Professor, University of Limoges
Clinical Practitioner, Limoges University Hospital
We have something really special this month: one of our members, Nicolas Picard, has recently transformed into a comic book character in order to tell us the history of Pharmacology. Nicolas is joined in his adventures by Vrob, an illustrator and former pharmacist, and together they travel the world, through space and time, as well as a myriad of pop culture references.
The title, Pharmacologix, reminds us of another much loved French comic book, that similarly involved the adventures of two friends. This project came into fruition during the pandemic, and Vrob notes that the project’s success may be due to people’s thirst for understanding science in an accessible way as we all move forward together in this particular moment in history. Really proud of you both, and looking forward to sequels and editions in other languages!
Can you tell us a little bit about how the idea came about?
Nicolas: In the pharmacology courses that I give at the faculty, I usually tell little stories about drugs (historical or personal anecdotes). I used to share them in the form of Twitter threads. Vrob, whom I didn’t know, was inspired by one of them. The project was born from this virtual meeting on Twitter.
Vrob: One day I got lost on Twitter and found Nicolas’ interesting threads about history and drug mechanisms. I loved the way he brought the subjects together. At that time, I was working on my new life as an illustrator and the idea of bringing these threads into a comic book came quickly. I always loved popular science, from a famous TV show in France called “C’est pas sorcier” (EN: “It’s not wizardry”), to my favourite author of these kinds of comic books, Marion Montaigne. I worked on the amphetamines story and send this chapter to Nicolas. It was the first time I contacted him! And I think he liked it : )
Vrob, how skilled in pharmacology were you prior to the project? Tell us a little about yourself : )
Vrob: Before becoming an illustrator, I was a pharmacist. I always had artistic projects beside my jobs (short films, illustration) and that’s what I loved about my studies: I met some future pharmacists/artists with whom I’ve made lots of projects! We founded the Magmatelier, a kind of virtual and physical artistic workshop. I also really enjoyed learning pharmaceutical sciences and practicing as a pharmacist, but at a certain point I felt I needed that art should take a more important place in my life.
How did the two of you come to know each other and end up working on this project?
Nicolas: We first met on Twitter. Vrob sent me a message telling me that he had adapted one of my Twitter threads into a comic strip. We quickly decided to embark on a more ambitious project with 12 stories published in a cartoon of more than 100 pages. Our first real meeting took place last October (2021), after the release of the book!
Vrob: When the first strip was released on Twitter, it was somewhat a success, and we received requests for a full-length comic! Nicolas took a chance and sent it to the publisher DeBoeck Supérieur, who was very excited by the project. Thank you, Nicolas – I don’t think I would have had the courage to do that!
Nicolas, I imagine many of the stories here are part of your classes in pharmacology, but I wonder if you came across any surprises when you had to research and put together the book?
Nicolas: Several stories were anecdotes that I had used, but the bibliographic research brought up a lot of things that I didn’t know. For example, the link between the Nobel Foundation and the discovery of trinitrin, initially an explosive: it is said that Alfred Nobel bequeathed his fortune (largely linked to the industrial success of dynamite) to redeem himself for the harm that this explosive most certainly caused (for example, his brother died in an explosion). It is also said that he never wanted to take any medicine based on trinitrin when he suffered from heart disease.
Can you tell us a little bit about how you storyboarded the chapters? We travel across the world and through time, and even the Fast and Furious is a story vehicle! (The pop culture references are many, and are just delightful!) Were there many afternoons spent around a whiteboard? Perhaps discussions at the pub?! Did you use any digital collaboration tools?
Nicolas: It was much simpler than that! I proposed scenarios in a Word document, and Vrob brought his touch to it by proposing a story board. The complicity between us was quite fast, Vrob had the ability to enrich the scenarios with lots of pop culture references and a lot of fun. The work was extremely smooth between us!
Vrob: The process was 100% digital! As Nicolas mentioned, we met in real life more than a year after our first exchange with the original chapter. Nicolas would send me a story. I drew a storyboard (it was really messy!) adding some of my references, some directions and we discussed it. Once we were both okay, I started the most fastidious task: the sketching!
This project came to fruition during the pandemic. How was the work affected by this global scenario?
Nicolas: We worked on the project between September 2020 and September 2021, and the contract with the publisher was signed at the end of January 2021. The pandemic didn’t really affect our way of working (we communicated throughout the period using WhatsApp or Zoom). It was a fun and exciting project during a very sad time.
Vrob: It’s possible the pandemic helped the project a little, knowing that people really needed popular science!
What’s next guys? Could there be enough material for Pharacologix 2?!
Nicolas: We did not address pharmacokinetics that much, which is a major part of pharmacology. We did not find the way to address that. In addition to that topic, we clearly have enough ideas for a second version, and this is something currently in project.
Vrob: We’ve recently discussed with Nicolas some ideas for another volume – pharmacology is a huge source for many stories! There are so many pharmaceutical drugs on the market, and so many people are affected by them – I definitely see a part 2 coming together!
You can follow Nicolas on Twitter and Vrob on Instagram. Pharmacologix is available as an ePub and in print (only in French for now, but we’re looking forward to versions in other languages!).
The content of the IATDMCT Blog does not necessarily have the endorsement of the Association.