Escape from Duckburg: 30 Graphic Novels for Earth Day 2012

When Uncle Scrooge McDuck finds Duckburg too smoggy and noisy, thanks to industries he established himself, he purchases a huge chunk of unspoiled countryside and decamps with his nephews for his new lake-bedecked property. Then, being the wealthy ol’ moneybags Scrooge that he is, he considers exploiting the resources of this paradise for even more money. But fortunately for the lakes, the local Native American tribespeople take exception to Scrooge mucking with their homeland and trick the ducks into leaving.

Master cartoonist Carl Barks invented Uncle Scrooge for Disney, and Barks’s Land of the Pygmy Indians‚ a comedy with a message‚ dates back to 1957. Environmental comics are not new but have multiplied owing to recent catastrophes: the Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami in 2004, Hurricane Katrina in 2005, the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in 2009, the Haiti earthquake in 2010, and the T≈çhoku earthquake and tsunami last year. Most of the nearly 30 graphic novels I annotate below were published in 2009 or later.

Postscript: Scrooge’s bittersweet venture into bucolic bliss will be reissued by Fantagraphics as part of the “Carl Barks Library” reprint series. Thanks to Steve Raiteri for suggesting some of these titles.

Children and Tweens

Croall, Marie (text) & Erica Leigh Currey (illus.). Finding Nemo: Reef Rescue. BOOM! Studios. 2009. 112p. ISBN 9781608865246. $24.99. F
Everybody’s favorite clownfish is back, recruiting father fish Marlin and friend Dory to solve a mystery: the reef where they live is dying. Adventure, danger, and diplomacy follow, as the fish convince other underseas citizens to help find the cause of the problem and work out a solution. A story of courage and cooperation as much as one about ecological concerns, in lively color art.

Dahl, Michael & Scott Nickel (text) & Jeff Crowther (illus.). The Green Queen of Mean. Stone Arch. (Princess Candy). 2010. 40p. ISBN 9781434218933. $16.99; pap. ISBN 9781434228031. $4.95. F
Halo Nightly’s alter ego is Princess Candy, whose magic candy gives her superpowers. When Halo’s archenemy Doozie Hiss tries to sabotage her science project on pollution, Halo’s partner Flora Fawn conjures up her own Green Queen superpowers to fight Doozie. But things get out of hand pretty quickly. It’s up to Halo to help Flora find a better way to handle Doozie and create a beautiful flower garden as well.

Dávila, Claudia. Luz Sees the Light. Kids Can Pr. (Future According to Luz). 2011. 96p. ISBN 9781554535811. $16.95; pap. ISBN 9781554537662. $8.95. F
Twelve-year-old Luz isn’t thrilled when energy prices skyrocket so high that power outages interrupt her life. But she wants to do something for the environment, so she gets her two friends involved in turning an abandoned lot into a city garden, and she keeps at it despite community lethargy. A bonus chapter teaches kids how to make garden compost. Each future volume in this series will focus on a specific area of the environmental crisis, with a step-by-step how-to project at the end. Energetic, color illustrations.

Eaton, Maxwell III. The Flying Beaver Brothers and the Evil Penguin Plan. ISBN 9780375964473; pap. ISBN 9780375864476.
Eaton, Maxwell III. The Flying Beaver Brothers and the Fishy Business. ISBN 9780375964480; pap. ISBN 9780375864483.
ea. vol: Knopf. (Flying Beaver Brothers.) 2012. 96p. $12.99; pap. $6.99. F
Ace loves extreme sports and brother Bub loves napping, but when bad-guy penguins bring in a gigantic refrigerator to convert Beaver Island to polar-style living, the beaver brothers must work together to save their home from environmental catastrophe. In the second volume, the brothers discover that Fish Stix Environmental Manufacturing is really just a cover for extreme corruption all around and a nasty plot threatening the island’s forests. The solution involves a hang-glider and 500 pancakes. Plenty of green-friendly humor with two-color art.

Faust, David R. & John Nelson (text) & Dheeraj Verma (illus.). Jr. Graphic Environmental Dangers (series). Rosen. 2009. ea. 24p. set: ISBN 9781435825550. $143.70. ENVIRONMENT
Six short educational graphic novels about different environmental issues:
After Earth: Living on a Different Planet
Collision Course: Asteroids and Earth
Energy Crisis: The Future of Fossil Fuels
Global Warming: Greenhouse Gases and the Ozone Layer
Polar Ice Caps in Danger: Expedition to Antarctica
Sinister Sludge: Oil Spills and the Environment

Marder, Larry. Beanworld. Bk. 1: Wahoolazuma! Dark Horse. 2009. 272p. ISBN 9781595822406. $19.99. F
Marder’s engaging and complex saga, set in a wholly original universe populated by beanlike creatures, has been compared to Krazy Kat for its surrealistic oddness. Stories follow Mr. Spook and his fellow beings as they hunt for food, work together, and confront forces and individuals that threaten their future. Beanworld is a closed ecosystem in which all parts are interrelated and everyone depends on each other for survival. Echoing concerns of our own world, major themes include ecology, environmental conservation, mutual support, and artistic expression. Several more volumes have been published, following the yearly cycle of life in Beanworld. Black and white art; appropriate for grade school to grad school. Click on preview link here.

O’Donnell, Liam (text) & Mike Deas (illus.). Food Fight: A Graphic Guide Adventure. Orca. 2010. 64p. ISBN 9781554690671. pap. $9.95. F
The Graphic Guide series stars a rotating, multiethnic cast of kids in action-based adventures, with nonfiction content relating to how-to skills and social change. In this volume, Nadia and Devin spend summer vacation at a university camp and unexpectedly happen upon a corporate plot to take over the U.S. food supply with genetically modified fertilizer. Educators can use the story to get young people thinking about where our food comes from, how the current production-delivery system evolved, and the advantages of eating locavore.

Poon, Janice. Claire and the Water Wish. Kids Can Pr. 2009. 120p. ISBN 9781554533817. $15.95; pap. ISBN 9781554533824. $7.95. F
Claire solves kid-mysteries with a green-friendly vibe. The first volume featuring Claire‚ Claire and the Bakery Thief‚ concerns natural vs. artificial baking ingredients. In this second adventure, Claire and her friends work on a group science project involving a polluted lake and team up to find the source of the pollution. Both books include a craft project in the back. Cheerful, attractive black-and-white art.

Runton, Andy. Owly. Vol. 1: The Way Home & The Bittersweet Summer. Top Shelf. 2004. 160p. ISBN 9781891830624. pap. $10. F
The nearly wordless, charming dramas of Owly and his friend Wormy introduce the youngest children to both friendship and affection for the natural world. In this first volume of the series, Owly saves Wormy’s life and then, as best buddies, they befriend a couple of hummingbirds flying south. The story, depicted in expressive black-and-white art, comes across through characterization, action, gesture, and emotion symbols. Wonderful for pre-readers learning how to follow stories and deduce meaning from print symbols.

Teens and Up

Allison, Rachel Hope. I’m Not a Plastic Bag. Archaia. 2012. 88p. ISBN 9781936393541. $15.95. F/ENVIRONMENT
In the North Pacific floats the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, a concentrated mélange of debris shaped by ocean currents, reportedly three times the size of Texas. With lyrical and haunting painted art, Allison imagines how such an amorphous floating mass might come to be an actual island, growing out of a genesis from discarded plastic bags.

Aquilina, Drew. Green Pieces: Green from the Pond Up. 2d ed. Green Pieces Cartoon Studio. 2011. 197p. ISBN 9780983344438. pap. $19.99. HUMOR
Slapstick and environmentally savvy, Aquilina’s work stars an assorted collection of animals‚ a turtle, a dragonfly, a raccoon, and a frog‚ who live in a wetlands area with numerous other creatures. Puns and gentle satire characterize the four-panel color strip with simple, cartoony art.

Birk, Aaron. The Pollinator’s Corridor: A Graphic Novel. Black Willow Productions/Worzalla. (Order from 2012. 108p. ISBN 978061556299. pap. $20. F/ENVIRONMENT
Parks, gardens, and other isolated patches of green bring beauty and health benefits to urban life. But plants cannot thrive without pollinators: insects and other creatures that fertilize the ecosystem. Will the pollinators cross from one green patch to another, across long stretches of barren concrete? In the 1970s Bronx, three friends work together to create a cross-town pollinators’ corridor, stretches of flowering greenery functioning like bus routes to allow these vital insects access to the entire city. The heroes of this story don’t wear capes but come by night with bike trailers loaded with potted trees. See sample illustration here.

Calof, Grant (text) & Jeevan Kang (illus.). H2O. Liquid Comics/Dynamite. 2011. 72p. ISBN 9781606902271. pap. $6.99. F
The year is 2250, the world has run out of water, and countries clash to tap the last known source: a lost glacier high in the Andes. Volcanologist Aaron Turner, a reluctant hero, must overcome technical and human barriers and release the unavailable water. Calof did considerable research on environmental trends, cutting-edge technologies, and water-producing schemes to present a credible scenario, useful for understanding the problem of dwindling water supplies.

Chadwick, Paul. Concrete. Vol. 5: Think Like a Mountain. Dark Horse. 2006. 208p. ISBN 9781593075590. pap. $12.95. F
Concrete, a walking stone being turned travel writer, agrees to accompany a group of radical eco-warriors so he can understand and write about their struggle to save old-growth forest from a lumber company. Neither the loggers nor the environmentalists fit easily into good/evil dichotomies, and Chadwick loads in plenty of data about the environmental debates as Concrete gradually decides to take a more active role in the struggle. The original comic book series, a 1996 Parents’ Choice Award winner, is collected here with bonus short stories. Realistic, skillfully drawn black-and-white art.

Duin, Steve (text) & Shannon Wheeler (illus.). Oil and Water. Fantagraphics. 2011. 120p. ISBN 9781606994924. $19.99. SCI
In 2010, Duin (Comics: Between the Panels) and Wheeler (Too Much Coffee Man) joined a group of Oregonians touring the Deepwater Horizon oil spill sites, aiming to measure the disaster’s impact, offer support to the locals, and tell a powerful story. Wheeler’s atmospheric, ink-washed greys capture eccentric residents from crabbers to a pelican-rescue team, and Duin’s script catches the ironic resiliency of people exploited by the very industry that feeds them. However, not much background or reference information is provided. Valuable for high schoolers and adults as a glimpse into the crisis, and for general sensitization to environmental issues.

Dysart, Josh (text) & Cliff Chiang (illus.). Neil Young’s Greendale. Vertigo. 2010. 160p. ISBN 9781401226985. $19.99. F
Neil Young’s 2003 album Greendale, which has been called a rock opera and an audio novel, explores the effects of crime, consumerism, and environmental damage on small-town California. In this adaptation of the album and related film, teenager Sun Green comes to discover her own unusual powers and those of other women in her family to confront mounting injustices. Adaptor Dysart, who describes his own political leanings as left of Lenin, pegs the theme as antiwar and pro-planet. Realistic, color art with a pastel-ish palette. For more on music-comics crossover, click here.

Gonick, Larry & Alice Outwater. Cartoon Guide to the Environment. Collins Reference. 1996. 240p. ISBN 9780062732743. pap. $16.99. ENVIRONMENT
Using the ecological collapse of Easter Island as a case study, this guide works in the key concepts of green science: chemical cycles, life communities, food webs and agriculture, human population growth, sources of fuel and energy, waste recycling and disposal, urban centers, pollution and deforestation, ozone depletion, and global warming. Population dynamics, thermodynamics, and the behavior of complex systems are also discussed. Though published over 15 years ago and not up-to-date, for example, on the global warming debate, the guide remains useful since the principles of environmental science have not changed.

Hayes, Nick. The Rime of the Modern Mariner. Viking. Oct. 2012. 336p. ISBN 9780670025800. 32. F/ENVIRONMENT
Hayes’s modern mariner puts to sea to find whalebone from which to make dominoes, taking potshots at floating garbage to escape boredom. A bird overhead offers more challenging sport, so he shoots the albatross, as in the Coleridge poem. Now the floating detritus surging through the waves isn’t just something to shoot at for kicks but a living nightmare showing him the consequences of excessive human consumption. Swirling, evocative black-and-white ink with teal wash, both beautiful and haunting. (Currently available from Jonathan Cape via; U.S. release scheduled for the fall.)

Keller, Michael (text) & Nicolle Rager Fuller (illus.). Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species: A Graphic Adaptation. Rodale. 2009. c.192p. ISBN 9781605296975. $19.99; pap. ISBN 9781605299488. pap. $14.99. NAT HIST
Darwin foresaw that his complex work would upset millennia of theological tradition about the origin of life, and indeed, the creation vs. evolution wars continue today. This lovely and multi-textured graphic novel follows Origin‘s original chapters, combining snippets of Darwin’s text with quotes from letters, illustrative examples from his time and from the present, and occasional invented dialog. In drawings of three saber-toothed cats, for example, we can observe the imperfection of the geological record when the full skeleton of only one animal is preserved in a bog and discovered later. An afterword from Keller brings the scholarship up-to-date, from Gregor Mendel’s pea plants to E.O. Wilson’s sociobiology.

Lewis, A. David (text) & mpMann (illus.). Some New Kind of Slaughter or Lost in the Flood (and How We Found Home Again): Diluvian Myths from Around the World. Archaia. 2009. 139p. ISBN 9781932386530. $19.95. MYTHOLOGY
This collection of stories based on flood myths from across history and culture is tied together by a frame-story‚ a dream experienced by King Ziusudra, a Sumerian equivalent of Noah. One of the stories is not a classic myth but slice-of-life fiction about a modern woman searching for her family after a tsunami-like disaster. The dreamy, evocative color art belies and yet supports the overall theme, both illustrating past human visions and prophesying future watery catastrophes. A grand eco-fable focused into an evolutionary cautionary tale for the future.

Miyazaki, Hayao. Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind. Vol. 7. 2d ed. VIZ Media. 2004. 232p. ISBN 9781591163558. pap. $9.95. F
This complex, seven-volume saga of environmental catastrophe unfolds in a post-industrial world where humans fight for the few unpolluted resources and nature tries to heal itself. A young princess from a tiny kingdom, Nausicaä works to establish peace among warring nations while tuning in to the essence and purpose of the supposedly toxic fungal forest, the Sea of Corruption. The well-known and highly regarded series was originally serialized from 1982 to 1994, and the first two volumes formed the basis for Miyazaki’s 1984 anime film.

Miyazaki, Hayao. Princess Mononoke. Vol. 5. VIZ Media. 2007. 200p. ISBN 9781421506012. pap. $9.99. F
When a boar demon attacks Ashitaka’s village, the young prince is forced to kill it but is cursed in turn: now superhumanly strong, he will die soon. He goes west in search of help, eventually arriving in the industrial village of Iron Town. Led by the aggressive Lady Eboshi, the town is locked in a struggle with the local forest gods, who are championed by wild girl San, herself raised by the wolf goddess and known among villagers as Princess Mononoke. The battle kills some of the forest gods, yet Ashitaka is healed through helping resolve the crisis. It is understood, however, that civilization and nature can never be completely reconciled and harmonious coexistence may be cyclical at best. This five-volume film comic (animanga) is based on the classic Miyazaki film of the same name.

Neufeld, Josh. A.D.: New Orleans After the Deluge. Pantheon. 2009. c.208p. bibliog. ISBN 9780307378149. $24.95; pap. ISBN 9780375714887. $16.95. HIST/ENVIRONMENT
Hurricane Katrina devastated millions of lives, including the seven profiled in this dramatic and painful documentary: social worker Denise, young couple Leo and Michelle, convenience store owners Abbas and Darnell, high school student Kwame, and physician Brobson. Neufeld, who volunteered for the Red Cross in the weeks after the storm, originally published the story as a web comic. Strong language may limit access to adults in some libraries. See sample color-wash art here.

O’Neil, Dennis (text) & Elliot S. Maggin (illus.). Green Lantern/Green Arrow Collection. Vol. 2. DC. 2004. 200p. ISBN 9781401202309. pap. $15. F
In one of the flagship attempts of the comics industry to address social problems during the 1970s, Green Lantern (Hal Jordan) and Green Arrow (Oliver Queen) team up for a roadtrip to rediscover America and confront racism, drugs, and environmental threats. One story finds the pair rescuing a small company town from an industrial pollution disaster despite the hostility of its citizens. This collection reprints issues #83‚ 87 and 89 of the comic book series.

Schmidt, Tom. Bumbling Through Borneo. 2d ed. Kakibubu Media. 2009. 112p. ISBN 9789881806659. pap. $12.95. TRAVEL
Bumbling Bob, an architect at loose ends, embarks on an uncertain journey into the heart of Borneo with an international group of backpackers. River travel, virgin rainforest, runaway logging trucks, and underground caverns await the group as they learn about Borneo’s natural world and looming environmental problems. This combination of introduction for tourists, lighthearted adventure story, and environmental primer is done in black-and-white art interspersed with text and take-away points. The Bumbling Traveller adventure series promotes environmental and cultural awareness through entertaining mysteries and adventures, with a second volume focusing on Sumatra. (Note: these are not actual up-to-date travel guides.)

Older Teens and Adults

Gaiman, Neil (text) & Dave McKean (illus.). Black Orchid Deluxe Edition. Vertigo. May 2012. 160p. ISBN 9781401233358. $24.99. F
After botanist Susan Linden-Thorne is murdered by her abusive husband, her nice-guy botanist boyfriend revives her as a plant/human hybrid with superpowers: Black Orchid. Now she seeks the truth about her origins while attempting to cope with a corrupt world of humans. Gaiman integrates all the DC super-horticulturals into the plot, giving cameo roles to Poison Ivy and Swamp Thing. The limited series came out originally in 1988 and has been collected before, but with its ecological message, the story could become more popular now. Scroll down here to preview McKean’s striking, orchidy art.

Hicklenton, John. 100 Months. Cutting Edge. Apr. 2012. 170p. ISBN 9780956544520. $29.95. F
Prince Charles warned in 2009 that we only had 100 months to save the planet. In this brutally violent and richly drawn allegory of Armageddon, warrior earth goddess Mara goes all out for revenge against Longpig, a demonic personification of capitalism whose followers look suspiciously like normal humans. The disturbingly beautiful art is reminiscent of Ralph Steadman and Peter Kuper. Hicklenton (1967‚ 2010) was a British artist well known for his work on 2000 AD and Judge Dredd.

Jensen, Derrick (text) & Stephanie McMillan (illus.). As the World Burns: 50 Simple Things You Can Do To Stay in Denial. Seven Stories. 2007. 224p. ISBN 9781583227770. pap. $14.95. F/ENVIRONMENT
Using an upcoming alien invasion as a frame story, this simply drawn satirical comic pushes the message that damage to the environment caused by corporate and government policies far eclipses damage from consumer lifestyle choices. Thus, even if people switched to low-energy appliances and went vegan, the earth would still be on a downhill course. While Jensen (A Language Older Than Words; Endgame) and McMillan (Minimum Security) do not propose any remedies, their message may inspire readers to move beyond simplistic green movement solutions and work to influence business and civic leaders. Black-and-white line art; sample here.

Moore, Alan (text) & Stephen Bissette & John Totleben (illus.). Saga of the Swamp Thing. Bk. 1. Apr. 2012. 208p. ISBN 9781401220839.
Moore, Alan (text) & Stephen Bissette & John Totleben (illus.). Saga of the Swamp Thing. Bk. 2. Oct. 2012. 224p. ISBN 9781401225445.
ea. vol: DC. pap. $19.99. F
Moore took over what was basically a standard man-turns-into-swamp-monster horror series and turned it into a frank commentary on environmental, political, and social issues‚ now considered a classic for both story and art. In Moore’s version, instead of a monster that was once the scientist Alec Holland, Swamp Thing is an elemental plant entity that somehow absorbed the scientist’s memory and personality. Heroic, powerful, and tragic, the creature uses the forces of nature and the wisdom of the plant kingdom to protect his swamp home and the wider natural world from threats and dangers. These two volumes reprint Moore’s run on the series.

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Martha Cornog About Martha Cornog

Martha Cornog is a longtime reviewer for LJ and, with Timothy Perper, edited Graphic Novels Beyond the Basics: Insights and Issues for Libraries (Libraries Unlimited, 2009).


  1. Paul says:

    Saga of the Swamp Thing is a wonderful environmental comic, but Alan Moore’s run includes 6 volumes, the last two of which are, I think, the most poetic. Volume 2 involves a good story on nuclear waste.

  2. Kate Lai says:

    Great listing! I just finished Tom Schmidt’s second volume in the series, Bumbling Through Sumatra, and would recommend that as a great follow-up to Bumbling Through Borneo. There is more emphasis on indigenous peoples in those areas as well as important environmental issues. Looking forward to the third volume to see how the whole mystery running through both books evolves (or is finally solved). I like the book’s format — entertaining and educational.

  3. Kay Wood says:

    Cool listing. I’m definitely checking these out. Thanks.