Long before I began the cartoon series The Everyday Adventures of Mythology Girl, I spent years drawing cartoons about my own adventures in everyday life. I drew cartoons about all the little things that made me smile: drinking tea with a good friend, baking a cake, writing a poem. I drew cartoons about all the little things that troubled me, too: the dread of going to the dentist, having a sore foot, or feeling lost and unsure about what to do next.
I noticed that these cartoons had quite a therapeutic effect. When I drew a cartoon about something that worried me, I found that I was no longer quite so concerned. When I drew a cartoon about something that made me smile, I found that the feeling of happiness only increased each time I looked at what I had drawn. It seems I had stumbled on a fantastic method: Cartoon Therapy!
I think part of the healing magic of drawing a cartoon is that it simplifies the situation and exaggerates it at the same time. In the course of everyday life, the things that trouble us are mixed up with a million other things that are going on simultaneously. This means it can nibble away at your attention without ever coming to the fore. When you create a drawing of something, you have to give it your full attention. All the other things that concern you must drop away while you focus on one thing. This can be a relief in and of itself.
When I first joined Facebook, I noticed that I was checking my phone continually throughout the day, even while I was doing other things such as cooking or going for a walk. With the arrival of this new platform in my life, a whole new habit had formed. Everywhere I went I took my phone. And where there was a phone, there was Facebook.
For a while this bothered me in a lukewarm sort of way and I found myself unable or unwilling to do anything about it. Then I started to draw cartoons about this odd situation. I found I wanted to expose the experience to myself and at the same time make the issue seem bigger than it already was. There is something about the cartoon form that lends itself to exaggeration. The character in the cartoons was not just looking at her phone continually, she had “Facebook Sickness”! By making the situation bigger and more dramatic, it somehow seemed more true. “Yes! That’s how it feels!” I thought. And the weird thing is, I felt seen and understood. By myself!
When I continued to check my phone while watching TV or going for a walk, I would say: “Oh my goodness! I have Facebook Sickness!” And I would start to laugh. Even though I hadn’t (yet) attempted to “cure” myself of this sickness in the cartoons, I found that positive effects were occurring in my everyday life. I started to leave my phone in another room sometimes, or put it on airplane mode. I felt I could forgive myself for being so silly. And the best side-effect was that I could laugh at myself.
I think if we can laugh at ourselves, we are on to a good thing.
Never be afraid to laugh at yourself. After all, you could be missing out on the joke of the century.
– Dame Edna Everage
A great thing about Cartoon Therapy is that it’s available at any moment and it’s free! All you need is something to draw with and something to draw on. It can be analog – pen and paper – or digital – stylus and phone/tablet. (Just don’t get sidetracked into checking your Facebook!) And the wonderful thing about cartoons is you don’t need to be a Rembrandt. Sometimes the simplest cartoons are the most powerful. (I will be returning to this subject in a later post!)
Here are some suggestions for getting started:
- Find a quiet spot where you won’t be disturbed for at least 20 minutes.
- Make a list of 5 things you might draw a cartoon about. These could be things that make you happy or things that trouble you. Try to be as specific as possible. For example: I wish I could go to bed earlier, I love going to the cinema with my best friend, or I hope my tooth doesn’t need a filling.
- Choose one of the items from your list and draw a simple cartoon of the situation. Don’t be afraid to exaggerate, especially with emotions. It is surprisingly satisfying when the characters in cartoons feel things strongly.
- You may want to add some captions setting the scene, or a bit of dialogue in speech bubbles. Again, be simple and don’t be afraid to go over the top! As an example, check out the cartoon below. It’s totally over the top and yet sums up perfectly how so many of us feel in the same situation!
- Notice the effect the cartoon has on you now that you have created it. Is there anything you’d like to add or change? Put it aside for a while and come back to it later. What is the effect now?
Next time, I’ll be exploring the theme of “What If?”, looking at how cartoons can be a wonderful place to expand our horizons and try out all sorts of new possibilities.
In the meantime, I hope you enjoy playing around with Cartoon Therapy. I’d love to hear how you get on. (Please post in the comments section below.) And, most importantly, have fun!