Dutch graphic novelist, known for her educational series 'A Discovery in Comics', featuring 'Philosophy', 'Science' and 'Religion'. In the works: 'World Domination' and 'Love'. Margreet lives and works in Amsterdam with her artistic husband Yiri and their black cat Toto.
I hope the content of the book lives up to this cover…
This comic book is about science, and I’ve been working on it all of the past year. It will appear in Holland in October 2012. If it ever appears in the US (pending the success of ‘Philosophy: a Discovery in Comics’), it will probably be called ‘Science: a Discovery in Comics’. More information (in Dutch) can be found when you click here.
A friend of mine used to be a real asshole. He was rude, self-centred and boorish. At a certain point, he decided this attitude wasn’t working for him, and he chose to behave in a more pleasant manner. He’s been a nice guy for years now. “Deep down, I know I’m an asshole,” he says of himself, “But since I don’t act like one, doesn’t that mean my nature has changed? Am I still an asshole or not?”
Different philosophers have different things to say about this issue of True Nature. Plato would probably hold that in the absolute realm of ideas, his Asshole-ness is a fixed given. Aristotle might argue that True Nature is what someone is “meant to BECOME” – so was my friend meant to become an asshole, or someone who chose not to act like one?
The best thing I have heard about True Nature comes not from a philosopher, but from a children’s book author. “It is our CHOICES that show what we truly are, far more than our ABILITIES.”
Can you guess who said this?
It was Professor Dumbledore, speaking to Harry Potter, when he wonders how much of the Dark Side he has in him, seeing how many talents he has in common with his dreaded enemy Voldemort.
So ask yourself: what are the choices that shaped your True Nature?
Do we have Free Will? Anyone who grew up in a western civilization will probably answer YES to that question. Of course I have Free Will! Am I not completely free to decide what I will do or not do in the next second? I could choose to get up and go to the toilet, OR make myself a snack in the kitchen, OR I could even go out of the house, into the car and ride to Paris to start a new life!
But it’s not very likely that last thing will happen. Why not? Well, I’m just not that kind of person. So, my Free Will is limited by who I AM.
What makes me who I am? DNA and past experiences. Those two together seem to predestine me to DO certain things and NOT do a whole lot of others. So how much of a Free Will do I have then? My choices are a lot more limited than they seem at first.
I can’t change who I AM – that is fixed, by my genetics and by everything that I have experienced in my life so far. Does that also mean I can’t change what I will do in the next second? Is every future action also fixed? Nope. If my genes and background have predestined me to be afraid of heights, for instance, that does not prevent me from deciding to climb the Eiffel Tower tomorrow. I probably won’t. But maybe I have grown sufficiently fed up with my phobia. Maybe I feel I should confront my fears and overcome them. That might make me decide to do a course on “coming out on top of your vertigo” – and that will change who I am, which will change the range of choices I have in the future.
Maybe we shouldn’t call it FREE Will but FLEXIBLE Will. You can’t do something that’s completely opposite to who you are destined to be – but you can make a choice that nudges your personality into another direction, which opens up new possibillities to choose from.
(Unless it is already a fixed thing whether we are a person who can nudge their personality or not. In that case everything is predestined, after all.)
What do I do for a living? I’m a drawer. Funny word that. Makes me imagine small furniture.
But there’s more to the word “drawing”. It also means “to bring, take, or pull out; to bring toward oneself, as by inherent force or influence”.
I’ve been drawing professionally for over ten years now, and one of the biggest breakthroughs for me was when I realized I had to visualize the thing I wanted to draw before putting pencil to paper. The more detailed I imagined it, the better the drawing.
I like to think of drawing as “pulling things into existence”. One minute it’s nowhere, just an intangible vision in my head – the next it’s out there, first tangible on paper, then conjuring images in other people’s heads. It’s magic, when you think about it.
Greek philosopher Plato taught that the visible world is merely a shadow of the higher world of Ideas. When I draw, I have a little understanding of what that might mean.
Since I started this blog, I’m paying more attention to other bloggers and the choices they make. There are promotional blogs, ranting blogs, look-at-our-kids-blogs, look-at-our-cats-blogs. Blogs with endearing content in gruesome, flashy designs, with or without soundtracks. Blogs with superficial content in very slick layouts. And ever since Blogging became all the rage, there is an increasing amount of stranded blogs.
Blogs have lifespans. A blog like this, essentially started to help sell my book, will probably peter out in about a year. Blogs by doting parents on their firstborn usually don’t survive the birth of the second child. Blogging artists get burned out or lose interest after their addiction to “the stats” fades away.
There’s one blogging author that I’ve followed for a while with great interest now: Neil Gaiman.
He was one of the first to start, in 2001, and has been going steadily ever since. What’s his trick, I wondered, how does he do it? Well, I guess he is first of all a writer who loves to write – be it novels, comics or blog entries. And second of all, there seems to be a transparency and innocence to his writings – he genuinely likes sharing stuff from his life, about his kids, his dogs, his bees, and in recent years about his wife Amanda Palmer, who is equally accessible in all kinds of online accounts of her exciting life as a performer/artist/musician.
Fearlessness, is a word that comes to mind.
In an age where warnings about putting personal information on the internet are part of children’s education (& rightly so), some people don’t hesitate to share their intimate thoughts, feelings and experiences with the whole wide world. These are probably the same people who greet strangers in the street. Who exchange pleasantries when you wait with them in line. Who will return your wallet when they find it. Social people.
It touches me and gives me hope for mankind.
(Could I be such a person…? Oh no, I’m way to anti-social – I prefer to hide away in my secret sanctuary, working on secret projects; and then, once in a while, I’ll jump out shouting TA-DAAH! and show the world what I’ve made – before I slink off into the shadows again…)
(It’s a good thing I married someone who is the same way – and now I’ve made a perfect link to the second part of this blog-entry, which contains Thoughts about Marriage:)
Yesterday, Neil Gaiman wrote on his blog about how he reads to his wife, and how she often falls asleep when he does.
It seems like a harmless enough thing to mention – yet it struck me with the raw intimacy of such a moment. The image somehow reveals the heart of their marriage: the interest in each other’s work (he is reading her his newest book), the feeling of ease and familiarity (falling asleep to the sound of husband’s voice) and the atmosphere of trust and understanding (evidently the fact that she falls asleep while listening to his work does not invoke a row – “Well thank you for this blunt reaction to my work – if it bores you that much why don’t you just say so!”).
The essence of a marriage captured in one image.
I have such an image for my marriage with Yiri, too. It’s this:
Yiri wears clunky, unyielding army boots which he laces up real tight – they give him the necessary support, we walk a lot. Getting them on takes a while, but taking them off, with feet swollen, and often exhausted from whatever adventure we had Outside, can be a regular Ordeal. So I take them off for him. We sit on the bed, his leg on my lap, and I unlace his shoes while we chat a bit.
Of course he could do it himself. Of course I have better things to do (I’m always involved in some all-important project, or so I think). But I go out of my way to make life a little easier for him. To add just that little bit of luxury of being “waited on”. To have a very basic, physical interaction – which to me, to us, has become very intimate.
That is the essence of our marriage for me – at least, my half of it.
(Yiri’s half involves handing me lots of cups of tea and chocolate. Oh, and coloring my books for me, although he says he does not do that for Love but for the World, which he thinks will be a better place with my work in it. See why I love him?)
Note that I don’t say: Essence of Marriage, but of OUR Marriage – I think the meaning of a marriage is different for everyone. People sometimes seem to think that Marriage is a kind of concept you have to conform to when you tie the knot. My (our) experience is that marriage takes shape over the years – exactly because of little interactions like the one above, which we consciously cultivate.
(I think there should be more kinds of marriage available to people. It’s nice to aspire to a marriage-until-death-do-us-part, but it’s much more practical to focus on clearer goals. There should be Marriage-until-the-children-leave-home, and Marriage-until-the-sex-is-gone, and Marriage-for-just-the-summer. People could get extensions if they both wanted to. This way, they would probably pay more attention to each other in the long run)
(But I digress)
So, what I’m trying to say is: Blogging, like Marriage, is a very personal thing and takes shape only according to the rules that we ourselves set by them.
And since my blog started as a promotional tool, I’ll end with the admonition to Go Buy My Book! this September. Philosophy – a Discovery in Comics – it’s funny and thought-provoking and a Labor of Love, conceived, gestated and colored all within the holy bonds of matrimony.
‘Philosophy: a Discovery in Comics’ is actually the first of three books I’ve made in the past three years. The second was on Religion, and the third one is on Science. This third one is now in the last stages of being finished and will come out in Dutch around the same time the Philosophy-book will be published in the US. Right now, I’m wrapping things up and starting to think about the upcoming promotion.
This is the cover of the Dutch ‘Wetenschappen in Beeld’:
With a bit of luck, it will also be available in the US in the future, as ‘Science: a Discovery in Comics’.
My upcoming book Philosophy: a Discovery in Comics could be called “educational” (and I’m very flattered when people do) – but it’s just as much “autobiographical”. Ever since I started in comics – in 1998, I was a late bloomer – I wanted to draw about myself. It so happened that at that time there was a surge in Dutch comix of female autobiographies, with the publication of three women comic artists, who were called “The Big Three” for a long time:
I loved their comics, so if I wanted to do something in the same genre, I’d have to make sure it was sufficiently different from what they made. And with that thought, a journey in search of my Autobiographical Self started.
This was my first depiction of myself, walking into the studio of Maaike Hartjes, where I drew my first self-published comics. At that time I was 26 years old, thin and pretty clueless about where to begin when starting my own comic.
For the first few years, I tried drawing all kinds of different styles. I copied styles I liked. I drew myself realistically one day, cartoony the next. It was almost a therapeutic process, expressing not only different emotions but also coming to grip with my self-image.
And then, in 2002, a new relationship brought step-children into my life, and my comic character changed to a more sedate young woman who (usually) stayed calm in all the dramas of family life.
I grew, as a person and as a comic character. Literally. I started putting on weight and although I was quite comfortable with it, I had to re-invent my comic persona: no longer young and thin, but mature and “filled out” (and blond for a while!).
At the same time my comics changed from being purely autobiographical (like the webcomic I did in 2005) to being more educational. I made “comic reports” for national newspaper Trouw, so my character became a reporter. This meant a more cartoony approach, which I still use in my books. It’s very convenient: my comic persona is ageless, easily identifiable and still looks like me (thanks to my unconventional hairdo, which I’ll never change unless I want to be “incognito” of course).
The self-image and identity of an autobiographical comic artist is a very visible thing, and it’s exactly that which makes it my favorite genre. Making autobiographical comics is a brave and vulnerable undertaking, which is rewarded in the end by finding oneself on the pages of the Book of Life (Ooo, that’s deep!).
That being said, a few weeks ago I met up with my little brother (he lives in Berlin, so we don’t see each other very often). He grabbed me brotherly by the neck and exclaimed: “My god, Sis! You have a hump!”
I do, I know it’s there, it’s the badge of honor of a serious cartoonist, always bent over her work.
But having it pointed out by my younger (and gorgeous) brother struck a chord. It made me wonder if I shouldn’t re-draw myself. So that people who know me from my comics who meet me can exclaim: “Oh, you’re so much prettier in real life!” And I can rub that in my brother’s face. With his big nose.