The magic in images

“There is a magic when you read an image that moves in your mind”

Thus opens the latest conversation british journal The Guardian had with american comic book artist (or, as he prefers, cartoonist) Chris Ware. The writer, then proceeds to give an overview of Ware’s life and his motivations for some of his better known works, like “Jimmy Corrigan” or “Building Stories”. Interwoven, you get some great quotes from Ware. The kind that shines all the way through.

As I was reading this interview, I kept thinking about my relation with tarot. I’ve said hundreds of times, to whomever wanted to hear that comics ended up being the my main source of knowledge. There is something special about then. Of images laid out in a grid, which, in a way, imposes a structure to them, making you figure out ways to connect them. To take two images, two depictions of any kind and find a connection between them. Something that makes sense.

In the interview, Ware addresses this when he says:

As soon as a screen can produce something that can move, it becomes a passive medium, whereas I feel that comics are a very active medium. The appeal is they masquerade as a passive medium, but they’re not at all. It takes a lot of effort to read comics, even though it seems like they’re easy. It seems like they need to be fixed on paper to have a certain power – my wife always tells me never to use the word magic, but I can’t help it, there is no other word: there is a magic when you read an image that you know doesn’t move but you have a sense that something is moving, if not on the page then in your mind.

Here, then is one of the many magical aspects of comics: to take a bunch of immovable images and combine them in a way that gives the reader the illusion of something mentally unfolding in his/her mind. Snapshots of actions that we combine in order to create a moving experience.

When I started in tarot, I had no idea what I was getting into. I just knew it was something I had to know. I even had an idea of this deck I wanted to learn tarot from and so, I just went to a tarot shop and just bought it. At the time, I still spent some time browsing through some other decks, but as soon as I saw the one I had in mind, I knew I had found my tarot deck.  My first tarot deck was chosen and it was the Toth deck.

In hindsight, what made me decide, besides some crazy notion that the Crowley deck was the one I had to learn from was the images. The colors, the shapes, the forms. The way they seemed to effortlessly transform from one card to the next one. They way they seemed to open so many doors to the imagination. I ended up with the Toth deck, if for no other reason, for the possibilities its images offered. Sometime later, I bought the book Crowley wrote. When I read it for the first time, it seemed brilliant and that everything made  perfect sense. However, five minutes latter I couldn’t remember a single word of it. For better or for worse, it was my only contact with a tarot book for a very long time.

I then started to study the cards and to make readings. Right there on the spot. I’d take 6 cards and would then proceed to read them. Whenever necessary, I’d use the book as a crunch, searching for meanings I just couldn’t understand why in hell they were related to that card. My only guideline was just one: Look at the images and what the images seem to tell you.

Iain Sinclair once said something like “put two pictures together and you get a story”. Just like that. It all seems so easy, doesn’t it? Just put two pictures together and puff! Magic happens and you get a story. What could be simpler?? But how could you connect images when you don’t know what they stand for? When you don’t have any type of entry point? That was my problem with the tarot. Beautiful images, but so alien that I felt disconnected.

In the end, if I managed to learn how to read tarot, I have to thank comics. As an avid comic book consumer (everything from superheroes, to Disney comics, to Asterix, Lucky Luke or the more experimental comics), I already had the training. I already had spent half my life visualizing images, picturing them in my mind and transforming frozen moments in time into a visual moving narrative. My problem was never how to connect the images, but how to make them as familiar as an everyday image. How to befriend them and make them so familiar I no longer had to consciously had to think about them and instead just have them pop up and let them combine in anyway they saw fit.

I already had the best deck for this type of work. The one that most appealed my imagination. My creativity. I had already learnt the rules through comics. The only thing that remained was for them to open up. And this, you get through exposure. By looking them, by working with them. By making them just another reference in your day-to-day life.

As Ware said, it is something truly magical when an image opens up and you start to glimpse its true meaning. It’s also something very hard, which might take, depending on the complexity of the image before you and the mental tools you have available, from mere seconds to years. The magic continues when you manage to do this for two, three, four or more images and you combine these images into a coherent narrative. A story.

In the end, you’re taking a visual input and translating it into something meaningful. With comics or with the tarot, you’re transforming a generic picture printed in a piece of paper, or a set of generic pictures printed on paper into something concrete and meaningful. Even if it’s just a story.

Specially if it’s just a story.

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