Our lives as cartoons

Drawing is so much more THAN GOOD OR BAD. IT IS A language FROM another part of you.*
(Lynda Barry)

When we abstract an image through cartooning we’re not so much eliminating details as we are focusing on specific details. By stripping down an image to its essential “meaning” an artist can amplify that meaning in a way that realistic art can’t. […] Cartooning isn’t just a way of drawing, it’s a way of seeing.**
(Scott McCloud)

Cartooning our lives is a way of being able to see beyond the noise of the less important to what is most essential to us, and often missed.

Whilst cartooning is a more illustrated way, it shares much with curation, here defined by Rohit Bhargava:

Curation is the ultimate method of transforming noise into meaning.^

Bhargava continues, curation isn’t about everything, it’s about particular things:

Museum curators organise collections into themes that tell stories […] the goal of curation is always to take individual items and examples and weave them together into a narrative. Curators add meaning to isolated beautiful things.^

Cartooning allows us to identify and weave on a storyboard the things that matter most of all to us, seeing past the less important things and see what our contribution can be. Another way we can understand this is subtext, so critical to creating a memorable and engaging story; Robert McKee underlines the importance of subtext here:

This principle calls for the writer’s constant awareness, their recognition that everything exists at two levels. In story, the writer must create both text and subtext. […] If a scene contains no subtext, it will seem forced or worse, fall flat entirely. As the old Hollywood expression goes: “If the scene is about what the scene is about, you’re in deep sh*t.” ^^

What we’re looking for is a way of seeing our lives as being more than the sum of its text. When we connect with its subtext something magical happens between ourselves and the world:

When the innerness of man is energised by the innerness of all the outer worlds, we grow strong in the contact.*^

After reading these words from M. C. Richards, I then came upon these from Scott McCloud about cartooning:

All the things we experience in life can be separated into two realms, the realm of the concept – and the realm of the senses. Our identities belong permanently to the conceptual world. They can’t be seen, heard, smelled, touched or tasted. They’re merely ideas. And everything else – at the start – belongs to the sensual world, the world outside of us.**

His argument is that we see ourselves in cartoon form where cartoon means focusing on the essentials. When we are talking with someone, we see their completeness but we are only aware of a few things about ourselves, perhaps our eyes and mouths, like the most basic cartoon. (Try and notice yourself the next time you’re zooming or have that wonderful luxury of meeting someone in person.)

The things that excite me most about all of this is how, in my work with people, we’re aiming to take away the noise and see the most important things – values, talents, environments that are most enriching and enervating.

Our talents are our particular ways for bringing things from the sensual world into our conceptual world. We then work our magic and reach out from our conceptual world with some idea or action and make something real happen in the sensual world, something that will hopefully make a difference.

Say I’m a writer, walking though the countryside, and I come upon a large, beautiful feather. I can bring this into my conceptual world and the feather becomes a quill, a pen, if I add a few cuts to it. I return this into the sensual world as an instrument to write with. It’s magical when you think about it.

How about pulling out a sketchbook and pen and begin to capture the things that are more important to you than anything else, representing these as images: places, people, ideas … . Then begin to put those images together in a storyboard, creating your subtext to your text.

These can be mixed up and re-presented in all kinds of ways. Have fun.

(*From Lynda Barry’s Making Comics.)
(**From Scott McCloud’s Understanding Comics.)
(^From Rohit Bhargava’s Non Obvious 2018.)
(^^From Robert McKee‘s newsletter: The Story Within Your Story.)
(*^From M. C. Richards’ Centering.)

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