When did you last read a comic? And was it a funny one you read with a child? A serious graphic novel recommended in a Sunday supplement? A superhero yarn you bought by reflex action?
Comics fascinate me, and have done for most of my life. There’s something about the combination of word and image that allows magic to happen, when the right people are working together. Sure, you can rightly say the same about films. But there’s a distinction between pointing a camera at actors for an experience that happens in real time, and the results that follow when a writer and artist connect. The page is not a screen. It is static. You can examine it at your leisure, though a skilled artist will lead your eyes through it in a way that allows the story to unfold naturally.
All of this is especially interesting if you’re curious about how the mind processes information, and derives story from the combination of character body language, background detail, lettering style, colour, and so forth. The whole is most definitely more than the sum of its parts. If communication interests you, then comics can teach you a lot.
Forgive the use of NLP terminology, but the key to all this is submodalities. They exist on the outside, after all, and not just in internal representations. That’s necessarily the case: when something has impact, it works both ways. When someone with anger problems says they see red, well, there’s a reason for that. And comic artists know that intuitively – one way to depict a scene from the perspective of an angry character is to do so with a red wash over the panel or page. Big bold lettering in contrast to smaller conveys the sense of volume, and look at just how much Dave Sim can get across using lettering as he does in this scene with his aardvark protagonist hearing a couple in the next room making love. And here, lettering is used for sound effects as well as dialogue in a scene that conveys what men drinking can be like.
That’s just some of what’s possible, and we’re in interesting territory at this point, that’s concerned as much with semiotics as anything. And if you’re at all interested in the images the mind comes up with, comics are an interesting way to explore how other people do just that. There’s a beautiful example in Ganges, an extraordinary comic that chronicles its protagonist’s attempts to get to sleep one night. Check out the link to the review back there and you’ll see what I mean – it features pages from the comic, which are intricately designed and illustrated to convey different facets of the experience of moving from a waking state to a sleeping one.
The broader point here is that art can say just as much as non-fiction about the experience of consciousness as the likes of Pinker and Gilchrist and (insert your fave non-fiction author on matters of the mind here). Where those brilliant people write about dazzling concepts with reference to cutting edge research, art can evoke parallel experiences through the ways it affects the senses and the way we process them. I could read any number of authors on grief, but when I listen to Robert Fripp’s improvisations inspired by the death of his mother, it’s something I can feel beyond the power of any words.
If NLP is about making people better communicators, where are the Master Practitioners who can move me as John Coltrane and Andy Goldsworthy can? Whose presence can affect me like the music of Bjork, the paintings of Rothko? You can say that’s not fair, and that might be reasonable…but reason itself is a function of the language that many NLPers are fixated on, part of the totality of human experience. And it’s those realms beyond language that fascinate me the most, and that I want to capture – paradoxically perhaps – in writing. Only, if you’ve read Pynchon or Burroughs, or found someone else whose words move you in ways you can’t account for, you too will appreciate that there’s so much more to what can be done in language than was ever charted by Bandler and Grinder. Brilliant as their work was (and is), there are pinnacles of human achievement that surpass it. And it’s those that draw me on and inspire me.