Profile of a science comic strip author

After studying visual arts, Lison Bernet worked as a lock keeper, waitress, grape picker, farm labourer and chef before finally returning to her first love: drawing. Today a scientific illustrator, Lison is the author of the cartoon strip "La BD du LHC", which she draws every month for LHC France (by CNRS/IN2P3 and CEA/Irfu, see here).


© Lison Bernet.

Lison’s career path might seem somewhat chaotic, but it is a reflection of the artist herself: original and passionate. “I never do anything by half measures. When I got into cooking for example [Lison took a chef training course for adults], I became completely wrapped up in it. I even went as far as cooking roasts during my lunch hour, just for practice…” says Lison. On completing the course, Lison got a job as a chef on a canal boat. And it was then that she got the drawing bug again. “I started keeping an illustrated travel diary,” she says. “I used to sit and draw at the table between shifts.”

In 2006 her career as an artist took off. Because her brother was working as a physicist in the CMS collaboration, Lison had the opportunity to visit CERN and found that it was fascinating and not at all as she had imagined: “The rather outlandish notion I’d had of physics quickly gave way to great curiosity, which I soon felt the need to satisfy through my drawings.” In 2008, spurred on by the start-up of the LHC, Lison offered her services as an illustrator to LHC France, for which she has been working ever since, and La BD du LHC was born.

© Lison Bernet.

“Science, let alone particle physics, was not really one of my favourite subjects,” explains Lison. “So I had to go back to basics and start again. I’ve learned a huge amount from the physicists, and I talk to them a lot. They are a big help to me, especially when starting a new comic strip; I always ask them to read my storyboard outlines before I start drawing.” Working closely with them enables Lison to explain subtly and with humour concepts as complex as the birth of the Universe, matter-antimatter annihilation, quarks and gluons, the Higgs field, superconductivity (both here and here), or even the process behind peer review or naming the famous boson.

Lison Bernet. (Photo: Patrick Dumas/CNRS).

To start with, Lison combined working as a chef with drawing, but she is now a full-time illustrator. “My job gives me access to the most fascinating places,” says Lison enthusiastically. “At CERN I’ve been able to see the CMS, ALICE, LHCb and ATLAS experiments. And I was lucky enough to spend three days with the engineers working on the SMACC project, who were brilliant at explaining it all and were such nice people!”

This year, to mark CERN’s 60th anniversary, CNRS and CEA will paint the portrait of 60 members of the French team working at the LHC, in an exhibition of photo and comic portaits including, of course, Lison Bernet. Discover these on LHC France throughout the month of July.

To see Lison’s work, take a look at her blog, or go to her online portfolio.

For more information about what Lison does, click here. (Lison is curious about science in the broadest sense, so feel free to contact her about illustrating other scientific subjects.)

by Anaïs Schaeffer