BCC ’17: Magic, Memory, And Comics With Dean Haspiel, David And Sarah Trustman, And Chris Miskiewicz

by Hannah Means Shannon

In one of the more unusually named panels I’ve ever come across, The Power of Magic and the Magic of Memory, held at Baltimore Comic-Con 2017 on Friday, Dean Haspiel, David Trustman, Sarah Trustman, and Chris Miskiewicz addressed magical transformation within their work in comics and also the magic of visual memory.

Sarah Trustman spoke about the role of magic in comics, where it’s “ok for it to be real” whereas there’s an underlying suspicion of “tricks” when it comes to magic in real life.

David Trustman explained that “religion magic” is a thing, with plenty of magical acts and rites associated with religious practice, and that’s a big part of his comic with Dean Haspiel, God Slap. The “absurdity” of religious conflict is also a big subject in the comic. The comic debuts this weekend at Baltimore Comic-Con.

Haspiel’s webcomic The Red Hook, as well as its sequel, War Cry, have some roots in Kirby comics which Haspiel loves. One character in the new comic is able to shout the words “War Cry” which transforms him into a “warrior goddess” as a weapon for good. It’s kind of like Firestorm from DC Comics, too. For Haspiel, this transformation using words or combinations of beings is “magic”.

Chris Miskiewicz’s comic with Palle Schmidt, Thomas Alsop, from Boom! Studios is a supernatural thriller with a 9/11 plot point that made it a little controversial. It’s steeped in magic and the occult, though Miskiewicz has never really been a big fan of the way magic is presented in comics. He prefers a kind of “realism” in handling it.

Haspiel said that it often feels like there’s no personal stakes in comics where heroes can use magic, but Constantine, The Hellblazer, was a character who changed that status quo and made it more real and personal.

Miskiewicz said that New York was a natural place for a magic-based story in Thomas Alsop because there are so many places with dark histories connected to the city, like an island in the river where John Doe corpses are traditionally buried. Books like Preacher also employ magical thinking, an unpredictability that can be done well.

David Trustman said that “magic can do anything” in comics, as long as you establish what that action is. Haspiel pointed out that the theme of transformation is often both external and internal when magic kicks in, making it a meaningful theme.

Miskiewicz pointed out that transformation is usually an end-game and a goal to a narrative, so something audiences are interested by and waiting for.

Haspiel said that when he created his own characters after working in more mainstream comics, the reason he has fewer major story arcs is because he feels he goes through all the “changes” and “alterations” that are possible with his characters. That’s why creators change on mainstream books every few years, to do something new.

Sarah and David Trustman have written about memory and memory through history, and the ways in which memory can be made to seem magical. Sarah said that our brains are designed to retain imagery and that can be cultivated in order to change information into images that can then be easily remembered. Stories exist from different time periods of people undertaking seemingly impossible amounts of memorization and their methods are usually similar to a “memory palace technique” we can still learn today. Using images for memorization purposes in the past may even have led practitioners to be persecuted by the church for seemingly occult practices.

Many alphabets from different cultures are mneumonic in a way, with their pictorial roots. Haspiel mentioned the graphic novel by Douglas Rushkoff and Michael Avon Oeming, Aleister and Aldof, where cultural advertising, like the kind you might see in Times Square, or online, even connects to this idea of triggering memory and positive impressions with symbols. Single images can lead to full narratives stored in your head, and that often happens with comic readers, David Trustman said.

Sarah and David Trustman performed an example of memory magic for the panel, where audience members listed common objects and numerical values were assigned to them up to 20 on a whiteboard facing the audience, but facing away from Sarah Trustman. Audience members then randomly called out numbers and Sarah Trustman correctly identified the objects/images associated with each number.

Sarah Trustman says she’s created a “memory path” based in numbered slots that have their own permanent symbols (a tower, a swan, and the like), and she pictures the new objects located in those spots on the path. To clear that path and start over, she imagines them being destroyed. Asked how she uses this in daily life, she says she never writes down lists any more, not even grocery lists. The couples’ children play games like this, too, and it helps them in school where memorization is still a major element of education.

Asked how this might relate to memory loss in older age, the Trustmans said they’ve both had grandparents who suffered from these symptoms, but they find it’s true with the brain, “use it or lose it”. Continuing to use your brain by playing list games is a great way to combat that loss.

Asked if you can “turn off” a memory, David Trustman said that you can, in “willful ignorance” and Sarah Trustman said replacing an unwanted memory with another positive memory is helpful.

Their interest in the subject came from performing stage magic tricks, like card tricks, where memorization needed to be a key factor, they said. They found it “fun” and started to perform more, then read more books on the subject.

Find the panelists at table 2410 at Baltimore Comic-Con this weekend.