Sean Michael Wilson considers the eternal question ‘where do you get your ideas from?’ by dissecting a scene from The Garden.
The classic question to writers is, of course ‘where do you get your ideas from?’ (Actually a far more problematic thing for writers is ‘where do you get your money from?’!) But let me say a word or two about the first question, by using a scene from our new book, The Garden, as an example of the various things going on in the process of ideas. This is a scene in which our main character, Joanna, is asking her gardening mentor, Old John, about gardening info.
In the 1980s Alan Moore, when considering this ‘where do you get your ideas from?’ question, wrote that we might say they come in the cross-point between your personal experience and your cultural influences (meaning artistic, intellectual reading, movies you seen, songs you have listened to, etc).
The following scene is a good illustration of the validity of that:
You can see Joanna asks about if we can eat the berries on a Rowan tree. That comes from my own experience of a raspberries and strawberries that grow wild in Japan. I wondered myself if they are edible. Turns out the raspberries are, and the strawberries are not! Mock strawberries look cute and have yellow flowers, but aren’t for eating. Wild strawberries have white petals and can be eaten. The idea of making bitter-tasting jam came from me making jam last year from mulberry trees that grow near me.
In order for me to know that the Rowan tree berries can be eaten but taste bitter I had to look it up, which is a cultural influence. Go back to personal experience and you can see that John looks up to heaven to say sorry to his dad. In my experience people often do that. And that shades into cultural experience, as I have seen it in media as well. In Christianity, heaven is ‘up there’. So, as these two are in Britain, the scene feeds into and from wider cultural aspects.
Notice also that Joanna stretches her back as she gets up – we have all had that personal experience, surely. So Fumio, with his lovely artwork, includes that and some movement lines to emphasise the action.
If we see the phrasing of John it comes from the way British people talk, especially ‘my old dad’. Again, thinking of that dialogue comes from a mix of personal and cultural experience.
Note also how John’s elbow juts out from the panel to the left and over the panel to the right, with the gutter border lines going under it. If we stop to reflect on that style, its very odd, surreal, impossible in ‘reality’. But Fumio’s artistic influences from all the manga and comics he has read in the past inform that idea and decision. To readers familiar with comics it will not seem an odd thing either. Likewise, the colours of the tree and the clothes they wear are all informed by a mix of observing the styles such people wear in personal contacts and wider cultural awareness.
So, you can see that in considering where ideas come from and how this informs what and how we create, even just two panels have a lot going on! Much of it this unconscious at the time of creation.
Lastly, please note how Old John’s name and role fits into the classic story telling archetype noted in Joseph Campbell’s book The Hero with a Thousand Faces, which I have read and is therefore an artistic influence on my storytelling. In that book, Campbell talks of the wise old man or woman who comes into the hero’s life and helps them along their adventure – often helping them learn more, face up to trouble, overcome and become transformed. The wise old man helps our heroine grow. Perhaps the best-known example of that in recent culture is Obi Wan Kenobi in Star Wars!
In The Garden, Old John literally helps Joanna to grow, both in the garden itself and psychologically. So, why not read it and grow yourself!
The Garden by Sean Michael Wilson & Fumio Obata is out now!
It’s also available worldwide from your favourite local or online bookshop.