Letter from the Editor: Show Me What You Mean
Don’t tell. Show. This is the cardinal rule of writing, a rule I was introduced to years ago at my first writers conference. It was scribbled across my writing samples by the reader assigned to review my articles. I also vaguely remember a snippet of explanation, something about my writing style feeling a bit like being pushed into the deep end of the pool instead of inviting readers to ease into the ideas inch by inch. The reprimand has stuck with me, and I think it was the illustration that did it. I could picture the scene, sense the tension of being pushed into the deep end unexpectedly. That illustration reminds me that pushing people into ideas without warning is probably not the best approach.
Pictures are powerful vehicles for communicating all that true and good and beautiful in a world that bombards us with the exact opposite.
Illustrations like this one come in many forms. They can be anecdotes, yarns, even legends. The power is in helping us take in a lesson that we might miss otherwise. Illustrations paint a picture—sometimes even literally. In this issue of Christ and Pop Culture Magazine, the feature essays and support articles ask us to think of the illustrations we encounter in life and consider what they are telling us and why they are so powerful.
In “Art. What Is It Good For?” Seth T. Hahne—our beloved lead illustrator here at Christ and Pop Culture—lays a foundation for the purpose of art:
“Art is, simply, expression. Communication. And just as there is no one purpose for our most common and immediate medium of expression, the voice, there is likewise no one purpose for art. Art, after all, is merely voice through another medium.
“And using your voice, you may present the deepest truths you’ve learned about humanity’s reason for being. You may explain to a child how brakes work. You may give instructions on preparing French toast. You may offer ovation to the Creator of the universe. You may critique a political position, a film, or an ideology. You may bless or you may curse. You may explicate, educate, elucidate, or elevate. You may do one of a hundred things with your voice. You may even hum yourself a little nothing to keep yourself company with your own thoughts or thoughtlessness.”
In addition to this art primer, Seth also takes us on a visual tour of some fantastic illustrations that teach us to see the world in new ways. But sometimes illustration show us an entirely new world, thereby showing us new things about the same old world we’re used to. Glen Davis’s feature, “Anime & Overcoming,” does just that:
“But there is another world of superheroes to explore, one filled with people like Goku, Luffy, and Naruto. They represent a Japanese genre known as shōnen, which refers both to manga (black and white comic books) and to anime (animated television shows usually based on manga).
“The central message of shōnen manga seems to be that whatever obstacles you face, try hard, stay true to your values, work together with your friends, and you will prevail in the end. Although these are very similar to the morals we tell young people in the West, there are differences in the way they are portrayed in shōnen manga.”
We need to learn about this world of illustration, to discover the lessons embedded therein. Scott Dalton helps us grasp this with his feature titled “Eighth Grade and the God Who Loves”:
“Through seeing and feeling along with Kayla, we find ourselves staring in a mirror through a pimply, anxiety-filled middle schooler who just wants a really cool life. This illustration—this reflection—allows the contemporary person, teenager or adult, to see themselves and, surprisingly, to have empathy. We feel for Kayla’s awkwardness, we feel for her insatiable desire to be loved, we feel for her struggle to learn who she is, we feel for her body shame, we feel for her mindless hours spent on Instagram comparing herself to others. We feel for Kayla because we are Kayla.”
Our desire to be loved and our inability to see it, feel it, or accept it fuel our anxiety. Despite hearing affirmations from those who do love us, we struggle to close the gap between what is true and what we are currently experiencing in our everyday circumstances. This tension is why illustrations are so powerful—they show the world at a different angle, allowing us to see what we couldn’t see before. This is why Ariane Peveto points to an anime series in her feature, “Violet Evergarden: What Is Love?”:
“We live in the middle of the tension between what should be and what is, and that struggle is often illustrated in the stories we tell.
“That tension is powerfully carried throughout the visuals of the series. Many scenes at night are softly lit by lamplight that gilds strands of hair and glitters in characters’ eyes. There are brilliantly illuminated auroras arcing over snowy peaks, flowers gently waving in the breeze, charming cobbled city streets, and gently faded memories. Just as striking, however, are the horrors of the war and the varying shades of loss that Violet discovers in the people that she meets. Just as there are peaceful meadows, there are nameless soldiers shot down as they run to safety. Just as there are sunbeams playing on the lake, there are bloodstain-streaked steps and smoking ruins. The heights of beauty are matched by the depth of the pain. And at the heart of these extremes is Violet, dying for an answer. She asks if she is worthy of living, and though her past cannot be erased, the answer is unequivocally yes. That is the answer of love.”
Pictures are powerful vehicles for communicating all that true and good and beautiful in a world that bombards us with the exact opposite. Such illustrations give us new eyes to see and new ears to hear. And they can be found in art, in amine, in film and books, in poem or song. They can even be found in words like these.