I have just released my latest and greatest comic, Peak Oil.
Keeping with my past tradition of publishing ‘making-of’ essays, I will here discuss my reflections on Peak Oil’s creative process.
This is the first in a seven-part series covering various aspects of the comic’s creation process.
My role as a science communicator-cartoonist
As a science communicator-cartoonist, I deliberately choose to cover topics that are poorly understood by the general public.
My aim is to attract readers’ attentions temporarily, through well-drawn and thoughtful comics, and then deflect this attention away from myself towards experts who have comprehensive solutions and information.
In other words, I am Flavor Flav, and Hubbert is Chuck D.
I am simply a hype-man to the ‘voice of authority’, M. King Hubbert.
Hubbert: “Don’t believe the hype about rising petroleum production!”
McMillen: “Yo Hub, they must be smoking the pipe, right?”
Choosing a topic with poor public awareness
Peak Oil is a prime example of an important topic that is poorly understood by the general public. I have personally been aware of the issue for 10 years, and still encounter mass-ignorance when speaking to others about the issue:
- “Oh, is oil going to run out? Oh well, we can just switch to another fuel.”
- “But I heard that they’ve discovered a huge new oil field off the coast of [Brazil, Russia, Swaziland…].”
- “But the price has dropped. Problem solved, right?”
- “Good! I’m looking forward to Peak Oil! Finally the Saudis will be out of business!”
Those are examples of the kaleidoscope of misinformed responses I hear, whenever mentioning Peak Oil, or other issues relating to energy sustainability.
My comic does not address month-to-month issues, such as the December 2014 price drop. Nor does it get into important topics like EROEI (energy returned on energy invested).
I wanted my comic to be more ‘generalised and timeless’ rather than ‘up-to-date but soon-to-be-obsolete’.
My aim: to create the definitive Peak Oil primer
I knew that I couldn’t produce the definitive account of Peak Oil, through the medium of comics. I could simply never include every fact, figure and nuance of the topic.
Instead, I decided to write the definitive Peak Oil primer which would give readers a 20 minute crash-course into the topic.
I aimed for my comic to take a person from zero knowledge of Peak Oil, to a reasonable understanding within the duration of 20 minutes.
Importantly, I wanted it to be a free online resource, available in as many languages as I could recruit volunteer translators. It is currently available in French, German, Spanish, Chinese, Brazilian Portuguese and other languages (click the ‘flag’ in the top right corner of my website: ).
A launch pad for independent research
I hope that after reading my comic, readers to have the urge to learn more about the topic through their own independent research and reflection.
It is through this independent research that people will understand EROEI (energy returned on energy invested). It is through research that people will realise that the December 2014 price drop does not change the fundamental problem that we are burning petroleum at a rate far faster than it is being regenerated by Earth’s geological processes.
My comic takes readers halfway down the path of understanding, but relies on them to complete the journey themselves.
Peak Oil: global warming’s poorly-understood sibling
In my experience, most people have heard of global warming, but most people have not heard of Peak Oil. This is a great shame, as I rate the two phenomena as being equally important. Moreover, the timing of the two phenomena will likely overlap.
Since the public already has a solid understanding of global warming, I treated Peak Oil as an isolated phenomenon within my comic.
In reality, Peak Oil and global warming will be politically-linked phenomena, with influences from one spilling over to the other.
Peak Oil will happen regardless of global warming, and vice versa. But we will be forced to consider them as part of a linked problem.
For example, the need to rapidly de-carbonise our economies may result in an ‘unburnable carbon bubble‘ of fossil fuels that we deem unconscionable to burn, given the known effects of increased greenhouse gases. This will spill over to share markets, and then to broader economies.
In this situation the ‘roller coaster’ slope will look very different to the ‘standard run’ Peak Oil curve. We may be forced to rapidly curb our oil usage, constructing a quickly-dropping coaster, and leaving many ‘trusses’ locked in the storage yard.
These are scenarios that are beyond my foresight, and beyond the scope of the comic. With Peak Oil I simply wanted to raise public-awareness of Hubbert’s phenomenon, so that informed discussions can be made about the decisions that need to be made.
A call for patrons
As the below video describes, I am currently drawing three other comics in a similar vein to Peak Oil.
Can you ‘pay it forward‘ toward your next stuartmcmillen.com comics-reading experience?
If so, please become a recurring monthly supporter via crowdfundstu.com. Thanks in advance!
Other ‘making of Peak Oil‘ articles
This is the first in a seven-part series covering various aspects of the comic’s creation process. Next in the series is The making of Peak Oil #2: storytelling philosophy.