BLOG TOUR: A Tricky Kind of Magic

Good morning!

I hope you are all well!

It is my absolute honour today to be on the blog tour for A Tricky Kind of Magic – a brilliant new graphic novel that has so many things I love in.

I am incredibly lucky today to have Nigel on my blog to talk about something incredibly important to me:

The importance of graphic novels and how the words and pictures work together to tell the story

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There is a Victorian Novella called Flatland by Edwin Abbot. The story is of a two-dimensional world of geometric shapes living on a flat plane. One day a Sphere from another realm visits and presents itself to a square…but the square can only understand a circle. The sphere even moves through and up and down the flat plane but all the square can see is a circle getting bigger or smaller. Eventually, the sphere grabs the square and takes it off into 3D space. Mind blown, the square returns to preach the existence of this other dimension that is out there and is laughed at and ultimately thrown in the slammer for his crazy ways.

And there for me lies the key. We are tied to our world, our thoughts, our experiences, and by language – but language only offers so much. Trying to describe an intense emotional experience or pain is sometimes too tricky. Words get close but not quite close enough. Words and images together though, create another dimension away from the ‘flatland’, a way that is more whole and human. Like those Polynesian map charts of the sea where the islanders didn’t use language but instead created stick charts that expressed waves and bird movements and tidal flows.

I adore words, love playing word games and moulding them and creating new ones. However, words have long been seen as the proper means of communication, a myth going back to Plato and his distrust of the illusion of the visual world. Illustration is often seen as a way of supporting text, but when they work together they create a whole new mode of expression.

When I was a child we didn’t really have books. My sister wandered around reciting Latin a lot but I was restricted to football annuals and the much-derided form of comics. Comics were my introduction to reading but also other ways of expressing emotion. I recently found one of my old comic annuals (while trying to find something else I desperately needed!) and came across a picture, a cartoon, of a boy guarding a bathroom with his toy action man. I felt myself dragged back to being six years old in an instant, and the feeling of wanting to be in that picture. The power of it still astonishes me. Ive looked at it since and it still has that power. Words and pictures have a magic to them.

While doing my Masters I had many conversations with Penn State University in the US where the study of graphic novels has become an established part of their humanities programme.  Fourth year med students have part of their course called ‘graphic storytelling and medical narratives. Patients are often poor historians of their own illness or symptoms, while medical language is…well…medical language! There was often miscommunication between patient and doctor. So, trainee doctors were encouraged to study graphic novels and write short comics to help understand different expressions of being human. A patient suffering from the devastating news of cancer might find more help in a graphic novel where images as well as words show the storm of feelings.

And that’s where graphic novels are best. Showing not telling. Showing human life in all its pain and joy. If you look at graphic novels you will see many are autobiographical tales of struggle and illness. They even have their own genre now, Graphic Medicine.  They’re also great at slowing down time, giving space to the reader. Those little gaps between panels you see….they’re vital. That’s where the reader does the work. If one panel shows a cricket bat and ball, the next a window and the next an angry man chasing a kid down the street…we join up the dots between the panels and know what has happened. Graphic novels show you a story but, in some ways let you tell it.  Plus, a comic is a great doorway into understanding how a narrative works and how to create a story. I would love to see graphic novels, and comics, become more integrated into our education system. They are essential for world building and imagination which develops conceptual thinking. And one thing we need is a generation of intelligent empathetic thinkers.

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This book is going down an absolute storm in my classroom and my kids are fighting over it (so much so my proof and the finished copy are BOTH out at the moment!). While this book hits some heavy topics and deals with themes of loss and grief, it is such a wonderful story filled with humour and the illustrations add an extra layer of magic to an already enchanting tale!

A massive thanks to Nigel for writing this piece for me! Check out the rest of the blog tour because it’s also filled with gorgeous posts!

S x

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