I have never been much of a videogame player, but the games I have enjoyed have all shared one thing in common: the quality of exploration and discovery. Secret drawers to unlock. Filing cabinets through which to sift. Boxes and desks to be moved to discover what’s beneath or the hidden door behind them. Dusty attics and moldy basements are my playground. Once, in the early months of my move to New York, deskless and bedless, I acquired an ancient teacher’s desk from the basement of a Catholic school to add to my then-empty room, and upon opening and cleaning the drawers, I discovered magic: Yellowed handwritten letters in a spidery, illegible scrawl. Dusty pins with the Virgin Mary embossed upon them. Stamps from Longe Agoe. The discovery of objects was almost more of a treasure than the desk itself, and when eventually the desk was handed off to a neighbor, I tucked inside the crumbling letters and pins for the next curious explorer to unearth.
So what is it within us that is so clearly drawn to this feeling of discovery? For the natural storyteller, the answer must be obvious: objects are the bearers of stories. Within each object is a hidden tale, and objects separated from their owners inbibe a certain magical quality all their own. What was once a whole story must now be constructed from partial cloth, and where there are gaps to be filled with the imagination of the storyteller (or the reader, now become the storyteller’s sleuth), those options are only as limited as our capacity to think. The infinite is possible.
In the stories I have been currently drawing, I have spent perhaps a ridiculous amount of time on clutter, clothes, and an attention to background detail that I think would drive most people to insanity. Because for me, every half-open drawer, every stitch of scrollwork on a boot, every random scrap of paper must have a story, or it has no place in MY story. Every Objecte is a story within a story, sometimes within another story, and while the reader may not be aware of the layers, the specifics, the history of every object or the hands it has passed through, I am, and it creates a world for me that is more real, more alive than it would be if I just placed random objects in a room without thought or drew from a photo or a hat. Everything comes from within.
This is the reason, too, why I generally prefer writing comics to prose (but not always!). Being visual, I can tell a primary story through dialog and a secondary story through visual narrative. But then there’s the tertiary tales: the frames within frames. It turns every page into a unique treasure-hunt full of discovery and wonder. Some of my favorite books as a child were the Four Seasons of Brambly Hedge by Jill Barklem. Her lush cutaway illustrations of tree-stump mouse mansions, murky underground mazes, and glittering ice castles left me enchanted and entranced. For in the stitching of every sack of flour, in the icing of every cake, were drawn minute details that the casual observer could not catch until they leaned closer, nose practically to her sepia and yellow-pink page, and peered deep within the story. And every single item had a story and a history of its own.
The objects in our homes, on the streets, in our workplaces, in our restaurantes … they did not just magically come to be. They were placed there by somebody at some point in time, influencing the lives around them. It is through these levels of visual narrative that the storyteller is able to not only bring the story to life, but bring the WORLD to life so that it’s practically sitting in your living room and whispering like an old friend in your ear.