Joining Science and Art
- By Thomas James Weaver
As you might expect of one with a master’s degree from UVM’s Field Naturalist Program, Rosemary Mosco G’10 begins her work with a field guide. Lots of them, actually, as she reads widely and deeply before setting out on the task at hand. Along the way, she’ll check in with her friends and former UVM professors, “biology geniuses,” for guidance. But her mission isn’t a hike through the woods botanizing or an afternoon of animal tracking, it’s creating cartoons with a natural history bent.
A web article about Mosco caught our attention at Vermont Quarterly, leading to hiring her to create “A Catamount Chronology” for the back page Extra Credit feature in this issue (extracreditcatcartoon). The piece is typical of her work, marked by a quirky, quiet humor and considerable scientific knowledge packed into five panels of comic. “I get so excited about all of these facts that I learn that I try to squeeze in as many as possible,” Mosco says. By the end of this particular project, she says, there were many field guides and “tons and tons of pieces of paper with little bits of cougar drawn on them” scattered across the floor of her Cambridge, Massachussetts apartment.
A native of Canada, Mosco has long possessed the dual sensibility of artist and scientist, and says she’s always been attracted to cartoons as a way to share what she’s learned. She grew up reading strips like Bloom County and The Far Side, kindred spirit Gary Larson’s off-beat single-panels that were as likely to feature spiders, or polar bears, or amoeba, as humans. After earning her bachelor’s in anthropology at McGill University, Mosco came south to Vermont drawn by the opportunity the Field Naturalist Program gave her “to be creative and learn really solid science.” Some of those lessons appear in “A Catamount Chronology,” Mosco notes. “We were taught that history is incredibly important. You can’t show up at a landscape and not think about what has happened to it before.”
Post-UVM, Mosco completed an internship at the National Park Service’s Center for Urban Ecology in Washington, D.C., where her focus was on supervising a team of interns as they created climate change outreach/public education products—videos, podcasts, fact sheets, and web pages. She’s also brought her cartoonist’s perspective to the Big Issue of climate change. “It is so heart-breaking,” she says. “Those cartoons are really difficult because I really want to just yell and raise my arms… and that is not a good tactic. What I try to do whenever I feel like I’m making something that would be alienating to people, I kind of relax and think about what I’m truly feeling. If I just put really solid emotions in there, I find it works.”
Fighting the good fight for the natural world with cartoons includes taking on those large battles and celebrating the small victories. Case in point: a cartoon Mosco created about pigeons for the Torontoist website. True, pigeons are an invasive species. True, they are not just invasive but pervasive in cities, where some view them as rats with wings. But Mosco came out of her research process believing in the bird and created a strip that celebrated some of the species’ more charming and little-known characteristics, such as that they mate for life.
Triumph came with a reader’s comment, Mosco recalls: “He let me know, ‘Hey, I used to chase after pigeons, and now I don’t.”