"Science Comics," by Maris Wicks and Jon Chad. (First Second Books)
“Science Comics,” by Maris Wicks and Jon Chad. (First Second Books)

MARIS WICKS’s illustrated stories are not merely immersive. She can deftly help the reader dive so fully into marine wonders; you might call her comic tales “submersive.”

That’s because Wicks, who spent a decade as program director at the New England Aquarium, knows how to convey the thrill of scientific discovery. And she herself is a self-confessed nerd for new experiential knowledge.

“Exploration is awesome,” Wicks tells The Washington Post’s Comic Riffs this week by phone from Massachusetts, near her longtime aquatic base. “I like that romantic idea that because we’re never going to know everything about everything, there’s always something new to discover. … Every once in a while, there’s something — like horseshoe crabs — that breaks down the rules” of what we thought we knew.

And today, readers can appreciate Wicks’s sense of discovery for free with “Science Comics,” a child-aimed edition of facts and discovery that combines the talents of Wicks and Jon Chad. The volume is part of First Second Books’s sponsorship contribution for Free Comic Book Day, held today at comics shops, bookstores and other outlets across the nation.

(The many free “Gold Book” offerings today range from Archie to Doctor Who, Bob’s Burgers to Pokemon, and Marvel’s Avengers to DC’s Suicide Squad. Click for more information about Free Comic Book Day.)

In the headlines this week was new research that the biggest coral reef in the continental United States is dissolving into the ocean. But such a development didn’t strike you as surprising if you had read Wicks’s recently released “Science Comics: Coral Reefs: Cities of the Ocean,” which engagingly illuminates facts from the seafloor.

Wicks embraces the challenge of translating such vital but dense scientific text into kid-friendly comic panels.

“There’s a lot of information to represent,” says Wicks, who is a trained scuba diver. “Comics are incredibly helpful educationally for providing images [as symbols]. For instance, for going back in time, to see what the reefs looked like 2 billion years ago — comics can get across that sense of scale.”

“With comics, there is an engagement that is unique and unlike any other art form,” Wicks emphasizes with the enchanting marriage of words and pictures. “Comics pull you in, in a very different way.”

Wicks — who also drew the bestselling book “Primates” with Jim Ottaviani — has loved natural exploration since childhood.

“My sister and I were encouraged to play outdoors and do a lot of hiking,” says Wicks, who grew up in New England before majoring in illustration at the Rhode Island School of Design. “Going to the beach was a super-special thing, and I loved to swim. ‘Maris’ means ‘of the sea’ [in Latin], so my family said, ‘You’re coming into your name.’ ”

“All I ever wanted for my birthday was books about science and art supplies,” says Wicks, noting that her grandmother was a science teacher. “And that got honored.”

MARIS WICKS will be at the Takoma Park Library on May 20 and at the Gaithersburg Book Festival on May 21.

A panel from Maris Wicks's "Science Comics" book on coral reefs. (courtesy of First Second Books 2016)
A panel from Maris Wicks’s “Science Comics” book on coral reefs. (Courtesy of First Second Books 2016)