The making of Peak Oil #7: what I am most proud of
July 2015
Hand-drawn graph of Peak Oil graph on gridpaper with pen and protractor triangle

This is the final in a seven-part series covering various aspects of the Peak Oil comic’s creation process.

Being ‘proud’ of a comic about a threatening issue?

I released this comic with mixed feelings. On one hand, I am happy with how the comic turned out, as a piece of science communication. On the other hand, it is hard to be happy about the underlying premise of the comic, and the ramifications of Peak Oil for society.

Profile view of cartoon man wearing glasses with contemplative look on face. Geologist M. King Hubbert wearing a life jacket staring towards distance. Side view of old man’s face illustration.

Rest assured that I try to navigate a constructive way out of our mess, with the 3 other comics of my upcoming Thermoeconomics book.

Despite the implications of fossil fuel depletion, there are certain things I wanted to highlight as ‘pride points’ with Peak Oil.

High angle view of a hilltop house being constructed. Aerial view of a house being built above a sprawling city. Black and white drawing of city skyscrapers.

Pride point #1: the sheer audacity

Peak Oil is a 120-page comic. It is a 20 minute reading experience in the era of clickbait and short attention spans.

I’m proud of myself for drawing it, and I’m proud of you for reading it. (And for reading these additional blog posts!)

Releasing Peak Oil to the world feels incredibly audacious. Like I’m doing something on my own terms.

Low angle view of a man driving a boat with a tiller steer outboard motor. Hanging onto hat and looking forward as he steers the boat across the water.

It is a bit like how I imagine Bob Dylan felt when he wrote and released the double album Blonde on Blonde (1966). The album contains 73 minutes of new, original music, and is considered the first double album in the history of rock music.

Importantly, not only did Dylan have the audacity to write the double album, he had the audacity to release it. Releasing the album implied that he expected his listeners would have the patience to listen to the entire thing.

That is how I feel right now. I had the audacity to spend 12 months drawing this comic. Now I expect my readers to have the patience to spend 20 minutes reading the entire thing.

That’s right: I am Bob Dylan.

Bob Dylan and Stuart McMillen sunglasses comparison photo

Pride point #2: another step towards the social tipping point for climate action

The evidence is overwhelming. Human activity is causing global warming. As George Monbiot said:

“[The IPCC Fifth Assessment Report is] perhaps the biggest and most rigorous process of peer review conducted in any scientific field, at any point in human history.”

Read that quote one more time, and consider the confidence with which scientists are telling us that we are risking the habitability of Earth. No matter what your climate-denying uncle says.

Cartoon man in business suit is surprised and angry by a loud phone call.

There are no more excuses. If we continue burning fossil fuels, we are destroying Earth’s future habitability in full knowledge of the facts.

Yet, despite this knowledge of global warming, public knowledge of Peak Oil remains low.

Peak Oil is hopefully the final nail in the coffin for many people who are still ambivalent about acting upon global warming.

High angle view of a suburban fuel station at sunset. Shell Oil logo on pole at gas station in urban sprawl scene at dusk. Rush hour traffic driving past the petrol station in late afternoon light.

The take-home message is: even if we wanted to continue burning increasing amounts of fossil fuels, Earth’s geology simply will not allow this to occur. So we must urgently transition toward renewable energy now.

Hopefully my comic plays some part in convincing people of the need to urgently deviate from our current fossil fuel trajectory.

Even if the news is scary, it is better to face the problem wide-eyed, rather than turn our backs on the issue.

Side view of cartoon man sitting on a ledge overlooking a bayside city view. Looking out to the stars and moon above the city skyscrapers.

Pride point #3: keeping the comic a secret until its release

I created and released Peak Oil without any sort of warning or pre-announcement.

Bam – suddenly 120 pages of new comics were available to the readers who were still jiving on Rat Park and Supernormal Stimuli.

Personally, I think it’s a nice change from the current trend of endlessly chattering about minute-to-minute details of works-in-progress. Or sending time-wasting “I have a surprise for you tomorrow…”-type announcements.

I simply waited until I had something to say, and said it.

Comic artwork showing man working in a darkened room late into the night. Rear view over the shoulder of a man working under a desk lamp, drawing on paper place on an architect’s desk.

Pride point #4: taking readers through the five stages of grief

Towards the end of the comic I take Hubbert on an emotional journey, as he realises that the roller-coaster is going to continue its downward trajectory forever.

Cartoon drawing of corkboard with photographs stuck to it. Sequence of photographs showing the 5 stages of grief.

Hubbert’s character displays emotions like denial, anger, and ultimately acceptance.

Alarmned and angry cartoon man in a rollercoaster.

That is the mental journey that we must all take, upon fully appreciating the implications of Peak Oil and global warming.

Angry cartoon drawing of man quickly turning around, looking over his shoulder.

The future won’t unfold quite as we’d expected.

Drawing of angry man in seat quickly turning to look behind him. Black and white cartoon artwork.

We will need to change many of our plans.

Cartoon of angry man shaking fists with rage. Clenched fists shaking with rage. Black and white drawing.

There are limits to what is possible.

Angry man shouting to the sky, shaking fists at no one.

There are consequences to actions. And we need to face them.

Worried man with hands on head, running his fingers through his hair in anguish. Black and white cartoon drawing of fear.

I can vouch for feeling topsy-turvy after reading (the now-defunct) LifeAfterTheOilCrash.net in 2005. I spent many weeks in a funk, digesting the fact that the future wasn’t guaranteed to be rosy. For a 20th century kid used to things always automatically getting better, Peak Oil was a shocking concept.

With my comic, it was important that I pre-empt these human reactions in my readers. Peak Oil is about more than cold mathematical facts: it is about creating realistic expectations for the future. It is also about puncturing unrealistic expectations that are impossible in a post-petroleum future.

Cartoon triptych of man. 3 drawings of geologist M. King Hubbert by cartoonist Stuart McMillen #1.

Hopefully I can fast-track readers through the troubling thoughts, and point them towards a constructive mindset. A realistic mindset that embraces our situation, and chooses to maximise the time and resources that we still have remaining.

Cartoon triptych of man. 3 drawings of geologist M. King Hubbert by cartoonist Stuart McMillen #2.

There are options, there are solutions. But we will only look to them when we accept that business-as-usual cannot continue.

Pride point #5: making it freely available to all, in multiple languages

I didn’t draw Peak Oil to be a cult favourite for a select microaudience. I drew it to communicate the facts of Peak Oil to mainstream, everyday readers.

Despite the massive time and expense it took me to create the comic, I am glad that it is freely available to the web, and in multiple languages.

Peak Oil comic titles in multiple languages

Despite the $0 price tag, I hope that my readers will pay me back for the comic, and complete the cycle of generosity. All funds that I recoup from Peak Oil PDF sales will be used to fund the creation of my three upcoming Thermoeconomics comics. Which I guarantee you will like.

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!


Support my idiosyncratic comics! crowdfundstu.com Become a regular financial patron via my Patreon campaign! Support my comics on a monthly basis. Want more info? Watch my 3-minute video!

Other ‘making of Peak Oil‘ articles

This is the final in a seven-part series covering various aspects of the comic’s creation process. Click here to read the others.