Yesterday I had a really good evening.
No. I didn't spend it on my own, writing or reading comics.
I spent a good deal of it talking and listening to the good people of the Graphic Novels Reading Group.
The subject? Autobiographical comics.
lately we've been focussing on themes rather than any particular book and I have found that not only this keeps us more aligned with the major theme (comics) but also that the discussions are almost invariably extremely rich in content. After all everybody has the opportunity to voice out their opinions on the themes at hand. And I mean everybody. I don't think that there has been a session where someone has not participated in the debate (unless they didn't want to). And, the way I remember it, everybody, in one way or another, has contributed greatly to my understanding of comics.
I decided to write this post because I really felt that we touched a nerve yesterday. To be perfectly honest, as soon as that chord was struck it actually became very difficult for me to focus on what was happening afterwards for the ideas kept pilling inside my head and wanting to come out.
I remember cycling home with the theme dancing wildly inside and wanting to write some stuff down. Since I didn't really have time, this morning, as I cycled back to work, once again the themes of truth and authenticity in comics (and in writing or creativity in general) again flooded me.
I do not know if I will be able to regain that state but I want to at least try to convey some of the ideas. They might not be entirely original or revolutionary for you (to a certain extent they weren't for me) but, when hey did come, they came with the force and the clarity experienced when one truly comes to terms with whatever aspect of our experiencing.
Most of the discussion yesterday was centred around ideas of what makes an autobiography real, factual, accurate, true or important?
What makes certain stories tick and other not?
We chatted a lot about not only the tricks that memory plays but also the tricks that the author must play on the reader in order to convey the story, if not with truth to the fact, at least with truth in relation to the story or to the emotions experienced.
I think we all agreed on one point. If we by any chance discovered that a certain element of the story was incorrect this would affect our whole perception of the whole, by giving rise to suspicion on the author.
Personally, I have found that the thing that connects me the most to a story is its inherent truth. It may not be factual but it has to be experienced in some way.
(Sarah raised the point that perhaps everything that is written IS personal and, therefore, autobiographical)
(but also that it all can simply be viewed as fictional - since the narration of the experience can never be the experience itself - and, therefore, such things as autobiographies or non-fiction books simply do not exist)
This got me to think on what things, what devices make me experience truth whilst reading a (comics) story.
The easy one is emotion. If the emotions are there and they are recognisable, then, as they shift and move through the page, I will be able to follow them and emulate them inside me, thus recreating the story in my own image, so to speak.
Logic was another one that I thought about even though I'm not talking about linear logic here but rather of a logic which is relative to the story itself. A logic that is logical within the context of the story.
These musings then led me to think that, in actual fact the most important thing about truth is the way we relate to it. All of these things are dependent of ourselves and our view of the world. And I think this is why Gene Wolfe puts the emphasis so much on the reader. In a way, the story only happens in the reader's mind. In the author's mind the story is a different one. Because there are more things at play than just the story. Or, at least, than just what is visible about the story.
The author has to consider characters, motivations, plot, beginnings, middles and ends, rhythms, beauty and a ton of other things. The author considers the story itself. And the author considers so that the reader is taken by the story rather than plummeted straight into analysis about it.
(this can be the sole objective, of course, but I think we'll all agree that this is not usually the case)
The author is seeing the story and constructing it in a way (most times at least) to cause certain reactions on the readers. The author is, to a certain extent, programming the readership. So, for the author, there is always more at stake than just the story (again, in most cases).
In my experience I have found that the simpler the artwork the easier it becomes for us to relate to it.
As the amount of visual information on a page reduces we are automatically motioned towards a more general, a vaster experience. This makes it easier to relate to. A child's depiction of a house with wall, door, window and triangular roof can as easily represent a house in the west as a house in the east. A tree is a tree. We recognise it as such but we do not ask which species for we do not have sufficient detail to even consider if such information might be crucial to the story.
We assume that it is not (unconsciously) and move on.
We get on with the story.
During the meeting I tried to say that I feel that truth has nothing to do with fact. That is with something that has been recorded in one way or another, thus proving it real.
To my mind truth has much more to do with a certain essence, with something that defies definition but that clearly exudes from certain works.
I gave the example of J. Michael Straczynski's THE BOOK OF THE LOST (which is to me a continuation of what he did in MIDNIGHT NATION). Here we have a fantasy setup which serves as a platform to beautifully point out all the wounds in human experience. Where we deign not look, Straczybski calmly brings us into focus, the good and the bad coexisting side by side.
On the surface this book is clearly a work of fiction.
But if we really read it, if we really allow it to reach into us and take us where it is supposed to take us, we can also clearly see that this book is a work of non-fiction. It draws from an experience that is deeper than just the physicality of facts. To me, it draws from the essence of what it is to be a human being and that is what makes this book precious, in fact, any piece of writing precious.
And more, because this book comes not to point the obvious faults but to direct us in the right direction.
Straczynski comes not just as an entertainer but as a storyteller. Reminding us why stories have always been told. In fact, why stories begun being told in the first place: because they were important. Because the knowledge, the essence they imparted or insinuated was crucial to one's existence.
But, Straczynski, like all great and truly awake writers, has transcended the simple and widely acknowledged survival of the bodily self to a higher viewpoint.
He is concerned with the survival (which is to say, the discovery) of our true nature.
And this is to me perhaps the main aspect of the truth (at least, it is now as I write this): it reveals our essence. It is the closest we can get to what we are. And, when we get there, the first thing we notice is that words cannot reach us (perhaps that is why there is a book for the lost but none for the found...). The essence is something far greater and, quite simply unreachable by words.
When we tell the truth while telling a story our sole concern should be in pointing the reader in the right direction. And it is that direction that carries the seal of truth. Not the goal itself. For the goal is the readers (the experiencers) property only.
The truth may well be hard to grasp but it is the sole objective. For that reason, facts or imaginings are simply tools to help convey that in the best way possible. I am not concerned with the intrinsic realism of the story but with the reality of where it takes me.
And, for now, this is my truth.