An Illustrated Guide to Cockroaches
What superhuman sprinting has to do with democracy, the power of design and your kitchen sink drain.
By Maria Popova
If you’ve ever lived in a city, especially a densely populated, neighbors-across-the-street-staring-down-your-dinner-plate kind of city, you’ve likely had your run-in with a neighbor of the least likable yet most inevitable kind: The cockroach. And while for most people, it’s an endless source of variations on the ewww response, for Siberian-born, New-York-based artist Ekaterina Smirnova it’s been the unlikely source of design inspiration. In An Illustrated Guide to Cockroaches, she offers an irreverent and beautifully designed blueprint to better understanding your six-legged roommate in a graphic style that’s part Shepard Fairey, part Olly Moss, Lynd Ward, part something entirely its own.
The book began as an experiment, a study in the power of graphic design, as Smirnova was assigned to come up with an idea for a book in her editorial design class at the SVA. The winning idea: To muster the most tedious, even repulsive subject possible, and use design-driven storytelling to make it something interesting to read and study. And, as far as I’m concerned, she’s aced her assignment — the book is as fascinating as it is visually stimulating.
From the remarkable talents of roaches (did you know that an American cockroach can run a distance distance of 50 times his size in a second, which in human scale would translate to running at 186 miles per hour?) to their unusual intelligence (they seem to make democratic group decisions better than most human societies) to their enduring role in science fiction and pop culture, the book offers an extraordinary black-white-and-red look a character we spend our lives actively trying not to look at, delivering an unexpectedly delightful punch of trivia treats, obscure scientific factoids and artful graphic explorations.
In pop culture, cockroaches are often depicted as filthy, disgusting pests. Their shiny, greasy shells make them look like they are creatures born of filth and slime, but in fact they are obsessively clean.”
Published May 31, 2011