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Illustration as a Literary "Hack"

Illustration as a Literary "Hack"

Illustration is powerful tool for translating and interpreting text, because historically, illustration is the original form of text and a form of language itself. Illustration evolved from oral tradition as early humans learned to create symbols to represent specific ideas. In modern use, illustration is often used in tandem with text –as the dominant factor in comic books (or the more current trend, manga) or as an accompaniment in children’s books. It is from the latter that the scholarly world draws inspiration. When we are young and first beginning to read, the pictures beneath the text help us derive significance and clue us into what the words mean –much like how our ancestors used symbols; for this inquiry, the same process is applied but to a much more complex and intricate text –a novel, Moby Dick. Instead of being presented with prepackaged illustrations, the goal for this inquiry is to create the illustrations manually.

This lab utilized the most timeless equipment available: pen and paper. The method used was a close reading of a chosen passages followed by a short interval (30 minutes or less, each) of sketching. Note that this method requires thought processes related on what elements to include in the illustration, how those elements are going to be materialized on the page, and how they are going to interact and arrange themselves among other included elements.

The methodology used in this “hack” required the simplification of abstract mental images of a chosen passage into a condensed version that could be realistically drawn. This has the effect of feeling like one is mapping a scene rather than viewing it, and in a sense elevated from a passive audience into an active participant.

Research Questions:

1. How does this “hack change the way you read?

This forces a more analytical, almost list-like re-reading. This method may make the text more accessible or inaccessible depending on audience’s style of reading. My personal experience is while I'm reading, my mind likes to think as several moving images (Sort of like several fluid movie screens) so it was like trying to capture and compress all of these into a single still image. It also compels you to think in ways constrained to illustrative ability. For example, because I can only draw in cartoons, I had to alter my mind images to fit a cartoonish style. It is also likely that your reading will be much more compartmentalized rather than taking in the whole.

2. Illustrations rely on the visual. What would the effects be if you used a “hack” that relied on another of the five senses? For example if you had to engage touch and movement by acting out passages?

Having a specific end-goal of the reading changes what information you deem significant and remember as a result. So if the activity is acting out a character, something in your mind clicks and tells you to pay attention when that character is mentioned so you are better able to pick out needed information. If the end-goal is to illustrate a scene or dynamic, you are much more likely to pay attention to descriptive words.