The comics diary began as an exercise from cartoonist/teacher Lynda Barry’s book ‘Syllabus’ that is useful for beginner cartoonists. In a nutshell, you write brief notes on the day ‘what you did,’ ‘what you saw’ and ‘something you heard someone say,’ and then you ‘draw a picture something you saw‘ (Barry 2014: 61-63). Barry suggests 2 and a half minutes for each section and only 30 seconds for the image creation. I adapted this slightly to notes on; ‘did’, ‘saw’, ‘heard’, ‘felt’ or ‘noticed’, and then a ‘drawn’ picture. I also ignored the rigours of the time limits too, but perhaps these are a good idea for making the task manageable at the end of a busy day. Here is an example from my diary of last summer:
It took a while to get into the habit of remembering to do this at the end of the day. Often I was weary and could not be bothered. I was also not convinced that it was worth the effort with my aim of ‘finding the funny,’ and perhaps there was also a resistance to diary writing in general. Nevertheless, despite the resistance, it has been hugely useful on a number of levels; for figuring out a way to draw something from the day (I have ended up drawing all kinds of things from memory – for example my yoga teacher in a contortion and gorillas having a chat in the jungle). These drawings can also build a basic visual lexicon that can be referenced and used in future work. It is also perhaps the beginning of developing a creator’s voice with daily practice over many years.
The comics diary has also helped me to notice ‘the lovely little’ moments in a day. These lovely littles are normally lost (‘like tears in rain’ ha ha ha) and the comics diary keeps hold of these. It helps you to see how rich your life is beyond your own imaginings – even in the solitary isolation of lockdown. It also does help you look for the funny in the day and sometimes you also find it. It helps you to remember the overheard or shared comments that made you chuckle. If you have to write something ‘heard’ every day, you begin to listen out for these things more often. I even added a ‘heard’ list to my phone of comments worth remembering and these still make me smile (even if they are not worth cartooning). For example, my Dad’s comment on DH Lawrence’s work, ‘...all that moonlight on the water bollocks’.
On the downside, these ‘lovely littles’ become ‘tremendous terribles’ in difficult times, and I stopped creating the comics diary altogether after a period of misery last autumn. In some ways, the drawing probably helps observe and rationalise difficulty, but this is also uncomfortable and seems to make me run in the other direction. I have been wondering ever since how to bring the comics diary practice back, but perhaps I do not need to worry, as everything connects. There is something of the creators’ life in their work no matter…(?).
Initially, I dismissed many of the drawings from the diary with disgruntled dissatisfaction, but later I was delighted – delighted in the puzzle of how the day can be condensed into an image, delighted in how to render this in the tiny space, and delighted in the richness of my own tiny wee world. I have also become more relaxed about drawing outcomes over time and practice, and these days only concern myself with the process.
The comics diary helps to see the wonder of life. It unfolds the complexity into small things to see the big things, which reminds me of a Blake poem that I learned as a teenager,
‘To see the world in a grain of sand,
And heaven in a wild flower
To hold infinity in the palm of your hand,
And eternity in an hour’
To summarise, there are more positive reasons to create the comics diary than to avoid doing it and these include:
- developing a visual lexicon
- noticing the lovely little moments or observing and accepting the difficulty of the terrible moments
- finding the cartoonist’s voice over time
- learning to look for the funny and to remember it
- processing, remembering your day, and condensing days into comics panels
Myriad publisher and ex-cartoonist Corinne Pearlman once said to me that she regrets not keeping track of her comics strips and sketched ephemera that recorded her life and family members. This comics recording can also be a way to save family memories.
Comics can stop and layer time (Harriet Earle’s has an excellent chapter on this entitled ‘Moving in Four Dimensions’ in her book of 2017) and it is quite a gift to yourself to bother to condense the days into comics panels. Writer, painter, and zen practitioner Natalie Goldberg relays this when she notes,
‘Isn’t that what we all want from drawing and writing? We have a need to express ourselves in this transient world. To stop time for a moment. To show how we see and feel before we are gone.’ (2014: 10)
Overall, there are too many reasons to continue the comics diary practice and I need to find a way to add this in an enjoyable way back in to my day.
Earle, H. (2017) Comics, Trauma, and the New Art of War. USA: University Press of Mississippi
Goldberg, N. (2014) Living Color – Painting, Writing, and the Bones of Seeing. (USA: Stewart, Tabori, and Chang).