Marie Burton’s Eugenie Shark
[Editor’s Note: The Mary Sue is extremely pumped to present Eugenie Shark, a webcomic by Nicole Marie Burton about Japanese-American ichthyologist Eugenie Clark. In Burton’s words, Clark was “a pioneer for both women in STEM and the study of marine life, particularly sharks.” We hope you enjoy!]
(Click to enlarge.)
Note: Eugenie Clark wrote two memoirs: Lady With a Spear and The Lady and the Sharks. Although the latter was updated in 2010, neither has much to say about the instances of racism and sexism that she must have experienced. Such accounts might interest many readers, who are unfortunately all too likely to see themselves in her shoes, be they a woman, a person of colour, or of any marginalized group working in STEM. As an artist, I’ve done my best to shed some light on these experiences without speaking on her behalf. Given that this was my mandate, I think it’s important to make an additional note about the post-war American imperial project in the South Pacific.
In the 1940s and 50s, Clark took part in a number of scientific expeditions organized by the American government. There is no way to deny that these opportunities for study were a spoil of war. As the dust settled after WWII and Japanese hegemony in the south Pacific collapsed, Americans put down their guns and picked up surveying equipment to assess the scientific and economic possibilities of this new sphere of influence. In this context, it is difficult to imagine that the indigenous islanders visited by Eugenie (who was an American citizen of Japanese descent) were entirely at ease with her work, to say nothing of the massive warship that brought her to them.
I thought of this as I drew King Ueg, wondering what was going through his mind when photos were being taken. Truth be told, as I drew his subtle smile, I thought of the likelihood that this encounter was tense, perhaps even devastating for him and his people. I wondered, in this light, who is being disingenuous? Is it King Ueg, with his diplomatic face? Is it the photographer, or Eugenie who perhaps asked him to smile? Or is it me, drawing it into a warm and friendly comic? I could go on, but I fear nothing completely answers to the ways our histories are muddied, sometimes through unintended revisions.
While Eugenie Clark was a force to be reckoned with, the purpose of this comic is to contextualize her experience through an intersectional lens. While racism and sexism were a part of her daily that culminated in her becoming one of the most valued voices in her field, curiously, U.S. imperialism was also a part of her world, and she benefited from it in the context of her work. It’s important to acknowledge an injustice, whether it’s just a footnote, or a part of someone’s story of self-actualization.
Nicole Marie Burton is a comic artist and the founder of Ad Astra Comix, a new Toronto-based publishing company devoted to comic books with social justice themes. You can follow her work on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook. Currently, she is working to promote the North American release of Ad Astra Comix’s first full-length graphic novel, the second edition release of “Drawing the Line: Indian Women Fight Back!” available for pre-order in North America this September.
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