ThINK on the page

Free-writing and emergent cartoons in a graphic social science context.

I was asked to put my cartoons together for the Lancaster University’s GraphicNovels and Comics Research, Outreach & Pedagogy Network (ReOPeN) because apparently they fit well into the graphic social science space, in the way that they respond to and trigger reflection on societal questions and issues.

How did I come to making these sorts of cartoons? It all starts with free-writing, which I do most mornings. I love the feeling of a juicy black fountain pen on paper. I also have a very noisy brain, and need to actively manage my mental health. Thinking on the page, ordering my thoughts and feelings is very soothing and empowering. I consider it to be a self-directed therapeutic practice that helps me make sense of the world. The page is a space that safely holds difficult experiences and emotions, and helps me externalise the unseen world inside me into something tangible and observable.

As I brain dump, note down dreams, ideas and concerns — cartoons, diagrams and visual models come to mind and I quickly move from my writing book to a sketch book and draw the ideas out, fast and free. I like to experiment and see what emerges. It’s exciting and liberating!

On the wall above my desk I have two quotes. One by artist Katsushika Hokusai “to draw freely is not to lie to oneself”. The other is by statistician George Box “all models are wrong but some are useful”. These sentiments remind me of the value of emergent writing and drawing, and how creating visual models can be useful for clarifying unseen assumptions, relationships and mental models.

Thematically I often probe philosophical ideas, concerns about late stage capitalism and environmental decline, questions of meaning making, values, behavioural economics, cognition, and broader anthropological and sociological interests.

Because the cartoons are always grounded in what I am seeing, thinking, experiencing and engaging with at the time — and so much of my reading happens on social media — I like to feed these illustrated thoughts back into the loop, to stimulate further conversation and thinking. I enjoy the comments, criticism and seeing what resonates for people. It’s such a thrill when someone says “me too” or “I’ve been thinking that but just hadn’t put it into words”.