Readers of my blog will know that I’m a big fan of writer Neil Gaiman – from his Sandman in the nineties, which was a huge influence in my decision to try to make the leap into a life in comics, to his Calendar of Tales last Spring, on which I collaborated; and now there’s his new book The Ocean at the End of the Lane, for which he’s making a grand final Signing Tour. Yesterday, he was in a bookstore in Rotterdam, and my husband and I went there to listen to him being interviewed and have our books signed.
(Photo by Snuggly Oranges)
When Neil came in everyone applauded, and interviewer Marcel van Driel started a relaxed, funny & informative conversation with him. Despite the fact that Neil must have told the same things over and over again in the past weeks, he was very involved and attentive and witty. I tried to sketch him, and failed miserably:
Then I tried not to capture him realistically, but get a bit of his posture and demeanor in a more caricaturized drawing, and also failed at that:
So eventually I decided to go full caricature, and came up with this, which did not totally fail, I think – but judge for yourself:
After the interview, the signing started. In the past weeks, Neil has signed for audiences of over a thousand people – fortunately, here were “only” about 200 people. Yiri and I waited until the very last to get our stuff signed (and made jokes about “The Author at the End of the Line”). I was surprised, impressed and delighted that after 2 hours of signing, Neil Gaiman is still able to direct all of his attention to the person in front of him, and be interested, courteous and, well, charming. I hate getting all fan-girly, star-struck and nervous, but Neil makes it really easy to connect with him – in fact, he made me feel like he’s just a human being; well, a human being endowed with awesome superpowers, but a human being nonetheless. I think. (Although I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s Something Completely Different from Another Dimension either).
I asked Neil to sign my “winning” drawing for the July tale of his Calendar of Tales, and he said some really nice things about it, and I gave him prints of all the calendar-drawings I did and a copy of our new book, Science: A Discovery in Comics.
And then he said: “Do you want a hug?” And I said: “Yes please!”.
I have no photo of that moment. It was a very private and intimate moment between me, Neil Gaiman and my husband Yiri, who was standing aside and had been supporting me all evening and prevented me from nervously running away from this whole encounter a few times.
But I do have this, and the impression that, apart from being a talented writer whose work I find inspiring, Neil Gaiman is also a very nice person – and honestly, people with talent who are also nice make this world a much better place.
Yes, that’s THREE publications of my work that are coming out this month! The first is of course Science: a Discovery in Comics which is available now (even though the official presentation date is in September, when I’ll be in the US at the SPX festival to sign and celebrate) – I got my copies in yesterday so I know now that it’s REAL! The publication is beautiful again, thank you NBM! I love the hardcover, and the endsheets – and this is the first official publication that’s lettered with my own computerized blockletter font. I think it looks great, but please judge for yourself.
At the same time, the Portuguese edition of Philosophy: a Discovery in Comics is underway – it will be presented at the International Book Fair in Rio de Janeiro at the end of this month. This publication has a whole new cover, which looks like this:
When on holiday in Christ Church, Oxford, I attended the course ‘Human Memory and the Brain’, tutored by professor Gillie McNeill, who did an excellent job in making the subject matter both digestible and enjoyable. I drew a whole bunch of cartoons during class – something I would be chided for in high school but which is encouraged now, fortunately!
When we memorize things, for example a telephone number, our brain can use a variety of strategies.
It may visualize the thing it wants to remember, which is called iconic memory:
Or we may repeat the thing we want to remember with our inner voice, which is called echoic memory:
Also, we can remember something by the way it feels to the touch, which is called tactile memory:
A whole different kind of memory is the way in which we store how we physically do things, such as riding a bike. This is called procedural memory or muscle memory:
Of course we talked about famous brain scientists, such as dr. Pavlov, who experimented with his own dogs, conditioning them to salivate when they heard a bell ring, which they had come to associate with dinner being served:
Then we also looked at how the brain is actually built. I didn’t know that the biggest part is actually like a crumpled up sheet – if you could unfold it the brain would look like a weird-shaped balloon, something like this:
The thalamus is where all the information from our eyes, ears, nose, taste and touch goes first, before it’s sent on to other parts of the brain where we make actual sense of it:
A huge role in memory is played by the hippocampus, which is called like that because it looks a bit like a seahorse:
The brain is made of nerve cells called neurons, which process and transmit information in the form of electrical currents:
Each neuron is in touch with huge numbers of other neurons, each passing on information:
The place where neurons almost connect is called the synaps. Here the information is transmitted in the form of neurotransmitters, which are received by receptors in the membrane of the next neuron:
I also learned that it is a myth that the brain has a fixed number of neurons and that we lose millions of them every day as we get older – in fact, every day our brain makes new neurons! We can stimulate the growing of new neurons by getting new information in, in other words: by learning in the broadest sense of the word.
Here are some things that are recommended if you want to keep your brain healthy:
(Stuff like eating fish – omega 3 – is actually a bit overrated, although it can’t hurt either)
And oh! I almost forgot! SLEEP is very good for the brain too, as it needs that down time to process all the input and embed memories.
This finally gives me a scientific excuse for my habit of sleeping in late and taking catnaps in the afternoon.
Another important thing about the brain, that I didn’t make a cartoon of, is that it is fueled by sugar – and if it’s low on that, IT WILL EAT YOUR MUSCLE TISSUE! It won’t touch any of your fat reserves, no, it goes straight to where you keep your physical strength. So if you consider something drastic like crash dieting: DON’T. You’re just undermining yourself and your ability to think straight.
In short: what you need to do to keep a healthy brain is learn, sleep and eat your breakfast.
My husband and I have returned from a wonderful two weeks in Oxford, England. We took part in the Oxford Experience, a summer school program based in Christ Church, one of Oxford’s most famous colleges.
The buildings are probably best known for the movies that were (partly) shot here, such as Brideshead Revisited, The Golden Compass and the first three Harry Potter movies. Especially the awesome sixteenth century staircase leading up to Hall is a great location, and I tried to catch some of its lines and dimensions in a drawing, which took me three sessions to complete! That’s probably the longest I’ve ever taken over a single drawing – and I even left out quite a lot of detail.
I don’t often make drawings like this, I’m more used to my cartoony style. But the Christ Church architecture just really caught me – and it’s a great excuse to sit in one place for an hour or so and take it all in. This is a view in Christ Church Cathedral, where I attended a great trumpet concert:
All throughout Christ Church there are bowler-hatted men and women to herd the tourists into their specified routes. They are ever friendly and impeccably dressed:
The first week, we attended a course about Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland, which was written here. Our tutor was expert Edward Wakeling, collector, consultant, researcher, and writer on all things Carroll – not only a very knowledgeable man, but also immensely entertaining, full of riddles and jokes. I drew him as the Mad Hatter, with lots of references to the book and its writer:
The class consisted of a very international crowd – people from Australia, USA, Japan and Canada. After five days of total Alice-immersion, we were all inhabitants of Wonderland:
In the second week, we took part in the course ‘Human Memory and the Brain’, by neuroscientist prof. Gillie McNeill, who was as wise as she was enthusiastic. For another five days, we learned all about brain structure, history of brain studies, different types of memory and things you can do to keep your mind healthy (taking a course in the Oxford Experience was one of them). I made a whole bunch of cartoons during this class, which I will put up later – here’s a little preview:
At the end of our studies, we enjoyed a great formal Farewell – starting with drinks in the Cathedral Garden and ending with an amazing dinner in Hall, during which we received our certificates and heard some speeches about the Oxford Experiences and former Christ Church students (the college boasts twelve British prime ministers!). This is what we looked like in our snazzy outfits, against the centuries-old background:
Now it’s back to “normal” life, and anticipating the publication date of Science: a Discovery in Comics, which is not far off anymore…!
I love drawing timelines. It’s a real challenge to bring down certain periods of time down to their historic essentials in a way that’s entertaining as well as educational. In my new book Science: a Discovery in Comics, I included several spreads with illustrated timelines. In a previous blog post I already showed the one for the History of the Earth – another one, on pages 58-59 of the book, is the timeline for the scientific development during the Middle Ages.
In recent weeks I’ve been experimenting with animation program Sparkol, which makes it really easy to present drawings in so-called videoscribes. The Middle Ages looked like a perfect project to make into such a scribe – maybe it even works better this way than in its original comic form, since the animation allows me to pace the information and literally lead the reader’s eye.
I’m really curious what you think! Just click on the picture to watch a thousand years in a 3 1/2 minute nutshell on Youtube.
It’s now less than two months to go before my book Science: a Discovery in Comics will be in stores! To whet your appetites, here’s a bit of a proto-science-comic I made for newspaper Trouw in 2009, for its philosophy section. Philosophy of Science has always been my interest, and here I had the opportunity to comment on the annoying habit of using scientific arguments to diminish the wondrous diversity of reality:
The kind of science I’m commenting on in this comic is actually science working in the old, “mechanical” paradigm – in modern science we see a shift towards a more holistic paradigm nowadays. If you want to know more about that, please read my book – you can already order it at Amazon!
I’m experimenting with animating bits of my comic books. This is a movie I made of the anecdote of Socrates and the Three Sieves, as drawn in Philosophy: a Discovery in Comics – click on the picture to see it move on YouTube:
Last week I visited the island of Terschelling, where the annual Oerol festival took place, full of art, theater and music. The festival turns the whole island into a stage, or canvas – and it invited me to draw these pictures on the beach:
Then I was joined by a couple of kids, who made these amazing creatures:
Our gracious host Mathilde de Graaff photographs a Yiri of sand:
Curious about the upcoming comic book Science: a Discovery in Comics? I made a Facebook page where you can follow its publication, reviews etc. Just click on the picture and then “like” the page.
If you’re on GoodReads, you will find a page for the book there as well. When the publication date approaches, I will certainly start a GiveAway there, where you can win signed copies of the book (there’s actually one going on now for the Dutch version, ending 19 June). Stars and reviews are highly appreciated!
How do you structure a comic book that supposedly covers *all* of Science? Where do you start, and what line do you choose to make it into somewhat of a coherent narrative?
For Philosophy: a Discovery in Comics I chose the historical approach, and that’s what I’ve done for Science: a Discovery in Comics as well. Looking at things in their historic context makes it easier to see connections and understand how science, philosophy, politics, art and economics are all interconnected.
That said, taking this approach for Science still makes for a bit of a roller coaster ride – skipping ahead, rolling around, looping back, lingering at certain topics. Here’s the content page, so you see what a long and eclectic journey this book promises to be (in 192 pages!):
Yes, it’s a lot – but don’t be daunted by the amount of topics, for me and my husband will guide you through:
This way, we hope to provide many opportunities to catch your breath, have a giggle or even a small insight. It’s a book you can easily read in smaller installments, or pick up every now and then to read up on a specific topic.
The book will be in stores in September, if you’re a shop you can order them now from NBM. If you’re not a shop, you can also pre-order at NBM, or at Amazon.