The Power of Pictures

The world’s greatest detective – and greatest superhero.

I grew up drawing. From a very young age, I doodled wherever I got the chance: hymn books, baby books, bibles, my parents’ walls. Eventually, I learned the joys of a spiral notebook, and the distinct pleasure of having all my drawings in one place. As I got older, I discovered sketch pads, then sketch journals, until I eventually quit drawing and moved on to other, more adult things.

Like doodling on the envelopes my bills came in.

There wasn’t really a niche for me – I can remember spending hours drawing cartoon-style Nerds with my friend Pete Reddington, then moving on to create our own character called Inviso-Boy. Later, I would draw comic-style characters with my friend Ashton Adams, creating original heroes and villains to populate our oft-dreamt-of, never-realized comic books. I did still life, abstract, and whatever else caught my fancy, because I just liked to draw.

Again, as I got older, I dabbled in other visual forms: I loved experimenting with different mediums, working on shading, grade, and depth of field. I spent a long time trying to master the nearly un-masterable art of inking. With the rise ofPhotoshop and other computer programs, I fiddled with CAD and photo manipulation. Heck, I even tried my hand at oils and acrylics on canvas.

But nothing was quite like picking up a pencil and putting it to paper.

There was always something natural about the way a pencil felt in my hand. When I was a kid, it was always a yellow number two, sharpened to a dagger’s tip, with plenty of teeth marks along the barrel. I loved the smell of freshly sharpened pencil, of gently burning eraser, of graphite on paper; the sound of a pencil tip scratching across the blank paper as my imagination came into being in front of me. Those things meant freedom.

See, I could escape whenever I drew. Math class dragging me down? Draw Spider-Man swinging above the rooftops of Queens. Science boring me to death? Draw Batman, menacing in the shadows. Whatever the unpleasant situation, I could find an out through my pencil and paper; heck, eventually I would even learn to express my political opinion via a cartoon character named Stick-Boy.

Yeah, I was a nerd. A dork. I spent more time in my head than in the real world, and I learned that my head wasn’t an altogether unpleasant place to be. I learned to dream, to think on a larger scale, to realize that the distance between imaginary and immediate was the length of a pencil. I learned that it was possible to create new worlds if you were willing to know them, brick by brick, and commit to putting those details down on paper.

I learned heroes can sometimes be villainous, and villains sometimes heroic, depending on how you presented them. I began to think in terms of story, character, back story, and other literary terms. The more I drew, the more I became a writer, because in order to draw characters and cities and worlds, you have to first create those things, which means inventing the narrative.

Suddenly, instead of seeing things in pictures, I saw things in terms of story. I replaced my pencil with my keyboard and never really looked back.

That is, until I had kids.

Ella, my daughter, is just like me. She loves stories. She loves characters. She loves to know why certain created worlds work the way they do. She gets excited by things like light-sabers and spaceships, by heroes who fight for the weak and oppressed and villains who choose evil over good. She feels empathy for the characters as if they were real, flesh-and-blood beings, and that’s how we end up sitting together at the end of Toy Story 3 crying like babies.

Recently, I’ve noticed that her art has been changing. Her people are more defined, her scenery more detailed. If she has a free moment, she’ll grab a piece of paper and start doodling, usually getting lost in a picture, always creating something that has a solid story. She’s also started asking me to draw with her, something that I’m happy to do.

So happy, in fact, that I dug through an old cabinet of mine and found a present for her.

An old sketchbook, barely used.

I gave it to her, and as she flipped through, she immediately started asking me about various sketches: “Who’s that? Is that Batman? What’s she doing? How come he’s jumping off that building? Why is she punching that man? What’s a cartoon dog doing in here?”

But even more precious, she started filling the book with her own sketches. I plan to steal it back from her when she’s done with it; how cool would it be to have that book as a memento of her childhood and our shared passion?

For old time’s sake, I scribbled out the picture attached to this blog (and in case you can’t tell that’s Batman, one of my favorite superheroes). It was fun, and hopefully looks a bit foreboding thanks to the 300 filters I ran it through. I plan to take it home and put it on the refrigerator so my kids can see it. I think Ella will find it cool and maybe try to copy it.

And maybe my son, Jon, who’s just now getting interested in coloring and pictures, might like it too.

Who knows?

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