A collection of essays, theories and books which influenced the way I approach writing and art.
Adichie’s TED talk was influential during my adolescence when I was still learning to assert my voice, place and responsibility as an international artist. The talk was introduced to me during one of my ventures into interfaith studies, and became increasingly pertinent during the development of The Carpet Merchant of Konstantiniyya, as I embraced the challenges of a story set in a different culture, religion and history than my own. It affirmed my stance that choices can be made in determining how story is told and who gets to tell it, and the power of framing. And in order to make those choices, one has to dive as deep as possible into history, pulling back the layers taken for granted and knowing where things come from before intentionally settling on a point of view. It’s a mindset that is now ingrained into my writing.
"Power is the ability not just to tell the story of another person, but to make it the definitive story of that person. The Palestinian poet Mourid Barghouti writes that if you want to dispossess a people, the simplest way to do it is to tell their story and to start with, "secondly." Start the story with the arrows of the Native Americans, and not with the arrival of the British, and you have an entirely different story. Start the story with the failure of the African state, and not with the colonial creation of the African state, and you have an entirely different story."
I’ve a growing side fascination for narratology — as an artist I’m interested in exposing myself to stories with different narrative structures and their respective worldviews, which helps me to articulate my own (kishotenketsu). Alison’s exploration on the different shapes of narrative is a fantastic introduction. I don’t really have a stance on narratology now other than explaining what mine is; I’m currently still in the fertilising stage.
This came very late in my career, but if I was younger, this would have been life-changing. Much of what Bayles and Orland said are things I already learned on the job - however, their articulation of the ups and downs related to creativity, storytelling and inspiration are reminders of what really matters.
Part of my narratology and theory studies. Salesses talks about the prioritisation of a singular narrative and specific approach to craft in mainstream publishing and workshopping, and how we should break away from that.
Being mid career it’s very easy to get careless and lose sight of things; everything is either habit and rote at this point., or so far away from the original path. Reading Salisbury’s big book reminded me why I love illustration and why I got into it (context: I started as an illustrator before becoming a comics creator). It’s something I will come back to again.
Since 2018 I have become interested in critical theories in creative writing and visual arts. Prior to this, coming from a self-taught non-arts background, with little exposure to the foundational ideas of arts theory, it had not entered my mind to pursue a study. However, I love analysis and I love talking theory (my scientist brain can’t get enough). What little of it I was introduced to during college and uni accumulated my interest until I was able to pursue it on my own. Berger’s is one of my first, and remains among my most influential. The way he articulates his essays simply and clearly yet delivers paradigm-shifting analysis is the level of critical writing I aspire to, particularly his essay on vanity and the mirror. I find his thinking valuable in my frequent explorations into art history and in creating visual narratives.
"You painted a naked woman because you enjoyed looking at her, put a mirror in her hand and you called the painting "Vanity," thus morally condemning the woman whose nakedness you had depicted for you own pleasure."
I picked Camus up around the same time I did Berger. Camus’ speech on being an artist who opens themselves up to truth-telling and advocacy paired well with Adichie’s Danger of a Single Story. I don’t always want to claim myself as a political artist doing political work since that’s not what I want to be, but as a postcolonial subject raised outside of the Western world, it’s a concern that laps up at me, like ankle-high water. I touch on the topic in this short comic.
"There is no culture without legacy… Whatever the works of the future may be, they will bear the same secret, made up of courage and freedom, nourished by the daring of thousands of artists of all times and all nations."
Another in the same camp of thinking as Berger, Adichie and Camus - talking about how books can act as mirrors (reflection of the self), windows (a look into different perspectives and worlds) and sliding doors (paradigm shifts). Bishop’s essay is more relevant to children’s literature, but I feel it’s equally important in any fiction of any age group that depicts a perspective, a point of view… especially if it’s a culture not unlike the author’s OR the audience’s.
Author Uma Krishnaswami introduced a fourth category to this conceptualisation: prisms (the multipicity of intersecting identities).
My earliest introduction to practitioner essays. Tan talks about expanding our conception of picture books to include everyone - not just children - as a universal audience, and discusses the unique ability of illustration to convey complexity. I think this is one of the pieces that influenced my approach as a children’s book author, if my strong memories as a child and continual appreciation for children’s literature into adulthood hadn’t enforced it already.
I was introduced to Said's Orientalism during college, as part of my A-Level literature lessons. Years later, it became suddenly very prominent when I began to identify decolonialisation and counter-orientalism as one of my core themes.
Lowenthal explores various ideas about how we think about history and the past - something I think is crucial as a historical fiction writer-artist.
Solnit is a relatively new thinker to my studies. Her essay on the journalist’s role in breaking stories is similar to Camus’ Create Dangerously.
Sagan is a writer and scientist I admire as a thinker, the same way I do with Berger. I see him as a role model of possessing deep love and care for the world and being well-rounded and well-read across disciplines.
As discussed in detail in Process and Tools, my Onion Method of Writing and Art is a hybrid of the Snowflake Method and the Philosophy of Composition. Basically, my method is highly-designed and planned out, with every element of story + art dedicated to delivering and strengthening theme and character.
Le Guin is one of my favourite practitioner-thinkers. Many of her essays are brilliant, but the one most influential to me is her carrier bag theory of the story. Historically, the Western canon values narratives that are linear, aggressive and heroic - a phallic, spear-like, masculine view of story. This is manifested in the (at her time) fascination of weapons and hunting in archeology: as prime evidence and crucial drivers of early civilisation. The thrill of the hunt and the glory attached to a kill. She argues that, instead, we should shift our values onto the vessel: the womb, the bag, the net. It carries the baby, the water, the food for winter, and the hunter’s kill. In story, these are ideas, events and objects with no need to relate linearly or aggressively. This Carrier Bag theory augments my natural kishotenketsu sensibility - narratives do not have to be conflict-driven or argumentative in order for something to occur.
Related to my fascination in narratology is an interest in learning non-Western, non-colonial philosophies of living, thinking and relationships. Kimmerer’s essays on her spirituality, mythology and kinships with country and the ecosystem are beautiful and subtly transformation. I don’t quite have an opinion on this yet and how it relates to my craft… still I feel the active exploration into other thinking without the need to impose it into an existing practice or have the practice transformed by it is important for the development of self as a person living in the world.
Once upon a time I knew absolutely almost nothing about how to make comics, and McCloud’s text was formative during my adolescence. Nowadays I am transitioning towards making my own theories on comics. TBC.
The Digital Garden ethos, along with the Indie Web movement, currently informs my approach to being online and maintaining my website/blogs. As I mentioned at the Welcome page of my Personal section, my desire for a stable online presence that I could own and creatively control has been growing stronger as social media begins collapsing. I consider designing my online presence a huge part of my practice, since I’m a lifelong digital artist and it feeds into my core values of archival, access and personal control.
My Own Writing
Over the years, I've written plenty on my thoughts and introspectives on craft, art-making and process, which frequently references these philosophies above. Here's a list of my most substantial pieces.