Tuesday, July 30, 2019

Some Memoir Prompts

Recently I finished a week-long workshop in memoir comics at the Center for Cartoon Studies, taught by Melanie Gillman.   They are an excellent teacher, and I had wonderful classmates, and so I learned a lot during the week.

One of the practices Melanie recommended was creating journal or diary comics every day or as often as possible and putting these on social media.  This keeps you practicing and gets you into self-publishing and hopefully building an audience for your work.

These comics are meant to be completed, start to finish, in 30-50 minutes or so (we had 50 minutes in class and it was amazing what people could do in that time).  For inspiration we looked at (among other things) a web comic called Deep Dark Fears and an anthology called Lies Grown-ups Told Me.

Here's an example of my comic (done in 50 minutes, remember!) for a prompt like "tell me about a lie a grown-up told you that you believed at the time."

For short comics like these, I don't want to spend time thinking up subjects, so it's a case where a writing prompt is really helpful to me.

But to really spark my imagination, I find I can't come up with the prompt myself.  It's best if it coms from outside of me, from something random, like pulling a paper out of a hat.

So where do I find such prompts?  Below are a few sources.  These are all prompts intended for prose, but I don't think it really matters that much in terms of prompting one's thinking.

 I think reshaping them to fit a daily journal comic, something you could do in 50 minutes, is probably most important.  For me, no matter how the prompt is written, I always try to rephrase it:  "Tell me about a time that..."  That helps me.

So a prompt like "How good are you at saying goodbye?" becomes "tell me about a time you said goodbye and felt really good about it (or really bad about it)."   Or "how comfortable are you with lying" becomes "Tell me about a time when it was the right thing to tell a lie."  That sort of thing.

Anyhow, my favorite book of prompts is Natalie Goldberg's Old Friend From Far Away.  I also love her classic book Writing Down the Bones, which has some prompts and also some thoughts about writing.

I also very much enjoy this huge list from the NYT.  It is intended as a list for teachers to use with students, but with a little revision as suggested above, I think it works well for one person.  And it's such a huge list you are bound to find something there to prompt you!

I find two other online collections valuable for inspiration as well: the essays collected at This I Believe and the work done at StoryCorps.  Both of these have huge online archives you can explore for ideas.

Also, if you haven't seen Lynda Barry's book SYLLABUS (also her book What It Is), check those out, as she has some excellent methods for helping you develop your own prompts.

On memoir as a genre, I love Mary Karr's book, The Art of Memoir, and Marion Roach Smith's book, The Memoir Project.  Notably, Marion Roach Smith is strongly against "prompts" and exercises as they distract you from writing your "real" memoir.

I think this is a terrific point.  Doing exercises without a clear intent can be a waste of time and energy.

This is why the idea of a daily comic which you SHARE in some way is so attractive (and perhaps terrifying).  You have a prompt, you have an hour, and you learn to focus and complete quickly and in a way meant for readers.  And then you pop it up on Instagram or Facebook or Twitter or share with family and friends in some other way.   You can find me on Instagram:  @Elizabeth_Trembley .

The best writing book EVER is Anne Lamott's Bird by Bird.  No prompts, but just the best writing book ever.  :-)

Thursday, July 25, 2019

Lynda Barry on Keeping a Visual Diary

As part of my summer project of using this blog to help get the word out about wonderful resources on the web, this post includes several of my most favorite things all wrapped up into one!

Lynda Barry
Brain Pickings
Combining the Verbal and the Visual

Check out this terrific article on Brain Pickings (and sign up to receive their posts and newsletter!!  ALWAYS so good).

Our hearts and minds and spirits are changed by looking and drawing.  Because of that, because of how I think it expands our hearts and minds and spirits, I see it as essential, especially in times of life fraught with evil, violence, targeting. 

Bringing peace and goodness into the world through our own lives is an important act of resistance, I think.

Tuesday, July 23, 2019

Drawing Helps Students Learn

Here's a link to a new article by Youki Terrada about how drawing boosts students' learning, memory, and retention.  "The Science of Drawing and Memory" appears on the website.

No surprise to anyone who has used sketchnotes in the classroom!

Why is drawing such a powerful memory tool? The researchers explain that it “requires elaboration on the meaning of the term and translating the definition to a new form (a picture).” Unlike listening to a lecture or viewing an image—activities in which students passively absorb information—drawing is active. It forces students to grapple with what they’re learning and reconstruct it in a way that makes sense to them.

Thursday, July 18, 2019

Comics as Performance Art: The Long Weekend in Alice Springs

This summer I'm working to share resources on the internet about comics, comics theory, and comics creation.  There is so much out there from which I can learn!

Today I'm sharing perhaps one of my favorite creations, the video version of The Long Weekend in Alice Springs, by Joshua Santospirito and Craig San Roque, based on the graphic novel of the same name, which was itself based on an academic paper.

This has inspired me to think, off and on, for years about doing a project like this about Holland, Michigan. 

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Comics as Performance Art: Toormina Video

This summer I'm going to be linking to other terrific resources on the internet about comics, comics creation, and comics theory.  Though is so much out there that is inspirational and educational.

This week I'll be posting links to two of my favorite videos made from comics.

It's interesting to thing about comics as performance art.

First is Toormina Video, a story about the author's father.


Thursday, July 11, 2019

Diary Comic: Working on the Many Me's in Memoir

I did a diary comic to help me figure out why I occasionally get confused while organizing and drafting my memoir.
Now I get it. 

Tuesday, July 9, 2019

Diary Comic on Comics

For fun. 
I love blowing “doubters’ “ minds with info on how cool comics is as a medium. 
The ideas are from Hilary Chute.
BAM indeed. 

Thursday, July 4, 2019

My Graphic Essay Response to a Graphic Essay by Sarah Glidden

My "Homework" on Glidden’s Essay

Having read a wonderful, thought-provoking graphic essay which Sarah Glidden wrote for HyperAllergic on Hilma af Klint, I decided to learn from her by doing a little essay of my own, mimicking her style.
I encourage you to read her essay first, so you'll see what I am responding to.
I had fun...

Tuesday, July 2, 2019

Analysis of the Depiction of Memory in Batman Hush, Part Two

This is a continuation of my analysis of how memory is visually depicted in Batman Hush.  Click here to read part one.
The next example uses the present blending into memory that we saw in the Alfred page above, but introduces the extremely complex notion of memory fragmenting.  We are now, however, prepared to read it smoothly.

The green jade pendant is something the characters are encountering in the now.  But it is triggering Bruce's memory, and so we see it in color, but depicted in the looser watercolor style, as it pulls us into the monochromatic blue world of childhood. 
In addition, this page doesn't use panels in the same way as we've seen them in other memories.  In this case, it sticks with the standard nine-panel grid, even as image spill across gutter, and interlace with "snapshots" of objects in the room.  The speech balloons in the first tier help us understand how to read these as blended across the gutters.
This composition from fragments mimics the fragmentation of traumatic memory, thus preparing us for the most complex depiction of memory yet, which occurs on the very next page.

On the next page, Bruce Wayne observes Harley Quinn steal a pendant from one of his friends, a pendant that belonged to the friend's deceased mother.  And he remembers the death of his own mother.  Simple enough in words.  But the visuals rock such complexity!
I note how the nine-panel grid keeps the fragmentation introduced on the previous page, but in a much more visually complex way.   The watercolor, blue memories, are snaphots, fragments, from Bruce's memory of the murder and robbery of his mother.   Each of these gets only one short wordless panel.  Traumatic memory is preverbal, so this makes a lot of sense!  The white balls on the ends of Harley Quinn's hat meld visually into the pearls stolen from Bruce's mother (especially across the first two panels of the second tier, thus helping us understand some of the visual triggering Bruce is experiencing.  Even her speech balloons in the third panel of the second tier continue that visual string of pearls.  And then the bottom tier allows us to sink with Bruce into the full trauma, the first moment of his aloneness, the murderer gone, only the child left present with the bodies of his parents.  And the color scheme shifts to red for the first time.  Clearly, at this point it does not signal Metropolis (as we know this murder took place in Gotham) but overwhelming rage/trauma.
One final thought:  the red occurs in the memory, but not in the now of the story, because the gutters remain black.  This changes later in the book.

In a later episode, in an encounter with the Joker, Batman begins to remember all of the horror and trauma that the Joker has brought to his city and to individuals whom he (Batman) has loved.  And as he remembers, he becomes more and more enraged.  
At this point, the background color of the now of the story turns from black to red, and we see that red framing the memory sequences.  The memories themselves are pleasant and so remain in the familiar loose watercolor style framed in black.

However, as we see on a later page, when Batman's memories become horrific, they become awash in red, as with the murder memory.  These have no white in them.  
And I also see a red gutter appear, reminding us of the rage Batman hides from Oracle in the now of the story.

One last thing.  There is one (and I think only one) point in the story where Batman envisions a future scene which he fears.  It is depicted in a style and color that does not appear on any other page in the 300+ page book. 
Mostly hatched, with a little wash, it has a line quality and color reminiscent to me of a ballpoint pen.  Unlike the looseness of the watercolor used to depict memory, this uses a looseness that is like a "sketch," something that is in the making, but not come to fruition yet.  Perfect visual match, I thought, for a speculation about the future.
These sorts of interesting things happen over and over in the book.  It really was a great study for me in handling and cueing time and emotion... on top of being a fun Batman story!