A Picture Can Tell A Thousand Words

The phrase “a picture can tell a thousand words” can be used too liberally. The most emotive storytelling is often through words – be that spoken or written, read or heard.

Words can build up a much more rounded version of the narrator’s world. As readers we are not only able to see what they see, but we can smell, hear, taste, touch. The bowl of oranges may look delicious but is the smell and taste of an orange not more powerful?


We humans are visual creatures; if we had not been so inclined there’s a very good chance that we would not have survived until present day. Our daily lives demonstrate our natural predilection – Instragram-ing your breakfast, Twitter feed news and Facebook friendships. In our self-created tantalisingly visual world “the image is king”.

This year being very busy and tired with lots of excitement (moving house, moving job, writing deadlines, trusteeships…) I have for the first time in my adult life indulged in the comfort of ‘story strips’. Call them what you will – comics, graphic novels, graphic memoirs, illustrated novels, comic-strip novels – the past eight months have been bliss.

It started with Robert Kirkman’s The Walking Dead and Raymond Briggs’ Ethel & Ernest and When the Wind Blows (maybe my all time favourite book).  Soon I had moved on to Ellen Forney’s Marbles, Art Spiegelman’s Maus, Una’s Becoming Unbecoming, Daniel Clowes’ Ghost World and Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home, to name but a few.

Discovering a genre that is, to me, new and fresh has reignited my love of reading. Once again, finally, there are no half-formed thoughts or to-do-lists circling around in my head while I’m reading. I am present in the story, scrutinising the minute clues in the subtle, skilled illustrations; enjoying being lead down the author’s dark and twisty paths. My to-read-list is getting longer by the day, and my new library card is eventually christened. I’m ecstatic.

Every writer needs to read. As the famous Stephen King quote goes: “If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot.”

I’d lost that for a time, and it’s been good to find.

On the comic book front, I am most certainly behind the times (take Maus for example which started in 1980 and won the Pulitzer Prize in 1992), but now is a good time to try and catch the next wave.

In May The New York Times books desk hired two graphic novels and comic columnists to write alternating monthly reviews, a mere month after The New York Times / Sunday Review cartoon Welcome to the New World won a Pulitzer Prize. Just a few weeks ago Nick Drnaso’s Sabrina became the first of its kind to be long-listed for Britain’s most prestigious literary award, the Man Booker Prize.

Now is the time to weave comics into your life, if you haven’t already.

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