The Resonating Brain

In July, I went to Oxford Summer School and attended a course about the human brain – it still resonates with me, and somehow, consciously or subconsciously, these “brain”-drawings keep popping up in the comics I made since.

For magazine Open Deur I did an illustration about music – including the route musical sensation takes throughout our brain…

I also made another comic about Stella for magazine Hoe Overleef Ik – and lo and behold: all of a sudden we’re inside her brain as well!

Meanwhile I’m working on a comic about inspiration, for magazine Speling, and this is how I depicted the ideas streaming into my mind (always while taking a bath)…

And this is an excerpt from the comic for student magazine H/Link, about performance anxiety:

So it’s not a big surprise that when Terry Nantier of NBM Publishing asked me to do a drawing they can make into a print to go with bigger orders, this is (part of) what I came up with:

The print is called The Science of Making Comics, and will be available with orders from $30.

I’m sure they’ll be available at SPX in Washington next week, where I’ll be signing my books Science: a Discovery in Comics and Philosophy: a Discovery in Comics – so if you’re curious about the print (or the books), drop by our booth at G1-2!

Bits of Brain

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.

Do you like the way I depicted these scientific concepts? Then keep an eye out for my new book Science: a Discovery in Comics, which hits the stores next month, and can be ordered already on Amazon.

Holiday Pictures

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…!