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Washington Post amped for Lynda Barry's 2013 National Book Fest appearance

Updated September 11, 2013


"2013 NATIONAL BOOK FESTIVAL: Graphic novelists Barry, Chao, added to stellar lineup"

By Michael Cavna
The Washington Post, July 17, 2013

Top graphic novelists Lynda Barry and Fred Chao have joined the roster of top talent set to appear in September at the Library of Congress’s National Book Festival on the Mall.

The wonderful Barry, of course, is the Eisner-winning creator of “Ernie
Lopez designed last year’s fest poster. (courtesy of RAFAEL LOPEZ - .) Pook’s Comeek” and such books as “What It Is” and the new “The Freddie Stories” (Drawn + Quarterly). as well as a noted comics educator.

Chao is the gifted Eisner-nominated artist of “Johnny Hiro”; his new graphic novel is “Johnny Hiro: Half Asian, All Hero” (Tor Books).

Among the other art-related folk scheduled to appear are comics writer/crime novelist Brad Meltzer, brothers (and comics greats) Gilbert and Jaime Hernandez, and animator/children’s illustrator Jon Klassen (”I Want My Hat Back,” Lemony Snicket’s “The Dark”), as well as the book/poster illustrator Rafael Lopez.

The Book Festival — set for the weekend of Sept. 21-22 — will also feature a Graphic Novel/Science Fiction Pavilion on Sunday.

The event’s theme this year is “Books That Shaped the World,” and people are invited to nominate books that meet that theme over at www.loc.gov/bookfest.
 
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Featured artist

Lynda Barry

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What It Is
The Freddie Stories




  Lynda Barry interviewed on WCBE

Updated June 5, 2013


"Cartoonist Lynda Barry Helps College Students Tap Innate Creativity"

WCBE.org, May 29, 2013

At the beginning of her course at the University of Wisconsin, cartoonist Lynda Barry wants to get to know her students by their work, instead of their personalities. So, instead of learning their names, she assigns them all "brain names," like Thalamus and Hippocampus.

In all of her courses, professor Old Skull — as she is known by her students — aims to strip away the stiffness of adulthood and plug people into their innate creativity.

As part of Talk of the Nation's "Looking Ahead" series, Barry talks with NPR's Neal Conan about the future of cartoons and creativity....
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Lynda Barry

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What It Is
The Freddie Stories




Lynda Barry on NPR

Updated June 5, 2013


"Cartoonist Lynda Barry Helps College Students Tap Innate Creativity"

by NPR STAFF
NPR, May 29, 2013

Like most of her work, cartoonist Lynda Barry's class at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, is unorthodox. "No artistic talent required," the course description states. The course is described as a "writing and picture-making class with focus on the basic physical structure of the brain."

At the beginning of the semester in "The Unthinkable Mind," Barry wants to get to know her students by their work instead of their personalities. So, instead of learning their names, she assigns them all "brain names," like Thalamus and Hippocampus.

"It got to the point where we were so used to it that I'd hear students say, 'Yeah, I saw Hippocampus at a party with Limbic System,' " she tells NPR's Neal Conan.

"I thought, well, what if we just use parts of the brain, and without trying to memorize parts of the brain, will we have at least the names of them by the end of the semester? And yes, that happened."

Since discontinuing her weekly comic strip Ernie Pook's Comeek, which ran in alternative newspapers from 1979 to 2008, Barry has shifted her focus to teaching. The Wisconsin native teaches more than a dozen writing workshops around the country each year.

After serving as an artist-in-residence at the University of Wisconsin in 2012, Barry is now an assistant professor of interdisciplinary creativity. "I make my husband call me [Professor Barry]," she says. "I tried to get my dogs to call me Professor Barry, but they have trouble with P's."

In all of her courses, Professor Old Skull — as she is known by her students — aims to strip away the stiffness of adulthood and plug people into their innate creativity.

In the spring 2013 semester of the course, students were required to apply to the course. Twenty were accepted — eight humanities students, eight science students and four "wild cards."

"I was especially interested in people who didn't draw or who didn't feel they could draw," Barry says. "I was blown away, especially by the people who had quit drawing around adolescence, what happened with their work when they started to draw again."

Over the course of a semester, the students wrote about 50,000 words by hand (data known thanks to a student known as Brain Stem) and did hundreds of drawings.

A strong believer in the power of doodling to spur creativity, Barry is rarely found without a pen and pad — even during interviews. "Whenever [students] are listening to people read the stories that we write in class, they have to draw. They had to draw while they're listening, and I try to really get that drawing habit into their hands."

Barry says her interest in the intersection of art and brain science goes back to a college professor she had at The Evergreen State College in Olympia, Wash.

"My teacher when I was 19 asked me this question: 'What is an image?' And it is that one question that I've been trying to answer all these years," Barry says. "It is exactly how I ended up at the University of Wisconsin, working with scientists and working with artists and trying to figure out the biological function of this thing that we call the arts."

Barry, whose most recently published book is The Freddie Stories, is working on a book about her college course called Syllabus.
 
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Lynda Barry

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The Freddie Stories




  Lit Fest round-up highlights Chris Ware, Lynda Barry and Anders Nilsen

Updated June 5, 2013


"Five books: Graphic novelists at Lit Fest"

By Jennifer Day
The Chicago Tribune, May 25, 2013

Art Spiegelman, author of “Maus,” a Pulitzer Prize-winning memoir that essentially legitimized cartooning as a literary form, will kick off this year's Printers Row Lit Fest on Saturday, June 8, as winner of the Chicago Public Library's Harold Washington Literary Award. With that in mind — along with the fact that some of the most interesting cartoonists working today live in Chicago — we dedicated this issue of Printers Row Journal to graphic novels. Let's kick it off with a roundup of books by some of the cartoonists who will be at Lit Fest.

Building Stories by Chris Ware

Chris Ware reimagined the very notion of what a book could be in "Building Stories," a gameboard-sized box filled with illustrated works about the inhabitants of a Chicago three-flat. It was published to critical acclaim in October and showed up on just about every list of best books from 2012. The beauty and inventive nature of Ware's work is obvious; but what makes it compelling is its careful observation of the characters who inhabit it.

The Freddie Stories by Lynda Barry

Five years ago, Lynda Barry stopped writing "Ernie Pook's Comeek," a strip that first appeared in the Chicago Reader nearly 30 years before. "The Freddie Stories" is an expanded reissue of a collection of strips about the youngest of the Mullen family. Freddie is introduced by his sister Marlys as "a gentle person" in "a juvenile delinquency world." No one gets at cringe-inducing moments of truth quite like Barry — with empathy and playfulness.

The End by Anders Nilsen

In 2006, Anders Nilsen published "Don't Go Where I Can't Follow," a heartbreaking 96-page graphic memoir about his relationship with his fiancée, Cheryl Weaver, who died of cancer in 2005. "The End" is the story of what came next: a bracing depiction of mourning and acceptance. Nilsen, who is perhaps best known for "Big Questions," uses spare drawings and empty space to make his loss palpable — and to leave room for hope.

Sammy the Mouse: Book 1 by Zak Sally

Sammy the Mouse just wants to stay home alone, but a voice from above commands him to open the door when a drunken duck comes knocking. He finds himself thrust out into a confusing and grim world. "Sammy the Mouse: Book 1" collects the first three issues of the comic book (originally published by Fantagraphics) in a lovely two-color edition hand printed by Sally.

CAKE 2012 Book

Lit Fest participant Laura Park is one of dozens of artists who will appear at the Chicago Alternative Comics Expo, June 15-16. CAKE will be on hand at Lit Fest, too, to offer a taste of this year's event. In the meantime, check out the anthology from last year's expo, "CAKE 2012 Book," which features work by Dane Martin, Anna Haifisch, Paul Nudd and many more.
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Featured artists

Chris Ware
Anders Nilsen
Lynda Barry

           Featured products

The Freddie Stories
Multi-Story Building Model




The Austin Chronicle on The Freddie Stories and Susceptible

Updated June 4, 2013


"Under the Covers: Drawn and Quarterly? Fantagraphics? A Few Recent Releases?"

By Wayne Alan Brenner, Shannon McCormick and Erika May McNichol
The Austin Chronicle, May 10, 2013

Lot of amazing comic books and graphic novels and compilations of sequential art – or whatever label you wanna tag the stuff with – coming out lately.

...The Freddie Stories by Lynda Barry

Do you remember your childhood? At least enough to render it, with all its intricate personal details, as a series of comic strips? Lynda Barry does. That is, she remembers her own childhood, or at least she renders it or a fictionalized version of it (and that of siblings and friends) so vividly, with so many intricate personal (poignant, embarrassing, gnarly, seemingly crazed but perfectly logical at the time) details, as a series of comic strips –

(Perfectly logical at the time? Like when you did that thing with the ants and the cookie crumbs and the garden hose because you'd just seen a movie about General Patton and because Operation: Patton Ants was also less risky, paternal-beltwise, than setting your sister's remaining Barbie on fire?)
– as a series of comic strips that capture the core of being that age, at that time, in those circumstances.

She renders it in such a precise way that it hurts.

("Circumstances," yeah. In the Roast Beef Kazenzakis sense of the word.)

These are The Freddie Stories that Barry conjured for her altweekly-disseminated Ernie Pook's Comeek back in the '90s, presenting "a year in the life of the youngest member of a troubled, often dysfunctional family." Yes, dysfunctional – in a manner unknown to the rumored happy families that are all alike, with the youngest family member here, Freddie, AKA Skreddy 57, helplessly alive with funk and fantasy and terror and sorrow, galvanized (in that electrical-wire-in-a-dead-frog's-leg-muscle way) by the sheer immensity of existence and the relentless array of facts it offers for cataloguing, almost failing to survive the repressive and bully-bludgeoned journey to adolescence. These strips, along with many left out of the collection's earlier iteration, are offered in a beautifully made hardcover edition from Drawn & Quarterly. And, note: Even these strictly black-and-white scratchings of Barry's skilled and lyrical pen are presented against lined fields of color.

"When you look into an abyss, the abyss also looks into you." Good old Freddie Nietzsche said that in another context, but he could've been talking about this presentation of a sort of larval abyss that can be as harrowing as the adult phase some of us carefully avert our gazes from. We recommend you look into this one from Barry and D&Q, see if your mouth isn't occasionally (maybe nervously) laughing while your memory-haunted heart breaks over and over and over.

– Wayne Alan Brenner

....Susceptible by Geneviève Castrée

Geneviève Castrée recounts her upbringing in Quebec, in the autobiographical, coming-of-age piece, Susceptible.

Goglu is the unplanned outcome of young love and a summer romance in Alberta, and details her childhood and adolescence with, mostly, her mother, who flounders with the basics of parenting. A likable but disengaged father, 5000 miles away in Vancouver, serves as a constant spectre in Goglu’s life; many of the sequences where her mother has overlooked or neglected some critical aspect of raising a child (such as getting shit-faced at a New Year’s party with Goglu along, or leaving her to get ready and take herself to school at a young age, or getting shit-faced in front of Goglu’s friends) emphasize his absence. More than a few recollections in Castrée’s book evoked an uncomfortable feeling, like the times you end up with front-row seats to the spontaneous argument between your best friend’s parents. When Goglu’s mother gets stoned and corners her in the basement – despite Goglu’s attempts to avoid her -- you can almost smell her dry mouth and stale breath as she tries to assuage her own insecurities with her daughter.

The self-taught artist renders her story through lovingly executed panels and an interesting narrative, but the book left me feeling empty. Castrée seems to write the book as an exercise in self-reflection, but I struggled to make the jump to connecting with the larger theme of nature vs. nurture. Is Goglu railroaded into the life that her mother lives: irresponsible, self-absorbed and complicit in her lack of forward movement? Castrée seems to point to yes, that she indeed is, in the opening sequence of the book, but leaves this open at the book’s close.

Susceptible was an uncomfortable and emotionally unsatisfying book, personally, but perhaps that’s the point. Castrée translates many of the recollections from her native tongue into English, which left me wondering if something was simply lost in translation. In all, Susceptible was a nice way to mark an evening, but failed to the deliver the lasting ruminations on its content the way other autobiographical works in this medium have.

– Erika May McNichol

 
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Featured artists

Lynda Barry
Geneviève Castrée

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The Freddie Stories
Susceptible




  Lynda Barry looking into the future at WID

Updated May 1, 2013


"Drawing Jam with Lynda Barry [photos]"

Wisconsin Institute for Discovery, 6 April 2013

Launched at the WID’s first Counterfactual Campus event in October 2012, the Drawing Board Project invites people of all ages to envision the UW–Madison of 2112. What will be different about the appearance, purpose, atmosphere and community of the campus 100 years from now? What will last through the century and prove itself to be of enduring value?

Author, Cartoonist and Discovery Fellow Lynda Barry has led workshops and a Drawing Jam on basic cartooning and writing techniques to help children and adults begin to put their ideas on the page.
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Featured artist

Lynda Barry

          



PopMatters: "many of us will no doubt relate to" The Freddie Stories

Updated April 4, 2013


"A Child's Scars from Bullying Are Laid Bare in a New Edition of Lynda Barry's 'The Freddie Stories'"

Holly Cara Price
PopMatters, 2 March 2013

Lynda Barry’s The Freddie Stories tells the tale of an agonizingly difficult year in the life of Freddie Mullen, the younger brother of Barry’s wellknown mainstay characters, Marlys and Maybonne. Freddie has “emotional problems,” writes Marlys in the foreword. “He is often called a fag and has had to run for his life on many occasions. He is a gentle person and this is a juvenile delinquency world… Sometimes his life has been very seriously terrible.”

The Freddie Stories was first published in 1999, and has since been redesigned and reworked, as well as augmented with material that was not in the original edition. This is also the first printed collection in over five years of stories from Barry’s popular serial Ernie Pook’s Comeek, which was syndicated for two decades in alternative newspapers throughout the United States. In a new addendum Barry writes, “When this collection was first put together in the early 1990’s, some strips were left out for being too strange or depressing… The original collection of stories along with some of the ‘lost’ stories, now here together in this book, make me wonder what new gaps have been made for a part of the mind that abides in things which do not connect straight away.” Many of us will no doubt relate in some way to this young boy’s impressions of being a very small outsider in a big, scary, mean world.

Freddie imparts his singular words of wisdom on everything from making a fried baloney sandwich (“It is the best food for sad people”) to his first day of school in fourth grade (“The first day of school is a most hopeful day. No one has black marks against them and the people haven’t been sorted into piles of popularity yet”) to losing a friend (“I did not know you could do something to a person, and then being friends with them would end for all time”). He’s terrified of his new homeroom teacher, Mr. File. His school friend, Glenn, joins the other kids in pestering him. His sadistic cousin, Arnold, loves to indulge in gay bashing with Freddie as the target. He’s set up as an arsonist when he tries to stop a crime before it takes place. His own mother tells him he wasn’t supposed to happen and tries to pawn him off for the summer at Arnold’s house.

If you had the amazing recall Barry apparently does, you will know that, although these stories might seem outlandishly brutal and horrific, they’re actually not that far out of the realm of possibility. Freddie’s experience is not an untypical childhood; a minefield of terrifying situations that you don’t understand and which keep you up at night staring at the ceiling watching the hours pass by. Barry’s singular genius is that she keeps within her the memory of what it’s like to be young and powerless and frightened.

When The Freddie Stories was first published, the problem of bullying hadn’t hit the mainstream, yet. Though it’s as old as time immemorial, it wasn’t until relatively recently that bullying has been named and recognized in the cultural zeigeist. Modern day Freddies, alas, sometimes make YouTube videos and then commit suicide, leaving a lifetime of regret for those who loved them and still couldn’t save them.

Bullying is finally recognized as a serious problem. Children are afraid to complain to parents or teachers, learning instead to internalize the stress and keep their heads down so as to minimize the chance of becoming a target. At an early age, this behavior has a clear tendency to reshape and remodel a personality. Cruelty can have an ‘all bets are off’ feel when the tormentor is another grade school child. Survival of the fittest starts young—too young.

Barry herself had a difficult childhood. Her parents divorced when she was 12 years old. While still in high school, she took a night job as a hospital janitor. Her career as a writer and cartoonist took off in the late ‘70s after a college friend, Matt Groening, published her work in a student newspaper.

Like Barry, Freddie is a scrappy survivor. He figures out his own strategies and moves on in life. He’s lucky to have two great sisters who keep him on their radar, even as their family is extremely dysfunctional (again, this is something most of us can relate to). His voice is clear and strong, and there is no hint at all of him feeling sorry for himself. It’s just everyday life in Freddie’s world, where he warns omniscently, “The most innocent-looking things can blow your face off if you touch them the wrong way. Spies are everywhere.”

Rating: 9/10
 
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Featured artist

Lynda Barry

          



  Lynda Barry's "complexity and style" lauded in the Barnes & Noble Review

Updated April 4, 2013


"The Freddie Stories"

Paul Di Filippo
The Barnes & Noble Review, 12 March 2013

Blessed with legions of ardent fans, Lynda Barry is nonetheless critically underappreciated. Google her byline accompanied by the word "review," and you come up practically empty. Many people bump into her only in the context of her long friendship with Matt Groening, creator of The Simpsons. And yet for nearly thirty-five years she's been producing great, funny, unique comic strips -- not graphic novels per se -- many of them centered on a quirky adolescent girl named Marlys Mullen and her family.

Luckily for her readers, Canadian publisher Drawn & Quarterly committed recently to getting all of Barry's lamentably unavailable work back into print. Their latest offering is The Freddie Stories, tales centered on Marlys's weird, geeky brother. And this handsome new edition features thirty pages of material not previously seen.

Each strip in this volume comprises four panels, and, while independent, the installments often flow into one another to sustain longer narratives. Unlike the vast majority of her peers, Barry favors a text-heavy style, almost making her creations into illustrated fiction rather than comics. Each panel generally features half or three-quarters of its acreage filled with text in Barry's distinctive hand, with the illustration crammed in below. Ornamental details abound in each initial panel, thematically evocative of the presumed origin of these mini-narratives in an adolescent's doodled journal. But Barry's art does not suffer from the top-heavy text. Her thorny thicket of lines and ink, blots and scratches always registers cleanly and boldly, recalling the work of Mark Alan Stamaty and Ben Katchor.

Freddie and his family occupy a generically suburban milieu that emerges as a late-sixties landscape, consonant with Barry's own Boomer childhood. Many period references cleverly evoke the era without bludgeoning the reader's sensibilities. Freddie's consciousness is quintessentially pre-adult: aware, say, of "Fool on the Hill" issuing from the radio but certainly not of, oh, antiwar protests in Washington.

But the lives of Freddie and his siblings are hardly Beach Boys idyllic. (His sisters, Marlys and Maybonne, figure only intermittently, indicative of Freddie's isolation.) Neglected by a hard-drinking single mother, Freddie has to navigate through both the internecine world of his peers and the inexplicable ecosphere of adults, with no direction or advice. And given that Freddie resembles Ralph Wiggum from The Simpsons in his addlepated naïveté and flights of hallucinatory daydreaming, his misfit life is bleak. Anyone who thinks Chris Ware's comics are a chronicle of hardship and misery should scope out Barry's work.

And yet the ultimate tenor of these strips is somehow upbeat and positive. Freddie is unjustly imprisoned briefly in juvie due to being on the periphery of an act of murderous arson. So he makes friends with his cellmate and has a new pen pal when he's released! He sees the flaming skull of the arson victim everywhere -- until he has a dream of grace and unburdening. It's summertime, and the family's shabby house is full of flies -- so Freddie makes one his pet. The boy's sheer indomitability, coupled with his imaginative powers (which, true, are sometimes a millstone), leave the reader hopeful that Freddie will grow up into wellness and happiness and accomplishment. He's the original poster boy for the "It gets better" meme.

Barry's drawings are messily splendid while also graphically precise, able to convey personality and setting and emotional complexities with economy and depth. But her text is the real knockout component in these stories. There is a lot of deadpan humor. Freddie's hung-over mom moans, "Three beers are my limit"; later that day, Freddie observes she's on her fifth. And while staying achingly true to Freddie's age and mentality, Barry nonetheless consistently achieves Faulknerian complexity and style:
2 + 2 + 2 + 2 onward to infinity. I have been getting sinister headaches and if you have ever heard a dog whistle it has a sound that is in my brains and wants to break my glasses. Marlys is now begging me. Stop, Freddie. No more math, Freddie, stop.
The Freddie Stories as a graphic novel version of The Sound and the Fury, Freddie a strip-mall hybrid of Benjy and Quentin Compson? That's not too far a stretch for Lynda Barry's talents at all!

Featured artist

Lynda Barry

          



SYVN: Lynda Barry gives lecture at UCSB

Updated April 4, 2013


"Cartoonist, graphic novelist Lynda Barry to give lecture at UCSB"
Santa Ynez Valey News, 28 February 2013

UCSB Arts & Lectures presents “An Evening with Lynda Barry,” the legendary cartoonist and author in her Santa Barbara debut at 8 p.m. Thursday, March 7, at UCSB Campbell Hall. Books will be available for purchase at the event, and a book signing will follow the talk.

Queen of the alternative comic strip, inimitable cartoonist and author Barry has blazed many trails over her long career. Her nationally syndicated strip, Ernie Pook’s Comeek, featured the wild daydreams, musings and torments of an unforgettable cast of quirky, pimpled pre-teens — beloved Marlys, Freddie and Arna — and ran for nearly three decades in independent weekly newspapers.

A Wisconsin native, Barry studied at Evergreen State College in Olympia, Wash., where she got her start drawing comics for the school paper, whose editor was Matt Groening, creator of “The Simpsons.” The two longtime friends have appeared on cartooning panels together. She lived in Chicago for several years (and dated “This American Life’s” Ira Glass) before returning to Wisconsin.
 
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Featured artist

Lynda Barry

          



  The Santa Barbara Independent's profile of Lynda Barry

Updated April 4, 2013


"Up Close With Lynda Barry"

Nick Welsh
Santa Barbara Independent, 28 February 2013

It makes perfect sense — in a perfectly weird sort of way — that there’s no Ernie Pook character to be found in Lynda’s Barry’s famous cartoon strip Ernie Pook’s Comeek, a 30-year mainstay of America’s alternative newspaper scene. Pook, it turns out, was an imaginary character created by her little brother when he was 3. “He dubbed everything he saw ‘Ernie Pook,’” Barry said in a recent interview. Years later, after Barry unveiled her signature creation — which details the harrowing adventures and misadventures of a young girl on the cusp of puberty via graphics sufficiently raw and unvarnished to induce visual splinters — she made a point to show her brother. His reaction? “He asked, ‘Who’s Ernie Pook?’” Barry said. “He had no recollection.”

For Barry, it’s always been about memories. Even though she happily retired two years ago from the weekly comic strip grind, memory still consumes her. Just differently. Well before graphic novels were invented, Barry had scratched out a niche for herself as America’s foremost folk-art cartoonist by remembering stuff many people would prefer to keep locked in their basements. There are no strong, comforting Atticus Finch father figures in her Ernie Pook universe. Maternal characters are sustained by a seething fury; above all else, they want not to be bothered.

Most of the action centers around young Marlys, left on her own to juggle the multiple and competing realities of adolescent existence, few of them happy. Leavening what could otherwise be a forbiddingly scary landscape is Barry’s outrageous humor and elliptical intelligence. But what really powers Barry’s work is her uncanny recall of the seemingly mundane — but emotionally charged — details that detonate in the reader’s brain and heart, like so many time bombs.

Barry has insisted over the years that Ernie Pook is not autobiographical, but her childhood, she said, was undeniably “difficult.” Her father left when she was 12. Her mother, a Filipina immigrant, never got over the Japanese occupation her village endured during WWII. Barry grew up in Seattle, in an immigrant family with lots of relatives crammed in tight. Little wonder her “absolute favorite” childhood comic strip was The Family Circus. “I’d look into that circle and see what looked like a really good life,” she said. Barry recalled bursting into tears when meeting Jeff Keene — who took over the Family Circus after his father Bill Keene died. “I felt like I’d crawled into that circle,” she said.

For the past two years, Barry has been teaching nonwriters—and writers, too—how to write at the University of Wisconsin – Madison. She’s drawn to the near-universal experience of preverbal toddlers to create characters, like her brother did with Ernie Pook. Her strategy is to connect even the most right-brained, educated university students with the ability to tap into that same impulse. “That, I think, is the core of the arts,” she said. “It’s our first language.”

Barry can talk about the biology of brain function with the experts; she knows that brain scans of children “at play” is akin to that of adults during “creative concentration.” Whatever you call it, Barry knows it’s essential to mental health. But she’s decidedly not about the high priesthood of art elites. (Hence admission to her upcoming talk at Campbell Hall will be free to students.) She’s all about getting even the most art-phobic to connect with their creative impulses, like the proverbial “grumpy uncle” who sings, draws, and even dances when in the company of a favored child.

To this end, Barry said, she has her students do lots of memory work. “Memory is not two dimensional,” she said. “You can get inside it. You can turn it around. You can find the light source.” She has her students get inside a memory, turn around, describe what they see and what they smell. Feelings are fine, but images are better. “It’s not about drawing perfectly,” she said. The images these exercises dredge up bring with them all kinds of memories and associations. And that’s at the core of the riddle — “What is an image?” — she’s been exploring her entire artistic life.
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Featured artist

Lynda Barry

          



CT: readers will "fall in love with Freddie" in Barry reprint

Updated April 4, 2013


"Lynda Barry's Latest Book Makes 'Diary Of A Wimpy Kid' Seem, Well, Wimpy"

Alan Bisbort
CT.com, 20 February 2013

The arrival of any new collection of Lynda Barry's cartoons is cause for celebration. Barry, a cartoonist, painter and teacher, is best known for her syndicated comic strip "Ernie Pook's Comeek," a staple of alternative newspapers since the 1980s. Over the past decade, Barry has developed into something more than this. In brilliant books like What It Is and Picture This, she is more like a philosopher of the human imagination and a healer of the psychologically damaged than a comic-strip artist. Mostly, though, she is funny in the best way — you don't feel empty after you've laughed as you do with some cartoonists who mine similarly twisted veins.

The newest collection of Barry's work, however, is not particularly funny, nor is it intended to be. The Freddie Stories (Drawn & Quarterly) is a Diary of a Wimpy Kid for adults, or a Diary of a Wimpy Kid as channeled through David Lynch with a soundtrack by Daniel Johnston. The main character is Freddie Mullen, a Linus figure who has stumbled onto adolescence after a childhood of psychological and physical abuse. He has grown up to be a saintly, gentle soul, despite being mercilessly picked on by everyone from his mother to his cousin to his schoolmates and various assorted sadistic bullies. According to his sister Marlys — one of Barry's winningest characters from Ernie Pook's Comeek — Freddie has "certain mental disorders known as emotional problems."

These started out as an inability to sit still, developed into weird conversational tics and, ultimately, into visitations by invisible specters in the night. Needless to add, Freddie's eccentricities make him an easy target for other children. The bullies who torment Freddie are far worse than normal bullies, they are budding sociopaths. One even burns down a house, killing an old woman, and then tries to lay the blame on Freddie, who is briefly apprehended and held as the suspected arsonist. But the adults in the stories are the most hideous creatures, especially Freddie's mother, a chain-smoking hysteric who can't speak without snorting or threatening.

Though the earliest entries in The Freddie Stories — which chronicles a year in the life of Freddie — have some reliably wacky Barry moments, they turn into something else, a meditation on the cruelties inflicted on sensitive adolescents and about mental illness itself. As Freddie's inner torments worsen, Barry's drawings become more like scribbles or Rorshach test images. The monsters who visit Freddie in the night when he is trying to sleep, for example, are conflated in his head with the school bully who uses him in a game called "Basement Prisoner" (it's exactly like it sounds).

While The Freddie Stories captures the fears and fantasies of coming of age, the book pushes the boundaries on what a normal reader can take (Barry's fans will not flinch; they're used to it). The volume is ultimately rescued by the final 30 pages, which are strips that have never been printed before and which Barry calls the "Lost Stories." Here, one finds the gentle, radiant spirit that saves Freddie in the end. This is vintage Barry, so funny that the reader just falls in love with Freddie and, like his sister Marlys, wants to shield him from all the cruelty that people so afflicted seem to attract like magnets.

A typical Freddie question is "Do you ever wonder why when you go 'What's the animal you would vote to turn into' nobody says 'an anteater'?" and a typical statement is "If you see the monitor lizard blowing the mind of the vulpine possum, throw your shoe at it."
 
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Featured artist

Lynda Barry

          



  Washington Post review of The Freddie Stories

Updated April 4, 2013


"'The Freddie Stories' By Lynda Barry"

Douglas Wolk
The Washington Post, 19 February 2013

When Lynda Barry teaches people to write and draw — in her “Writing the Unthinkable” workshops and in her books “What It Is” and “Picture This” — she tells them to think back to their earliest sense-memories. The best of her own comics about childhood center on the terror of being helpless in the world and trying to make sense of it.

“The Freddie Stories” is a collection of early-’90s sequences from Barry’s “Ernie Pook’s Comeek,” involving Freddie Mullen, a weird, sensitive fourth-grader. Freddie’s life is one catastrophe after another, and he acts out in ways that just make things worse for him. He’s accused of a fatal act of arson, he’s tormented by the teacher’s pet of his classroom, and eventually his mother stops talking to him. At one point, Freddie becomes so obsessed with portents of death that he’s convinced that he’s died: “And in the hospital the doctors brought a person back alive who was not me. And they called him by my name and he answered them. And I watched. And he did not know I existed.”

What keeps “The Freddie Stories” from being unbearably grim is Freddie’s irrepressible voice, a cartwheeling, goofy burble that delights in its own verve even in his darkest moments. His narrative captions take up half or more of each panel. That doesn’t leave much room for Barry’s gawky, off-center characters and chicken-scratch flourishes, but she packs those tiny spaces with dense imagery (occasionally rendered in the style of an enthusiastic 9-year-old). “ ‘I’m dreaming this I’m dreaming this,’ I whispered and some people looked my way,” Freddie tells us when he learns his abuser has died. “Cause of death not known until that night when the autopsy man found it. In the throat of Glenn a choker object. A peanut. Found a peanut. Found a peanut.” Beneath that wall of text, Barry scribbles poor Freddie in his bed with wavy scratches rippling over him, imagining monstrous eyes and claws at his bedroom window.

Wolk is the author of “Reading Comics: How Graphic Novels Work and What They Mean.”
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Lynda Barry

          



NPR: The Freddie Stories some of Barry's "finest work"

Updated April 4, 2013


From "Beyond Visible: LGBT Characters In Graphic Novels"

Glen Weldon
NPR, 20 February 2013

Freddie is the youngest sibling of the idiosyncratic Mullen family, whose travails Lynda Barry lovingly and brilliantly chronicles in Ernie Pook's Comeek. He's an odd, bright, troubled and frequently bullied kid, who in this collection of strips is left emotionally scarred by a brush with the law and the death of a classmate. But those are merely the plot points, which are the least essential aspects of Barry's cartooning.
To read Barry is to have your perception fundamentally altered, to see — and feel — a kid's imagination from the inside. Barry's illustrations show us the world around Freddie as it swirls and burns and dazzles; it is a violent and hostile place that assails his fundamentally sweet, open nature at every turn. Yet as always, we never sense that Barry is cynically manipulating our emotions, because the voices of her characters remain so vividly real. The Freddie Stories contain some of the darkest and most heartbreaking work Barry has ever done. Also some of the very finest.
 
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Lynda Barry

          



  The Freddie Stories among USA Today's pop-culture faves

Updated April 4, 2013


"The Week in Pop: My pop-culture faves"

Whitney Matheson
USA Today, 15 February 2013

Drawn & Quarterly has published a lovely hardcover version of the book with 30 pages of never-before-collected comics. Lynda Barry rules.
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Lynda Barry

          



Cult is all about the "manic energy" of The Freddie Stories

Updated April 3, 2013


Jeff Miller
Cult MTL, 11 February 2013

When Montreal press Drawn & Quarterly began publishing influential cartoonist Lynda Barry in 2008, they focused on her long career as an inspirational teacher of writing and drawing. Picture This and What it Is drew heavily from Barry’s popular “Writing the Impossible” workshops and public speaking engagements (like the epic talk that she gave at the Ukrainian Federation in 2011), where she explained some of the secrets behind her artistic process.
These beautiful oversized volumes, a mix of writing and illustration, introduced Barry to a new audience, one that might have been unfamiliar with her brilliant weekly comic strip Ernie Pook’s Comeek, which ended its run in 2008 after nearly three decades of being serialized in dozens of alternative newspapers. Those only familiar with Barry’s career as a creativity guru may be surprised by the darkness and depravity of the humour in her comic strip, which concentrates on a trio of adolescent siblings being raised by their mother. Thanks to Drawn & Quarterly’s efforts, this influential work by a seminal alternative cartoonist is back in print in redesigned editions, first last year’s Blabber Blabber Blabber, collecting the earliest strips, and now The Freddie Stories.
The Freddie Stories focuses on the youngest, and perhaps the most screwed up member of the family in Barry’s comic strip. As Freddie’s older sister Marlys explains, sometimes her younger brother’s life has been “seriously terrible;” in addition to this, she tells the reader, “he has certain mental disorders known as emotional problems and is often called a fag.” Freddie has fallen through the cracks and suffers because of his low position in the family hierarchy and inability to stand up for himself. In one strip he nearly dies of a high fever because his oldest sister Maybonne dropped acid instead of nursing him.
As the book opens, our hero has been sent to spend the summer with his beer-swilling aunt, and tags along after his cousin Arnold. Not long after, Arnold’s pyromaniac friend sets fire to a house, killing a woman inside and pinning the blame on Freddie. After he is proven innocent and released from lock-up, Freddie experiences the effects of this trauma by seeing the faces of those around him as burning skulls.
This episode sets the tone of Freddie’s experiences in the pages that follow. Like in Cruddy, Barry’s masterpiece novel, The Freddie Stories draws readers into the dark heart of troubling childhood experiences. Freddie struggles with being a loser, suffers abuse at the hands of his classmates and, like all children, chafes against his complete inability to control his life. While Freddie is majorly damaged, Barry’s sharp writing also manages to make his childhood experiences universal and compelling. For instance, Freddie is haunted by Buddy, a dark spectre with narrow eyes who steals children with a sack. Freddie tells the reader “maybe you have seen him in your bedroom. He is imagination, obviously,” and yet the anguish he causes Freddie is very real.
After all of his bad times Freddie is granted solace at the end of the book, when he narrowly avoids being sent back to his aunt’s house for the summer. Instead he stays home, sneaking out of the house to explore while his mother is at work. After all his troubles, seeing Freddie happily waving at a bird and telling it to “Be free!” is welcome relief. Freddie’s brief liberation, of course, ultimately falls under a dark cloud. When he finds a sickly stray dog behind a dumpster and brings it home his angry mother refuses to let him keep it. As the dog walks away it comes to symbolize all that Freddie has lost over the course of the book. He watches it walk off and mournfully calls “Free dog, if I was older. Free dog, if life was different. Free dog, this book is for you, free dog, wherever you are.” Despite the heavy themes and harsh challenges that Freddie faces, Barry’s comic strips are always accessible and crackle with the manic energy of childhood.
 
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Lynda Barry

          



  Freddie Stories on the graphic book bestseller list: ArtBeat

Updated April 3, 2013


"Graphic Books Best Sellers: Lynda Barry’s ‘Freddie Stories’"

George Gene Gustine
ArtBeat, The New York Times, 8 February 2013

Two books are new on the hardcover graphic books best-seller list this week. “The Freddie Stories,” by the cartoonist Lynda Barry, is at No. 3. It chronicles the ups and downs of Freddie, the teenage member of the dysfunctional Mullen family.
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Lynda Barry

          



Lynda Barry's Convocation Speech at Lawrence University: en|Gender

Updated April 3, 2013


"Lynda Barry Talk"

Helen Boyd
en|Gender, 8 February 2013

Lynda Barry spoke at a recent Lawrence University convocation, & it was one of the best I’ve seen. This is a totally worthwhile hour whether you’re an artist, a fan of Barry’s, or neither.

I’m not sure how she became who she is, but she’s a miracle as far as I’m concerned.
 
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Lynda Barry

          



  Paste reviews Lynda Barry reprint

Updated April 3, 2013


"The Freddie Stories by Lynda Barry"

Hillary Brown
Paste Magazine, 31 January 2013


Originally published in 1999 by Sasquatch Books, this collection of Lynda Barry’s four-panel strips has been redesigned, reprinted, and enhanced by Drawn & Quarterly. Even if you haven’t been following Barry’s recent comic ventures, chances are pretty good her vision shaped your childhood if you grew up in a town with an alternative newspaper. Her strips are, by any reasonable measure of comics composition, a mess. Crowded with giant hunks of text, crude drawings with interchangeable characters, continuity problems, and melodrama, these panels not only overcome their problems, but somehow transform these drawbacks into strengths.

The Freddie Stories originally appeared in syndication, and reading them week by week must have been painful enough, but when collected into one neat volume, the amount of pain its title figure endures over a year is overwhelming. Which is not to say that it’s unendurable or unrealistic. Freddie’s travails are writ large, but their depiction of childhood miseries (lack of control, lack of understanding, living under the illusion of a morally-driven universe) feels true to anyone who has experienced them on a smaller scale.

The new graphic design sets panels over beautiful crayon backgrounds of horizontal lines alternating between blue and pink for the story proper, green for the bonus materials in the back. This style emphasizes the contiguous nature of the story and echoes P.T. Anderson and artist Jeremy Blake’s similar aesthetic choice in Punch-Drunk Love. It’s an abstract but harmonious element that contrasts with the fragmented and ugly nature of the events that unfold. A real foreword, either from Barry or an outsider meditating on her craft, would have been a valuable addition, but the book has a weighty heft already, and the inclusion of strips cut from the previous edition is a nice if unnecessary extra. The Freddie Stories is a fine reissue and a required item for your Comix bookshelf.
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Lynda Barry

          



CBC Books profiles Drawn and Quarterly

Updated January 15, 2013


Why Drawn & Quarterly is thriving despite tough times for publishers
Thursday, December 6, 2012
First aired on The Sunday Edition (11/25/12)

At the Montreal corner of St. Urbain and Bernard in the early 1990s, the rent was cheap and the neighbours were cool. From his flat on the second floor, Chris Oliveros started a small hand-made magazine. He wanted the comic strips that he and his friends drew to find a larger audience. At his kitchen table, he put together the first issues of Drawn & Quarterly. That was 23 years ago. Now, Drawn & Quarterly is the hottest publisher of graphic novels in the English-speaking world.

At a time when the future of the book itself is in question, and many independent publishers struggle to stay afloat, Drawn & Quarterly is thriving. David Gutnick produced this lovely documentary about Drawn & Quarterly's, ahem, colourful history and its current success for The Sunday Edition.

It all started in 1989, in Oliveros's cheap second-floor flat in Mile End. By day, Oliveros worked as a bike courier. By night, he read comics and hung out with his cartoonist friends, sharing work and filling notebooks with illustrated anecdotes from their lives. They were prolific, but they had no audience except each other. The comics being published were about Archie or Marvel superheroes, and there seemed to be no place for comics about the day-to-day lives of humans outside Riverdale (the setting of Archie comics). Then Oliveros had an epiphany: why not become a publisher himself?

"I wanted to start a comics anthology that would come out quarterly — hence the title Drawn & Quarterly — and I got a loan from my father to print this first issue," Oliveros said. "In the early days it was on the kitchen table because that was before computers...you would send everything to the printer and they would have these giant cameras to photograph artwork. So a lot has changed in the ensuing 23 years."

Chris kept his day job, but spent more and more time figuring out how the comic-book industry worked. He had never thought of himself as a businessman, but he started nosing around comic-book fairs, learning about distribution and markets. His instinct told him that his little quarterly magazine could become something much bigger.

His instinct was right. French-speaking Quebeckers have a long tradition of spending plenty of money on comics like Asterix and Tintin, and talking about beautifully published comics as if they're art. With Drawn & Quarterly, Oliveros has brought that respect for the medium to English Canada as well.

But Drawn & Quarterly's growth from quarterly comics zine to full-fledged publishing house and bookstore didn't happen overnight. "While I was searching for material for this magazine I ended up meeting other cartoonists, like Seth, and it turned out that many of them actually were just starting to do longer works that wouldn't fit into a magazine," said Oliveros. Seth had a comic book he was just starting called Palookaville and he was looking for a publisher. "So it was sort of a story of one thing leading to another."

According to Oliveros, "you can really do comics about anything." Drawn & Quarterly has been experimenting with material that isn't strictly comics-related, too — one of its major releases this fall has been the Rookie Yearbook, a collection of work from blogging wunderkind Tavi Gevinson's smart online teen magazine Rookie.

These days, Oliveros publishes some of the biggest names in graphic art and comics in North America, including longtime American heavyweights like Linda Barry and Art Spiegelman alongside Canadians including Seth, Chester Brown, and Kate Beaton. And now the team works out of a spacious loft.

Below, check out a few of the artists that Drawn & Quarterly is publishing now.
 
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Lynda Barry
Kate Beaton

          



  Essay from The Awl on graphic autobiography, featuring Seth, Lynda Barry, Chris Ware

Updated August 27, 2012


Penis Rays, Self-Loathing and Psychic Voodoo: Autobiographical Cartoonists on Truth and Lies
Kim O'Connor | August 14th, 2012

...Exploratory autobiography is the specialty of my imaginary best friend, Lynda Barry (who was not, in real life, available for an interview). Barry is such an icon that just thinking about her makes me want to tie a red bandana around my head to get more awesome by association. I spend a disproportionate amount of time wondering what her dance moves are like, and if she's any good at Charades.

Barry is a shining light in the world of alternative comics, which can be a dark place. It's not that she hasn't known trouble. But unlike most of her peers, even when Barry's subject is grim, the world rarely seems bleak; her work has the same verve that animates her being.

Barry's graphic memoir One Hundred Demons is an episodic look at her life: short meditations on games of kickball, hula dancing lessons, and the way her neighbors' houses smelled. The book begins with a handwritten disclaimer: "Please note: This is a work of autobifictionalography." The tone is playful, not probing. What, exactly, she means is unclear, and that's by design. It's just something to think about.

Barry's other explicitly autobiographical book—What It Is, an array of collages and comics and guided writing activities—is more difficult to categorize. (The artist has said it was once sold by Amazon as science fiction.) It feels like a mystic text, which is not to say it's impersonal. In part, it's the story of how Barry's imagination helped her weather a difficult childhood. "We don't create a fantasy world to escape reality," she wrote. "We create it to be able to stay."

Memories of things that never happened, the long hours she spent exploring other (more friendly) worlds in books and TV shows—these non-events shaped Barry as much as her physical circumstances. As she excavates the layers of her imaginary past, readers are encouraged to do the same. When we think of our lives in terms of succinct entries on a timeline, we overlook a critical area of experience that's less logical and linear. A person's fictions can reveal as much as, if not more than, her facts.

The final section of What It Is is an activity book that's based on Barry's renowned workshop, "Writing the Unthinkable." (The cartoonist reinvented herself as a teacher after the market for syndicated comic strips dried up.) It contains exercises that explore the connection between memory and creativity—quirky writing prompts (your first phone number, other people's mothers) followed by questions that are designed to tease out sensory details. "We notice that when people tell the story of their lives it often sounds like an obituary," Barry wrote. "A lot of general information but almost no images." The real story of who we are is not in what we experience, but how we experience it.

...From his vintage suits down to his very name, which he gave himself in the 1980s, the cartoonist Seth (b. Gregory Gallant) comes across as a character. Like Amy Sedaris or Pokey LaFarge, he has a strong sensibility that seems rooted in a past that never quite existed. It's the sort of affectation that seems charming against all odds.

When Seth began drawing his long-running series Palookaville, a comic that is beautiful and subtle and sad, he worked in an autobiographical mode. "After my first couple of issues, I realized that the stories I was telling were more anecdotes than anything," he told me. "They were lacking something essential." He decided to try something different.

The storyline that followed, which was eventually collected as the graphic novel It's A Good Life, If You Don't Weaken, followed Seth as he pursued the cold trail of an obscure cartoonist called Kalo. While many of the particulars of that story (a sick cat, a weird breakup) were true, it turns out that Kalo, a sort of Keyser Söze figure, never existed—a revelation that left some fans feeling disappointed or even betrayed.

"If anything, it was simply a device to make the tale more engaging," Seth explained. "It was never my intention to put anything over on the reader. I was seriously failing in my earlier autobio attempts to get at the heart of my own life or personality. By adding a fictional plot, I ended up getting much closer to a true portrait. It was still a rough inaccurate portrait, but nearer than before.

"After Good Life I started to work in straight fiction—eliminating myself as a character entirely. It is in these works that I think I have gotten the very closest to showing my 'true' self."

Years ago, a profile for Toronto Life magazine described the way in which the line between life and art—between self and character—seems more permeable for Seth than for most people. In the apartment the cartoonist shares with his wife, "there is a whole shelf of trophies, all of them awarded by Seth to himself, the brass plates on the bases recording one disappointment after another—'Never Called a Boy Wonder, Seth, 1962–1987' is just one of them." The sign outside the door says "Palookaville."
What does autobiography mean to a man with a living room like that? Whatever it is, I don't think nonfiction has the capacity to capture it...

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Seth
Lynda Barry

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Palooka-Ville #01
What It Is




Long-time friends Lynda Barry and Matt Groening co-teach

Updated June 13, 2012


“Simpsons” creator visits UW-Madison and longtime friend March 9, 2012 by Susannah Brooks
University of Wisconsin-Madison Newspaper
“Hello, my beautiful audience!” crows Lynda Barry, striding onto the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art lecture stage with braids swinging.

“I am the University of Wisconsin Interdisciplinary Artist in Residence. I take every opportunity to remind people that I am. I actually tried wearing a banner for a while. But it’s a dream come true for me to have this job.”

"The Simpsons" creator Matt Groening, right, stands next to artist in residence Lynda Barry as he teaches in Barry's class Thursday. (Photo: Angela Richardson)

Claiming that she forgot her notes, she darts backstage. Her “notes” turn out to be a man in a plastic Homer Simpson mask: her longtime friend Matt Groening.

“One thing about Matt is that he never tries to stop me from doing anything. When we go out in public, he’s not horrified,” says Barry.

“I think this says otherwise,” cracks Groening.

As part of Barry’s semester-long residency, she has supplemented her course “What It Is: Manually Shifting the Image” with public lectures on the nature of art, vision and collaboration. Though their lives have taken them to very different places, Barry and Groening continue to share a deep connection that has strengthened their lives and creations for more than 35 years.

Groening and Barry met in the 1970s at tiny Evergreen State College, a newly-formed college in Olympia, Washington known for its progressive curriculum.

Though the accounts of their meeting differ – Groening, for his part, says he wanted to meet Barry because she struck up a correspondence with author Joseph Heller by pretending to be Ingrid Bergman – they agree that their work on the college’s newspaper solidified their relationship.

Some of the images drawn by Barry's students in Groening's style are tacked on a bulletin board.(Photo: Angela Richardson)

Before Groening created “The Simpsons,” now past its 500th episode, he wrote for alternative publications and scrawled his comic “Life in Hell,” inspired by living in Los Angeles. With Barry still living in the Pacific Northwest, the two corresponded nearly every day. Postcards, meandering letters, comic strips for an audience of one revealed the styles that made both Barry and Groening critical darlings of the alternative publication world.

As Barry navigated life as a freelance cartoonist, she reflected back on a question asked by mentor Marilyn Frasca. Frasca, alongside Groening’s mentor Mark Levinsky, co-taught an Evergreen class on images that served as the basis for Barry’s class today.

“Her question to me was, ‘What is an image?’” says Barry. “I was 19 years old; I’m 56 now. I’m still trying to track it down.”

Frasca’s question (asked by a many-eyed creature holding a microphone) is prominently featured on Barry’s course website. As she and Groening volley stories and reminiscences, they pepper their thoughts with the kinds of insights that Barry now shares with her own students.

“I learned how to draw the sun and clouds like that in the first grade,” says Groening, pointing to the simplistic style of “Life in Hell.”

“That’s the thing that we talk a lot about in my ‘What It Is’ class. Those early solutions are still good. They still work,” says Barry. “When you get older, you think, ‘I should have grown out of this.’ It’s like saying you should have grown out of liking bananas: you don’t.”

Groening makes a point as he draws cartoons on a chalkboard.

(Photo: Angela Richardson)

This sense of honoring one’s instincts permeates Barry’s course.

“We have intentional discussions about what it means to use our hands, and how that connects to our minds – how you use lines to create drawings as well as, literally, writing words and stories,” says Cecilia Leon, an undergraduate art student who is also part of the First Wave spoken-word program. “I do performance art and printmaking. I’ve been using the mind and the body in two separate media, and somehow that’s really combined in this class.”

When Groening surprised Barry’s class on Thursday afternoon, he found a room filled with writers, student librarians and even physicists. Leon says that the friendly environment has encouraged a vibrant learning experience – something that came in handy when asking Groening about his work.

“I believe their friendship made it accessible to ask him questions,” says Leon. “We drew with him; it was a low-pressure way to see what it’s like to work with artists in their style.”

As Groening describes his time at Evergreen, he recalls Levinsky’s words from those early days. “He said, ‘You do what you do tolerably well. Now you have to ask yourself: is it worth doing?’”

Barry closes out the night with her answer.

“I’m living it up, and living my dream, doing this.”
 
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  Lynda Barry helps Wisconsin students uncover creativity

Updated June 13, 2012


Wisconsin native and acclaimed artist Lynda Barry keeps blazing a trail
March 04, 2012
Gayle Worland

With her long braids, oversized glasses and off-kilter wit, Lynda Barry — the groundbreaking cartoonist, creative spark and yes, Wisconsin farm girl — is not hard to spot on the UW-Madison campus.

The university’s 2012 Spring Artist in Residence, Barry is packing lecture halls and filling up Madison workshops designed to help participants dig out creativity buried since childhood. When her spring semester course “What It Is: Manually Shifting the Image,” was announced, 92 people applied for 24 slots.

Barry handpicked her roster, in part, on the basis of how students answered questions such as:

“Was there something you made by hand as a kid that you liked? Was there something that you made by hand when you were a kid that frustrated you? What’s your favorite kind of monster?”

For followers of her insightful, funny and often bittersweet work, the questions are pure Barry. Creator of the trailblazing weekly comic strip “Ernie Pook’s Comeek,” which ran for 30 years in alternative newspapers across the U.S. and Canada, Barry also is the author of 17 books, a veteran guest of the David Letterman show and a former commentator for National Public Radio. She adapted her novel “The Good Times are Killing Me” into a long-running off-Broadway play.

“Lynda is one of the most significant artists of recent decades,” said James Danky of the university’s School of Journalism and Mass Communications and also the author of “Underground Classics.” “She’s associated with comics, but it’s just one of the ways she communicates her art.”

'THE IMAGE WORLD'

Even with her national reputation — Chicago graphic novelist Chris Ware called her “one of the greatest artists on the planet” at a recent talk in Madison — Barry is right at home in Wisconsin.

In rural Rock County, she heats her house and cooks her food with wood. Her husband restores prairies and sells native plants at the Janesville Farmers Market. Barry does her best work in the converted grain barn she calls her “Barbie dream studio.” And when she picks up her mail at the Footville post office, it’s often on a vintage Robin Hood bike.

“All I ever wanted to do was move back to Wisconsin my whole life. It must be an imprinting,” said Barry, who was born in Richland Center in 1956 to a Wisconsin milk man and a Filipina mother. She spent most of her childhood in Seattle, a place with chronically depressing weather, she said.

“When I got older and would travel, every time I came to the Midwest I would feel so happy, like this enormous physical relief,” Barry said. “I was trying to find a way to come back and live.”

So about 10 years ago, burned by soaring property taxes in north suburban Chicago, Barry and her husband, Kevin Kawula, bought 40 acres of farmland, much of which Kawula has restored to prairie.

And Barry turned, in part, to teaching and pondering about how to access “the image world” — that center of imagination and creativity so readily accessible to children at play, but so routinely deep-sixed in adulthood.

UNIQUE APPROACH

Her unique teaching approach, illustrated in her 2008 award-winning book “What It Is,” won Barry a write-up in The New York Times Magazine last fall and has sold out weekend workshops around the country (the few she’s teaching in Madison this winter booked up early). It’s based on the method of Marilyn Frasca, Barry’s painting teacher in the 1970s at Evergreen State College in Olympia, Wash.

In Barry’s course at UW-Madison, students range from undergrad juniors to Ph.D. candidates, in fields from physics and music to library science and sculpture. The cross-disciplinary approach was intentional: To Barry, all people are innately creative.

Barry’s students keep a diary and compile drawings and notes in a hard-covered composition notebook. “Every scrap of paper gets put in here. So this thing starts to take on a life of its own,” said Barry, turning the pages of an example notebook thick with writings and clippings, glue and drawings. “It’s the opposite of how we go to school and we split everything apart.”

By the end of the course, students must create a finished book and teach the method to someone else.

“If somebody wants to make pictures or write stories, this course is definitely a help to that, because it gives you a different approach to doing it,” Barry said. “But mainly for me the goal is for people to see that there really isn’t a lot of difference between writing and making pictures. And there isn’t a lot of difference between reading and making pictures. And once you see what the common thing is, that idea of an image, that’s the thing I hope they’ll leave the class with.”

Once her residency concludes, she’ll continue to work on a new novel and on “Wind Hater,” a documentary in comic book form that follows the struggles of six real-life Wisconsin farm families living near wind turbines.

But she also wants to continue teaching, she said. The adventures of her UW-Madison course are chronicled on her blog at thenearsightedmonkey.tumblr.com which, like her students’ composition books, is chock-full of pictures, words, linkages and, above all, evocative images.

“It was an extraordinary evening,” Barry wrote on Feb. 14 after her students’ visit to the image world, “the dream class of all classes.”


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Read About Comics praises Lynda Barrry's BLABBER BLABBER BLABBER

Updated February 28, 2012



Blabber Blabber Blabber: Vol. 1 of Everything, By Lynda Barry (Review)

Feb.8, 2012


Lynda Barry is one of those creators for whom I didn’t immediately gain an appreciation. The first couple of times I tried to read her syndicated strip Ernie Pook’s Comeek, it just didn’t click, and I shrugged and moved on. But then her books One! Hundred! Demons! and What It Is were published, and the two made me a huge convert. So when Drawn & Quarterly announced their multi-volume collection of Barry’s comics, I was both intrigued and a little scared. Would these old comics of Barry’s finally connect with me, or would it just reinforce my earlier opinion of her work? As it turned out? The answer was both.

Blabber Blabber Blabber: Vol. 1 of Everything dives all the way back to Barry’s earliest comics in the late ’70s, and those earliest Ernie Pook’s Comeek are quite different from what was eventually to come. The comic eventually was taken over by Marlys, Maybonne, and company, but in these early days it’s primarily a series of one-off comics that are either 1- or 4-panel creations. Those who have never understood the title of Ernie Pook’s Comeek will be shocked to discover that Ernie Pook really was a character in those earliest strips, although there’s nothing particular to distinguish him from any other character that shows up in these early days. Comics often end in punch lines like, "I bet I’m getting future emotional disorder from this," or feature a tiny version of a person sitting on a tea cup. It’s a hugely varied strip that I think in some ways loses its effectiveness by being read in a collected edition; spread apart, the jokes and off-kilter humor has more of an impact, but in a rapid-fire state it’s hard to not notice a certain sameness. There are still winners in those early strips, though; every now and then Barry pulled a real winner out of nowhere, like the time a girl tells her mother about learning about the planets. With a particularly scratchy and primitive art style, it’s probably the least attractive to a casual reader, although the closer you look the more you can see what’s still to come from Barry.

Next are the Two Sisters strips, which (mostly) focus on twins Evette and Rita. There’s a bit of a through line for these stories in terms of the writing, and their want of a dog or their dealings with the world around them feels much more focused and interesting. It’s hard to not feel like these are the proto-Marlys and Maybonne, and Barry’s feeling out her idea of regular characters and how to work with them without getting bored. Barry’s art is going through a shift here, moving away from angular to rounded, and the way she draws the girls with their singular strands of hair standing out is an almost instantly more appealing visual style.

The last section of the book are Girls and Boys strips, which shift back to a series of mostly unrelated strips, despite having a cast of characters. They’re less gag-oriented like the Ernie Pook’s Comeek strips at the start of the book, and at times they feel more like meditations on the world and people around Barry than something aiming for a specific point. This is also a section of the book that is primarily drawn in profiles (although it eventually shifts away from this style). It feels almost like you’re looking at cut-out puppets moving across the panels as a result, the characters never shifting away from the direction they initially face in, wiggling across the page. Add in the return of some of the tropes from Ernie Pook’s Comeek (I’m still a little unsure why Barry is so taken with the idea of miniature people appearing and talking to the characters, but it happens a lot), and Girls and Boys feels in many ways like a sequel to Ernie Pook’s Comeek, only with a slightly different art approach that is eventually abandoned.

I almost hate to admit that my favorite part of Blabber Blabber Blabber: Vol. 1 of Everything is the new material from Barry, as she explains in comic form how each portion of the book came about. From tracing R. Crumb comics to trying self-publishing for the first time, each anecdote is instantly gripping; Barry over the years has become an amazing storyteller. These earlier strips don’t quite hit that level, though, but the more you read, the more you begin to see flashes of what’s to come. Those deeply curious about Barry’s genesis as a comic creator will definitely want to buy Blabber Blabber Blabber: Vol. 1 of Everything, but in many ways I feel like this is for the die-hard fans. I’ll read more of the Barry collections because more than anything this has made me curious on how we get from these early days to the later parts of her career, or even just to the point where her regular cast of characters makes a debut. But while I found enough to enjoy here, I’m all right with waiting a bit for the next, inevitable release.
 
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Lynda Barry

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What It Is
Blabber Blabber Blabber




  Library Journal praises Lynda Barry's WHAT IT IS

Updated February 28, 2012



Drawing on Reality: Graphic Nonfiction from Bechdel to Zinn | Collection Development


By Bonnie Brzozowski
Feb. 1, 2012

Barry, Lynda. What It Is. Drawn & Quarterly. 2008. 209p. ISBN 9781897299357. $24.95.

Barry’s whimsical drawings and knack for collage come together in this half memoir, half how-to book. A colorful exploration meant to instruct and inspire all people to reconnect with their inner artist and inner child.
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Lynda Barry

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What It Is




Oprah.com hails WHAT IT IS and BIG QUESTIONS as top two on list of graphic novels readers will love

Updated February 28, 2012


5 graphic novels you'll love

By Leigh Newman and Abbe Wright
Oprah.com
Jan. 13, 2012



(Oprah.com) -- Like most of us, you've probably heard of graphic novels -- but haven't read too many. Here are four new titles[...]that make you think, feel and daydream just like any other book.

What It Is

One of the most moving and emotionally direct forms of the whole graphic genre is the memoir -- in part because it allows for all kinds of inventive approaches to telling life stories, such as using the drawings to show how people look and feel to the writer (a huge, tall, monstery dad, for example). It also helps to have thoughtful, deeply poignant writing, which is exactly what you'll find in Lynda Barry's "What It Is." This memoir of a young artist came out in 2008, but it's the one to start with if you've never read a graphic book before. (Note: Graphic novels can be novels, memoirs, biographies or anything in between.)

Barry uses text, drawings and even collages to re-create her violent, TV-saturated childhood, describing how she used art as her way out of the trailer park. "We don't create a fantasy world to escape reality," she says. "We create it to be able to stay." Discouraged at every turn by her parents and teachers, she grew into an adult who felt that she had little to say creatively and, further, that she couldn't say that little well enough. That is, until she rediscovered an imaginary game from childhood, one that required her simply to sit very still in the corner of a room and wait for inanimate objects (say, the pattern on the wallpaper) to come "alive" and move. The magic of that moment and of all Barry's self-examinations is that her ideas apply to just about everybody. We've all had those moments when we think we're not good enough or original enough. Her transformation belongs to all of us.


Big Questions

"Big Questions" is just what a novel should be, if by novel we mean a very long story that creates an entire imaginary universe that involves us so deeply that we begin to think of ourselves as characters within it. The book is 585 pages long (not including appendixes), a number that might seem overwhelming in a traditional format. In this case, you'll finish in two days, not only because graphic novels contain a lot less text but also because you'll race through the first time, desperate to figure out the big stuff, only to turn around and reread it in order to figure out all the little stuff you missed.

The story takes place in an anonymous bucolic countryside (trees, fields, the occasional house) and follows a flock of birds, each with its own personality and philosophical struggles, from questioning the monotony of a seed diet to wondering about the true perils of snakes to considering "to what extent are we responsible for the fulfillment of our destinies?" Life goes on in this manner -- think, peck, think, peck -- until an undetonated bomb drops into their lives, a bomb that many (but not all) in the flock believe is a long, warm metal egg that may contain a savior baby bird. The hilarity and discord that result will astonish you, as will the pathos.

Some of the most poignant scenes concern two humans -- an elderly caretaker and her mentally disabled grandson or son -- who are watched by the birds. Nilsen's artwork here needs no words. The endless labor of the old woman -- firewood, dishes, scrub the floor, soak the dentures, weep in secret -- is drawn into brutal reality, as is her unexpected beauty. The six-panel homage to her brushing the long, young-looking hair you never knew she had (it's usually tied in a bun) is, like the rest of the book, an unforgettable visual and emotional experience.


 

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Anders Nilsen
Lynda Barry

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  Lynda Barry profile in the NY Times

Updated January 12, 2012


October 27, 2011
Dan Kois

Lynda Barry Will Make You Believe In Yourself

Dorie Cox left her little house by the Fort Lauderdale airport at 7:15 a.m. on a Wednesday morning this past summer to take a three-train journey to Miami. The Tri-Rail zipped along beside I-95 into the city; the Metrorail took her past the hospital where her best friend died; the elevated Metromover looped, conductorless, around downtown and dropped her off at Miami Dade College.

Around the same time, Vanessa Moss caught the No. 95 express bus from Golden Glades. Each trip to and from the four-day creative-writing workshop she signed up for would cost $2.35. So the previous day, she went to the credit union and asked the teller for eight allotments of $2.35.

Moss, a divorced postal clerk with a grown daughter, had never heard of Lynda Barry until the local NPR station mentioned her seminar “Writing the Unthinkable.” She’d always thought she could be a writer — she has ideas about food and faith and romance — so she wanted to figure out, through Barry’s course, whether it was something she could even consider.

Cox works at a monthly trade journal about megayachts. She has been reading Barry’s cartoons since the early 1980s, often clipping and trading with her best friend from high school, Sandie Brown. Last year, Brown died of dengue fever, and Cox got a small tattoo on her left rib: a telephone, copied from Barry’s comics, in remembrance of the hours the friends spent talking to each other. Now she hoped to write about that friendship.

In a drab fourth-floor classroom at Miami Dade, the two women, each in her late 40s, joined the 33 other students assembled — mostly women, mostly middle-aged and mostly creatively frustrated. At the front of the class, Barry wore an Emily Dickinson T-shirt, a red bandanna knotted atop her head. She was preparing to sing. “Singin’ ’s the scariest thing you can do in front of people,” she told her new students. “I figure I’m already nervous” — indeed, her deep voice shook a bit — “so what the hell.”

“I hope you’re nervous, too,” she added. When someone nodded, Barry broke into a grin. “Good!” she exclaimed. “I want you to be terrified.”

She closed her eyes and sang to the tune of “Coal Miner’s Daughter”: “I was born a meat cutter’s daughter/My mom was from the Philippines; she was a janitor/I ate TV dinners at night/I grew up by the TV light/While Dad drank vodka in the basement and Mom hollered.”

Barry opened her eyes and smiled. “I’m gonna work you like mules on the Erie Canal,” she said.

Here are some details about Lynda Barry that didn’t appear in her autobiographical song. She’s a cartoonist whose weekly strip, “Ernie Pook’s Comeek,” was a staple of alternative newsweeklies for almost 30 years. (Next month, the publisher Drawn & Quarterly will release “Blabber Blabber Blabber,” the first in a 10-volume retrospective series of her work.) She dips Copenhagen tobacco and fights against wind farms. She e-mails stupid YouTube links to her old buddy Matt Groening, the creator of “The Simpsons.”

Barry reinvented herself as a creativity guru as the market for her comic strip dried up, publishing two boundary-blurring books on inspiration and teaching writing workshops for nonwriters. Barry’s advertising copy is clear: “THIS CLASS WORKS ESPECIALLY WELL FOR ‘NONWRITERS’ like bartenders, janitors, office workers, hairdressers, musicians and ANYONE who has given up on ‘being a writer’ but still wonders what it might be like to write.”

In most writing workshops, very little actual writing happens in class. Instead, students write at home and submit work for the class to critique. Sometimes the teacher takes an active role in leading the discussion; sometimes she offers a few trenchant thoughts on the writer’s craft.

Barry isn’t particularly interested in the writer’s craft. She’s more interested in where ideas come from — and her goal is to help people tap into what she considers to be an innate creativity.

“Kids don’t plan to play,” she told her class in the first day. “They don’t go: ‘Barbie, Ken, you ready to play? It’s gonna be a three-act.’ ” Narrative, Barry believes, is so hard-wired into human beings that creativity can come as naturally to adults as it does to children. They need only to access the deep part of the brain that controls that storytelling instinct. Barry calls that state of mind “the image world” and feels it’s as central to a person’s well-being as the immune system.

To explain, she told a story about the neuroscientist V. S. Ramachandran, who helps patients experiencing phantom-limb pain. Barry discussed one patient who felt that his missing left hand was clenched in a fist and could never shake the discomfort — could never “unclench” it.

So Ramachandran used a mirror box — a compartment into which the patient could insert his right hand and see it reflected at the end of his left arm. “And Ramachandran said, ‘Open your hands.’ And the patient saw this” — Barry opened two clenched fists in unison. “That’s what I think images do.

“I think that in the course of human life,” she continued softly, “we have events that cause” — she clenched her fist and held it up, inspecting it from all angles. “Losing your parents might cause it. Or a war. Or things going bad in a family.”

The only way to open that fist, she said, is to see your own trouble reflected in an image, as the patient saw his hand reflected in a mirror. It might be a story you write, or a book you read, or a song that means the world to you. “And then?” She opened her hand and waved.

In Barry’s class, every writing exercise is a repeated ritual. At the beginning of each one, for example, students slowly draw a spiral on a sheet of paper. While everyone did that, Barry recited a poem. It’s the same poem every time, by Rumi, and Barry recited it quickly, her head down, her fingers tented before her. “You’re in your body like a plant is solid in the ground,” she intoned, “yet you’re wind.”

“Think back to early days,” she went on. “Write on a clean sheet of paper the first 10 images that come to mind when I say, ‘Money.’ ”

After two minutes of silence, she continued. “Choose an image that has some kind of trouble attached to it,” she said. “Or if you’re feeling wild, just choose No. 2.” Then she asked a series of questions meant to spur recollection of detail: “Is it day or night in this image?” “What’s behind you?” “What’s beyond what’s behind you?”

“Now you’re going to describe this image as if it’s happening right now. If you get stuck, don’t go like this” — she made Rodin’s Thinker pose — “or look over what you wrote. Just go back to your spiral. Keep your pen moving. I’ll be back in eight minutes.”

When Barry asked for volunteers to read, Dorie Cox raised her hand. Barry ran over, crouched on the floor, bowed her head and listened while Cox read a funny remembrance of the cash-filled birthday cards her grandmother used to send. When Cox finished, Barry said: “Good! Good! Good!” and looked for another reader. She didn’t comment on Cox’s work. No one may comment on Cox’s work.

Over the four days in Miami, every student would write 16 pieces and read aloud at least once. In one class, a student wept through a story about being told she couldn’t play with the black children in her neighborhood. “Good! Good, good, good,” Barry exclaimed. “That’s O.K, that’s normal. Another reader?”

A former stockbroker read a harrowing story about standing underneath the World Trade Center as the bodies started to fall. “Good, good, good,” Barry said, then touched another student who raised her hand earlier. “Five, four” —

“After that story?” the student squeaked.

“Do it bravely!” Barry barked. “Three, two, one.” The woman read, bravely.

Students’ work is meant to stand on its own, without criticism, revision or, in fact, revisitation. Barry insists that students not reread their writing until the entire course has concluded. “While you’re writing, you’re having this experience,” Barry explained. “But when you read it, all you can think about is, Is my baby defective?” Sometimes, she said, babies just need time to open their eyes.

At the end of Day 2, a buoyant Barry told the class: “I can’t wait for tomorrow. I like you guys so much, and not just as a friend.”

I ate lunch that day with Vanessa Moss, the postal clerk who heard about the workshop on NPR. “There’s so much creativity here!” she marveled. “It’s so good to meet people. Sometimes I think I’m the craziest person on the planet. My goal on my bucket list is to write a romantic comedy movie. I don’t want to be famous famous. I just want to do that.”

Was this the first writing class she’d ever taken? “Oh, yes,” she replied. “It’s wonderful so far. Lynda Barry is the teacher, but I’m a teacher, you’re a teacher — we all are. The student is always us also.”

Barry’s parents divorced when she was 12, the same year she dropped acid for the first time and changed the I in her first name to a Y. By the time she was 16, though, she’d quit drugs and taken a seven-night-a-week job as a janitor at a Seattle hospital. Her parents didn’t attend her high-school graduation. Her mother appears frequently in her cartoons and stories, but never in the present tense.

I asked her if she’s still in touch with her parents. Usually when you ask Barry a question, she responds with wide-eyed enthusiasm, cartoonish but evidently sincere, summoning a story from the vaults. This time she closed her eyes, tilted her head back a long while and finally said, “I think I don’t want to talk about that.”

So we talked about her cartooning career, which began in 1977, when she slipped comic strips under the door of a friend in hopes he might run them in the Evergreen State College newspaper. Over the next decade, that friend, Matt Groening, and Barry became stars of the alternative-comics world, with his strip, “Life in Hell,” and hers, “Ernie Pook’s Comeek,” appearing in weeklies across the country.

Barry drew cartoons for Esquire and published a series of books. She appeared half a dozen times on “Late Night With David Letterman,” telling wry stories about her love life. She married a carpenter in 1986 and divorced a year later; she told Letterman she knew the marriage was doomed on her honeymoon, when her new husband took one look at the Grand Canyon and said, “I thought it would be bigger.” Then he turned to her. “It’s your fault for hypin’ it up.”

Her comics changed. Once about relationships, now they focused on childhood — a fictionalized version of her own, starring pigtailed Marlys, her sister, Maybonne, and a block full of characters in extremis. She wrote two well-reviewed novels featuring young people in trouble.

After Sept. 11, 2001, Barry foundered creatively. She and her second husband, Kevin Kawula, a prairie-restoration expert, moved from Evanston, Ill., to a 15-acre farm in rural Wisconsin. Kawula, an affable bear of a man — “Everybody else loves Han Solo,” she told me, “but I always wanted Chewbacca” — built Barry a free-standing, sun-filled studio overstuffed with scrap paper, art supplies and knickknacks given to her by students. (In Miami, a puppeteer named Hannah made a little Marlys marionette, complete with polka-dot underpants.)

By 2008, the consolidation of the alt-weekly world meant that “Ernie Pook’s” was appearing in only four papers, and Barry was earning just $155 a week drawing it. Stuck in a draining battle with wind developers over plans to build turbines in her town — “they’re the S.U.V. of renewable energy,” she said — she decided to shutter the strip months shy of its 30th anniversary.

Now she sells original art on eBay and has been buoyed by the modest success of “What It Is,” her 2008 book about writing, and its follow-up in 2010, “Picture This,” about art. But it’s the classes­, which Barry began teaching to share the techniques she learned from a drawing professor at Evergreen, that spark her enthusiasm. She conducts around 15 workshops a year, from two-hour minisessions with college students to long multiday seminars at writers’ conferences like this one.

On the afternoon after the third class, we sat in a hotel bar drinking Tsingtaos. “Now I can take this off,” Barry said, untying her bandanna and dropping it in her bag. That day started out rough. “For an hour, it was hellish,” Barry said. The workshop can seem haphazard but is actually carefully planned. “I run a tight ship, but I try and make it seem like I’m not doing that at all. I have stories that I know will make ’em laugh and forget. I have others that are more about: think about this. And then the ones that are really important to me, like the story about ‘The Family Circus.’ ”

She told that story at the end of the session. “I grew up in a house that had a whole lot of trouble,” she said. “As much trouble as you could imagine. In the daily paper, there were all these comic strips, and there was one that was a circle. It seemed like things were pretty good on the other side of the circle. No one’s getting hit. No one’s yelling.”

Once, at a comics convention, she shook hands with Bil Keane’s son, Jeff — Jeffy — who now inks the strip. Barry instantly burst into tears. She told the class why: “Because when he put his hand out and I touched it, I realized I had stepped through the circle. I was on the other side of the circle, the place where I wanted to be. And how I got there was I drew a picture.” She smiled and held her arms out. “The reason I’m standing here in Florida in 2011 is because I drew a picture and wrote some words. The reason you all are here is because you’re interested in doing the same thing. When I think about all the things that this image world has brought me. . . . I mean, I don’t have health insurance, and dental work is really an issue, but the feeling that life is worth living? Being in this class gives me that in spades.”

On the last day of class, a part-time social-sciences professor named Margaret Stott sat next to me. “God, you should write a story about the people at my table at lunch,” she said. “WRITERS. With a capital W.” She acted out their conversation. “ ‘What’s your workshop like?’ And I said, ‘Well, it’s accessing your creativity,’ and they looked at me like, Is this a writing workshop, or not?”

Barry marched in singing a song about underpants. (It was from “South Park.”) She danced the hula with Hannah’s marionette. Then she said there would be no break today, there’s no time, there’s too much writing to do.

Cox wrote about sitting with her friend Sandie in the high-school cafeteria, how they used to watch out for each other — each warning the other if her hair was askew or if her minipad was showing. She’d told Barry about Sandie and even showed her the tattoo (Barry, too, had dengue fever, in fact almost died from it in 1994), and when she finished reading aloud, Barry patted her shoulder gently. “Good, good, good.”

Vanessa Moss read a story, rich with detail, about gossiping co-workers sorting the mail. “That’s perfect!” Barry shouted. “Perfect! I mean good, good! I had to remember I can only say good. Good good good good good.”

At the end of class, Barry put her hands on her hips. “Well, you little bad asses. How about that?”

Moss told me that Barry’s encouragement had convinced her she could write. At first, she “felt like a kid at kindergarten level, in a room full of high-schoolers.” But little by little, she gained confidence. Now she wants to write a book. “I don’t know whether it would be fiction or nonfiction, but that’s my goal. I feel now that I could do it. That it’s possible.”

The day after the workshop, Dorie Cox set her kitchen timer for eight minutes and wrote about the image of being in Barry’s class. “I would like to have class in Lynda Barry’s messy kitchen in the country,” she wrote. “I will have to control my own time, space and mind for my health, wealth, productivity. For my personal survival.”

“Somebody said to me one time, ‘This class is like therapy,’ ” Barry said. She shook her head. “No. Therapy is like this. And this is very old.” The seminar finished, I’d driven us to dinner at a Cuban restaurant she’d visited once before, during the Miami Book Fair. “I saw Jonathan Franzen at that fair. I hate Jonathan Franzen so much. I hate that guy.” To her, turning down Oprah Winfrey revealed a disdain for viewers who look to Winfrey for advice. “When I saw him, I felt sick.” But then, she said, she realized there’s no difference between what she viewed as Franzen’s dismissal of lowbrow readers and her dismissal of highbrow Franzen. “It’s just I’m doing it from below, and he’s doing it from above.”

Do Writers, with a capital W, look down on her students? “Absolutely. I have a real chip on my shoulder about that — the idea that some things aren’t art. It’s from growing up poor. You run into that your whole life — people of my background and education can’t participate.

“Why does it matter?” she asked. “It’s like me saying, ‘I’m beautiful.’ Compared to other women, I’m not. But who does it hurt for me to say so?”
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Lynda Barry

          



BLABBER BLABBER BLABBER, with excerpt, on Slate Magazine

Updated January 12, 2012


November 3, 2011
David Haglund

In Slate last week, Libby Copeland wrote about how the “ugly, eccentric, and misunderstood figures in [Lynda Barry’s] cartoons formed the backdrop to my adolescence; they made it okay to be all of the above.” Barry—whose cartoons were first published in a student newspaper at Evergreen State College by her friend Matt Groening—is best known for Ernie Pook’s Comeek, a beloved comic strip and for years a staple of alternative weeklies. In the 1980s, her cartoons were published in Esquire and she appeared several times on Late Night With David Letterman.

However, as Dan Kois reported in a profile of Barry in The New York Times Magazine, by 2008, “the consolidation of the alt-weekly world” had reduced Barry’s weekly income from Ernie Pook’s Comeek to $155. And so Barry has “reinvented herself as a creativity guru,” “publishing two boundary-blurring books on inspiration and teaching writing workshops for nonwriters.”

And now Drawn & Quarterly is publishing all of her work in a 10-volume series. The first volume was just published, and it not only includes Barry’s earliest comics, but also a running autobiographical commentary on her artistic development—in cartoon form. Selections from that commentary are excerpted below. Enjoy. -- David Haglund
 
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Lynda Barry

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Blabber Blabber Blabber




  Flavorwire gives a sneak peek into BLABBER BLABBER BLABBER by "one of the world's best cartoonists"

Updated January 12, 2012


November 12, 2011
Emily Temple

Lynda Barry is without a doubt one of the world’s best cartoonists — her scratchy, scrappy and sometimes very raw comics often feel as if they will literally burst from the page, and her work is chock full of angular insights and deeply felt humanity. Recently, Drawn & Quarterly released what we hope is only the first in a series of collections of her career’s work, Blabber Blabber Blabber: Volume 1 of Everything, a compendium of much of her early work. Blabber Blabber Blabber is an absolute riot, including the complete run of her wonderful weekly strip Ernie Pook’s Comeek as well as the whole of her 1981 collection Girls and Boys and interspersed with original illustrated commentary from Barry herself. To celebrate the release of this great book, and to indulge in a little mid-day hilarity, we’ve excerpted a few pages from the collection here — if you’re as charmed by these as we are, we can definitely recommend the whole collection.

Click through to the excerpts!
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Lynda Barry

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Blabber Blabber Blabber




PURE PAJAMAS and BLABBER BLABBER BLABBER on CBR's 6 Most Criminally Ignored Books of 2011

Updated January 11, 2012


January 6, 2012
Chris Mautner

4. Everything Vol. 1: Blabber, Blabber, Blabber by Lynda Barry (D&Q). It seems odd that a Lynda Barry book should make this list after the deserved acclaim that greeted her last two books, Picture This and What It Is. Yet aside from a review at the AV Club and a New York Times profile (which admittedly is nothing to sneeze at) I’m not sure anyone talked about this new collection of some very early work other than to acknowledge its existence. It certainly seemed to slip off a lot of people’s radar (including my own) when it came time to make a “best of” list. Yet Blabber offers a fascinating look at Barry’s early development as a cartoonist, as she moves from the delicate, oddball Ernie Pook to the rawer, more emotionally savage material of “Boys and Girls.” There’s a lot here for Barry fans, and fans of good comics in general, to chew on.

2. Pure Pajamas by Marc Bell (D&Q). I have no evidence backing this up, but I suspect Bell is an artist that confounds a number of people. He adopts a big-foot, potato-nose visual style in the best comic strip tradition, and his world is a friendly, anthropomorphic fantasia where everything, from your breakfast food on down is eager to wish you well. On the other hand, his stories lean towards the distressingly surreal, cute characters can easily come to violent ends and things can go bizarrely awry for the most absurd reasons. Myself, I find that tension between the rubbery cute and off-kilter savagery to be one of Bell’s strengths. Pure Pajamas, which collects various strips and stories Bell has done for various media over the years, is about as good an example of those strengths as you’re likely to find.
 
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Featured artists

Lynda Barry
Marc Bell

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Blabber Blabber Blabber
Pure Pajamas




  BLABBER BLABBER BLABBER is "compelling" says the Portland Mercury

Updated January 10, 2012


November 17, 2011
Alison Hallett

Lynda Barry is one of the most well-loved cartoonists alive, and I'm embarrassed to admit that it wasn't until reading a recent article in the New York Times Magazine—the widely circulated "Lynda Barry Will Make You Believe in Yourself," about Barry's creative-writing workshops—that I really took a look at her work. Now's a great time to dive in, though: Drawn and Quarterly just released Blabber Blabber Blabber: Volume 1 of Everything, which collects Barry's comics from 1978-1981.

Blabber collects the entirety of her newspaper strip Ernie Pook's Comeek, as well as her early books Two Sisters and Girls and Boys. Barry packs a world full of surreal humor into her simple black-and-white, four-panel line drawings, from a dog who thinks he's a toaster to two serious twin girls whose active imaginations bring strange realities into being. In her insightful illustrated intro, Barry unpacks some of her earliest influences: Dr. Seuss' marriage of image and word, which "carried so many of us over the bridge of not being able to read without abandoning the other part of us"; the disturbing illustrations in a Ripley's Believe It or Not comic; the jittery "living lines" of R. Crumb. She also reflects on her later influences of Gary Panter and Matt Groening (to whom the book is dedicated), and describes her own exploration of the tension between bitterness, sweetness, and some "third thing" that "brings about a feeling-change when we read comics."

Some of these comics are more than 30 years old, but they still feel as fresh and funny as they must have when they appeared for the first time. Equally as compelling are her new introduction pages, which convey the same insight and generosity of spirit that shone in the Times Magazine piece. If, like me, you haven't read much of Barry's work, this is a great place to start; for fans, this reissue of long out-of-print material is a must have. ALISON HALLETT
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Lynda Barry

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Daily Kos loves Lynda Barry

Updated January 10, 2012


December 16, 2011

First things first: Lynda Barry is The Funk Queen of the Galaxy* and must be acknowledged as such. As an artist and author, she is and always has been true to herself, which is a rare and wonderful thing. She's weathered radical changes in the newspaper and syndicated comic industry over the last three decades or so, stood her ground and stuck to her [sometimes uncomfortable] subjects in the face of the mostly male popularity contest that is her chosen field, and reinvented herself mid-career as a graphic novelist, editor, creativity guru, and--as of Spring 2012--Artist in Residence at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. She even won the Eisner Award (which is sort of like the Oscars of the comics industry) in 2009 for best reality-based work for the book we're going to be looking at tonight.

So, respect.

I've been a fan of her work since the days her comic strip, Ernie Pook's Comeek, appeared in various alterna-weeklies back in the Stone Age (okay, the '80s). Carefully Xeroxed copies of her comics decorated my lockers and college bulletin boards and walls, as did the now scarce and much-coveted Poodle With a Mohawk poster. (In a rare moment of foresight, I actually kept that one, and eBay informs me this was a wise decision...or in the parlance of the Poodle Fred Milton, So Deeply #1!)

Early on, I internalized the quirky lingo and mannerisms of the surrogates she used for her oddly confessional comic storylines: the regular cast of children and teenagers, semi-autobiographical, with adults lurking around the fringes dispensing questionable advice and displaying even more questionable behavior, plus a poetically inclined poodle. The images were not refined, drawn as they were in her characteristically stylized and sometimes rough way, but the voices of the characters were something else entirely: absolutely perfect.

And by "perfect," I mean the exact opposite of the polished, idealized youthful characters usually found in popular culture (and regrettably common to most popular literature aimed at young people). These were real kids: raw, rude, flawed, offbeat, quirky, amazingly brave, easily hurt, marginalized, introspective, dreamy, weird, wonderful, awkward, enthusiastic, bored out of their minds, charmingly clueless, occasionally wise, and always painfully truthful. There were hyperkinetic goofballs desperate for approval and attention and jaded older siblings full of misinformation and longing for love; they dealt with dramas great and small, each given the same pure attention to detail by their creator.

Barry has a singular ear for the rhythms of childhood speech. She's able to capture, the way few others do, those odd little conversations and inner monologues and eccentricities and the kind of magical thinking that goes on before you've quite figured out how the world works and what you have to do to survive in it. She replicates the conversational shorthand of families and close childhood friends; reading her work, you always feel as though the voice of each character is deeply authentic, rather than invented...as if the kids themselves took over and wrote it themselves. Since the work is clearly based on her own experiences, perhaps in a way they were. Whatever it is, it always feels like the real deal, and just as in real life, that can be hilarious or heartbreaking (and sometimes both at once).

In those pre-internet years, I hoarded the carefully clipped comics and was always thrilled to find her work in print when I visited some new place or other. Later on, books began to appear, most featuring the same cast of characters, and I bought each one I could find: Everything in the World, The Fun House, It's So Magic, Naked Ladies! Naked Ladies! Naked Ladies! (a coloring book!), Shake a Tail Feather, Down the Street, Big Ideas, Come Over Come Over, Girls and Boys, My Perfect Life. Her book The Good Times Are Killing Me was adapted as a play; her illustrated novel Cruddy garnered good reviews as well, despite its dark subject matter and hybrid format.

More recently, there have been bigger, splashier collections of comic strips (The Greatest of Marlys, The Freddy Stories) and experimental graphic novels (ONE! HUNDRED! DEMONS!). Not long ago, Barry joined forces with Drawn & Quarterly to release new works and republish her back catalog as collections, beginning with the recently released Blabber Blabber Blabber: Volume 1 of Everything.

Those newer works represent a hybrid genre all their own: the creative memoir how-to comic (and yes, it's exactly as awesome as it sounds). The most recent of these is Picture This, which explores the origins of visual creativity and is meant to kick-start the artistic process, in ways that echo her popular creativity workshop, Writing the Unthinkable. But the work we'll be taking a closer look at is the first of this new genre, the mind-blowing What It Is.

It's difficult to get a feel for this book through quotations alone. Even the most enthusiastic description of the work will be missing its necessary "other half," its visual component, and won't do it justice. Fortunately, NPR did a wonderful feature on the book and its author a while back, including an image gallery that you can find here. Click through to get a sense of Barry's visual style and the glorious oddball beauty of her approach.

Aside from the raw truth of her literary voice, it was her visual approach to storytelling that drew me in so long ago. Like Barry, I'm something of a creative outlier: a former illustrator and a sometime writer who has never been 100% comfortable sticking to one or the other. Words invade my art, and my writing doesn't seem complete without illustration, and I think I gravitate toward this artist/author as someone who is perhaps a kindred spirit. A few years back, while prepping ONE! HUNDRED! DEMONS! for publication and writing What It Is, she started making a few bucks on the side by selling her original art---mostly ink wash practice sketches and small pieces using themes from the books she was working on---on eBay.

I couldn't resist.

I bought one as a gift, and one for myself (Lucky Cephalopod, a piece using the glow-in-the-dark octopus character that pops up in What It Is and Picture This), and when I got these in the mail a few days later, I was delighted to note that she couldn't resist illustrating the Priority Mail envelope the artwork came in. Not only that, she even added a little secret surprise to each purchase: an ink drawing of Meditating Monkey, something she creates to warm up before working on the "real" piece of art at hand. I was genuinely surprised and felt as though that Lucky Octopus was already working its magic.

Barry is adamant that a facility for drawing or storytelling is not a prerequisite for doing either (or both), and that creativity is what it is, and is within us all. Much of her focus (in both the book and in her creativity workshops) is on getting us to let go of assumptions about what we can or can't do, and what we should or shouldn't try.

What It Is traces her path to becoming the artist/author she is now, but she's also clear that your path will probably be a different one, and that that's a good thing. She asks you to forgive yourself for not being what you're "supposed to be" and to cast away the self-critical voice so common to thwarted or "stuck" creatives (or to those who have always believed that they're NOT creative, either because they never felt like their work measured up to some kind of arbitrary standard of perfection, or because someone else told them that they weren't creative). Barry herself was told she couldn't draw; she did it anyway, because she had to.

That's the other piece of the puzzle: just doing it. Putting in the time, and allowing yourself to respect creative time as worthwhile. Making an effort, even if the results aren't perfect, for no other reason than to get whatever creative spark that is inside you OUT, and to have fun. To tell your story. To share your vision. To experience the joy of making something wholly unique to you. Like kids do; like most adults have forgotten how to do.

So, how did this book change things for me? I mean, before reading it, my life wasn't completely devoid of creativity. I still write these days, though it's mostly dry, technical stuff -- research papers and the like, plus the weekly piece I put together for GUS here on Daily Kos (helps me keep my hand in, in terms of feature writing). I'm a veritable design whiz when it comes to putting together a snappy PowerPoint on the fly, but I can't say that I get to flex my creative muscle much on the job otherwise. And I might be able to get my craft on when I'm "off duty", or amuse someone with a doodle on a napkin, but truth be told, I'd pretty much lost touch with how much fun it was to write and draw for fun or profit. This book shook me out of a long creative dry spell and put me back in touch with that feeling.

Maybe it'll do the same for you? Dang! Give it a shot! What have you got to lose?

Dang! Read this book! It will change your life!

*Just ask Matt Groening (creator of the comic strip Life In Hell and a little TV show called The Simpsons that you may or may not be familiar with). Groening should know; they used to date back in college, and remain dear friends. She also used to go out with Ira Glass, but that's neither here nor there. Ms. Barry clearly has some serious mojo, is what I'm sayin'.


 
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Featured artist

Lynda Barry

           Featured product

Blabber Blabber Blabber




  Las Vegas Weekly reviews BLABBER BLABBER BLABBER

Updated January 9, 2012


November 16, 2011
J. Caleb Mozzocco

It might have seemed like Lynda Barry became one of comics’ most prominent thinker/creators all of a sudden with 2008’s What It Is and 2010’s Picture This, a pair of extraordinary—and extraordinarily well-received—works that blended aesthetics, how-to and autobiography. But there’s nothing all of a sudden about Barry’s career. She’s been making comics for over 30 years, and publisher Drawn and Quarterly is capitalizing on her history and the new wider embrace of her work with Blabber Blabber Blabber, the first book in an ambitious series intended to collect most everything Barry has done. This volume focuses on her work from ’78-’81, and it offers a rare opportunity to see the young Barry’s style shift, settle and evolve. Barry provides new collage introduction segments, contextualizing and easing the contents into a format that makes Blabber the next integral installment of Drawn and Quarterly’s growing Lynda Barry library.
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Featured artist

Lynda Barry

           Featured product

Blabber Blabber Blabber




USA Today's Pop Candy is reading BLABBER BLABBER BLABBER

Updated January 3, 2012


December 16, 2011
Whitney Matheson

I'm also reading: I picked up a copy of Lynda Barry's Blabber Blabber Blabber: Vol. 1 of Everything in San Francisco and am eager to delve into it.


 
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Featured artist

Lynda Barry

           Featured product

Blabber Blabber Blabber




  Publishers Weekly calls Lynda Barry's BLABBER BLABBER BLABBER "a creative force"

Updated January 3, 2012


November 28, 2011

Blabber Blabber Blabber, Everything: Vol. 1
Lynda Barry. Drawn and Quarterly, $24.95 (180p) ISBN 978-1-77046-052-2
Barry (What It Is; Picture This) has emerged as a 21st-century creative guru, a teacher with a knack for helping students find their inner spark. But in the late 1970s and ’80s, she was a young cartoonist with a pocketful of underground influences and her own inimitable perspective on the world. In this first volume of an omnibus of her work, Barry introduces the collection of comics strips produced between 1978 and 1981 with drawings copied (her word) from artists like Dr. Seuss and R. Crumb, as well as what she calls the “sweeter line” of late ’70s advertising illustrations. Barry’s distinction between the “bitter” and the “sweet” informs the three strips collected—the scratchy-lined “Ernie Pook’s Comeek,” a collection of almost random observations and non sequiturs that sometimes veer into the incomprehensible; the ethereal line of “Two Sisters,” about sweet-faced identical twins with an innocent but slanted view on life; and “Girls and Boys,” with its chaotic panels and geometric figures, which focuses on the intense absurdity of relationships between the sexes. Barry’s touch as a creator is already established even in this early stage, her talent for creating child characters, penchant for encouraging the reader to engage creatively, and touches of surrealism impelling a creative force that cannot be categorized. (Nov.)
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Featured artist

Lynda Barry

           Featured product

Blabber Blabber Blabber




Lynda Barry on School Library Journal

Updated January 3, 2012


December 21, 2011
Francisca Goldsmith

Lynda Barry’s public career as a cartoonist began in a variety of alternative newspapers thirty years ago. Since then, she’s become well recognized, not just as a humorous and insightful comic strip powerhouse but also as a teacher who can encourage those who have never before explored their creative abilities to let down the guards of their own fears, pick up a pen or pencil and let it flow. The first volume of Blabber, Blabber, Blabber shows how these sparks and igniters all developed for Barry herself. Unlike some retrospective volumes, she isn’t looking back over the building of an empire; she is in midstream in her life and offering views of how she got to this point—and how readers can try stepping on the stones of chance and effort to get to midstream (and beyond) as well.

The loopy, naïf cartoons that give us almost frighteningly acute glimpses inside the selfishness of children, the ignorance of adults, and the interplay between folks carry a surprising amount of tiny detail: the titles of textbooks, instructions on placemats—here are funny bits that weren’t so evident when the comic was printed on cheap absorbent paper instead of this nice package.

Barry and her editors have got the mix and extent of this volume just right, too: the runs of Ernie Pook’s Comeek, Two Sisters, and other strips aren’t too long but just long enough to provide a substantial taste and whet the appetite for more. This is a series that stands a good chance of finding a place in many teen hearts and minds to come.

BARRY, Lynda. Everything: Comics from Around 1978-1981. vol. 1. illus. by author. 175p. (Blabber, Blabber, Blabber Series). Drawn & Quarterly. 2011. Tr $24.95. ISBN 978-1770-46052-2. LC number unavailable.

Adult/High School– Here’s a treasure trove for teens who are either cartoonists or sensitive to the quirks of irony, adolescence, and family and other hazards, or both. In what promises to be a multi-volume retrospective of her work, Barry shows readers the first inceptions of “Ernie Pook’s Comeek”; how she came to change up her original run of “Two Sisters,” another strip that ran in alternative papers 30 years ago; and “Boys and Girls,” yet another series that gave her the visual and insightful muscles needed to develop her later strips featuring Arlys and other realistically uncute children. The volume also offers pages from Barry’s high school and college scrapbooks, giving readers a view on what the cartoonist found interesting in the material culture of the period, as well as candid snapshots of her, her family, her friend Matt Groening (The Simpsons), and little cartooning exercises that can be understood either as gags or useful prompts for nascent artists. Nicely produced without turning the substance into glossy surfaces to be admired rather than mined, this is an excellent way to introduce a new generation to a master of self-exploration and good-humored absurdity.–Francisca Goldsmith, Infopeople Project, CA
 
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Featured artist

Lynda Barry

          



  Montreal Gazette highlights GNBCC, HERGE, and BLABBER BLABBER BLABBER for 2011

Updated January 2, 2012


December 29, 2011
Ian McGillis

Is Seth the P.G. Wodehouse of cartooning? The Great Northern Brotherhood of Canadian Cartoonists (Drawn & Quarterly, 136 pages, $24.95) makes a case for the claim. Like the English comic writer who located and obsessively mined a corner of the past that was at least partly his own creation – in his case, the gentlemen’s clubs and country houses of the Edwardian upper crust – Seth has his turf, and sticks to it. He is the great visual poet of the dying small towns of southern Ontario. His newest book sees him paying tribute to the fictional titular group, some of whose members are real – Seth’s salute to Doug Wright will give you a whole new appreciation for an artist easily taken for granted – and some the products of the author’s melancholy and forever backward-looking imagination. GNBCC is eloquent proof that a personal obsession can resonate by virtue of the conviction with which it is related. It moved me as few books this year have.

While it seems the jury is still out on Steven Spielberg’s cinematic take on Tintin – neophytes appear fine with it, devotees perhaps less so – the timing couldn’t be better for The Adventures of Hergé, by Jose-Louis Bocquet, Jean-Luc Fromental and Stanislas Barthelemy (Drawn & Quarterly, 64 pages, $19.95), a book that adopts the visual style of the Tintin books to recount the life of their Belgian creator. The decision to echo Hergé himself is a risky one, but it pays off in some effective ironic counterpoint: While his cartoon creation is off hunting yetis in Tibet, the artist is sneaking around on his wife and refusing to allow the names of any of his collaborators on the covers of his books. Newcomers to Hergé’s world may feel that a certain amount of background knowledge is being assumed, but the ready-made audience will ensure that this book finds plenty of happy homes.

As her Montreal appearance early this year showed, Lynda Barry inspires fervent devotion in her readers, who will no doubt line up to buy Blabber Blabber Blabber: Volume 1 of Everything (Drawn & Quarterly, 176 pages, $24.95), a gathering of her 1980s work, including the immeasurably influential Ernie Pook’s Comeek.




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Featured artists

Seth
Lynda Barry
Jose-Louis Bocquet, Jean-Luc Fromental & Stanislas Barthelemy

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Blabber Blabber Blabber
The Great Northern Brotherhood of Canadian Cartoonists
The Adventures of Herge




LYNDA BARRY, JULIE DOUCET and TOVE JANSSON are all notable women in comics

Updated August 15, 2011


As a lady who frequently rants about lady issues, I have been selected by the Hooded Utilitarian to write a piece about lady cartoonists that will somehow not make all ladies reading it roll their eyes and groan. This is my punishment for all the ranting. I've learned my lesson.

Eleven years ago, when The Comics Journal put out its big Top 100 Comics by English-Speaking White Men of All Time Ever Except Dave Sim Because Seriously, Fuck That Guy, five women made the list: Lynda Barry, Julie Doucet, Carol Tyler, Debbie Dreschler, and Françoise Mouly for her work as co-editor of RAW. When the preliminary votes for the HU list were being counted up, it looked like only four women would make that list. Interestingly, it was four completely different women, which led me to suggest that maybe this stuff has nothing to do with talent or recognition; the comics industry simply has room for only four or five women at a time.

By the time all the votes had rolled in and the final tally was made, the HU 115 included a grand total of nine ladies. Is that better? Worse? Essentially the same? I don't know. Mining the list for observations on which to pontificate, I notice that most of the artists are fairly recent-or, in the cases of Tove Jansson and Moto Hagio, new to U.S. audiences. There seems to be little love for classic old-timey creators like Nell Brinkley, Grace Drayton, Gladys Parker, or Marge Buell. No women from the underground era made the list either: no Trina Robbins, Lee Marrs, Dori Seda, Carol Lay, or Shary Flenniken, whose Trots and Bonnie is currently poised to take over as the Family Feud #1 answer to "Inexplicably Unavailable in a Sweet Reprint Edition" the moment someone finally does a Barnaby book. Autobio pioneer Carol Tyler, one of the four women on TCJ's list, didn't make the HU list, despite recently emerging from semi-retirement with the new graphic novel series You'll Never Know.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, very recent cartoonists were, understandably, also left out; if my brief skim of the list is accurate, the HU 115 includes no webcomics. I can imagine a future list making room for works by Dylan Meconis, Spike Trotman, Jenn Manley Lee, Jess Fink, Dorothy Gambrell, Kate Beaton (of course), and other webcartoonists.

And Carla Speed McNeil. And Lea Hernandez. And Gail Simone. And Fumi Yoshinaga. And Jill Thompson. And Jessica Abel. And Wendy Pini. And Riyoko Ikeda. And Colleen Doran. And Vera Brosgol and Jen Wang and I am going to have to stop before I get in trouble for everyone I'm leaving off.

Julie Doucet, the Dirty Plotte stories, including My New York Diary

Of all the countless autobiographical indie zinesters of the late 1980s and 1990s, Julie Doucet has best survived the test of time. Is it her big, swaggering art style? Her unique French-Canadian-punk-in-New-York perspective? Her willingness to get gruesomely confessional in stories brimming with sex, shit, and menstrual blood? Or is it just that she left her audience wanting more? After her series Dirty Plotte and the collection My New York Diary, Doucet stopped drawing comics. In interviews at the time, she expressed dissatisfaction with the comics world, interest in being taken seriously as a fine artist, and good old-fashioned lack of money.

Since then, Doucet has focused on fine art and on mixed-media projects like Long Time Relationship and 365 Days: A Diary, projects that employ elements of comic art but skirt the standard definition of "comic book." The Dirty Plotte stories survive as a snapshot of this particular woman, in that particular time, gleefully kicking down the walls of an art form. Dirty Plotte is as perfect an encapsulation of the '90s as Peter Bagge's Hate, but coming from a messier, bloodier, hairier place. Yeah, that place.

Lynda Barry, Ernie Pook's Comeek & the RAW stories

Remember when the "Masters of American Comics" show came out, and some cranky feminists like me complained that there were no women among the Masters, and other people responded with, "Well, what women would you dare put alongside like likes of Jack Kirby, Will Eisner, and the Hernandez Brothers?"

I'm coming out and saying it here: I'd have dumped one of the modern-day Masters to make room for Lynda Barry. In American comics she comes second only to Charles Schulz, the same way Moto Hagio comes second only to Tezuka. Barry's simple (but deceptively appealing and well-composed) artwork is the perfect vehicle for her harrowing four-panel reports from the bowels of childhood. Seldom have imagos and logos been so perfectly paired, and never has a cartoonist so perfectly captured the voices of her awkward, bespectacled, scribble-haired characters.

In college I didn't know there were book collections of Ernie Pook, so I used to photocopy the strips out of back issues of the Village Voice in the campus library and make my own. Some of those strips have never been reprinted, so it turned out to be worth it. And few lines from comics have stuck in my head as persistently as lines from Ernie Pook. A single caption from "The Night We All Got Sick" - My land which was gorgeous and smelled like perfume from France - has haunted my skull for ten years.

Tove Jansson, Moomin

Tove Jansson is best known as a writer and illustrator of children's books, particularly the internationally beloved Moomin series, but Drawn & Quarterly's swanky reprints of the Moomin comic strip, which ran in newspapers through a British syndicate for 20 years, have inspired a reassessment of her work as a cartoonist. And it's worth reassessing: the most successful Finnish comic strip is also one of the smartest, most inventive, and most charming strips ever drawn.

The Moomin characters move through a world that's both whimsical and hauntingly melancholy. As depicted in the comic strip, it's also a visual feast, every panel packed with weird flora and fauna. In a touch I can't recall seeing in any other four-panel strip, Jansson likes to build panel borders out of symbolically relevant objects: knives and forks for a cooking scene, twigs for the outdoors. The plots have the simple profundity of good children's literature, often revolving around wistful searches for love or identity, and the sequence in which the Moomintroll family sets up a home in a lonely lighthouse strikes me as one of the most beautiful stories I've read in a comic. But I always wanted to be a lighthouse keeper.
 
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Featured artists

Julie Doucet
Tove Jansson
Lynda Barry

          



  ACME 20 and PICTURE THIS reviewed in Newsday

Updated March 30, 2011


FANFARE
BOOKSHELF: COMICS
BY SAM THIELMAN. Special to Newsday
2 January 2011
Newsday


'Sometimes in life when we are very sad, it is good to make a chicken in winter," explains Lynda Barry in "Picture This" (Drawn & Quarterly, $29.95). "It is not a beautiful chicken, but it is a chicken that will guard you through the hours and hours, quietly." Barry's style is supremely strange - she sketches and glues on glitter; she paints and cuts out pieces of construction paper and scribbles and makes paper dolls for us. Somehow, the delicate composition of all these childish novelties produces a work - it's hard to call it a graphic novel, since there's not really a narrative as such.

It's almost a self-help book, with offbeat suggestions for feeling better (Barry includes a chicken you can trace, if you don't feel up to drawing one yourself); fabulous anecdotes involving her most famous character, a little girl named Marlys; and images of the Near-Sighted Monkey, a free spirit whose depiction seems to be a visually unflattering but deeply brave and funny portrait of the author as a young woman - er, primate.

Chris Ware never met a charisma-free jerk he didn't love. Consider "Rusty Brown," the biography of a jobless loser whose 1970s childhood proved unexpectedly fertile and funny material in his ongoing Acme Novelty Library series. Now, with "Jordan Wellington Lint" in Acme Novelty Library #20 (Drawn and Quarterly, $23.95), Ware examines one of Rusty's high school acquaintances, Jason Lint. (The character changes his name - it's a little confusing.)

The book's opening pages may be the best thing Ware's ever done: He follows Jason from zygote to toddler to teenager in a visual homage to James Joyce that brilliantly captures what it's like to be discovering so many new words and concepts at once. Since it's a Chris Ware book, Jason is also discovering emotional pain around the same time, as he watches his father hit his mother and tries to suss out the moral implications. Ware spends a lot of his time - and ours - examining the most painful moments in Jason's life. Some of these are genuinely affecting - his mother's death, for instance - and some are just unpleasant. Acme #20 is a gorgeous book, no doubt about it, but it sticks in the heart.

Is there a comic that's run longer than "Love & Rockets" and maintained the same level of quality? In a bid to keep this indie mainstay accessible to new readers, Gilbert and Jaime Hernandez relaunched the series as "Love & Rockets: New Stories" (Fantagraphics, $14.99) a few years ago; like Ware and other contemporaries, they've been producing large volumes about once a year, and this year's annual is as good or better than anything Los Bros. have yet produced. [...] These vignettes are the perfect foil to Ware's unflinching realism - where Ware is pitiless and visually complex, Los Bros. are plain-spoken and sympathetic, finding pathos in even the grimiest character.[...]

Featured artists

Chris Ware
Lynda Barry

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Picture This
Acme Novelty Library Volume 20




The Miami Herald checks out LYNDA BARRY's 'Writing the Unthinkable' workshop

Updated March 11, 2011


​Remember when you read On the Road and you thought "I'm going to be a writer"? So you wrote in your moleskin daily. You poured yourself out over pints and espressos. Sunlight would shift overhead and you'd go lurching for your pen and moleskin as inspiration flooded in.

That was then. Now you're an underpaid office worker, hand cramped from too many TPS reports. You recently abandoned waking up at 5 a.m. to work on your writing, because your doctor had the audacity to hint that you might actually die soon if you don't make your heart pump faster from time to time.

So now you're just another asshole early morning jogger who's abandoned his or her dream. But hang on, there may be a way to jump start that moleskin action again and flush out all that douche-baggery of work-a-day life. Sign up for Lynda Barry's Writing the Unthinkable workshop at Miami Dade College's Writers Institute this May.

Bad writing workshops can feel like awkward group therapy: amateur writers moan about their brother's suicide through the veil of fiction while you brainstorm up varying ways to say "er, nice story, buddy." Lynda Barry's Writing the Unthinkable is nothing like those workshops. But her course description full of ALL CAPS and enthusiastic exclamation points may scare you off just the same!!! You see, Barry is unhinged. And that's a good thing.

But first, her credentials: Described as equal parts Dalai Lama and Gilda Radner, Barry is acclaimed for Ernie Pook's Comeek, a series that catalogs the day-to-day struggles of lonely, snarky pre-teens. Her book The Good Times Are Killing Me,was adapted as an off-Broadway play and won the Washington State Governor's Award. Her bestselling creative writing-how to-graphic novel, What It Is, won the 2009 Eisner Award for Best Reality Based Graphic Novel as well as an R.R. Donnelly Award.

What It Is catalogs her writing process, the very thing she'll teach you in Writing the Unthinkable. At the root is learning to think in images, transforming sense memories into detailed film strips. She believes our days are filled with fleeting and intense floods of memory -- like when a particular plastic smell reminds you of your Cabbage Patch Doll's bald head. In Barry's method, these moments are launch pads for creative thought.

Unlike other writing workshops, Writing the Unthinkable emphasizes anonymity and diminishes shame. Reading your wok outloud is voluntary and if people do share, others are asked to draw spirals in their notebooks instead of making eye contact with the writer. Barry believes adults do enough self-editing and critiquing, and that writers thrive in the most nonjudgmental atmosphere possible.

According to those who've attended her workshop over the past 15 years, Barry's unhinged presence is just as jumpstarting as any of the writing methods. One said:

Lynda Barry is part instructor, part shaman, part den mother and stand-up comedian all rolled up into one hippie package. It's worth it just to hear her speak, tell stories, sing, dance and joke. What acclaimed author have you met has given more than a standard book reading or lecture? Lynda gave me a hug. She told me face to face, with utmost sincerity that what I wrote was good.

 
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Featured artist

Lynda Barry

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What It Is
Picture This




  LYNDA BARRY talks with The Onion AV Club

Updated March 4, 2011


In the 1970s, Lynda Barry started a four-panel comic strip called Ernie Pook’s Comeek, about the personal travails, inner lives, and artistic ambitions of a poor extended family. When the Chicago Reader picked up the strip in 1979, she was able to become a full-time cartoonist, joining her old buddy Matt Groening (who frequently dedicated his Life In Hell book compilations to her) in the field. Over the past decade-plus, she’s expanded into prose novels (Cruddy and The Good Times Are Killing Me), comics autobiography (One! Hundred! Demons!), and most recently, philosophical treatises on the nature and purpose of art. These come in the form of adult picture-books that combine memoir, rhetorical questions, artistic experiments, and workbooks inviting readers to explore their own artistic sides. Barry recently followed the first such book, 2008’s What It Is, with Picture This: The Near-Sighted Monkey Book, which openly questions why kids draw, and why adults usually stop drawing. She also recently stopped drawingErnie Pook’s Comeek after 30 years, as the shrinkage among indie newspapers such as the Chicago Reader took most of her remaining venues. She recently sat down with The A.V. Club in Chicago for a two-hour discussion of Ernie Pook’s past and future, her new book, her teaching career, her ongoing questions about the nature and purposes of images, why paper is a place, dead mice in baby buggies, and the trick she uses to get storytelling strangers to buy her beer in bars.
The A.V. Club: What It Is was an anxious, searching book where you appeared largely as yourself, in autobiographical segments, struggling with your art. Your new book, Picture This, is more dreamlike, and you appear throughout as the Near-Sighted Monkey, a peaceful, quirky character. Were you in a better place mentally when you were writing this book?
Lynda Barry: I think you nailed it. The state of mind for making pictures for me is a completely different—there’s a difference making pictures vs. writing a story. Part of that has to do with what language is being used: When we’re writing a story, we’re using words to make the images. And if we’re making a picture, we’re using paper and pens and colors. But for Picture This, I wanted it to be a drawing book that didn’t have any instructions about drawing, beyond the real simple stuff you’d find like in a Bazooka bubblegum wrapper, or in Highlights magazine. I just wanted it to be feelings about looking and seeing and pictures. What It Is was based on this class I’ve been teaching for 10 years—I wanted to write a book about writing that didn’t mention stuff like story structure, protagonists, and all those things that we know about only because they already exist in stories. When you learn about stories in school, you get it backward. You start to think “Oh, the reason these things are in stories is because a book said I need to put these things in there.” You need a death, as my husband says, and you need a little sidekick with a saying like “Skivel-dee-doo!” [Laughs.] The only reason we find structure in stories is because it’s there naturally in human interaction, and in the way that people tell stories.
AVC: What It Is is about creating dialogue. It asks the reader a lot of rhetorical questions. Picture This has fewer questions—it feels like an answer to the first book.
LB: When I work on a book, I usually start with a question. And I don’t sit around and go “I need to write a book. What’s a good question?” It will be a question that’s just clanging around in my head. So for What It Is, it was this idea of “What is an image?” Which is this question I’ve had in my head since my teacher, Marilyn Frasca, posed it to me when I was 19. “What is the thing contained by anything we call the arts?” Or “What’s contained by a toy that’s very dear to a kid? That specific toy that they need in order to sleep. What’s that little stuffed monkey holding inside?” So that’s what What It Is is about. I’ve been teaching now 10 or 12 years, and I taught this way of writing in so many different circumstances, from prison to graduate students. [Laughs.] They actually should trade places for a day, frankly. [Laughs.] I saw over and over again that everybody is completely able to tell a pretty compelling story if you can give them an unexpected memory and a specific amount of time to write. I’ll tell them they have seven minutes, so they start. When they only have three minutes left, I say “You have about three more minutes.” So it’s like somebody talking on the phone. You may think you have seven minutes to talk about this awful, horrible person you work with, and then you find out you only have two minutes—everybody knows how to edit a story to fit two minutes. So I got really interested in taking advantage of this natural ability that people have to tell stories. And it’s clear, because we understand stories when they’re told to us. So that was about that.
But then for Picture This, the question I had was “Why do we start drawing, and why do we stop? And why do we start up again?” One of the things that happens is when I teach, I often bring my little Chinese brush and ink. I was at a conference here in Chicago a couple years ago, the Cusp Conference, and there were all these designers, these really fancy designers who had done the interior of like the Chevy Volt, or they had designed the Segway… just these fancy, fancy designers. We’re having drinks. I always set up my little gear, my rig. And I usually just start painting. And if I do that, people come over and talk to me. And then I’ll hand them a brush. I’m interested in being able to teach painting someday. But the only way I could teach it is to watch how people naturally take the brush, and what they naturally want to do. The designers were all freaked out. I’d hand one the brush. They go “Oh, no, no, no, no, no, no. Mary, you do it!” “No! Hey, come on, Bruce!” “No, no, no!” I thought “This is sort of interesting. What I could do to get them to try it?” And I made up this game. The game is actually in Picture This. You draw a square and divide that in half, and then you divide that in quarters, and you keep going to see how close you could get. But if the lines touch, you get electrocuted. As soon as I said that, they wanted to do it. So I thought “What just happened? What changed this from ‘I can’t touch this brush in front of other people’ to ‘If I’m going to get electrocuted, I absolutely will do it’?” And I thought “When we’re playing with paper and we’re little kids, the paper is a place, someplace for an experience. And at a certain point, for all kinds of reasons, it becomes a thing, whether that’s good or bad.”
It’s the same idea of you’re riding your bike, and you love riding your bike, but then one day, it’s all about how you look riding your bike. So that experience of riding your bike, the original one, is gone. So my theory was, here were these designers all looking at this blank piece of paper, and each one was going to have to make a thing to show that they really were as good as their reputations. As soon as that was removed and we made the paper a place, for this game, we were ready to play.
That actually was kind of the guiding principle for this book, and the way I had to figure it out was to make a whole lot of paintings. I would just be saying to myself “You’re wasting time. You don’t have time to be making paintings for this book about making paintings!” And then I go “Okay, there’s clue one.” [Laughs.] Even I’m fighting making art. I also was really nervous to do a book that didn’t have as many words as my books usually have. I thought people would feel ripped off. [Laughs.] I really did! I put recipes on the side or something, some hints. When I pictured somebody reading it, I always pictured them in the Jiffy Lube oil-change room. You know, when you’re getting the oil changed on your car, there’s an awful room where you have to sit. The ancient-coffee burnt smell, and you’re so grateful, if you forgot to bring something to do, even for an old People magazine, with like Tom Selleck on the cover. I always imagined this in that room, and my whole idea was that somebody would look through it like a magazine. There’s no particular place to start. At a certain point, they would forget that they were waiting, even just for a small bit, because that is my latest belief about what images do. I believe that they actually alter our experience of time.
The way I show that people still do it, even if they don’t think they draw, is if you’re in a really boring meeting, almost everybody… Boring meeting, you have a pen, the usual clowns are yakking. Most people will draw something, even people who can’t draw. I say “If you’re bored, what do you draw?” And everybody has something they draw. Like “Oh yeah, my little guy, I draw him.” Or “I draw eyeballs, or palm trees.” Actually, everybody was pretty enthusiastic about showing me what doodles they do. So I asked them “Why do you think you do that? Why do you think you doodle during those meetings?” I believe that it’s because it makes having to endure that particular situation more bearable, by changing our experience of time. It’s so slight. I always say it’s the difference between, if you’re not doodling, the minutes feel like a cheese grater on your face. But if you are doodling, it’s more like Brillo. [Laughs.] It’s not much better, but there is a difference. You could handle Brillo a little longer than the cheese grater.
Then I thought about reading a good book. We’ve all had that experience of reading a really good book, where it’s like there are two lives going on at once. There’s the real room that I’m sitting in, the shared reality that we’re both in. But then there’s this other place that has this whole other sense of time going on. I guess that has become my focus, our experience of time, and what drawing has to do with that. It’s the same thing with kids. There’s a reason why restaurants have crayons. It’s not because we love children so much, we’re going to give them this fun thing to play with. It’s because those guys know that once a kid gets crayons, they’ll reliably be focused.
AVC: From what you’re saying, it seems like you’ve answered a lot of your own questions. Why put them in a book, still in the form of questions, instead of the answers you’ve found?
LB: Well, I guess I am maybe answering them, but they’re still questions to me. Like, what is an image? I have my idea about it, but I’ve been trying to solve this problem since I was 19. I’m 54. I still have new ideas about it, and that’s the thing. Why do shapes appear in shadows and stains? I don’t know the answer to that. There’s a lot of theory about that. I’m sure there are people studying this who are doing functional MRIs on what happens when that shift happens. I would guess that it goes from a small part of the brain, sometimes they call it the executive function—the part that’s “This is what time I have to be here, and I’m going to do this. And those pants look terrible”—to electrical activity that involves the whole brain.
There was a study done on what’s going on in the brain when a kid is in deep play, like where they’re playing with a toy, but the toy is playing back with them, and what’s going on with an adult who’s in a state of creative concentration. One of the hallmarks of both of those states was, the total brain was involved. In the study, they talked about how those brains look very similar. I started to think about the role of play, and its role in mental health. If I ask a 40-year-old woman “I have paper and a paintbrush, you wanna paint?” and she says “no,” we understand that. If there’s a 4-year-old and you say “You wanna paint?” and she says “no,” we worry about her emotionally. I think that implies there’s a tacit understanding between the relationship between art and mental health. But why is it okay for someone to be scared and never try it? I think that’s also a very interesting story. So those questions really still are questions for me, even though I answer them to some degree. I have theories about why we start drawing and why we stop, but I don’t know the true reason.
AVC: Have you been getting theories or answers to these questions back from your readers?
LB: No, I don’t really have a forum for that.
AVC: They don’t approach you at readings and appearances to talk about it, or send you letters?
LB: People do send me their drawings, or they’ll send me stories they’ve written. When people come up to me like at book signings, my happiest thing is when they tell me they’ve been making pictures or writing. That makes me really, really happy. For instance, when I teach, the question-and-answer period is very short. [Laughs.]
AVC: You don’t have much of a web presence. Have you thought about getting more involved in the Internet, either in a forum or as a two-way dialogue with your fans?
LB: As a two-way dialogue, no. But I eventually have to put up a website, just because of teaching my class. I travel around and teach it, and I usually find a forum, and then I set up classes, and sell tickets on eBay. But there’s never been a way to formally announce it, so I know I have to do that. And I’m gonna, I guess. I run a website for the wind-turbine issues, and it’s a lot of work. With the wind stuff, I’m kind of an invisible presence. I’m not invisible, but I try to keep it where it’s actually news stories that you can source. The only parts where my personality shows are the sassy headlines that sometimes I write. I know I should be on the web, but I’d rather talk to real people. Marilyn, she has a website, and she’s put up a lot of her early work, and that was really fun to look at. I thought “I can do that. This could be good.” I also planned from the beginning to make this all on the web, especially this writing part, so people didn’t have to buy the book, so you could actually access it for no money.
AVC: Did you expect any particular reaction to either one of these books? Is there a way you want people to react to them?
LB: No. Well, the Jiffy Lube fantasy, where the person is actually in there looking, and forgets they’re in this rotten room for a little bit. That was one fantasy. It’s not a huge one, but that’s actually one of the things. And the other was for What It Is—my hope for both these things is that they’re seen as support for the idea that art has an absolute biological function, that it’s not just aesthetic, it’s not decoration or an elective. That it has a biological function that’s as old as our opposable thumbs. I always think of it as the corollary to the immune system—it’s like our external immune system. My hope would be for people to look at the arts in a different way, rather than this thing that either makes you famous or an artist or worth something, or doesn’t. But to actually start to see that it has another kind of function, as support for a basic feeling, the feeling that life is worth living… Which is step one in any project. [Laughs.] I don’t think people have to think it’s really worth living, but just it’s worth sticking around for.
AVC: A lot of your work is so bleak, it does seem to call that into question.
LB: Oh yeah.
AVC: Is art cathartic for you?
LB: Yeah, you know, it can be. People always assume my work is autobiographical. One! Hundred! Demons! was the first real, straight-ahead… I mean, if you see Filipinos in there, then you know I’m talking about my life. I’ve struggled with depression forever. I mean, I struggle with it. You know, it’s not one of those little cute things like that Zoloft commercial, where they have that little creature, that little jellybean, looking sad. It ain’t like that. It’s more like having swallowed a running chainsaw, and you don’t know what to do or where to turn. [Laughs.] That’s what it feels like to me. Painting and drawing and writing and reading—in particular reading—and music, those things from early on were always very helpful. They’re helpful not in a way that they fix anything, but they make it so I felt like sticking around. Not that much. [Laughs.] But just enough.
AVC: Is there a reason there’s so much less autobiography in Picture This?
LB: I didn’t want to have as much as I put in What It Is, but I didn’t know how else to tell the story. Yes, the Near-Sighted Monkey is totally me, but I didn’t want it to be about me, necessarily. One! Hundred! Demons! really is about me, and What It Is, I’m in there to move this idea along. I didn’t know how else to tell the story. For Picture This, I didn’t want to be in it at all, but there were certain ways I couldn’t not be in it. So whenever I was in there, I tried to always do it with just a pen, so it’s not as compelling to look at. Your eyes could kind of glaze over the parts that I’m in. Because this one’s not about me or my life, necessarily. Writing autobiography, because people have assumed that’s what I’ve done for so long, I have a weird relationship with it.
AVC: You’ve made it clear in other interviews that you had a terrible childhood, but that you don’t like discussing specifics. Readers may think your work is autobiographical just because it’s so often about terrible childhoods, and they don’t know the details of yours.
LB: Yeah. I think I probably had talked about it by proxy, certainly, with these other characters or with the story of Cruddy. The cool part is, it doesn’t have to be exactly what happened to me. I have these characters that just wander into trouble all the time. So that part’s cathartic, having characters go through this stuff. Yes, that part actually works. And I have to wonder if that’s not what playing with dolls is all about.
AVC: What’s the status of Ernie Pook’s Comeek?
LB: I stopped the strip, I guess, about a year, year and a half ago. It ran for 30 years. But there were fewer and fewer venues. Cascadingly fewer venues. Then the venues that I still did have, there was just this horrible feeling of having this sword hanging over me, and there was less and less tolerance for an unusual strip, like a sad strip, or a strip that didn’t seem to be about much of anything, like how to draw a bat or something. The tolerance for that really closed. And when the Chicago Reader was sold to Creative Loafing, a paper which purchased several papers I’d been in, I knew it was over for me. Because the Reader was one of my last papers. So I thought “Cut out the middleman—I’ll quit.” [Laughs.]
AVC: That had to be a blow. Our last interview with you was in 1999, and you talked about what a stepping stone the Reader was for you at the beginning of the strip’s life. Having that venue shut down for comics does feel like a full circle being completed, in a terrible way.
LB: Yeah, “in a terrible way” is right. And it happened for a lot of people who had seen the Reader as their family. The whole production staff, like everybody. It was just ugly. Ugly. So I thought “Well, there’s no place for this strip right now, so now what?” And then I finally realized that my characters were free. They were completely free. I could paint them as big as I wanted. I could use really subtle gray tone. So What It Is was the first time I saw them after I quit, when I started drawing them and trying to figure out about Arna and Marlys. Their characters are so strong in my head. I realized that they really are like the back of the mind and the top of the mind. Being engaged with something and having the top of the mind go “No! Watch TV!” It’s fun watching—I like watching Marlys, who I have a lot of admiration for, but she’s also awful, awful. Kick-ass, but awful. And I think the Near-Sighted Monkey is sort of the same way. And I think I’m sort of that same way, too.

AVC: She’s very egotistical, both in terms of wanting praise and producing her own praise, in terms of everything being about her. There may be something cathartic and familiar for readers in that.
LB: I one time did a calendar of zodiac signs where I described everybody. But in every one, I put “Secretly feels superior to others.” [Laughs.]
AVC: Drawn & Quarterly has a website that says the complete Ernie Pook’s collection will come out in 2008. That didn’t happen, and now they’re saying 2012. What’s the status of that project?
LB: That was my fault. I’m so used to working on my absolute own, and until Drawn & Quarterly, I’ve had difficult relationships with publishers. It’s a difficult relationship, and publishing houses change. Like, I never had the experience of having an editor who was attached to my work in any way. So I was very, very careful about never giving anybody anything to do besides me. So my idea was that if I was going to do all my old comics—because that’s what D&Q originally wanted to do, just to put all 30 years’ worth in reprint books—my thing was “Well, I’m going to design the book, and I’m the one doing it.” Because I didn’t know them, even though I knew that they were my favorite publisher in terms of the way their books looked. They have really good authors. Then I told [D&Q founder] Chris Oliveros “I’m working on this book, What It Is.” I didn’t have a publisher or anything. After One! Hundred! Demons!, I couldn’t find anyone to publish my work.
AVC: But that book did really well. It was a huge critical success.
LB: I know, but that publisher didn’t want anything else from me. My editor there told me flat-out, he said he thought the work was remedial, and he didn’t like it. So, I approached him, because I wanted to do What It Is. I wanted to do a companion book for One! Hundred! Demons! to show exactly the process I used to write it. It’s the whole thing of picking out a word. So I said “I want to do this other book.” And he said “Is it going to be more comics?” I said “Yeah.” He goes “No, we’re not interested.” So that was the end of that. Then when my novel Cruddy came out—and Cruddy got good reviews. My editor left before the book was printed, and then the guy who took over hated the book, and told me it was stupid. I mean, it’s wild to me that somebody will just tell you “This book is stupid.” Stupid! He hated the book. It was one of those things where he had to take it over in the shuffle, because this other guy got a better job. Then as soon as that book went to press, he went back to Reference—he was a Reference guy. They had no interest in another book.
AVC: Did that process hurt Cruddy, in terms of publicity or support?
LB: It might have, yeah. Now I know what it’s like to work with a really good publicist. Now I know, working with Drawn & Quarterly, what it could be like. But Cruddy had its own little rocket power. It found its way, and it’s still in print. I’ve always sort of relied on that, that the books sort of find their own way. But that was a real blow, to have everything just over, you know? The comic strip was kind of going down. No one wanted to publish anything. Then I had the brilliant idea to start selling things on eBay, which completely freed me. I had some friends who told me it was career suicide, and I thought “There’s really not a lot left to kill here.” [Laughs.] Then I started working on What It Is. I thought, “I’m not going to wait for a publisher. I’m just gonna start this book.” I found Chris, and since then, things have been very nice.
AVC: Do you have any sense for how many volumes the complete 30-year Ernie Pook will be?
LB: Ten. They’re going to be pretty fat. Yeah, so it’s 10, and I want to call it Everything, because “everything” is 10 letters, one on each volume. So it will be, like, three years in each one.
AVC: How fast will they come out?
LB: I forgot to answer that part of the question. What happened is, I started to trust Chris, and he sees how long it takes me to do a book. So, I said they could design it. Once I get back from all this book-tour stuff, I’m going to start packing stuff up and just sending it to them.
AVC: You still have all your originals?
LB: Mm-hmm. I probably… my whole life, maybe I don’t have 20, maximum, of the weekly strip. But yeah, I’ve hung on to pretty much everything. And you think they’d be neatly stacked or… they’re truly in those banker’s boxes, like just strewn all over the basement. My husband keeps finding stuff and going “Honey, you really should take a little better care of this stuff.”
AVC: Do you feel any compulsion to continue with the Ernie Pook characters after being with them for so long?
LB: Oh, yes! Yes, yes, yes.
AVC: Have you thought about doing the strip solely for the web, or doing original books just about those characters?
LB: Yeah, absolutely. That’s why I was so happy to have them in Picture This, sort of bookending the story. I was really happy to see them. That was the part that was the surprise. Because when I thought the strip was done… Turns out they just don’t exist in that strip.
AVC: You talked about ending the strip in the sense of not doing it as a weekly, but do you ever see yourself ending it in the sense of getting them out of the situation?
LB: Like Roseanne, when she wins the lottery? [Laughs.]
AVC: That’s a cheesy example, but it’s a good one. When you talk even obliquely about your own childhood, you always come down to “And then I got out.” Their lives are so painful, it’s hard not to want things to get better for them.
LB: Well, they do. They clearly get better for them.
AVC: How do you mean?
LB: I mean to say… That’s so funny, because I never ever expressed it, but you know, they’re in a certain phase of their lives where they’re young. But they both have something that I feel like is necessary for whatever “getting out” is. Marlys is very smart. She’s a gifted child—she’ll let you know that immediately. She’s very egotistical, and she loves to succeed. So she’s going to be a weirdo, but I totally see her getting to school. I think Arna is brilliant, but in this quieter way. I never thought of this until you put it, but to me, the “happily ever after” is college. Freddie will find his boyfriend. He’ll find the nice gay community, and it’ll be a lot easier for him.
AVC: With Ernie Pook’s Comeek, there’s a constant fear of that inner spark dying because of the characters’ circumstances.
LB: Yeah. Like Maybonne. I don’t know about her. She seems to me somebody who could get pregnant pretty easy, her and her crazy-ass friend, Janet Jimmers. But, yeah, I don’t know about her. Then there’s all of these things… This is actually from my childhood—always teetering on the edge of being homeless. In the strip, they move several times. They lived in a trailer for a while. Now they’re living in this fucked-up house. And the moms both work at the cannery. That is very much like the way I grew up. There was just this feeling of terror all the time that we were going to lose our house. We lived right near the projects, and we had lots of relatives who lived in the projects. That’s where I always thought we’d end up. That didn’t happen.

AVC: It’s easy to see the process that would lead Arna to become Maybonne, and Maybonne to become like their mothers.
LB: Yeah, yeah. I just don’t think it’s going to happen. Maybonne maybe, but Arna and Marlys, no. I don’t see it. I just think they have too much interest in the world around them. Also, when I think about my own life, now that I’m thinking about it, I think the strip is very much about the stuff I leaned on and clung to in order to climb out. The one thing they don’t have that I had is, they don’t have the same good experience of school that I had. I mean, I didn’t have a good experience of school in terms of… just because I was weird. I was a strange kid. So that part, the social part, wasn’t that fun, even though I tried like hell to make it fun. [Laughs.] “Where are you guys going?” [Laughs.] But I had some good teachers—a couple. What’s amazing is how little a kid needs to be able to just roll on. It’s just a small amount of rocket fuel, and a good teacher can give you that. That’s the subject that if I ever was going to throw myself into something, it would be public schools. The whole story of public schools, and what’s happened, and how the whole country could turn their back on public schools, you know? I do not know what would have happened to me if I hadn’t been able to go to these schools—I mean, they weren’t great schools at all. They were funky schools, but just having that reliable atmosphere. As soon as the bell rang until it rang again at the end of the day, that atmosphere was absolutely reliable—until you got to junior high and you got your ass kicked during lunch. [Laughs.]
AVC: How does the strip come together? How does bringing the emotions out of your past, out of your subconscious, relate to what’s in Picture This and What It Is about making drawing an unconscious process?
LB: For me, the thing that I learned—I think it’s because when I studied with Marilyn, I was very interested in being a painter. So, to me, making the comic strip is… in the same way when I was writing Cruddy, I tried to write it on the computer, and it wouldn’t come. Forever and ever, it wouldn’t come. Once I used a brush, and when I realized I was actually painting the manuscript, then the story came to me. Even if it’s done with letters, it was still painting, and I realized it had something to do with hand motion. My work always starts with me either doing the alphabet really large, or by drawing a meditating monkey, or something I know how to do. I always compare it to when I was a kid and I used to like to jump rope a lot, and the two girls would be holding the ends of the rope. Before I jumped in I did this. [Motions with open palms in front of her body, indicating the rhythm of the rope.] You know that thing?
It’s really interesting. It’s universal. Everyone does it. The minute you do that, you’re ready to jump in. So once I figured out that there’s something about motion, and in particular the motion of the hands, and this idea of shifting the brain from the executive function, going “I want to make a really good comic strip that’s going to be fantastic!” to one where you kind of forget, and you’re making these motions. It’s a reciprocal process, when you make a line, and you kind of respond to that line. And it feels like you’re in conversation with something.
So, for the comic strip, the only thing I need to know is how long is the strip. Physically, how much space is it going to take up. So oftentimes, I would do my strips, each panel on a separate sheet of paper. For instance, One! Hundred! Demons!, each of those panels is on a completely separate sheet of paper. Then I need to actually draw the place where the experience is going to take place. And then I do the alphabet, and whenever I get stuck, I always have a separate sheet of paper next to me. So, while I’m working, if there’s nothing there, instead of going “God! I have to think of something!” I just move over to the extra page and draw whatever the hell I want. And inevitably, the rest of it will start up again.
It’s a really hard thing to teach students. The two things I always try to teach them is, one, you have to stay in motion. It doesn’t mean that you have to just write blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. Write the alphabet. You have to stay in motion. And the other thing is, when you get stuck, don’t read over what you just wrote. Especially if you have a computer. Maybe by hand is not so bad, but with a computer, what happens is… My experience has always been that there is a point when the story just stops. Always. You know, it’s just like when you’re dancing. There’s a time when you’re fake-dancing, because the groove has stopped. Then you’re back in the groove. So if people understood that that’s a natural part of making something, and they knew what to do during that time… But what people will do if they’re writing on a computer is, when that time comes and it’s quiet for a minute, they panic and go back and start fixing stuff above it that was not even broken. You can’t start to fix something until you know what it’s for, you know? So I always try to get my students to just sustain the state of mind for a certain amount of time. Even though I use 24 panels for my students, they’ll have seven minutes to just sustain this open state of mind while they’re writing, keep their hand in motion. But it’s really tough to get them to believe me, to just to even give it a try. And then once they do, it’s really fun.
AVC: Do you just script directly into your panels? You don’t prescript or figure out what’s going to happen before you start?
LB: I don’t know what the strip’s going to be about when I start. I never know. I oftentimes have—I call it the word-bag. Just a bag of words. I’ll just reach in there, and I’ll pull out a word, and it’ll say “ping-pong.” I’ll just have that in my head, and I’ll start drawing the pictures as if I can… I hear a sentence, I just hear it. As soon as I hear even the beginning of the first sentence, then I just… I write really slow. So I’ll be writing that, and I’ll know what’s going to go at the top of the panel. Then, when it gets to the end, usually I’ll know what the next one is. By three sentences or four in that first panel, I stop, and then I say “Now it’s time for the drawing.” Then I’ll draw. But then I’ll hear the next one over on another page! Or when I’m drawing Marlys and Arna, I might hear her say something, but then I’ll hear Marlys say something back. So once that first sentence is there, I have all kinds of choices as to where I put my brush. But if nothing is happening, then I just go over to what I call my decoy page. It’s like decoy ducks. I go over there and just start messing around.
That’s how it works. It comes very slowly, and what’s really strange is, by the third panel, there’s a part of me that is having a hard time going “So how does it end? How’s this going to end? Because we’re on deadline! How’s it going to end? You can’t start talking about penguins right now. You can’t bring up penguins in the third panel. There are no penguins. This is about, like, getting drunk.” It always seems to end. It always seems to find a way.
AVC: So you never go back and have to do a second draft, say because you get to that fourth panel and you want to get in more words than will fit?
LB: You’ve seen my work! [Laughs.] Sometimes you can barely see the characters down at the bottom of the panel because of all the words. And I swear, I probably should go back and edit it, but no. Nope. [Laughs.] There have been times when I haven’t finished a strip. Like, I wasn’t patient enough to wait for that last panel to show up. So I have several where it’s just three panels, and I’ll look at them and go “What was wrong with this? Why did I abandon this?” But, no, in general I don’t. I will sometimes, after I have the four panels, I’ll look at them. Sometimes I’ll switch the order. Like I did that at the very end of Picture This. The two middle panels when Arna goes to the library and sees that it’s closed—there’s this part when she’s remembering Mrs. Kedzie and this little dog. Those two panels used to be this way [Gestures.] And that’s how they were printed in the newspaper. When I looked at them and I moved those two [Gestures reversing them.], there was just something extra that it did that I liked.
But I’m so by myself when I do this stuff, and I don’t really talk to people about it. So it’s a little bit surreal to even talk to somebody. Because you daydream all day long, and somebody comes over and talks to you about your daydreams. It’s a really weird feeling.
AVC: The books talk so much about trying to get to the unconscious state where you’re not questioning yourself or thinking about your art. Then you go on a tour, and you meet fans, and you talk to interviewers who sit here and ask you all these intrusive process questions. Does that interfere with the process once you sit down to do it again?
LB: No, and the questions never seem intrusive to me, because I’m so delighted to see someone who’s three-dimensional. Everybody seems like a genie to me. “I love the way you move! Now turn to the side!” When I travel and when I’m on tour, I like to talk about the people I’m talking to. I like to talk about this thing we all have in common, and about this use of images. Do they realize they’re using images all day or not? And what I love to do, I have a little trick that will honest-to-God, if I’m in any bar, people will buy me a drink. If I sit at the bar and talk to them, and they say—if they’re not scared of me. [Laughs.] Because I do look like a monkey with a bandana on. But if they want to talk to me, and they ask what I do, and I often tell them “I’m a writer.” And they’ll say “Oh! I wish I could write!” And I say “Well, I teach writing. I bet you can.” “Oh, no, I don’t think I can.” And then I just do this little trick that always ends in me getting free beer, and it’s me saying “Well, here. Here’s an example. So when you were a little kid, could you think of a car of when you were a little kid?” Can you think of a car from when you were a little kid?
AVC: Sure.
LB: Are you inside of the car or outside of the car when you think of it?
AVC: Outside.
LB: What part of the car are you facing?
AVC: The left side, from the back.
LB: Is it day or night?
AVC: Day.
LB: What season?
AVC: Summer.
LB: Summer. And, so what’s directly in front of you? Is it the car?
AVC: Uh-huh.
LB: And then if you turn your head to the left, what’s over there.
AVC: A tree.
LB: Uh-huh. And what’s to your right?
AVC: The house.
LB: Uh-huh. Behind you?
AVC: The garage.
LB: Don’t you want to buy me a beer? [Laughs.]
AVC: How does that extrapolate into sitting down and writing?
LB: Because what usually happens at that point—I never say “Don’t you want to buy me a beer?” If I’ve had a couple, I might say that, I might actually start with that. So I’ll ask them questions, and you can watch when somebody’s talking, like you said this thing, and you were quiet, and you were quiet, and you went “…a tree.” And then “…the house.” So I could see that you were moving around in there, in that space in your mind. Then I could ask you “What’s beyond the house? What’s beyond the tree?” So in my class, what we’d be doing, this is how you turn it into writing—we would have written down a list of 10 cars, circle one, do the same thing… I always have people draw an X on a piece of paper. I love having them do it. Teaching is so fun, because people will do what you say—“I want you to draw a line here, and draw a big X.” And they think it’s something really important, and then I tell them “I bet that’s the longest line you’ve drawn in 20 years.” So then I have them write down the answers to those questions that I was just asking you: “What season is it?” And by the time I’m done asking those questions, it’s almost like a dog that hears you pick up the leash. The people want to tell the story, even if they don’t know quite what the story is. And then I have them write in first-person present tense, like it’s happening now, and do that thing, the other magic trick, which is you write for four minutes, and then I just softly say “You have about three more minutes, start to wrap up.” Then we read what we’ve written.
And the way I run the class, no one is ever allowed to look at the person who’s reading. Absolutely never. In fact, I have the class draw. So I try to get them used to moving their hands while listening, making a line while listening. And I give them the same assignment, tight spiral, closer and closer, if it touches itself, you get electrocuted. And that provides just enough concentration for them to forget about figuring out whether they like someone’s story or not. So in my class, we listen to people read, we never comment on the work, it’s forbidden to bring it up, and you can’t talk to anybody during the duration of the class about anything you’ve heard in the class. Like if you and your friend took my class, and you went to lunch, I would ask you to not even discuss any of the stories. I really try to scare people from even thinking critically about them. They can later. I always say after the class, they can do that. So we don’t comment on the work. What starts to happen is that first, everybody sees that the work happens anyway, the writing happens anyway, without talking about it. The other thing that’s great is that people learn to stop manufacturing these comments, because they’re of no use in that environment.
And I know for me, big mouth that I am, if I was listening for some story in class when I was younger, the only comment I’d make was to make everyone in the room think I wasn’t an asshole, or that I was funny. Or I was envious of the person who read. So I would say something like “That would make a good young-adult novel.” [Laughs.] Those little cutting remarks. So I wanted to get rid of that. Then I started to—everyone can do this, because that’s the way we work. People everyday will smell something that will bring back a place. You smell something, and “Oh, that’s Aunt Carol’s kitchen.” Or there’s that guy you had a crush on in eighth grade. One of the things I think about is that it is a place. It seems like a picture when you visualize Aunt Carol’s kitchen, but if we freeze-frame it, you say “What’s behind you, what’s downstairs, what’s up here?”, you can move around in that space. So once I found out that everybody could do this, I started getting really interested in how far I could push, and that’s when I ended up in prison teaching. I was just there two weeks ago today.
AVC: How did you get involved in prison education?
LB: There’s this really interesting woman named Mary DiLullo who works at Haverford College. She runs the bookstore, and she’s a filmmaker. I was there teaching my little class, and I just hit it off with her. We started talking just like this, and I said “I would really like to find ways to find more and more people and just test my theories out.” She arranged the first time I taught, in Philadelphia. The first time I taught, it was to inmates who were about to be released. The prison was built at the turn of the century, it looks like something from Dickens. You see it from above, it looks like a 10-legged spider, really wild. Patdowns, security, people screaming at you through the bars. But then I taught in this little quiet trailer they had off to the side. They had 10 men and 10 women, and we wrote four stories in two hours. They were amazing, amazing stories. Because when somebody’s writing first-person present-tense from a memory that’s just coming to them, there’s no writerly quality. It’s just vivid and with details.
I went back two weeks ago, just for fun. But this time, I was in medium-security prison, and I actually had to walk through these five gates, like a kennel. They let you in one side and they lock you in, then they let you out. When I finally got to where my guys were, it was completely concrete, everything’s hoseable. You’re really in a place with no comfort at all. It was this completely concrete room, no windows. Tables and chairs bolted to the floor, but no hard edges, everything’s rounded so you can’t… because that’s what I would think about right away. [Laughs.] When the guard asked me—in front of the guys, too—“Would you like to me to stand inside or outside the door?” I said “Outside is fine.” There was a little window. He said, “You’ll be locked in.” And I go “Okay.” He goes, “That means you can’t get out, you’ll have to knock or yell.” And I said “That’s fine.” There’s something about being middle-aged and female where you can just totally rock the auntie vibe, the Auntie Linda vibe, or Grandma Linda. Some of those guys were pretty young. I felt like spookily very comfortable in prison. I loved it. I also knew, because I’d had this experience with the other prisoners, I knew that these guys had some really good stories, and I felt really confident that I could teach them something they were gonna totally dig and be able to use afterward. It’s those little details like, I asked them about the car. “Remember a car that’s vivid.”
The first guy who read, it was all about the first time he was arrested, so he just describes this sunny day… And that’s the other thing! All these guys grew up in the projects in these really rough neighborhoods. Their descriptions are filled with kids and moms. The backgrounds they paint are so different from the way I see where they live. There’s always kids, and something going on. So he’s talking about getting arrested, and how the cop has him up against the car, and how the car feels, the heat of the car. All this stuff going on. Finally he’s in there, handcuffed, and these little kids come up and start going [Imitates sirens.] “Woo! Woo!” [Laughs.] It’s just these details, where it’s so vivid. First draft written in seven minutes, and you could see that everyone in the room was sort of electrified, and there was not one bad story. Because when it’s written from that place, then it really becomes a transferring of an experience. “I had this experience, and I wrote the formula down. Now I’ll read it out loud.” It’s the original wi-fi. [Laughs.] That’s the part I find really encouraging.
It’s the same with elderly people. Like, historical societies in our area, there’ll be people in there who are in their 70s to 90s, very concerned about losing their memory. To show them that this spontaneous memory is completely intact, they can write a story. Like, this one woman wrote a story about a little baby buggy that she just loved, and it went missing, and she didn’t know where it was, and she was really distraught about it, and her mom said “Maybe Santa will bring you one. Christmas is coming.” And sure enough, she comes downstairs, and under the tree is a baby buggy. It’s brown, but fine, she has her buggy back. Then they go over to her grandpa’s for dinner, and come to find out that all of his cabinets are the same color. They were broke, so he stole her baby buggy and painted it. And she talked about how she could never forgive him for painting it brown.
But the real reason she needed her baby buggy [Laughs.] was because, these are all homes that cooked with wood, heated with coal, so you had an ash heap out back, which was also where they’d throw the dead mice from the traps, and she had this real feeling for the dead mice. So she would always go out, and if there was a new dead mouse, she’d take it and put it in her buggy and give it one last ride around. So she couldn’t do her funerals without her buggy. [Laughs.] See! Seven minutes! Seven minutes! And just the way you’re feeling hearing that, when I talk about the biological function of images, that’s what I’m talking about. You hear that story, and you feel better. I don’t know why. There’s something about it, it’s so consistent, that when somebody’s not able to do it, that becomes interesting, too. The people who have the hardest times are the really good writers, because they have their own special way of writing, so trying a new way can be difficult for them.
AVC: Are you interested in doing anything with all these stories? Putting them together in some sort of book or comics project?
LB: You mean with those people’s stories? There’s a part of me that wants to do everything with them. But in a weird way, the success of the stories depends on them not having any other destination, any known destination, anyway. It’s really hard—it’s like watching a shooting star. Someone will tell a story like that one, and it just rockets through. You feel really good, you want to catch it and do something with it, but I’ve really learned to let them go. [Laughs.] There’s a billion of them.
AVC: At times in your recent books, it feels like you’re creating art solely to play with techniques, or for the moment of creating art. Do you go back and look at it as a finished project?
LB: It’s about the moment. Sometimes I go back and look at them. Mostly with horror, but I think that’s common to people who make images. My dear friend, and one of the best artists I know, Chris Ware, thinks his drawing is horrible.
AVC: I don’t think anybody in the world understands how he feels about his art, or why he feels that way.
LB: You know what it is? Younger people will never have this experience, but for a lot of us who had the experience of hearing our voice on tape for the first time, it’s just like “Uhhhh…” I know how he feels. I believe him. I think he’s a fool, but I completely believe him. I just let people feel that way about their work. I don’t hate my work completely. Not completely. But I’m glad it’s in the book, and not in me anymore. [Laughs.]
AVC: Is it going to be odd looking at your oldest art as you send out the material for the Ernie Pook’s collections? Are you going to have to go back and look at them?
LB: See, that’s why it’s better for me to give them to D&Q, because that was part of the problem. Once I started looking at them, I was like “No no no no.” I’m surely not the person to decide on this, so I’m just gonna give them everything, and try to see what they come up with, and try not to look at it.
AVC: That process you described of writing directly into five panels at a time, and seeing what happens—is that how you’ve worked on that comic from the beginning?
LB: Yep, it’s the same technique I learned from Marilyn. All of my work, everything I’ve done, comes from what I learned from her. Even the way I teach. I did learn about this way of writing, a version of it, from her. The coolest thing of all is, every year, I teach this five-day class up at this place called the Omega Institute in Rhinebeck, New York. It’s my favorite class, because I get students for five straight days, for six hours a day, and we just work like hell. We live together—it’s a summer camp for adults. Two years ago, I flew Marilyn and her partner, Sally, out to the class. I was teaching her class, they were in there. It was the most amazing experience, because as much as I talk about Marilyn, I didn’t tell them that she was in the classroom. And then in the last hour, I asked them if they wanted to see a magic trick, and they said “Yeah,” and I go over and take the hand of this gray-haired lady, and bring her to the front, and go “This is Marilyn Frasca.” And people went nuts! It was like [Screams.]. I had told her I was going to do that, and she’s shy, not shy but she doesn’t interact that much. And she said “I’ll let them see me, but then I have to disappear.” And I said, okay. So there’s the magic trick: I said “This is Marilyn Frasca. Now I’m going to make her disappear.” And then she went out the door.
AVC: Does she still create art? Does she still teach?
LB: She’s retired from teaching in college, but she still teaches her workshops. A year ago, she came out of retirement to teach one semester at Evergreen, my alma mater, so I went back and taught with her for a week, which was amazing. So I didn’t get the kind of family that was a really loving family, but I sure have loving teachers. After all this time, she and I are still really tight. I don’t want to be friends, because I really like having her as my teacher. [Laugh.] But there is definitely friendship, and we’re colleagues in a way.
AVC: In Picture This, you talk about her refusal to give you feedback on your art. Did that ever change? It sounded like she never wanted to shape you or push you in any particular direction.
LB: Yep. That’s right. She’ll say “It’s terrific!” or “Good.” That’s the only thing I say to my students, too. It’s disorienting at first, but I’ve just seen the power of it over and over again, every time I teach. When people give me their work—“I’d really like you to know what you think about it”—I always tell them, “I’m delighted to look at it, but I can tell you already what I’m going to say to you: ‘Good!’” That’s it, because anything else could throw off your compass. Even if it’s “This part is really good, this is very strong, I loved it when the man goes up the mountain, there’s that witch up there,” that might make you think “Well, then maybe the other part with the chicken isn’t as good.” I have the same policy with my own work, where I tend to not read anything that anybody writes about it. But I like talking to people about it. That’s fun.
AVC: Do people find it frustrating? In a class setting, are they programmed to want constructive criticism and more specifics?
LB: There are a few people in the classes who might feel that way, because they really need to talk about their own work, and they need that social atmosphere. There are people who want to be the stars. But what starts to happen is, the class gets so interested in the stories because the stories are powerful, and funny. That is the really weird part—why are they so funny? Like the mouse story, it’s delightful. So what starts to happen is, people start looking forward to the stories, to the reading part, and kind of getting blown away by them. And I think that takes the place of needing one-on-one criticism or feedback. I always say feedback—if you’ve ever gone to a concert, you know exactly what feedback is. [Makes screeching sound.] [Laughs.] It’s a perfect word. I always tell people, “It’s not anyone else’s business—it’s not even our business what you’ve written.”
AVC: You talked about how you’ve realized your characters are free now—you can draw them bigger, or in different styles, or in color. But in these books, you’re still working in four panels, with a title at the beginning, as if they were stand-alone strips. Do you think you’re going to move away from that style?
LB: I wonder. Four panels is awfully nice. It works like a waltz has a nice three-beat. I just don’t know. I never know ’til I’m actually doing it. It’s like that thing I used to think I could do, which is change my personality just by will alone. So it’s the first day of seventh grade, and it’s like “This time I’m not going to be shy. This year, I’m going to keep a neat locker. This is what I’m going to talk about.” But it never pans out.
AVC: Describing the prison stories, you said the first-person present-tense style brings in an exciting intensity. When you’re reading for fun, is that the kind of thing that you prefer to read? Does that style in and of itself appeal to you?
LB: That’s definitely one of the styles that appeals to me. Like a lot of people who love reading, I’m usually reading several things at once. But there’s a part of me that will read anything. I really learned the hard way, because growing up, we didn't have any books. There were newspapers, and my mom was a janitor at a hospital, which was a job I eventually had as well. So she brought home magazines. I read so much Readers’ Digest when I was a kid.
So when I finally got to college, I had no idea what was worthwhile to read and what wasn’t. I was really trying to get my cues off the smartest kids in class, and what the teachers were doing, and I got this false impression of what was worth reading and what wasn’t. Anything that was literature was worth reading. If someone hands you a book, just close your eyes. If you put your hand on it, and you could feel an embossed cover, you can’t read that book. I had these really crazy ideas, like “Oh, I would never read Stephen King.” Of all people, I was a total literary snob. The thing that changed it was reading, trying to work my way through all of D.H. Lawrence, and there was one story where it was just pages of the character thinking. It was a things where you’re reading it and little tears of boredom are running down your face. Then you say “This time, I will pay attention to that paragraph! I’m gonna read it. You read it six times, and you’re like, “How could it be that I am purposefully trying to pay attention to what this paragraph is, and by the second sentence, I have drifted off?” In the course of that story, someone in the story gets really impatient with him and picks up a glass paperweight and hits him in the head, and I perked right up and I thought “Maybe that’s what’s been missing!” So I started to read—I think it was John le Carré. I think that was the first “shouldn’t read this” kind of book I read in a long time, and I just went nuts, and realized I had been so completely wrong.
I started reading mysteries. I literally will read anything now. I read Danielle Steel, I had a ball reading it. That is a woman with absolutely no hesitation. She’ll write sentences like “I hear you’re dating a Nazi.” “Well I am, but he’s nice!” And she’ll write “A Nazi is a Nazi is a Nazi.” And I’m like [Laughs.] “Next!” “He would hate it if his legs were amputated.” So I got free from all that idea of coolness, and what’s worth doing, and what isn’t. That was a very good thing for me. But it was a hard one; I really had to learn the hard way.
AVC: Do you tend to respect that feeling that someone is obviously just writing from the hip than a D.H. Lawrence, where you could feel the sweat and the craft that went into every single word?
LB: [Laughs.] Bless his heart. Bless his little heart. He was making a very difficult sachertorte. And bless her heart, too. I don’t know. I admire balls-out. I also admire no-balls. There’s no real hard-and-fast rule, except for I know I love John le Carré. I love him. And I love to read a lot of books about the brain, and the unconscious. I love documentary, books about stuff that really happened. I just really like to read. And I love tabloids. Oh my God. And I love reality shows too. That’s my little weird tumor. I don’t even know who these people are, and every week, I really need to see what the Kardashians are up to.
There are different websites where you can see what they’re all doing. Like I care? But I do. And the Real Housewives just blow my mind. Oh my God. It’s the new ones from Hollywood, I saw a little bit last night—I just get so excited about their freaky lips. You know they get Botox injections, right? So there’s a theory about empathy, and part of it has to do with being able to mimic the face of the person talking to you, so when they’re concerned, it’s obvious that you’re concerned. So there was some curiosity about whether people getting Botox are less empathetic. So they did a little study, and guess what? They are less empathetic! [Laughs.] It’s weird, if you can’t make the same expression as the person you’re talking with, the worried or concerned expression, in a weird way, the situation doesn’t come all the way in. It’s pretty interesting. It also sounds like a study I would find and say “Find that answer. Everything that leads to that.” I don’t know why I enjoy looking at those people, and just this whole thing where it’s all external. In a little container.
AVC: Your work is so idiosyncratic. Talking about keeping it all external—do you think all the stuff that you read and watch makes it into your work in some way?
LB: I think it all does. It will be an image or something that’s on my mind. In fact, I look for stuff. Recently, I just keep thinking about the sirens that call Odysseus. That’s always such a compelling image, all the other guys have wax in their ears, and he’s tied to the mast, and whatever these chicks are singing, it’s just making him nuts. “Please let me go! What I said before about not letting me go to the sirens, I was just kidding! Please, please, please!” That’s such a compelling image to me. I started thinking recently, did he ever get over that. Did he forget the song? I don’t know exactly how I’m going to answer it, but I was spending some time seeing “Was there any other mention of the sirens in The Odyssey?” And that’s a weird question to have pop into your head. Of all things I could be thinking about right now, why am I wondering if Odysseus was able to shake off the siren song?
AVC: Most of these pages in Picture This seem to be on lined paper, or graph paper, or magazine pages or newspaper. Did any of that cause reproduction problems?
LB: No, and you would think it would, right?
AVC: Especially where you’re using cotton balls or crumpled foil—
LB: No. It turns out you can just lay it on a scanner. There was no problem at all. Even when I paint stuff, and the paper would be kind of wrinkly—I like the way that looks. And one of the inspirations for Picture This, for the format, was this series of magazines that elementary-school teachers subscribe to called “The Grade Teacher.” They came out every week, and I happened into a stack of them from the 1920s to the 1960s, and they have templates to use for your “Easter bulletin board,” and what to do about your problem children. But the two big advertisers were coal, the coal industry, and asbestos. So what’s really wild is to see these pages where it’s just like “Coal is fantastic! Teachers, you can get a free everything that has coal on it for your classroom!” And it has some recipes for taking asbestos and making little jewelry for the kids. And that’s what made me think of having Picture This be sponsored by “Don’t Cigarettes.” I wanted to piggyback on that idea that people know cigarettes will kill you and are bad, and I wanted to have this idea that not drawing will also kill you. [Laughs.] Also, I have a hard time with real art paper. It’s easier to just use trash.
AVC: What’s next for you? Are you still working on your next novel, Birdis?
LB: Birdis for sure, because he’s very loud in my head, and I’m very happy about that.
AVC: Is Birdis the character’s name?
LB: Birdis is one of the characters. The narrator is a girl, but Charles Birdis is one of the main characters. And teaching. I’m still really interested in teaching, and what I’m hoping is that in about a year, I will try teaching a painting class. I still have to watch people. Like I said, in my drawing classes, I usually will set up painting, and if people want to hang out afterward, I give them minimum instruction and I just watch, see what they do, what they like to do. Because there are certain things I can’t figure out at all without students. There’s just no way to figure it out unless I have someone else there. And there’s a position at the University Of Wisconsin that’s an artist-in-residence for one semester that I’m applying for, but I never get anything I apply for. I’m one of those people who never ever gets a grant or a prize or any of that stuff. I’m not counting on it. But I’d like to, because then I can have some students for a while and see what could happen over a period longer than five days.
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Featured artist

Lynda Barry

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What It Is
Picture This




The Montreal Mirror calls PICTURE THIS "a great literary moment of 2010"

Updated March 4, 2011


9. Picture This by Lynda Barry. This is not a book you will ever be able to read on an iPad. Unless they start making the iPads really, really big. This messy, perverse, weirdly beautiful book about how to draw, is especially great if you really can’t draw. More fun than a barrel of chain-smoking, near-sighted monkeys.
 
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Featured artist

Lynda Barry

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Picture This




  LYNDA BARRY interviewed by Comic Book Resources

Updated March 4, 2011


"How about if we just sit on the floor?"

I looked around. I had wandered down with revered alt-cartoonist Lynda Barry to the basement of Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church in Brooklyn, NY, to talk to her about her newest book, "Picture This," as well as the fact that her current publisher, Drawn & Quarterly, had recently announced plans to republish all of her past work, including her seminal comic strip, "Ernie Pook's Comeek."

We were in the midst of the Brooklyn Comics and Graphics Festival, however, where crowds were plentiful and chairs, even in the basement, were difficult to find. I didn't have any particular problem with conducting the interview on the floor, cold though it may be, but it hardly seemed the best way to talk to someone with a career as lengthy and lauded as Barry's was. Was she sure, I asked, she wouldn't be uncomfortable?

"I'm comfortable anywhere," she said, proving it by flopping down in a tiny alcove, across from a rather large bag of garbage. From there we proceeded to discuss "Picture This," a sequel of sorts to 2008's widely acclaimed "What It Is." Part memoir, drawing class, self-help book, collage and activity book, "Picture This" looks at the reasons why people draw when they're little and why they stop when they grow up. Getting to talk to Barry about the book and her reasons for making it, as the hot dog vendors added more bags of garbage next to us, turned out to be one of the highlights of my year and I thank her profusely for taking the time to talk in such smelly situation.

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CBR News: My understanding is "Picture This" started out as one of D&Q's Petit Livre books and then grew into this other project. Can you talk about how that happened?

Lynda Barry: I was actually working on a novel, which is the book I'm going to do next. I had been drawing these monkeys and I would leave them on the kitchen table and my husband, who's a really good artist, would draw the backgrounds, and we were cracking up and not doing anything with them. I sent them to my friends, and they really liked them, and then Chris [Oliveros] at Drawn and Quarterly thought "Well, maybe this would make a nice, little book." I thought so too.


Barry's "Picture This" is available now
But then all of the sudden I thought, "Boy, I want to talk about drawing." Because I had done the one about writing ["What It Is"], and I wanted to make a book about drawing that doesn't really give instructions but gives more activities. Also I wanted it to be like those magazines at the dentist's office called "Highlights." When you're at the dentist office when you're a kid, you're under stress, so almost anything you look at seems fascinating. 'Cause I don't think "Highlights" was very good, but I loved seeing it. So I thought, "I want to make a book that's kind of like that," a magazine where you can flip to any page.

I pictured my reader as being someone who is getting their oil changed at Jiffy Lube. [Laughs] You know, you're in this little room and the coffee smells really burnt and you're looking for anything to read. There will be a "People Magazine" with Tom Selleck on it and you're like, "Thank God -- there's something to read." I thought if I could make a book, I could put in [the Jiffy Lube] and someone would just start thumbing through. My goal was to make them forget they were waiting for their oil to be done. Not completely forget, but make the waiting part not hard.

And then, all of a sudden I started to think about the role of drawing in transforming our experience of time. This idea of doodling -- you know how people doodle? This idea of, why do they do it, especially people who don't draw. And why do they do it during very boring meetings? Or when they're stuck waiting for the cable guy to pick up the phone? I think it's about transforming time, transforming the experience of waiting. Because I've asked them, "What would happen if you didn't doodle during those meetings?" and they say they'd go crazy. The way I always describe it is it's not a giant change, but it's the change that's the difference between time feeling like a cheese grater on your face and it feeling like Brillo. That's not a huge change, but it's enough so that your skin is still there at the end.

It seems like one of the big themes of the book is art as therapy, art as a therapeutic experience.

Yeah.

Can you talk about the idea of art as therapy, then, and what it means to you? You talk in the book about how you started drawing these characters after there was a tragedy in your own life.

Yes. Therapy, kind of, but I think it's much more like our immune system. Just as the body has an immune system to fight off bacteria, we have the world of images to fight off assholes. [Laughs] They're a lot like bacteria, but they're more like viruses, actually. We have this autonomic nervous system that helps our bodies stay warm, gives us saliva and reminds us to blink. I think the use of images is kind of an external immune system, an external autonomic nervous system, and that human beings don't exist without it. I started to think, especially when I was working on "Picture This," I started to think, where's Batman? Where is he? Where's Eleanor Rigby? Where's Scrooge? They're in some place, 'cause I can say to you those names -- Batman, Eleanor Rigby and Scrooge -- and you know who I'm talking about right?

Right.

We've never really met, but you know whom I'm talking about. Ok, can we get rid of them? And if we can, how would we get rid of them? And I started to think, "No, you can't get rid of them." They're going to be around after I'm dead. I started to think there is this place, it's not that it's supernatural, but there is this place where we make these characters and so you and I, who have never met, are walking down the street and I'm describing an old boyfriend who was just like Scrooge [and] you know just what I mean, right? I don't need to say my old boyfriend was really tight with money and hated crippled children. [Laughs]

So I started to get more and more interested in what the function of this was, the biological function. I started to get interested in what happens when we use our hands, which I call the original digital devices. They are! They're wireless, bio-fueled. Everything we're after. No battery to run out. I started to do research about the brain and finding that the evolution of our hands, and in particular our thumbs, and our brain and our face. That these things are so bound together, particularly when we're developing in the womb.


A page from "Picture This"
You know when you see a little kid who's drawing and he sticks his tongue out? They'll even do that in a cartoon; show a kid drawing with his tongue out. Well, it turns out that during the neurological development of our spine and brain and the nerves, the thumb and the tongue are totally together. So when you're seeing a kid do that, what you're seeing is, as he draws, he's activating his tongue. Which is really interesting, right? Then you think about the role of language and the importance of the tongue. And there have been all these studies about scribbling and drawing. What kids do before they can even talk is they'll scribble. Then, when they can start to talk they'll scribble and they'll tell you it's a cow. Or it's a car. And you believe them. But when you think about it, what you're looking at right there is an astonishing thing, which is that the kid knows that the crayon is not a car, he knows that the paper is not a car, he does this [Barry gestures] and he says that's a car. He knows it's not the car that they drive around in. The word "symbol" almost cuts the balls off the whole idea. It's not symbolic, it is the thing. It's an image of it or it's that living image.

The best way I can describe it is, this neuroscientist named V.S. Ramachandran, whose particular interest is in phantom limb pain, he had a patient who had a very intractable case. The patient had lost his hand, but his sensation was that the fist was still there, balled up. So nobody knew what to do with the guy, and he was losing his will to live. Ramachandran had this idea, he built this thing -- I always think of it as a big shoebox -- that you looked down into and he tilted a mirror [to the side] and he put a hole in one side. So he has a tilted mirror and a hole and you're looking down into the box and he had the guy put his hand in the hole and make a fist. So when the guy looked down, he saw the reflection, [as if it were] of two fists, right? And then [Ramachandran] said "Open your hand." This guy opened his hand and saw the other one open and the problem resolved.

I think that's what images do. I think that in the course of human life, just like we get infections and we need an immune system, things that happen, like kids lose their parents when they're very young or war or a very stressful household. Sometimes I think the only way that can be taken care of is to see it reflected either in your work or someone else's work. And it doesn't have to be the literal situation, but it has to be a reflection so you can. [Barry opens her hand]

Right.

I think it's what keeps us sane. I think about how, if I'm sitting here with a kid who's four years old and I have all these markers and I say, do you want to draw, and that kid's too freaked out to draw, we'd be worried about that kid a little bit, wouldn't you? We'd be worried about them emotionally. OK, on this side I have a 40-year-old, same situation, she's too scared to draw, but we're not worried about her. Why? Because there is a tacit understanding that something is going on when kids are playing or [drawing] that has something to do with their mental health. All of us know that if a kid is not allowed to play till he's 21, he's going to be a nut. He's going to be a psychopath, actually. The brain studies they've done of kids in deep play show that their brains are identical to an adult's brain that is in creative concentration. We know that play is essential for mental health. I would argue that so is [drawing].

What's weird is that when "What It Is" came out, Amazon didn't know where to shelve it, so they classified it as science fiction, which was so boss, I couldn't believe it. I was like, "Don't change it, don't mess with it, let it be there!" But if I was going to write a science fiction story, I think one where an entire species was talked out of doing the very thing that would make them sane, that's a good science fiction story.

Why are people talked out of it, then? Why don't people draw more? If making images is so important, why don't we appreciate them more?

Well, you know, I have some ideas about that. One idea I have is, the big change that happens in drawing is when a kid is drawing, the paper is a place for an experience. At some point, the paper transforms into a thing that is good or bad, rather than a place where the paper itself isn't -- you've seen kids draw and they don't give a shit [afterward], they just leave [the drawing] on the table. An adult spends the same amount of time [drawing] and they don't know what to do with it. What's it for? They get freaked out about what this thing might be for because there's this idea that it's for something. They don't do that when they take a walk or a bike ride. They don't take a bike ride and then go, "Man, what do I do with this now? I don't know if that was really good. I felt like this was a good bike ride," but then they saw this video and, "No, it wasn't a good bike ride." [Laughs]


A page from "Picture This"
I don't exactly know why people stop it, but I do know that culture prior to this time in our lives always supported that sort of activity, when people did things by hand. Because I think that even mowing -- well, they didn't mow the lawn back in ancient times -- but I do think that there are activities done by hand that will do the same as a drawing and I think that those things are getting less and less [valued]. Including handwriting. Gone. Do you know they don't teach longhand in elementary school in Wisconsin anymore?

In Wisconsin? Because I was going to say that my kids learned handwriting in school.

Are they learning longhand or are they learning cursive?

My daughter is actually teaching herself cursive, but I'm pretty sure they're doing it in the school.

Well, handwriting in the state of Wisconsin is really being phased out. I think that's a real tragedy because for a lot of people that's the last place –

Well, you make the connection between the spoken word and written language by writing it down. That's how you learn what the letter is. You have to make it in order to know it. Then you own it. That's the only way to do it. If you type it on the computer, you're not going to know it.

And there's all kinds of differences in what's going on in your brain when you're drawing a letter "A" and when you're just pushing your index finger to have one appear there [on a computer]. I have to say at this age, when I'm almost 55, it's been a delightful thing to start to think about and figure out. I didn't expect it to get so interesting as I got older.

What effect has being a teacher had on your work?

Everything. There are certain things I really cannot figure out unless I'm teaching it. I can have questions like, "What is an image," or, "Why do so many people say they can't remember their childhood," and I can just sit down with them and ask them if they grew up in the same house, and if they did I ask them, "Let's draw their bedroom, what was the shape?" And you'll watch and I'll say, "Where was the bed," and they'll know that. Then there's this moment where they'll remember this Winnie the Pooh rug that got burned, but you watch this change. It's like a physical change, and then I realize, "Yes, they totally remember their childhood," and I can show it to them over and over again. So why isn't this thing -- I don't know. I started to get really interested in this whole thing about memory and who we are, but not in a flaky way.

In a physical way, though, how did teaching affect your approach to making art? Because "What It Is" and "Picture This" are markedly different from how you'd been doing comics before.

Well, I guess the most important part would be the thing I teach people -- to maintain a certain state of mind and to maintain it over time. I think that's had a big effect on my work. Story structure, for example. I remember reading about when you start to deconstruct stories for the first time and they'll talk about the story arc and the inciting incident. The only reason I thought I needed to read those books was so I knew how to do that. It never occurred to me that the only reason we know about that is that that's how stories are told. It's sort of like, the only reason we have teeth is someone showed us some dentures. [Laughs] It's completely backwards. So I started to think of story structure as being natural reliable. That's the thing that I think has changed my work, because it's allowed me to rely more on my intuition when I'm working, and not think so hard. It's really reliable. I've taught everywhere from colleges to prisons and it is absolutely reliable that when someone has an unexpected memory, that's an associative memory. Like when I say, "Think of a car from when you were little." In a weird way, your brain realizes it has a lot of choices and it'll lay one on you. Can you picture a car from when you were little?

Yeah, sure.

Are you inside the car or outside?

Inside.

Which seat?

I'm in the back seat, lying down.

Day or night?


Barry's self portrait
Day.

Season?

Spring or summer.

Where's the car?

We are going to my grandmother's house.

[Laughs] Where the hell was that sitting, right? And what's directly in front of the car?

The Long Island Expressway.

See what I'm talking about? That was beautiful, by the way. Because not only do you know which car you're in, you know you're lying down. Where was that [memory] sitting?

I wanted to ask you, what's the significance of the "Don't" cigarettes in the book? The reason I ask is because it seems negative -- "don't draw," "don't do this" -- but it could also be taken the other way, as a positive, like, "don't inhibit yourself."

That's right! You nailed it. That's exactly it. I wanted to piggyback on the idea about cigarettes being bad for us and I wanted to piggyback on the idea of not drawing being bad for us too. But I didn't want to wreck that in-between space, when somebody looks at something and they kind of don't know what the interpretation is, so you kind of make up your own. So you nailed it. Your response was exactly what I was hoping for -- it could mean this or this.

You utilize a lot of different artistic styles in the book. Collage, of course, and you use the Chinese brush and I think I even saw some crayon.

You bet!

What do those tools give you? What does that approach give you that you didn't have when you were doing "Ernie Pook?"

Well, I always have done stuff like this. With my comic strip, the only way a comic strip can be printed, especially early in my career, was black and white on newsprint. You couldn't really do collage back then. I did a little collage, stuff from the "National Enquirer," which used to be black and white. With my other work, I've always made pictures for no reason and used a lot of color. But I've always been somebody who's had a terrible time using good paper or real art materials, 'cause I grew up in a poor family and there was always this feeling of -- Ok, this is how crazy it was -- "Don't use the vacuum cleaner because we don't want to wear it out."[Laughs] And so I have paper that I bought in my 20s that's really nice, that I still don't feel confident to use. But once something's been in the garbage, no problem! Sometimes I throw stuff in there so I can pull it out and use it. [Laughs] Sort of just dragging it in the car down the street and going, "OK, now I can use it."

Does it give you a new approach? Do you find yourself trying different styles, like the Chinese brush for example, did that give you a -- I'm fumbling about, but does it give you a new way of thinking about how to draw?


Two-page spread from "Picture This"
Well, actually for me, I don't really think stuff out. But I can tell you the brush -- I had been trying for 10 years to write this novel on a computer. I wasn't getting anywhere and I ended up trying to write it with a paintbrush. And then I started to get somewhere. I wrote "Cruddy" with a paintbrush and then I thought, "I'm going to blow everyone's mind in the world with this." Then I found out that no, I hadn't discovered it. That, like 3,000 years of Chinese culture -- and it's not just Chinese culture -- in the darkness, they were writing. There are instruction books for how to use a brush that are 2,000 years old. There's one called "The Mustard Seed Garden" that's ancient. What they all said was, it's the state of mind. That the most important tool you have when you're using a brush is a certain state of mind. But the brush will give you that. You don't have to get the state of mind first and make the picture. It seems like not a very big deal, but that was a huge revelation to me, that I don't need to be in a mood to draw. I just need to draw and the mood comes from that. It's sort of like this lady I just read about; she doesn't have anybody planned for a husband but she said, "Fuck it, I'm just going to start planning my wedding now." She has! She bought her dress. She just figures the guy will show up. "I know what it's going to look like, how I'm going to do it," but yeah, there's no dude. You can use a sock puppet maybe.

How long did it take you to do "Picture This?"

About a year.

Wow, that's pretty good.

Actually, I could have done it faster, I was working on other stuff.

Now you're working on a novel too, right?

Mmm-hmm. That was the novel that was I working on when "Picture This" jumped the line and shot out through, so yeah, I'm working on a novel.

How's that coming along?

It's good. I'm actually sort of aching to finish it. I have a little more than half done. It's called "Birdis."

What's it about?

Oh, I can tell you where it takes place. It takes place in Chinatown in Seattle. It starts in the late '60s. For the longest time I thought it was going to be stuck there until maybe the '70s. But I realize now, since I've been working on it, that it starts there and the narrator is contemporary. It's the first time I've had somebody who's my age in time [as a] narrator. It's, you know, murder and mayhem -- a lot of murder. I love murder! I had no idea. That was the other thing that came from using the brush.

Really?

Yeah, because I had been trying to write this very sweet, cure-the-world's-problems-with-my-magical-love-hippy-thing on my computer, but once I started using a paintbrush it was, "Fuck that, let's kill people." So I did. I killed a lot of people and I really enjoyed it. It's like imaginary cigarettes. They won't hurt you.

Well, maybe that's another therapeutic thing about art, too. You can put on paper whatever you want to dredge up and it's not going to hurt you.

Yes, and it's not going to hurt others. There are people I really would like to kill. I really would genuinely like to kill, and I've thought about how I would do it. Actually one of the questions I like to ask people when I've had a few drinks and they've had a few drinks is if you had to kill somebody, an awful person -- awful, awful, awful -- and you're the only person to do it, what's your style? What kind of killer are you? Do you know?

You'd have to get a couple drinks in me.

I'm an ax to the forehead girl. See, now don't you feel better just thinking about that? Sometimes if I'm talking to somebody and they're driving me nuts, I just picture them with this big ax in their forehead, blood dripping down their face and they're still talking and I have a CNN crawl in my mind: "This person is such an asshole." Then I can stand to talk to them. I transform my sense of time. I can stand to get through these next fifteen minutes with this person.

Drawn and Quarterly is going to be reprinting your work, starting next year. Can you tell me a little bit about that? What's going to be in the first book?


The cover to Barry's "What It Is"
My comics have run for 30 years, so there's a lot of work. The first book will have my first two books in it, but also I've hoarded every letter and everything from everybody, so I'm going to have photos in there and then some letters. Matt Groening and I have been tight, tight friends from when we were 18, so I have a ton of letters from him that are interesting. I have a letter I got from Art Spiegelman, who I adore, he's a dear friend of mine. Early on, he sent me this letter to tell me how I could make my comic strips better and how they had too many words. I love stuff like that. He knows that I'm going to do that too. [imitating Spiegelman] "Why do you keep bringing that up?" So it will have that kind of ephemera in it and the comic strips themselves. For each year, I'm going to write a lengthy introduction that talks about what was going on at the time I was making the comics and what was going on with comics in general, from my point of view.

It was that heady period of the 70s and 80s.

It was because of the coffee shops and the alternative papers. "The Village Voice" here, which really used to be a great paper. It's like the job I had doesn't exist anymore, but it did for a long time. I just happened to be at the right place at the right time. I don't know if you saw my talk with Charles Burns today.

I had just gotten in when you were doing it and didn't get to catch it.

I told the story of how I got into the first paper, which was basically, I submitted my work to somebody who worked at a little alternative paper. She hated it, but the guy at the next desk hated her and he ran the back page. He totally printed my stuff, not 'cause he gave a shit about it but because he hated her so much. All the little alternative newspapers at that time formed a group, and they would send each other their papers. The alternative papers needed alternative comics and saw that mine were in this paper and said, "Will you be in our paper, we'll pay you $10 a week," and I'm like "Yes!" And it all came from one guy hating this other person. But that's often how things happen. I think hate has been given a bad name. [Laughs]

Are you going to be designing all these volumes? How much of a hand do you have in the production?

No, I'm going to have a hands-off attitude. Otherwise it will take forever, and with Drawn and Quarterly -- I can't think of anybody who could do a more beautiful job. But I'll be doing the introductions and giving them the ephemera and they'll be doing the design.

How many volumes are you planning on releasing?

Ten. It's called "Everything," which has 10 letters. 'Cause that will just look so cool.

Is it going to just be "Ernie Pook" or is it going to include out of print books like "One Hundred Demons?"

Well, "One Hundred Demons" is still in print.

Oh, I didn't know that.

Don't worry about it. I wish it would go out of print with all my heart, because then Drawn and Quarterly could print it. ["Everything" is] going to be out of print stuff, but then it's going to include stuff I did, like I did a book called "Naked Ladies, Naked Ladies, Naked Ladies." I have a lot of work that no one's ever seen. I used to show at art galleries, which I'm not so crazy about and I kind of just abandoned ship because I just don't like that stuff. I was doing comics back then, too. I would do comics about the seven deadly sins or vices and virtues, so there will be a lot of stuff that's never been collected. I know it's going to be pretty, because those guys do pretty work.
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Featured artist

Lynda Barry

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What It Is
Picture This




WILSON, PICTURE THIS and CATLAND EMPIRE make See Magazine's best books of 2010

Updated March 4, 2011


For fans of graphic novels, Daniel Clowes crafted an innovative new style with Wilson, integrating overlapping storylines for his sad-sack protagonist through multiple drawing styles and interconnected one-page narratives. Brace yourself for the same blunt, caustic humour and existential ponderings as his past masterworks Ghost World and David Boring.

Lynda Barry served up more of her enigmatic doodle collage mash-ups with Picture This: The Nearsighted Monkey, while Keith Jones’ Catland Empire was great for a few vibrant, surreal chuckles. However, the most surprising use of colour came from Charles Burns’ X’ed Out, the Black Hole author/artist’s first entry in a trilogy moving away his trademark black and white. Playing off Herge’s classic Tintin comics, Burns presented a bizarre-o world character named Nitnit, dancing between dreams and reality in a disorienting swirl.
 
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Featured artists

Keith Jones
Lynda Barry
Daniel Clowes

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Wilson
Catland Empire
Picture This




  PICTURE THIS in NewsOK's 10 best graphic novels of 2010

Updated March 4, 2011


10. “Picture This: The Near-Sighted Monkey Book” by Lynda Barry (Drawn and Quarterly).
A sequel of sorts to “What It Is,” “Picture This” is an examination of drawing and artwork with elements of memoir and a how-to book. Anyone can draw, and should, the book posits, to express our feelings, to deal with our emotions or just to have fun.
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Featured artist

Lynda Barry

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Picture This




EDEN and PICTURE THIS featured in Las Vegas Weekly's Year in Review

Updated March 4, 2011


1. Picture This, Lynda Barry Barry tackles some of the toughest questions imaginable in the realms of aesthetics, language development and even mental health in this inventive, relentlessly charming graphic novel/memoir posing as a how-to activity book.


2. Eden, Pablo Holmberg This collection of the Argentinean artist’s four-panel comic strips distills the medium to its purest form, telling super-short, romantic, fantastical and surprisingly complete stories using a few words, a few pictures and the manipulation of the passage of time
 
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Featured artists

Lynda Barry
Pablo Holmberg

           Featured products

Picture This
Eden




  Jesse Thorn talks with LYNDA BARRY on The Sound of Young America

Updated March 4, 2011


Lynda Barry is a legendary comic strip author whose Ernie Pook's Comeek has run for many years in alternative newspapers around the country. Her two most recent books, What It Is and Picture This are about writing and creating art, respectively. The former won an Eisner Award, comics' most prestigious prize. The books take the form of a notebook, filled with text, collage and drawings. The content is based on a series of seminars Barry has taught on getting creative work done. In our interview, Barry talks with Jesse about activating the brain and the benefit of doing creative work that doesn't need to fall into the dichotomy of beautiful/not beautiful, good art/not good art, or being productive/being nonproductive.

JESSE THORN: It’s The Sound of Young America, I’m Jesse Thorn. My guest on the program is Lynda Barry. She’s one of the nation’s most accomplished comics artists, graphic novelists, comic strip writers, artists, etc. etc. Her comics have run in alternative newspapers across the country for many, many, many years and more recently she’s turned much of her time towards writing longer works. Her book of just a couple of years ago, What It Is, was about the process of writing, and her latest, Picture This, is about the process of making art. They’re beautiful multimedia comics collage works that, as I said, are about process.

Lynda Barry, welcome to The Sound of Young America.

LYNDA BARRY: I’m delighted to be here.

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JESSE THORN: It is a pleasure to have you here, Lynda. Describe, if you could to me, because I did a lousy job, the form of the two most recent of your books.

LYNDA BARRY: I wanted to make two books about something I call an image, and my teacher called an image, which is the thing that she said was contained by anything we called the arts. So the first book I talk about it by using writing, and the second one I talk about it by using drawing.

When I was writing the one about writing I didn’t want to just do writing about writing. It feels a little bit like you’re in a mirror maze or something. I wanted to make it so that the person who was reading it didn’t even know why they were getting the urge to make something. The same thing for the new book Picture This. I wanted it to be about drawing but without any instruction on how to draw. I just wanted to make it so that when you started to flip through the pages you just had this itchy urge to make something, and I wanted to make both those books completely by hand and to use stuff that you could just get at the corner store. They’re all made with scissors and Elmer’s Glue and some paper from the trash. That’s what I wanted to do. My goal was to make it so, for this book - - remember when you were at the dentist when you were a kid they had this magazine called Highlights for Children.

JESSE THORN: Featuring Goofus and Gallant.

LYNDA BARRY: Yes. It was not a great magazine. It was not very good, but you were in a tense situation, which was the dentist. You had Goofus and Gallant and find the hidden whatever. I thought to myself I wanted to make an equivalent of that for an adult, and the thing I pictured was a Jiffy Lube waiting room when you have to go get your - - when you’re in there, even if it’s an old, old People magazine from years ago with Tom Selleck on the cover you were so grateful. So I wanted to make a book - - I kept picturing it in the Jiffy Lube waiting room. It’s a book you can open anywhere and move through like a magazine, and to make it so that it’s not an intimidating art book and if you just want to look at it and say, “I could do that,” and then close it, well done.

JESSE THORN: What are the images that come to your mind when you think of drawing as a kid; drawing preadolescent for you, personally.

LYNDA BARRY: First of all, scribbling is one thing that comes to mind that I really remember. My big breakthrough that actually might be the first drawing that I ever sold - - I knew my Playboy bunnies, so I would draw these girl bunnies in little bathing suits, and then I started just leaving the bathing suits off. I would sell them, and I got busted for doing it. But really there was just something that was really wild about being able to, with a crayon or with a piece of paper make this picture that was contraband or kind of exciting or wrong. Which is really an interesting thing, crayon, piece of paper, and then this third thing that happens, this image and it makes your body feel a certain way, whether it’s scared or excited.

Then what happened in me is what happens to everybody, there’s this point when you realize you’re not that good at it. There’s a feeling where unless we’re really good at something we don’t have the right to do it, we have to leave it to professionals. What I got interested in was a study that was done about the brain and about what parts of the brain are activated when a kid is in deep play, and by deep play what I mean is where the toys playing back with you. And then also what an adult brain looks like when an adult is in creative concentration, and their brains looked identical. It was an activation of the entire brain, the limbic system and all your spatial relationships and balance. I put together this thing about what we all know about playing, what everybody knows around the world, is if you have a kid and you give them everything they need except they’re never allowed to play until they’re 21, we know they’re going to be crazy. Everybody knows that, which means we have a tacit understanding between the relationship of play and mental health. For a kid - - we’re going to have this experimental kid, never allowed to play. What if we just show him a picture of a kid playing LEGO, that’s not going to do it. Watch a DVD, that’s not going to do it. That’s not going to serve that function, and that’s where we are as adults for the most part, we just watch or look at a picture or listen to a DVD.

JESSE THORN: When it comes to art, it seems like the dichotomy that develops when the creation of art stops being just a sort of freeform play and when it starts having objective is between beautiful and not beautiful, and that’s sort of the good and bad of art and not art. How did you experience that dichotomy when you were becoming self-aware in your art when you were 10 or 11 or 12?

LYNDA BARRY: There is a point in cognitive development where you can tell that the char that you’re drawing doesn’t look like the chair that’s sitting across the room, but more importantly anyone else in the room can tell that. And then people get ashamed and inhibited, and then the whole point is to make something that is pleasant to look at, but that also includes heavy metal monsters; those can be really pleasant to look at.

JESSE THORN: I remember drawing a lot of side views of airplanes because I just have that outline with the little tail fin and then a wing. You know, the direct side view of a wing.

LYNDA BARRY: Do you still draw that every now and then?

JESSE THORN: Yeah, from time to time I’ll draw an airplane. Absolutely.

LYNDA BARRY: I think that almost all adults that quit drawing still have a little thing that they doodle or draw. Particularly if they’re in a situation that involves having to listen to something very boring, or to wait on the telephone for the cable man to pick up. When people say I can’t draw, I say what do you draw when you’re at a bad meeting? And they’ll say they draw eyeballs, or you, you draw the side view of the plane. There’s something about drawing that that makes a boring situation tolerable. Why? That’s really interesting to me. I’m convinced it’s because it actually activates a different part of the brain.

JESSE THORN: It’s The Sound of Young America, I’m Jesse Thorn. My guest is the comics artist Lynda Barry. Her new book is called Picture This. It’s a book of collage and art and comics and all kinds of stuff about the process of creating art. It’s a follow-up to her best selling book What It Is, which was a similarly formatted book, largely about writing.

When you were a freshman and sophomore in college before you met the woman that became your mentor and taught you some guiding principles that are reflected in these books, what kind of art were you trying to make?

LYNDA BARRY: I was making a lot of drawings of - - I really liked the Art Nouveau style, so I was copying a lot of Art Nouveau, I liked the way those curves went. I didn’t think I should study art, because I - - I went to a hippie school for one thing.

JESSE THORN: Evergreen.

LYNDA BARRY: The Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington. Art was something I already knew how to do, so I should study something I hated so I’d my money’s worth. It took me two years to figure out that I should really pursue this thing that actually soothed me and really brought me a benefit. The first year I studied the history of science, which I loved. The second year I studied the history of the middle ages and the renaissance, I liked history.

JESSE THORN: What did you learn when you started studying art in college and met your mentor, and how did what you learned change your life and your way of doing your work?

LYNDA BARRY: For one thing it was a very unusual - - it was an images class, so there were sculptors painters and photographers in the class, and people who drew, and there were only 20 of us. My teacher Marilyn Frasca, her idea was that there is no difference between looking at a picture, making a picture, writing a story, that it’s all about this state of mind, the serial state of mind. I wish she had told me that earlier on, then I would have had a bigger clue.

In order to be in her class we had to do ten finished paintings a week, we had to write five pages a day, we had to memorize poems, and we had to learn how to look at pictures; for instance, the critiques in her class, when somebody would put up their work and nobody was allowed to say anything. We just had to learn how to look at something for 15 minutes and then it got longer to where it was an hour. That will get the frame of mind I was talking about, the thing where you go from looking at something and knowing what it is, to being very bored, to finally the picture looking back at you, where it’s reciprocal.

JESSE THORN: All of the things you’re describing right now, I genuinely feel scared. Just hearing you describe them scares me.

LYNDA BARRY: Because?

JESSE THORN: It’s more than I can handle.

LYNDA BARRY: You mean just sitting and looking at something?

JESSE THORN: Yeah, absolutely. Or making almost anything.

LYNDA BARRY: The trick is - - the kind of making I’m talking about is tracing your hand and making it a turkey. See? That makes you happy, even just thinking about that.

JESSE THORN: Yeah, sure. Turkey is a great animal, for one thing. They’re really stupid and fat.

LYNDA BARRY: And you can draw them pretty easy with your hand, put a beak on him, give him a little cigarette, which will spice up any drawing.

JESSE THORN: Art tips with Lynda Barry.

LYNDA BARRY: Just you imagining it, and I saw how you looked and you smiled, something happened in your body right then. People are out on the street trying to buy illegal drugs to make that thing happen. When I talk about this having a biological function I don’t mean it as a metaphor, I mean direct. If you make something thinking about that that’s the thing you’re looking for, that sensation that you had when you thought of tracing your hand to make a turkey, that’s what we’re after the drawing of the turkey doesn’t matter. It’s not that it doesn’t matter, I hate that. It’s not that, it’s more like getting this feeling of what an image feels like. And Marilyn’s idea was once you understood what it feels like, like the serial, the form you give it is up to you. I was convinced by the end of the two years I studied with her that I could do anything; whether it was writing a novel, or making a painting, or doing a comic strip, or making a play. It turns out I do feel like I can do anything.

JESSE THORN: Let me ask you this question. I myself am the kind of person that’s really great and figuring out all the flaws in a plan.

LYNDA BARRY: You mean before it even happens?

JESSE THORN: Sure, of course! To my credit I’m also pretty good at addressing them when I figure them out. What I wonder is, what is the process that you use to take this play space and use it to generate something that you do care about after you’ve done it, a picture of a turkey that you want to keep and not throw away?

LYNDA BARRY: It has to do with having an experience. For me, one thing that’s vital is that I kind of don’t know what the thing is going to be about, but I do know, for example, if it’s a piece I’m going to write I like to know how long I’m going to be writing for or how long the piece is going to be. The way I set up my writing class and the way I do it myself is I just have this big bag of index cards with nouns on them, and sometimes gerunds or -ing words, and I have everything set up ready to go, maybe it’s going to be a four panel comic strip, I have those drawn. And then I have to swear that whatever word I pull out, that’s the word the strip is going to be about.

The same thing for drawing. A lot of times if I’m going to sit down and draw and I say I think I want to draw Marlys running down the road, before I do that I do the alphabet with my brush, very slowly. There’s something about being in motion, that once the brush itself, or moving your hand around, that will get that part of the brain activated and ready to draw. I don’t think a computer does it the same way, because a computer you can’t forget the fact that you have a delete button. I always say if I had that on my life I’d only have 27 minutes, maybe, that I’d keep. There’s something about writing by hand or drawing by hand, the hand in motion. There’s lots of interesting science behind that, too. There’s something about hand movement, even while I’m talking to you right now, I know we’re on the radio, but I can’t talk without moving my hands a lot. They’ve done studies about that where they make people hold their hands still and they have a harder time expressing themselves. I think there’s something about the motion of the hand and our beautiful opposable thumbs that is really connected to whatever this art world is, whatever the image world is. All I have to do is get my hands in motion and have a shorter amount of time to work than I think I need.

JESSE THORN: One of the things that I often end up talking to comics artists about is the seclusion that is almost inherent in being a comics artist. I remember talking to Dan Klauss about the fact that he just talks to his dog like his dog is a person because he just doesn’t have anyone else to talk to up in his attic where he does his work. You seem to have ensured that for yourself by moving to a farm in Wisconsin. You seem like a reasonably social person, how do you like the experience of being isolated and how does it relate to you doing your work?

LYNDA BARRY: I never really feel that alone. I don’t feel isolated, because I think that would have to involve a loneliness feeling or something. My characters are really alive to me, and actually one night after I’d been out with pals at a bar I was lying in bed and all of a sudden I realized I was never gonna meet Marlys and Arna and I started crying, I was so sad. Then the next morning I realized it wasn’t that sad, I was just sort of drunk. But I never feel like I’m alone out there, and the part of it is that image world. If I was going to be alone for a month straight not even seeing someone else, that wouldn’t be a problem for me. Except for I would miss my husband very much, and my dogs.

JESSE THORN: Lynda, thank you so much for taking all this time and being on The Sound of Young America.

LYNDA BARRY: I’m delighted to be there, and I hope you will take the time to trace your hand. You, yes you, I’m talking to you, trace your hand and draw a turkey, and put a little hat on it, and then give it a cigarette, and then have it saying something to someone that you hate. See, you feel better, right?

JESSE THORN: Okay, how about this: I will do this and then I will also scan it into the internet, I’ll post it on our forum in the discussion thread about this show when it comes out, except that the only thing is I’m going to leave out the thing that I would say to someone that I hate because I don’t want to put that in public.

LYNDA BARRY: It can be someone in history! Someone who’s gone! Or whatever you want. But I just like how when I said someone you hate you lit right up. I think hate has been given a bad name.

JESSE THORN: Thanks again. Lynda Barry is the author of picture this, a book all about the process of creating art and how you can create art in myriad forms, both you can create art in myriad forms and the book takes myriad forms. It’s the follow up to another wonderful book called What It Is, about writing.
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PICTURE THIS reviewed by the Hour

Updated February 18, 2011


When we were in high school, my best friend and I would roam the rainy streets of downtown Vancouver looking for our local alt-weekly, The Georgia Straight, mostly for the comics - Matt Groening's pre-Simpsons Life in Hell and, mostly, Lynda Barry's Ernie Pook's Comeek. The tribulations of underaged Marlys, the preternatural latchkey kid at the heart of Barry's oeuvre, was - and still is - deeply resonant with, as Barry says when I relay my story, alienated kids everywhere.
That I'm even telling Barry this in the course of a conversation that is supposed to be about her new book, Picture This, illustrates the kind of person she is, and what makes her work so personal and emotional for the reader. Especially since the new book, structured under the conceit of being four issues of a kids' how-to colouring and craft book, permits Barry's uncanny sense of narrative a chance to stretch itself out into big, beautiful, coffee-table territory. It also features Marlys for the first time since Barry left her regular weekly comic duties a couple of years ago.

"My idea was that it would be the perfect kind of book for someone sitting around the waiting room at a Jiffy Lube waiting for their car to be serviced, who just wants to flip through something because they're bored," says Barry mildly, belying the fact that the book deals with something quite crucial: imagination and the limitations our adult consciousness puts on our urge and ability to create and express. In other words, Barry

is cutting to the quick of what it means to be human - and all this in 224 pages of brush drawings and stream-of-consciousness, conversational text, with the odd Emily Dickinson quote thrown in.

Barry, during her travelling slideshow/book tour that stops in Montreal on Saturday, speaks about what she views as the essentialness of human expression. "Why do we stop drawing," asks Picture This, and "why do we start?"

"I've come to think that [creating] is as important to our humanity as, say, the immune system is for our physical health," she explains. "We need a way to process and [externalize] what we feel and experience. I encourage people to do that with some simple exercises," some of which, she says, "can kind of blow your mind."
 
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  The Montreal Gazette Interviews Lynda Barry about Picture This

Updated February 9, 2011


Drawing in 'a state of deep play'
Ian McGillis
January 15, 2011


U.S. Comics icon Lynda Barry, whose books defy easy categorization, says most people engage in artistic creation, whether they are conscious of it or not

Is the wellspring of creativity something we can find and draw from at will? Why people feel the need to write and draw, and why most of us eventually stop, are mysteries pursued with the zeal of a great sleuth by U.S. comics icon Lynda Barry in her two most recent books, 2008's What It Is and the new Picture This.

While their success indicates they're finding their audience, for booksellers and librarians an unanswered question remains. Part coffee-table art tome, part comic, part memoir, part multimedia self-help manual for aspiring artists -where, exactly, is one meant to file these books?

"My favourite solution to the problem was Amazon's," says Barry, 55, interviewed last week by email from her home in rural Wisconsin. "They originally categorized it as science fiction, which I completely dug! The way I usually describe the books is to say they're activity books for adults, kind of like the ones we'd find in dentists' offices when we were kids, only I imagine my books in the room where you wait at an oil change place. I think of them more as monkey-around books rather than self-help books, although without a doubt I believe that this kind of monkeying around is very helpful to the self, and to others."

For Barry, part of cracking the forbidding mystique around artistic creation is the need to reconsider what constitutes a creative act. As she sees it, it's something most people engage in, whether they know it or not.

"People employ doodling all the time," she points out. "Even those who are certain they never draw will make a complicated pattern of marks on a Styrofoam cup when someone very boring is speaking at length. Nearly everyone does this. When I start a book I usually have a few questions I'm trying to answer and for Picture This, that was one of them. Why do people doodle and decorate things in boring situations? What happens when they can't?"

Central to Barry's philosophy is the notion of what she calls "deep play," a state most often seen in children and which she says "has nothing to do with fun. ... The play I'm talking about is the kind where the toy or the object you're messing around with seems to be playing back. There is a reciprocity in the interaction that is a lot like a very good conversation. Neither party seems to be guiding it exactly, yet something really interesting is happening."

Barry's faith in a non-intellectual, subconscious-driven approach to art and narrative took root in the late 1970s when she studied under Marilyn Frasca at the progressive Evergreen College in Washington State. (Among her classmates there was Matt Groening, creator of The Simpsons.) Her long-running syndicated strip Ernie Pook's Comeek, begun shortly after she graduated. Widely credited with expanding the thematic and emotional range available to comics writers, it proved the perfect forum for putting her experimental tenets into practice.

"One of the most important things I understood was that the relationship between me and my drawing depended on that state of deep play I described, a certain state of mind that is not planning, is not thinking, it's some other thing. When I made comics this way, they didn't behave like traditional comics with a punch line at the end. There was an ending line, to be sure, but the strips could be about anything, including very sad things. I was lucky to be working at time when alternative weekly newspapers could handle that kind of strangeness and were willing to print the work."

That time, sadly, appears to have passed. When downsizing papers look to make cuts, the comics are often the first things to go, and even popular pioneers have felt the pinch. So for Barry, Montreal publisher Drawn & Quarterly taking on What It Is couldn't have been better timed.

"I can't think of anyone else who would have been willing to publish such a strange book," she says. "I'd still be stuck on the roof with the flood waters rising if D & Q hadn't come along."

It's been a happy hookup for both parties: What It Is was the rapidly growing company's fastest seller ever, heading their best-seller list for over a year. Among the publisher's signings of recent years, says D & Q's Peggy Burns, "No one struck a deeper chord with fans of such a wide cross section than Lynda. Having been syndicated for 30 years, her fans are so varied and so loyal."

A far cry from the standard literary soiree, Barry's interactive live appearances have been described as being somewhere between a motivational seminar and stand-up comedy. I ask whether an event like the one she'll be doing in Montreal tonight is structured much in advance, or whether she holds to her stated belief that "the back of the mind can be relied on."

"I do plan my talks, absolutely. There are stories I want to tell and questions I want to ask and I always have notes written out because it's easy to become overwhelmed by the fact that I'm there standing in front of a bunch of people. There is a lot of back-of-the-mind improvisation that goes on once I'm going, depending on the people in the room and the odd technical glitch. But I plan as much as I can in advance because my magical hippie vibe can only go so far."

Lynda Barry appears tonight at 7 p.m. (doors open at 6:30) at the Ukrainian Federation, 5213 Hutchison St.(corner Fairmount Ave.). Tickets are $5 and are available online (http:// lyndabarrymontreal. eventbrite.com/),at the Drawn & Quarterly store (211 Bernard Ave. W.) or at the door.


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The Concordian Interviews Lynda Barry

Updated February 9, 2011


Montreal premiere of Lynda Barry workshop reveals her creative process
Author and cartoonist draws on image theory to create her work
By Stephanie Mercier Voyer
Published: Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Do you wish you could draw? Do you wish you could write? Remember how much fun you had as a kid, when you stapled a couple of pieces of paper together, wrote a story and made some doodles to go with it? Most of us have stopped doing this, but are we really over it?

This question is at the very core of American author and cartoonist Lynda Barry's work, especially for her two most recent books What It Is (2008) and Picture This (2010).

While her latest book is about drawing, What it Is is about writing. It's a handmade collage book based on the theory behind her workshop Writing the Unthinkable, which is about "the state of mind that we need to have in order to do something creative."

The workshop has followed Barry for several years, and she will be bringing it to Montreal writers on Jan. 15, which will mark her first visit to the city.
Barry, who is most recognized for her comic strip Ernie Pook's Comeek, re-introduces a familiar character in her drawing handbook Picture This. Marlys is an exuberant little redhead girl of Pook fame, who is also Barry's most renowned character. A fun new character, the Nearsighted Monkey, also makes an appearance.

"I wanted to take that idea of children's activity book," she said, to make "a version of it for adults who had given up on the idea of doing something creative in their lives."

Barry studied at the Evergreen State College in Washington state, where she became friends with Matt Groening, creator of The Simpsons. (He says she was "probably my biggest inspiration.")
At Evergreen, Barry herself found an inspiration of sorts. "What is an image?" was the first question she was asked when she entered an art class taught by Marilyn Frasca. From then on, the young art student became obsessed with Frasca's image theory.

One of the concepts behind this theory is that of an image world. "Where are Hannibal Lecter, Dracula?" Barry asked. "I believe they're in this place, it's the image world. It's a world that's with us at all times, but it's a separate world." And, she added, "it's a world that's going to outlast us." Barry is also fascinated by the brain and spontaneous memory, which is "based on the same thing that happens when you're walking down the street and you smell a smell and suddenly a time of your life comes flooding back."

Over the years, Barry taught the workshop to various kinds of people, but she said her "strongest experience" was working with inmates in a Philadelphia prison.

She found all the safety precautions surprising. "I wear a red scarf tied around my head quite often," she said, her signature look. "But in Philadelphia, that particular scarf was a gang sign, so I was not allowed to wear it."

But Barry said she was most taken aback by "just how vivid and powerful" the prisoners' stories were. "Like a kid who loved to spy on his neighbor from his bedroom window, because she liked to feed her dog from her mouth," she said. She chuckled and added, "We were all just screaming and laughing."
Barry's other passion is renewable energy; she is very active in her community through Better Plan, an organization that concerns itself with such projects. She is currently writing a book about the downsides of wind farms and how it affects the people in her community in Wisconsin.

The workshop Writing the Unthinkable and the presentation of Picture This will be held on Jan. 15, at The Ukrainian Federation, 5213 Hutchison St.
 
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  Lynda Barry profiled in the Montreal Hour

Updated February 9, 2011


Imagine life
Melora Koepke
January 13th, 2011


When we were in high school, my best friend and I would roam the rainy streets of downtown Vancouver looking for our local alt-weekly, The Georgia Straight, mostly for the comics - Matt Groening's pre-Simpsons Life in Hell and, mostly, Lynda Barry's Ernie Pook's Comeek. The tribulations of underaged Marlys, the preternatural latchkey kid at the heart of Barry's oeuvre, was - and still is - deeply resonant with, as Barry says when I relay my story, alienated kids everywhere.

That I'm even telling Barry this in the course of a conversation that is supposed to be about her new book, Picture This, illustrates the kind of person she is, and what makes her work so personal and emotional for the reader. Especially since the new book, structured under the conceit of being four issues of a kids' how-to colouring and craft book, permits Barry's uncanny sense of narrative a chance to stretch itself out into big, beautiful, coffee-table territory. It also features Marlys for the first time since Barry left her regular weekly comic duties a couple of years ago.

"My idea was that it would be the perfect kind of book for someone sitting around the waiting room at a Jiffy Lube waiting for their car to be serviced, who just wants to flip through something because they're bored," says Barry mildly, belying the fact that the book deals with something quite crucial: imagination and the limitations our adult consciousness puts on our urge and ability to create and express. In other words, Barry

is cutting to the quick of what it means to be human - and all this in 224 pages of brush drawings and stream-of-consciousness, conversational text, with the odd Emily Dickinson quote thrown in.

Barry, during her travelling slideshow/book tour that stops in Montreal on Saturday, speaks about what she views as the essentialness of human expression. "Why do we stop drawing," asks Picture This, and "why do we start?"

"I've come to think that [creating] is as important to our humanity as, say, the immune system is for our physical health," she explains. "We need a way to process and [externalize] what we feel and experience. I encourage people to do that with some simple exercises," some of which, she says, "can kind of blow your mind."

Picture This, by Lynda Barry (Drawn and Quarterly), 224 pp.

Lynda Barry live at the Ukranian Federation, Jan. 15, $5
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Nipper, Picture This, and Denys Wortman make Entertainment Weekly's best of 2010 list

Updated February 9, 2011


The Ten Best Graphic Novels and Comics of 2010
December 30, 2010
by Ken Tucker


It was a good year for a wide array of comics collections and graphic novels. From superheroes to memoirs of old age to vintage reprints, there was something for anyone — which is to say, everyone — interested in visual storytelling. In no particular order:

• Picture This, Lynda Barry (Drawn & Quarterly) Barry’s follow-up to her remarkable What It Is is, once again, a combination how-to book, a memoir, and an inspirational book of the highest order. Picture This will tap into the artist you may have hidden in the recesses in your soul, encouraging you to pick up pencil or paintbrush and begin to enjoy the pleasure and thrill of making art yourself. “You move your hand and you scribble all you want and it feels very good,” she writes. Barry speaks the truth, always.

• How to Understand Israel in 60 Days or Less, Sarah Glidden (Vertigo/DC)
A memoir of a trip this left-leaning Jew takes to Israel, determined to have her ideas about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict confirmed. Of course, things turn out more complicated than Glidden had imagined. So do her deceptively simple line drawings, their delicate watercolor shadings, and the thinking that informs the vivid dialogue in a graphic nonfiction novel of subtlety and understated wit.

• Nipper 1963-64, Doug Wright (Drawn & Quarterly) These Canadian newspaper strips, free of dialogue but full of vivid line drawings, depict the mischievous adventures of a little boy. Wright, a stay-at-home cartoonist and father, doubtlessly drew quite literally on personal observation and experience, but the fluidity of his inks and his storytelling makes this an all-ages special.

• Richard Stark’s Parker: The Outfit, adapted and illustrated by Darwyn Cooke (IDW) Cooke, whose best-known work has probably been for DC Comics (The New Frontier, his reinterpretation of The Spirit), proves again that he can capture in pictures the terse storytelling of Donald Westlake, who used the pen name Richard Stark for his brutally succinct hard-boiled novels featuring the canny thief Parker. Adaptations of novels generally tend to concentrate on getting the plot and dialogue down accurately, but Cooke is working on a higher level: He wants to be sure you experience the cold amorality of the Parker stories. He does so by drawing Parker as a series of sharp, flat angles, and by avoiding film noir visual clichés in precisely the same way Westlake/Stark avoided hard-boiled-fiction clichés.

• A Drunken Dream and Other Stories, Moto Hagio (Fantagraphics) Ostensibly Japanese comics aimed at the adolescent-girl market, these so-called Ten Stories of the Human Heart are lush mixtures of dreamlike imagery and realistic depictions of young people’s yearnings, hopes, reveries, and fears. Gathering representative work from four decades of publication, A Drunken Dream exerts a hypnotic pull on the reader, Moto Hagio knows both her commercial audience and her ideal audience — which is to say, the world.

• Batwoman: Elegy, Greg Rucka and J.H. Williams (DC Comics) The year’s most intriguing superhero art came from Williams, who shattered the conventional arrangement of panels in a comic book, drawing in the broken shards in a manner that suited the fractured consciousness of Batwoman. Writer Rucka gave her a worthy foe, an insane criminal, Alice, who leads a cult of crime. This hardcover collects six issues of Detective Comics, and demonstrates just how far adventurous creators can venture the erroneously perceived boundaries of commercial comics.

• Denys Wortman’s New York (Drawn & Quarterly) Probably the historical discovery of the year in comics, this volume — subtitled “Portrait of the City in the 1930s and 1940s,” edited by James Sturm and Brandon Elston, offers a sumptuous gathering of one-panel, pencil-and-ink drawings that summon up an earlier era of city life. Working for The New Yorker, Life, and, most prolifically, the World newspaper, Wortman incorporated overheard and imagined snatches of dialogue among working-class citizens and dowagers, rushing commuters and toff businessmen. No one is ridiculed; everyone is placed in a context that gives each life dignity. Which is not to say Wortman’s cartoons are without a vinegary tang: In the midst of the Depression, a pet-store owner is shown responding to a woman who’s come in bearing her pet bird in a cage. “Listen, lady,” he says brusquely, “your bird ain’t sick. Can you show me anybody today feels like singin’ every single morning when he gets up?” Timely as ever.

• Special Exits, Joyce Farmer (Fantagraphics) A long-form narrative about the decline of her parents’ health, Special Exits avoids cheap pity and piousness by doing what any good art should: focusing on specifics — the ways in which Farmer’s parents slide into old age and ill health; the care they require and receive. That this is also a portrait of a strong marriage is an added benefit. Frank, never shying away from the awkward indignities of aging, Special Exits illuminates two lives, as well as that of the author’s.

• The Great Treasury of Christmas Comic Book Stories, edited and designed by Craig Yoe (Yoe Books/IDW) A seasonal book that can be read all year ’round, The Great Treasury collected tales originally published in comic-book form by superb cartoonists such as Walt Kelly (Pogo), John Stanley (Little Lulu), and Richard Scarry. If you’re looking for a picture book that offers alternatives to familiar holiday tales, you can’t do better than this sturdy volume, with its stories including “Santa and the Pirates” and “Christmas Comes to the Woodland.”

• Art in Time: Unknown Comic Book Adventures, 1940-1980, edited by Dan Nadel (Abrams) As with Nadel’s eye-boggling previous anthology, Art Out of Time, this thick book offers an array of artist-writers both famous and little-known. What they all shared was employment on the more disreputable fringes of the comics industry, bending familiar genres (superheroes, horror, thriller) to their will. Nadel again demonstrates his knack for selecting mainstream work that can look like the dreams of surrealism, or the most brutish of art brut, or the wooziest of romanticism. You’re summoned beneath the spell of this work.

What graphic novels and comics caught your eye and mind in 2010?
 
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Featured artists

Lynda Barry
Doug Wright
Denys Wortman

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Denys Wortman's New York




  Eden and Picture This in the Las Vegas Weekly Best of 2010

Updated February 9, 2011


The Year in Review: Books, Comics & Games
Las Vegas Weekly Staff
Thursday December 30, 2010


COMICS
J. CALEB MOZZOCCO
1. Picture This, Lynda Barry Barry tackles some of the toughest questions imaginable in the realms of aesthetics, language development and even mental health in this inventive, relentlessly charming graphic novel/memoir posing as a how-to activity book.

2. Eden, Pablo Holmberg This collection of the Argentinean artist’s four-panel comic strips distills the medium to its purest form, telling super-short, romantic, fantastical and surprisingly complete stories using a few words, a few pictures and the manipulation of the passage of time.

3. Temperance, Cathy Malkasian Blessed with a Dr. Seuss-like ability to evoke the most serious problems and bleakest emotions in personalized, original, timeless fantasy elements, Malkasian has constructed a graphic epic involving a handful of colorful, tragic characters and their interlocking lives.

4. Flesh and Bone, Julia Gfrörer In delicate lines and occasionally furious cross-hatching, Gfrörer renders a strange romance about a young man mourning his deceased lover and the witch who helps him when no one else can.

5. Werewolves of Montepellier, Jason A successful jewel thief disguises himself as a werewolf during heists, eventually attracting the attention of real, actual werewolves in Jason’s latest deadpan dramedy masterpiece. While that might sound like the protagonist’s most urgent problem, his doomed crush on neighbor-turned-friend Audrey is the only thing truly eating him.
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Lynda Barry
Pablo Holmberg

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Eden




Francisca Goldsmith from Booklist on Picture This

Updated February 8, 2011


Picture This: The Near-Sighted Monkey Book.
Barry, Lynda (Author) , Barry, Lynda (Illustrator)
January 1, 2011


The creator of the weekly Ernie Pook’s Comeek follows up What It Is (2008) with this equally inspiring and inspired guide to freeing the creative potential within even the most tightly buttoned reader. Barry introduces the Near-Sighted Monkey, who joins her beloved character Marlys in leading readers through imagination-loosening exercises in doodling and coloring as well as snippets of sly storytelling and fact revealing. At times the Near Sighted Monkey channels Barry—presenting information about how the cartoonist approaches her own work—and also offers very monkey centric tidbits, such as when to talk about banana peels. Marlys fans will find plenty of satisfaction here, but adults and older teens who crave the opportunity to regain the pleasures they found in childhood creativity will also be thrilled with this volume. Although this book makes a good companion for What It Is, there is no need to be familiar with that title before cracking this one.

— Francisca Goldsmith
 

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Lynda Barry

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Picture This




  Newsodrome loves PICTURE THIS

Updated December 21, 2010


Review: Picture This

by J. Caleb Mozzocco
December 17th, 2010

When I had finished reading the very last page of Picture This, Lynda Barry’s book exploring the questions “Why do we stop drawing?” and “Why do we start drawing?,” I found myself desperately curious about another question entirely: “Where does publisher Drawn & Quarterly suggest this book be shelved?”

As you may have noticed, most books (and an awful lot of graphic novels) include among the fine print on their title pages or back covers suggestions for libraries and book stores regarding where the book belongs. These often include Library of Congress or Dewey Decimal system subject numbers, and/or a numbered list of subject headings.

For example, looking at a few books laying around my office, Brecht Evens’ The Wrong Place is suggested “Social Interaction—Comic books, strips, etc.” and “Identity (psychology)—Comic books, strips, etc.” I love looking these up, in part because it reveals what the publisher thinks of the book and how it should be classified and, to some extent, sold.

Most of the books I review here tend to fall under a catch all like “comic books, strips, etc.,” and libraries and book stores end up putting them either in their own, dedicated “graphic novels” section, or else somewhere under the “741″ number in Dewey. But sometimes they are so specific that I wonder if the publishers aren’t sometimes being sarcastic—Tim Sievert’s That Salty Air, for example, included “Oceanic Revenge” and “Seaside Heartbreak” which made me imagine a bookstore with sections that specific. What’s that? Oceanic Revenge? Yes, it’s over there on the left; right between Marine Justice and Sea-going Wickedness.

Where does Picture This belong? Certainly under a “Comic books” or “Art” subject, but more specifically? Memoir? Manifesto? How-to? Aesthetics? Art Therapy? Self-Help? Outsider art? Craft? Folk art? It belongs under them all, really. In the Dewey Decimal system, the argument could be made to put this in plenty of different places in the 700s (arts and recreation), though parts of the 800s (literature), 300s (social sciences), 400’s (language) and 900s (which includes biography) could claim it as well.

I can think of no better example of the potency of Barry’s Picture This than the fact that it defies, if not breaks, the Dewey Decimal system—we need a brand-new number to put on the spine of this book.
The title page of the book, by the way, didn’t answer my question. Instead, there was a brush-drawn, water-color painted image of The Near-Sighted Monkey, a character that shares Barry’s glasses and headband look, with a type-written, cut-and-pasted (using a cutting tool and actual paste, not a computer) Emily Dickinson poem. The opposite page? A Japanese-style brush painting of a rabit running under moonlight.

No wait, maybe this image here, is the title page—


Yes, among its fine print, which includes a “thanks” section, an advertisment for a building and masonry business in Rock County, Wisonsin and “Please note: Matt Groeining is Funklord of USA,” there’s a suggest Dewey number: 741.973. That’s “Drawings and decorative arts,” which hardly encompasses the work.

So what is Picture This?

When the comics story that runs through it begins, on page 12, we see one of Barry’s recurring characters has found the book we’re reading, on a table at the library. A box above the image reads:

On the cover was a picture of a monkey wearing glasses. The monkey was smoking. She had a pet chicken. The chicken also smoked. But not as much as the monkey. What kind of book was it?

It was an activity book but the activieties were mysterious.

Was it a boo for kids or grwn-ups? The monkey drank beer, played cards and bouth liottery tickets. Was that a good influence?

Should she check out this book or not?

Yes, yes she should—so should you.

What follows is a story of two sisters, Arna and Marlys, and their relationship with the sort of imagery that forms itself in the world as children see it, out of water stains and shadows. The “mysterious activities” are ever-present, generally starring Barry’s characters, which are drawn over and over, like recurring motifs: The Near-Sighted Monkey, her chicken, Mr. Beak, Mr. Trunk, a meditating monkey in a religious robe, a huge van dyke beard on what looks like a tiny robot the size and shape of a tin , always labeled “VAN DYKE.”

What is the difference between torn and cut? Which do you prefer?

What makes this picture creepy?

Some are more elaborate, like “A Chicken In Winter,” a craft project to do on days on which you’re feeling blue. Making the chicken will make you feel better, the book promises.

The do-able projects tend to be simple, but to require an awful lot of time, and a certain amount of obsessive, repetitive action—they’re art for time-passing, art-as-therapy. After each, Barry tends to share a bunch of her own work using the method, at which point it becomes a coffee table-like art book, in addition to a comic book and activity book.

Throughout, aesthetic and philosophical questions are asked, meditated on and answered, only the answers are either personal—This is my answer, what’s yours?—or open-ended. Here’s a catalog of the types of doodles Barry makes, and you can make, if you want. There’s a diagram of her art box…or is it the monkey’s art box?

Why do we start drawing? When do we start drawing letters? What is the difference between writing and drawing, given the similarities of the actions? Automatic writing. Automatic drawing. Automatic comics strip creating. Is drawing good or bad? Can one be good or bad at drawing? What’s the difference? How do you recognize it? Are the images we see in things created by the viewer, or simply noticed by the viewer?

Portraits of Marlys engaged in different activities, and cartoons featuring the Near-Sighted Monkey, usually with declarative, non-joke “punchlines” attached, and advertistments for Don’t brand cigarettes, the imaginary cigarettes for imaginary friends, punctuate the activity and creative philosophy portions.

So it’s a book about process, specifically Barry’s process, and her contemplation of the mental and/or mystical process behind that process, but it’s also a lot more than that.

And, because of all it is, another thing it is is an awfully hard book to review. I’ve heard it said somewhere—on the Internet, if that helps narrow it down—that one difference between comics criticism and comics reviewing is that while the former does, um, something (I wasn’t convinced enough by the argument put forward to remember the details), the latter tends to boil down to advice to consumers: Should you buy and/or read a particular book or not?

Yes, yes, a thousand times yes—you should buy and/or read this book.

But only if you’re interested in the creation of art, particularly where it meets the creation of words. If you read comics for any reason other than plot, for example, you should read this. And if you make comics—or maybe just want to—than you should read this. You must read it.
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Lynda Barry

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The Walrus interviews LYNDA BARRY

Updated December 16, 2010


Picturing the Unthinkable
An interview with cartoonist, novelist, teacher, and renaissance woman Lynda Barry

BY SEAN ROGERS
The Walrus

Lynda Barry — cartoonist, novelist, playwright, teacher, environmental activist, and all-around renaissance woman — is revitalising the genre of the instructional manual. “Do you wish you could write?” Barry asked readers with 2008’s What It Is, and then proceeded to elucidate and exemplify the creative process with a torrent of comic strips, prose, and collage that burst the boundaries of the conventional “how-to” book.

In both What It Is and her ever-popular workshops on “Writing the Unthinkable,” Barry promotes a fertile territory of ideas and memories that she calls “the image world.” Her books, whether fictional or instructional, brim with evidence of this realm. They overflow with Proustian “unexpected memories” called forth at the mention of an old telephone number, with perfectly sensible nonsense recited by five-year-old children, with eldritch creatures lurking in the folds of a tissue or a stain in the ceiling, and with the exploits and musings of her comic strip characters.

These denizens of Barry’s imagination populate her most recent book, Picture This, a follow-up and complement to What It Is. Here, the leads of her Ernie Pook comic strip, irrepressible Marlys and introspective Arna, join forces with the Near-Sighted Monkey and the Meditating Monkey, new Barry creations who share the Pook girls’ temperaments. With this menagerie in tow, the author acts as tour guide through the image world. “Why do we stop drawing?” she asks. “Why do we start?” Picture This stands as a generous, colourful, freewheeling response to those questions.

Two years ago, I interviewed Barry for this blog. During this year’s Toronto International Festival of Authors, we sat down again for more conversation about the power of words and pictures.

SEAN ROGERS You place a high value on the connection between the hands and the brain. Reading your stuff has convinced me to start writing everything in longhand — and it works!

LYNDA BARRY [Longhand] is like the original digital device. It does work, and it also does something to memory. Since we spoke, I’ve gotten even more fascinated with the relationship between the hands and the brain. It takes us out of this idea of art as being, “Do I like it, do I don’t,” and turns it into, “Do I like having white blood cells or not?” I do. I look at it as a health issue. I start to look at the research they’re doing about neurogenesis, about what gives us more neurons — who doesn’t want more of those?


Pages from Picture This
When What It Is came out, Amazon didn’t know how to categorize it, so they categorized it as science fiction, which was so boss. If I was going to write a science fiction story, this is such a good one — a culture that shames people out of doing the very thing that will give them new neurons. If you draw a chicken on a piece of paper, there’s going to be some interesting neural activity — but people are too scared to draw a chicken, even if they’re just gonna throw it away. What the hell is that? When did that happen?

That’s one of the most striking parts of What It Is, where you write, “Sometimes in life when we are very sad, it is good to make a chicken in winter.” It reminds me of a Raymond Carver story, “A Small, Good Thing,” in which a baker becomes upset at a mother and father who haven’t picked up the birthday cake they ordered from him. When he learns it’s because their kid has died, he’s devastated. He gives them some rolls and says, “Eating is a small, good thing at a time like this.” It’s human activity — eating, making something — that can help us through.

It actually does. With functional MRIs now they can start to keep track of what’s going on in the brain during certain activities. For instance, they put blues musicians in a functional MRI and gave them keyboards and had a jam. The part of their brains that was getting the most blood flow and activity was the part that gets the most flow when people talk about themselves. I have a musician friend who [heard that and] said, “Maybe that’s why jamming’s so boring.”

The great thing about really good jazz musicians is that they can step back and let somebody else solo for a while: “OK, you get to talk about yourself now.”

It’s a conversation — there’s a reciprocity to it. It’s this unexpected, exciting thing, and I’ve found that I can show people how to do it, in any situation. Like on Tuesday, I’m teaching in a Philadelphia prison — back by popular request. I’ve been with my little jailbirds before. The same thing that put those guys in prison makes them very good writers, which is no impulse control. Nothing seems like a bad idea. “Is this a bad sentence? Should I rob this liquor store?” It’s just balls out.

Most writers probably don’t equate what they do to robbing liquor stores, but I guess that’s it — you can’t hold yourself back, you have to get the words on paper.

In the image world, you can rob a liquor store whenever you want. That’s why I have people smoking like crazy in Picture This. I wanted to take advantage of the bad health thing that we all have in our head, about how bad smoking is. I really wanted to get at that idea — “Don’t” — like not doing something is bad for you.

You’ve structured the book like a self-help magazine; then these ads for Don’t cigarettes show up at the end. Are you questioning the way that advertising tells us to do things we really shouldn’t?

A lot of that came from this stack of magazines I ran into called The Grade Teacher. They used to make it for elementary school teachers. I had issues from the ’40s until the ’60s; the big advertisers were coal and asbestos companies. You could get free posters on the wonder of bituminous coal — all coal, coal, coal. But the asbestos stuff was especially interesting, especially once it was the ’60s and people knew. It used to come in a powder, and there are these ads about how kids can make jewellery — asbestos jewellery, asbestos pins for mom, asbestos playthings!

So I thought, I want to do a book that’s sponsored by something that’s so the opposite of its subject. Also, the fact of the matter is, almost any picture is improved by drawing a cigarette in it. I used to love to smoke when I was in my twenties, but I can’t smoke anymore because it was making me sick. But I love drawing [cigarettes]. I also like the idea that Don’t has controllable smoke that doesn’t exist — it always goes where you want it to go.

What’s satisfying about that smoke, too, is the way it spirals off. In Picture This, you write about following lines, about how there’s something satisfying in watching them.

Or in making them, in drawing the smoke. It’s really just moving in a continuous line. I’m very curious about the fact that because of computers, at least in elementary schools in the US, they’re not teaching handwriting anymore. They’re teaching printing, but not spending much time on it — longhand and cursive are gone. That’s like a nightmare…. The science fiction thing again: electricity’s gone, and all anybody knows is how to type!

There’s a strip in Picture This about a five-year-old boy who tells you a story word by word, slowly, and it all comes out in the end —

That was an epiphany for me. That and using a paintbrush [to write with], which is where another door opened. “Chicken Attack, by Jack” is a verbatim story from this kid I was sitting next to on an airplane. His mom did what moms do everywhere — got on her little thumb device, or put her buds in and went to sleep. Anyhow, she zoned out and I was drawing, because I’ve learned that if you’re drawing kids will talk to you. He goes, “You’re drawing!” and I say, “Yeah, I’m a cartoonist.” And he says, “Draw something.” So I draw a little chicken and he goes, “You are!” and I go, “I know!” So I play this game with him, which any kid knows how to play, where you make a scribble and pass it to a friend, and they turn it into something and then make a scribble and pass it back. If you do this with a kid you’ll get a story quick. So we do it one, two, three times, and he goes, “Ooh, I have a story and you can make it into a comic strip.” And I did. His name was Jack, and before the story was written, he said, “The title is, ‘Chicken Attack, by Jack.’” [Then he told the story:] “One morning, the chicken was eaten by a man. The man went to work. His stomach started to feel funny. He went to the port-a-let, and then he went. The chicken came out. The man was surprised. The chicken was also surprised. The chicken ran from the port-a-let to the construction site. They put the chicken in charge, and from then on, the chicken was boss.”

It makes so much sense!

When I talk about the biological function — don’t you feel better after hearing that story? What is that? It’s so satisfying, without even having to parse it out. There’s foreshadowing, because it says, “One morning, a chicken was eaten by a man.” And who goes through the transformation? The chicken — he gets eaten, shit out, and made boss. It has the arc, it has it all. Everything is in that story.

The last time you were in Toronto, with What It Is, you talked about unexpected memory. You had the audience recite their first phone numbers to show how we can attach ourselves to that memory. Now you’re talking more about pictures. Is that kind of unexpected memory, remembering your first phone number, the same as seeing a picture in the stain on your ceiling when you’re lying there staring at it?

It’s exactly the same. Watch a kid with a piece of paper. There is no doubt that piece of paper is a place where things happen. Then there’s this point where [that place] turns into a thing, which mostly lets other people know if you’re good or bad. That’s where the trouble begins. Or rather, that’s where the nutrients are taken away.

What It Is seems more like a how-to book, and this one — is it fair to say that Picture This is more of an activity book?

Absolutely. And kind of dreamy — I wanted it to be like a magazine. There’s no particular place to start. There is a through line, if you feel like finding it. I kept thinking about when you get your oil changed in your car: you’re in this waiting room, which is the world’s shittiest waiting room, and you’re grateful if there’s an old People magazine with Tom Selleck; “Thank God, there’s something to look at.” I kept imagining Picture This being there, and that it would make the time pass nicely. I didn’t want to have a drawing book where I tell people how to draw, exactly.

That’s what I think is so great about it. It tells people to draw — or like it says on the cover, “to art” — but it doesn’t close anything down for them. It has these open activities, like “collect blue.”

Collect blue! Didn’t it make you want to try it? Like, “Dang, I can do this! Let’s move onto pink!” I want to get people back to colouring, copying, and tracing.

I told [my publisher] Chris [Oliveros] at Drawn & Quarterly that we couldn’t use traditional copyright language because I want people to be able to copy it. I want people to be able to make 500 copies of that chicken if they want to, and I want them to be able to cut out the paper dolls. I did a lot of the paintings with my husband [Kevin Kawula]. I found out I can draw anything that’s five feet away, and he can draw forever into the distance, but he’s not good at super-close stuff. There’s one of the Near-Sighted Monkey making spaghetti sauce, and I’ve had a couple of people email me and say, “Lynda, your drawing’s gotten so good, I can’t believe it, I’m so happy for you!” And I [respond], “Man, I told you, that part’s Kevin’s. But how about those slippers on the monkey? Look at those slippers, those are good!” It was beautiful to work together, because — again, this idea of a place. I would draw the monkey and just leave it in the kitchen for him to work on. We’d hardly talk about it. I would look at those pictures and be, “God, it looks so familiar! It’s our house!”

The last time we spoke, you told me about [Simpsons creator] Matt Groening’s Life in Hell strips, so I went and pulled his books from the library and read everything. It’s so great.

Because of the success of The Simpsons, this huge contribution to the history of “our” kinds of comics has just been pushed aside. When I [guest edited] The Best American Comics, I included him, and there were fights about it!

And that was his best work in so long — the stuff with his kids.

We see The Simpsons, and it has twenty-six writers and animators. But that strip is just Matt. There’s a couple other cartoonists who I feel never made it into the history of how comics were done. There was a group right before Matt and I started who were in the Village Voice — Jules Feiffer, Mark Alan Stamaty, and Stan Mack, who did Real Life Funnies. And I finally met him and he doesn’t look anything like he draws himself, which I thought was hilarious. There’s all these people who were in the early National Lampoon — but now it’s as if they do not exist…. When people say, “You’re one of the first women cartoonists,” I say, “Nooo, there was Shary Flenniken and M.K. Brown and Trina Robbins.”

[Instead we hear about] the underground stuff, with all the guys with their dicks out — which, right on, I’m all about it. I was on a panel with Chris Ware and Kaz and Dan Clowes, and we got to ask each other questions, and one of the things I said was, it always blows my mind why [male] cartoonists always have to draw themselves jacking off with a giant dick and then looking really sad afterward. But then I went up to my room and drew myself with a giant dick jacking off and looking sad afterwards and I totally understood.

It’s like “The Chicken Attack, by Jack” — that structure is there for a reason.

It’s totally satisfying. I totally got it, once I did it. The imaginary dick.

I really do feel like they’re my family, other cartoonists. I liked finding out all this stuff about these people, like Chris Ware, who thinks his drawing is bad! And I thought, if he thinks his drawing is bad, then that might be the natural state of things.

Everybody has this “Is it good?/Does it suck?” thing happening all the time.

Except for those blessed, beautiful moments when it’s not happening.

When you’re still in the place before it becomes a thing?

When you’re still in the place before it becomes a thing. Exactly.
 
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  "Because you're alive," the Austin Chronicle recommends PICTURE THIS to you

Updated December 14, 2010


Setting the Table
Oversized books

by Wayne Alan Brenner

Picture This: The Near-Sighted Monkey Book
by Lynda Barry

When Lynda Barry's previous volume on art-making, the Eisner-winning What It Is, came out, we commented, "Because you're alive, we recommend this book to you." We're reckoning that's still the case, you being alive – zombies don't much go for reading – and so we're pleased to repeat the recommendation for Picture This, a sequel of sorts.

This new volume from Canada's superlative purveyor of graphic novels, Drawn & Quarterly, asks, "Do you wish you could draw?" and proceeds, via the author's inspirational, whimsical suggestions and proddings, to show you just how anyone can draw. Barry's been drawing for decades – Ernie Pook's Comeek, anyone? – and here she's brought along her most beloved character, Marlys, and a strangely familiar creature called the Near-Sighted Monkey to help her get the instruction across, to assist in wrangling examples of creative problems and solutions from her own life, to reveal, as if for the first time, what gangs of fun await in just unleashing a wild scribble or splotches of paint or found objects onto a sheet of paper.

Of course, the author being who she is, the book can be appreciated for its graphic impact alone, for the hundreds of quirky, gorgeous renditions of people and creatures and objects – sequentially or otherwise, in watercolor, in pen and ink, in the deftly wielded strokes of sumi-e and calligraphy, in collages as simple as a kindergartner's or as complex as the math framing the Large Hadron Collider. This is a hardcover book of excellent quality; it's in full color, a kind of coffeetable version of Barry's highly sought-after live workshop "Writing the Unthinkable," and it will provide you with hours of fascinating information and ideas.

Hell, just the full-page illustration of a rabbit on page 5 – looking even spookier than what Donnie Darko had to deal with – is worth the price of admission all by itself.
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Lynda Barry

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The Montreal Gazette lists TUBBY, MAKE ME A WOMAN and PICTURE THIS as top comics of 2010!

Updated December 14, 2010


Pictures help tell the story

Graphic novels and classic comics cover a wide range

By IAN MCGILLIS, The Gazette December 11, 2010

When it's done right, graphic literature combines the best qualities of books and film to produce a reading experience of unique immediacy. Here are some of 2010's best titles, suitable for adepts and newcomers alike.

...

The comics scene is a culture aware of its history and respectful of its elders, with cutting-edge publishers often maintaining a parallel role as curators. A good case in point is The John Stanley Library: Tubby (Drawn & Quarterly, 144 pages, $34.95), a lovingly presented collection of 1954-55 Dell comics featuring the adventures of the rotund boy gourmand of the title. Today, political correctness would probably deep-six the mere idea of it -why, some tubby kids might feel hurt! -but collections like this serve as salient reminders of the roots of a culture, and of the undervalued art of telling a story in a simple sequence of panels. Elsewhere, Rough Justice: The DC Comics Sketches of Alex Ross (Pantheon, 224 pages, $37) de-mystifies the work of one of the leading contemporary painters of superheroes -Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, et al -by showing the original pencil renderings.

Make Me a Woman, by Vanessa Davis (Drawn & Quarterly, 176 pages, $26.95) collects seven years worth of frankly autobiographical comics and drawings centring on the social rituals, private pleasures and identity struggles of a young, self-deprecating, middle-class Jewish American woman. Davis trains the keen eye of a comic anthropologist -a David Sedaris who can draw, you could say -on her friends, family and herself, in the process proving the maxim that the road to the universal runs through the specific.

It isn't exactly new (it came out last year), but Poof! by Line Gamache (Conundrum, 93 pages, $15), the tale of a young woman who loses her inspiration and goes on an epic journey with her talking dog to find it, is too good to miss. Gamache's use of flattened perspective and exuberant detail recall both cave painting and children's art; while not a children's book as such, Poof! is nonetheless one of the few books on this page suitable for even the youngest of readers, infused as it is with wonder, whimsy and a crucial edge of menace. A similar theme is approached from a very different angle in Picture This by Lynda Barry (Drawn & Quarterly, 225 pages, $31.95). Barry is a sui generis pioneer with a mission to unlock creativity through memoir; this time around, she explores the question of what causes us to start drawing and, just as pertinently, what causes us to stop. Even more than most graphic books, Picture This resists easy encapsulation; it demands to be seen.

Adolescence can be a drag at the best of times, never mind when you're stuck in a small Quebec town, your peers are ridiculing you over a viral YouTube video and your uncle is achieving dubious Internet stardom of his own. Bigfoot, by Pascal Girard, (Drawn & Quarterly, 48 pages, $20.95) uncannily evokes the sexual confusion and all-round queasiness of what someone once laughably called the wonder years. If you're a teenager
now, this is your life; otherwise, prepare yourself for an emotional time warp.

A new edition of Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, illustrated by Camille Rose Garcia (Harper-Collins/Collins Design, 160 pages, $19.99) provides a case study in literary conditioning. We're so accustomed to seeing Carroll's text alongside the iconic illustrations of John Tenniel that any other combination runs the risk of simply looking wrong. Surprisingly quickly, though, Garcia's psychedelia-tinged style insinuates its own charms, and we see a familiar work through refreshed eyes.

Anyone still feeling lost for a way into the comics
world is heartily steered toward The Best American Comics 2010 (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 329 pages, $28.95). Editor Neil Gaiman presents a meritocracy where near-unknowns share the table with many of the form's biggest names. While a feast like, say, R. Crumb's vision of the Book of Genesis inevitably loses something in sample size, you couldn't ask for a better hors d'oeuvres tray.

Finally, from slightly outside the graphic lit purview comes Portfolio 24: The Year's Best Canadian Editorial Cartoons (McArthur & Co., 176 pages, $19.95), a showcase for our country's best practitioners of a discipline too often taken for granted.
 
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Featured artists

Lynda Barry
Vanessa Davis
John Stanley

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Picture This
Make Me A Woman




  LYNDA BARRY on USA Today Pop Candy's 100 People of 2010

Updated December 14, 2010


Pop Candy's 100 People of 2010: Nos. 50-74

59. Lynda Barry. The cartoonist encourages everyone to draw in her latest book, Picture This. Though I'm trying, I must say my talents don't stretch far beyond the shapes found within a box of Lucky Charms.
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Lynda Barry

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Picture This




The Providence Phoenix recommends PICTURE THIS and MAKE ME A WOMAN

Updated December 9, 2010


Gift Guide 2010: Graphic novels and comic anthologies

by S.I. Rosenbaum
The Providence Phoenix

There's something about getting a book as a gift that makes you not want to read it. Perhaps there's a faint whiff of homework about it; perhaps it's just all those daunting little black marks covering the pages. Comics are different. They are narrative in freebase form — the exact opposite of homework — and can be ingested in gulps. Give someone a big, hardcover, glossy graphic novel, and you're likely to lose them for the next hour as they gorge themselves on sweet, sweet sequential art.

PICTURE THIS | LYNDA BARRY | DRAWN AND QUARTERLY |204 PAGES | $29.95 | On page 22 of Lynda Barry's Picture This there's a drawing of a child wearing a parka and huddled in a fetal position, above the caption GET ME MY MOM. No explanation; it's a snapshot of a childhood misery that can be neither explained nor healed. But Barry knows that all art is, in a way, an attempt at a do-over — a reworking of some past humiliation.
Picture This is an autobiography, a meditation on art, an activity book, and an artist's notebook. Compiled of sketches, collages, original art, and found text, it features characters from Barry's older comics as well as the author herself, and her muse, the near-sighted monkey. The book explores the ways in which art gets stifled, and the ways in which we all need it desperately.

...

MAKE ME A WOMAN | VANESSA DAVIS | DRAWN & QUARTERLY | 176 PAGES | $24.95 | In Make Me a Woman, Vanessa Davis does what I would have thought impossible: she draws interesting and funny comics about being a young Jewish woman in the big city. I admit, I rolled my eyes at first; I may even have muttered, "God save me from another graphic memoir by a privileged white 20-something." But Davis proceeded to kick my jaded ass down the street.
Make Me a Woman starts with the story of Davis's bat mitzvah (hence the title) and goes from there. Her pencil, ink-wash and watercolor comics frequently spill all over the page, yet they're incredibly easy to follow. The stories they tell aren't epic: a conversation in an elevator, a trip to the spa with mom, an on-and-off affair with an Israeli douchebag. But they're all spot-on, and never take themselves too seriously. Perhaps nothing epic has happened to Davis yet, but she has a lot of fun telling you about that.
 
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Lynda Barry
Vanessa Davis

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Picture This
Make Me A Woman




  New Haven Advocate loves D+Q's approach to print, reviews ACME 20, PALOOKAVILLE 20 and PICTURE THIS!

Updated December 9, 2010


Winter Books: Montreal-Based Drawn & Quarterly Creates Books As If They Really Matter — 'Palookaville,' 'The Acme Novelty Library' And 'The Near-Sighted Monkey Book'

By Alan Bisbor

Picture this!

'Palookaville.'

A three-word response to those who believe the printed book is dead: Drawn and Quarterly. The Montreal-based publisher Drawn and Quarterly, distributed in the U.S. by Farrar, Straus and Giroux, produces books so artfully designed and packaged that one begins admiring them even before opening the covers. Their titles feel more substantial in the hand than most contemporary books. They even smell different, giving off a nice tangy scent of thick, high-quality paper stock. Each seems like a unique hand-made object, having the heft and feel of small treasures. Show me a Kindle that can provide such beauty and tactile joy and I will concede your point about the printed book’s demise.

Palookaville
88 pages. Drawn & Quarterly. $19.99

For all that, Drawn & Quarterly books still contain, for the most part, cartoons. Take the recently published 20th volume of Seth’s Palookaville comic book title. Seth (real name Gregory Gallant) is responsible for the design of many of Drawn & Quarterly’s volumes, as well as for the design of the (ultimately) 25-volume set of the Complete Peanuts by Charles M. Schulz for Fantagraphics Books. Seth is Drawn & Quarterly’s de facto house designer; others who do design work seem to follow the fonts, inking, style and high standards that he has established. So the release of the 20th volume of his Palookaville is an auspicious occasion. The cover features a cityscape in pink ink against a black backdrop, and the volume opens to regal-patterned endpapers. In his welcoming note, Seth explains why his former comic book — published in the pamphlet style familiar to all Spider-Man fans — is now a hardcover. His sense of loss over the comic book format is offset by new possibilities now open to him — exploited fully in this volume. In addition to the continuing saga of Palookaville — essentially, about a family business selling electric fans — Seth is able to include photographs, excerpts from his scrapbooks and sketch books, portraits, interviews and whatever flotsam catches his fancy. Palookaville might be with us for another 20 volumes, which is a good thing.

The Acme Novelty Library
108 pages. $27.50

Simultaneous with Seth’s red-letter volume, Drawn & Quarterly has published the 20th volume of The Acme Novelty Library by Chris Ware, best known for his Jimmy Corrigan saga. Like Seth, Ware publishes work regularly in The New Yorker and the New York Times. His latest installment takes us into the life of Jordan Lint, a tormented loser like his previous protagonists Jimmy Corrigan and Rusty Brown. It is as handsome as any volume in the Acme series, swaddled in Ware’s antiquarian touches, from the Victorian wallpaper-like cover to the wistful scenes of Midwestern homes, muted browns, blues and greys. Within these forms, however, Ware weaves a jarringly sordid plot, relying heavily on adolescent sexual angst. Even while one admires Ware’s genius for deconstructing and then meticulously reinventing comic art formats, his stories are unsettling. You get the impression, in fact, that he is a deeply disturbed individual who is playing out his paralyzed Portnoy-like inner dramas in his “novelty library.” He makes Seth’s wistful melancholy seem uplifting.

Picture This: The Near-Sighted Monkey Book
176 pages. $29.95

Finally, and the greatest cause for celebration, is the release of Lynda Barry’s second coffee-table-sized primer on the creative process, Picture This: The Near-Sighted Monkey Book. While offering quirky tips on unleashing your inner Picasso, Barry is really all about bringing joy into your life. Picture This — and even more so its predecessor, What It Is — is not just a how-to guide for making art, but nothing less than a how-to guide for living. Insights abound like haiku as she poses questions that force us to confront our fears (“What makes us start drawing? What makes us stop?”). Though perhaps a companion volume to What It Is, Picture This does not scale the same artistic heights as its predecessor. Nonetheless, it’s a far more coherent “how to” guide. The one thing the two volumes have in common is that you need both equally. Yes, need. Barry’s books meet needs, some of which you did not know you had until you picked them up. If that is not the mark of a true masterwork and potential classic, I don’t know, uh, what it is.
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Seth
Chris Ware
Lynda Barry

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Picture This
Palookaville Volume 20
Acme Novelty Library Volume 20




The New York Times loves PICTURE THIS!

Updated December 9, 2010


Holiday Books: Drawing

by Jennifer B. McDonald
December 3, 2010

When a book insists, “Take art lessons from a monkey!” the only appropriate response, if you ask me, is “O.K.!”

Two years ago, in her Eisner Award-­winning coming-of-art memoir, “What It Is,” Lynda Barry prodded would-be writers to pick up a pen (or a brush) and put it to paper. Her latest book, PICTURE THIS (Drawn & Quarterly, $29.95), taps into something more elemental — the fuzzy-wuzzy part of the brain that sees elephants in clouds (or in this case, rabbits in water stains) — and asks, “Do you wish you could draw?”

In more than 200 pages of riotously distinct collages made with brush and paint, notebook paper, cutouts, tape and glue (with support from the colorist Kevin Kawula and, it seems, a “golden egg”), Barry sets out to show you — no, to remind you of — the pleasures of inking, smudging and, most important, fumbling your way to inspiration.

“What makes kids draw?” she writes in bold block letters. “What makes adults scared to draw? . . . Why aren’t kids scared of it? And what is it that one day comes to make them afraid?”

Assisting in Barry’s march against artistic agita is the Near-Sighted Monkey, who from the moment she arrives (complete with imaginary friend, as if the monkey weren’t enough) promises to escort us through four seasons and many moods. The monkey’s main task is to play the non sequitur: Here she is in fall and spring. Here she is ordering a hot dog. And here, we learn, “the Near-Sighted Monkey is not careful with the toothpaste.”

Barry wants you disoriented, wants to turn your timorous brain into luscious mind-mush. Intention, she asserts, is the killer of creativity, for it introduces self-consciousness where before, there was none. Close at hand lurk the demons of doubt: the ones who say don’t draw an octopus enjoying a smoke break, don’t draw a monkey pouring banana- pancake mix into the washing machine. Barry, in composing these very images, rebuffs the naysayers and demands, Why not?

Make a swirl, color it in and lo: you’re Kandinsky. A monkey’s head appears stroke by stroke — slash, circle, dashes for eyes, dots for nose, curved ears. In case you resisted drawing it the first time (and I’ll bet you 10 bucks you did), the head winks into sight again toward the end, defying you not to doodle.

Bit characters from “What It Is” have leading roles in “Picture This.” The Staring Cephalopod, an inky, googly-eyed shadow, “invites you to attend . . . to the back of your mind.” A Meditating Monkey, floating in the margins of the previous book, becomes for Barry a mantra-in-pictures, an agent of serenity in the face of grievous events: Iraq, Afghanistan, Hurricane Katrina and the sudden deaths of friends. “In terrible times,” she writes, “people sing. . . . Where can a brush take you? It can take you to the singing place.”

Do not be deluded: despite the feel-good message, this is a book for people who like their whimsy black. Barry rejects milk-and-sugar sweetness for something stronger, richer, more complex. She sees darkness even in summertime — memories of green Kool-Aid and the cute boy next door are offset by yellow-jacket attacks and holes in the inflatable swimming pool. In the Near-Sighted Monkey’s “favorite show,” “Twirlita” the ballerina goes from lighthearted prancer to barking- mad dancer.

This is all as it should be, Barry makes plain. It is healthy, it is freeing to wail in both joy and sorrow. Whatever your mood, just be sure to have cotton balls and glue at hand, for “sometimes in life when we are very sad, it is good to make a chicken.”

More than once, to get you started, Barry offers templates of a bunny, a bat, a bird and a pair of I-don’t-know-whats, urging the reader to cut, copy, trace, color and paste. “No!” you might say. “I wouldn’t dare defile a book as bewitching as this.” But then you realize: were Barry in the room, she’d probably hand you the scissors herself.
 
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Lynda Barry

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Picture This




  Design Arts Daily reviews PICTURE THIS

Updated December 2, 2010


Lynda Barry’s Cure for Fear of Drawing

By Peggy Roalf
Design Arts Daily
December 1, 2010

Lynda Barry’s new book, Picture This: The Nearsighted Monkey Book, takes her invention, the graphic memoir, into uncharted territory. She brings back Marlys and Arna, characters from her previous book, What It Is, and introduces the Near-Sighted Monkey, a cigarette-smoking alter ego from Hell. Through these tough cookies, she poses questions that no adult in their right mind would ask. For example: “Why do we stop drawing? And why do we start?” Or “What is the difference between torn and cut (paper)? Which do you prefer?”

As you squirm in your seat, remembering how boring childhood often was, and how we sometimes squandered our time and talents on coloring books (they destroy creativity, according to Marlys) in order to conquer our fears about making pictures . And so, for the days when we don’t feel that we can draw, the kindhearted artist offers a stand-in chicken to use instead. We can trace it, cut it out, and paste it into our own drawing space. “The Dear Chicken is on the job!”

Cover and inside pages from Picture This: The Nearsighted Monkey Book by Lynda Barry (Drawn & Quarterly, 2010).

“What happened on the day I realized I could not draw?” Now that’s an ugly thought, but the courageous artist assures us that “it happens to almost everyone.” She explores the fear that a blank drawing book, or even a blank sheet of paper can conjure up, then proceeds to annotate the process of making ugly and pretty shapes, collecting them into nice piles, and then “finding your way back to the place where the shapes are happening.” Another piece of sage advice about overcoming our inherent inabilities is a blinding glimpse of the obvious: “The trick is to stand not knowing certain things long enough for them to come to you.”

“Try dots when you are blue,” the thoughtful artist urges. This section explores in detail the language of dots; how they differ from lines and how it made her feel as a child when she covered things in dots – “it was like a dare.” Picture This covers just about every kind of art crisis imaginable and what to do about it. “What makes you able to endure uncertainty. What makes your mind wander? Why do we lose focus?” Part of the solution is “You have to be willing to spend time making things for no reason.”

The prolific artist obviously lives her good advice; the pages of this miraculous book are wall-to-wall jam-packed with pictures, art fragments, torn, cut and pasted printed matter, lettering, writing, and ideas. “It took a long time to realize that I didn’t kneed to be in the mood to move my brush before I picked it up,” she writes. “All I needed to do was move the brush and my mood would follow the trail.”

As Marlys becomes braver, she draws herself and her cohort Arna. A chapter-like section of the book details this process, starting with pictures of Marlys in different guises: dancing, boxing, eating grilled cheese and other fun stuff. Then she deconstructs what makes drawing herself or Arna such a different exercise. Later on, Marlys uncovers her Rosetta Stone. “I had an idea for a party,” she writes, “where people made pictures together and the rule is you can talk about anything except the pictures. What happens when we make pictures without talking about them? Why would we not talk about a picture? What does not talking give us?” And so, dear readers, as my friend the English art director likes to say, “Suck it and see!”
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Lynda Barry

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Picture This




LYNDA BARRY talks doodles, handwriting and cigarettes with The Paris Review

Updated December 2, 2010


Lynda Barry on ‘Picture This’

by Nicole Rudick
The Paris Review
December 1, 2010

Lynda Barry is many things: a cartoonist, best known for her long-running strip, Ernie Pook’s Comeek; the author of two illustrated novels, Cruddy and The Good Times Are Killing Me; and the sought-after instructor of the workshop “Writing the Unthinkable.” In her two memoir-cum-workbooks—2008’s What It Is and Picture This, published last month by Drawn & Quarterly—Barry puts her many talents into play. The books’ dense collages, lively cartoons, and hand-drawn text use autobiographical tidbits and philosophical flights of fancy to explore the creative impulse, asking such questions as What is an image? and Why do we stop drawing? Barry, a friend of Matt Groening’s since their days at the Evergreen State College in the seventies, agreed to meet me for breakfast, where we talked art, writing, and cigarettes.

One of the themes of Picture This is forgetting in order to remember, which seems pretty counterintuitive. When you combine it with Don’t—the name of the cigarettes, which are a running gag throughout—the meaning of the lines becomes very contradictory.

Forget to remember to forget to remember, or remember to forget to remember to forget. Yeah, it just makes your brain go uuuuuuuhhh. That’s exactly what I wanted: to get to the point where you realize you don’t know what you’re looking at. Plus, it’s fun coming up with slogans. “What would you do for a don’t?” “Don’t consider it.”

I stumbled on these magazines called Grade Teacher, which were sent to grade-school teachers every month, and I have a pile of them from the late twenties to the sixties. They have stuff like “Fun Things to Draw” or “Let’s Do Our Bulletin Board.” But the big ad sponsorship is from coal companies and asbestos companies: “Free giant charts for your class about how wonderful coal is!” The weirdest things are the art projects with asbestos powder, like “Lets make beads and make necklaces and wear them.” I am not joking.

I wanted to piggyback on that idea. We all know that smoking cigarettes is bad for your health, and I wanted to put something in there that people would unconsciously associate with “not.” “Don’t,” like “not drawing is bad for your health,” like “not doing this stuff is bad for you.” But also, it’s fun; any picture’s improved if you draw a cigarette in it. There’s nothing that doesn’t look better. Seriously, get a Sharpie and an old Vogue magazine. Every page you have to add a cigarette. You’ll laugh your ass off. It’ll be sad because you’ll be alone.


Picture This opens with Arna and Marlys at a branch library, but when they return, later in the book, the library is closed. It’s a very moving scene. Without much external encouragement, they’re reliant on books for creative inspiration and confidence, which they realize once that outlet becomes unavailable to them.

The libraries in public schools saved my life, completely. I didn’t want to make it really explicit in the book, but that’s the library where Arna first sees the book Picture This, but she doesn’t check it out because Marlys wants to go home, and then she never finds it again. For me that branch library being closed is about drawing: It’s about this thing we had open to us and that we all did, and one day, it closes for people; one day, we stop. I’m really curious about that. What makes us start drawing and what makes us stop? And what happens to drawing when we think we don’t draw anymore—because most people say, Oh my drawing’s so terrible, I really can’t draw. But then if you’re sitting in a meeting and you have a paper in front of you, you probably have something that you draw, this doodling thing that everybody does. I like to ask people, Why do you think you do that? Why do we draw in that situation?

What that thing does is help you endure time. It’s almost microscopic, but without it, time feels like a cheese grater, and in doodling, it’s a little more bearable. If you start to think about the arts as a way of transforming time or transforming your experience, then it gets interesting, instead of being “this is a nice picture” or “this is a picture that sucks.”

Even very early on, children ascribe meaning to their scribblings; they’re never just abstract pictures. That’s partly what’s so fascinating about looking at abstract art: The forms become utterly subjective, and the colors themselves take on meaning.

That means you’re making the picture. That’s my kind of drawing. That’s what I tell people, if there’s a coffee stain, and you see something in it, that’s a drawing. You didn’t necessarily draw it with your hand, but you made that. And that’s an old, old thing. In terms of evolution, it’s the immune system that allows the body to fight off a bacterial infection. I believe that the arts are like an external immune system. I believe that they have a biological function.

The fastest way I can explain it is that there is this brilliant neuroscientist named V. S. Ramachandran, who wrote a book called Phantoms in the Brain. He was very interested in people with phantom-limb pain, and he had one patient who had lost his hand from the wrist down, but the guy’s sensation was not only that the hand was still there, but that it was in a painful fist that kept clenching. Ramachandran built a box, with a mirror and two holes in one side. When the guy put his arms in, he saw the one hand reflected. When he opened the hand, he saw it open and it was like the missing hand was unclenching. It fixed his phantom-limb sensation. That’s what I think images do; that’s what the arts do. In the course of human life we have a million phantom-limb pains—losing a parent when you’re little, being in a war, even something as dumb as having a mean teacher—and seeing it somehow reflected, whether it’s in our own work or listening to a song, is a way to deal with it.

The Greeks knew about it. They called it catharsis, right? And without it we’re fucked. I think this is the thing that keeps our mental health or emotional health in balance, and we’re born with an impulse toward it.

Do you prefer teaching drawing or prose?

It’s much easier to teach writing, because people are less shy about writing. If they’re in a group, nobody can see what they’re writing. When you’re drawing, people get a little more nervous. In my writing class, we never ever talk about the writing—ever. We never address a story that’s been read. I also won’t let anyone look at the person who’s reading. No eye contact; everybody has to draw a spiral. And I would like to do a drawing class where we could talk about anything except for the drawing. No one could even mention it. I’d encourage people to copy each other and do whatever they want, but no one can talk about the drawing. When I was watching my students play around, they weren’t talking about the drawing, they were talking to each other, and getting into that dreamy state.

Did you paint all of the words in Picture This? Your handwriting is incredible.

It is all hand painted. When I was working on Freddie, I had been trying to write it on a computer for many, many years, but that delete button just won’t let anything go forward. In Picture This, I talk about babysitting that kid who told me a story one word at a time, and I thought, If that joker can do it … And I came back to my studio and tried to think of the slowest possible way to write a novel, and the slowest way is with frosting. I was really at the end of my rope. There was a baker near our house, and you could look through the window and see the guy decorating cakes. This was in the sixties, when people smoked all the time, and he would smoke while he was decorating cakes. He was this gnarly old guy with a red nose, cigarette, but he did HAPPY BIRTHDAY FRANCISCO! like a pro. And then I thought I had discovered the brush and that I was going to blow everyone’s mind with this news, that you could write a novel with a paintbrush. I mean really, like I had revolutionized three thousand years of Chinese culture. Turns out they know.

What about longer works, like Cruddy?

I just needed to get the story down, so I wrote it by hand. And I wrote it on really big legal paper, so there’d be maybe three words per line. I mean, the manuscript was this big old crinkly thing, and Matt [Groening]—we were giving each other shit and being competitive—he’d ask, “How’s your book going?” The last thing another writer wants to hear is “Great!” They want to hear “Oh I’m having trouble!” while they’re thinking, Really? Is it bad? Yes! So I tell him, “Ahh! It’s goin’ great, you know I’m on page like 570!” But I didn’t tell him that the handwriting was this big.

After writing it, I took it and copied part of it again, and then I worked on a manual typewriter, because that delete button—I really wanted to keep away from it. It was like getting to know a neighborhood: I just walked through the book, I copied it like three times, till the fourth time, when I put it on the computer, and it sort of edited itself, which was a way better way to work than when you don’t know how to be patient so you go back and pick at the top, and then you pick away the thing that you actually needed in order to get that other thing. Yeah, delete button.

Is your new novel, Mr. Birdis, being written the same way?

I handwrite it without any spaces. When I was traveling, because I couldn’t only use my brush, I wrote it without any spaces so it looks like one long word. Cause I didn’t want to be able to read it over very easily. I wanted to write it without me reading it back, and then if I really wanted to read it later on, I could. It looks really boss. You can write anything you want and the people next to you can’t read it. They try to sneak a look and think, “It’s a really long word, man.”
 
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Lynda Barry

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Picture This




  Amazon's Omnivoracious interviews LYNDA BARRY

Updated December 2, 2010


Monkeys, Cephalopods, and Creative Play: Lynda Barry on Picture This, an Amazon Best of 2010 Selection

by Jeff VanderMeer
November 30, 2010

Earlier this month, Picture This: The Near-Sighted Monkey Book, Lynda Barry's follow up to her stunning What It Is, made Amazon's best of 2010 graphic novels top 10 list. That prior book was one of my favorites of 2008, and made my list of the best of the decade. I wrote at the time that it was "one of those rare books that offers solace for the soul and brilliant commentary on the artistic impulse. The images by themselves would be amazing, the text by itself wise and luminous yet pragmatic. The combination of text and art provides new insight that feels three-dimensional and oddly soothing. I cannot over-emphasize the therapeutic effect." Picture This is a different type of creative play, but just as compelling and wonderful.

Barry talked to Omni about Picture This via email recently, touching on everything from the idea of creative play to, erm, how squid might serve up human calamari...

Amazon.com: You said in a Comics Journal interview that the book What It is wasn’t planned. But that you did fill in gaps once you had pages in a general order. Is this the same process you used for Picture This? And how is Picture This different from the prior book?

Lynda Barry: For Picture This it was pretty much the same process. I start with a question--in this case it was “What makes us stop drawing?” and I make pictures while I think about the question and pretty soon the book just sort of starts to gel. The difference was with Picture This I had to have the pages up on a wall where I could see them. And there were a lot of pages so I had to create ‘walls’ to put the pages on in my studio--there isn’t enough wall space to do it--and it turns out the 4 x 8 sheets of blue styrofoam used for construction insulation worked perfectly. The sheets are long, lightweight, sturdy and really portable. So I could put about 40 pages on each sheet and drag the sheets all over the studio so I could move the pictures around until they started to interact with each other.

I think my biggest challenge was accepting the fact that Picture This is a picture book. It was really hard for me to just put in pictures that weren’t comics. I was worried about that. I’ve never been known for my drawing skills. I was worried that people would feel ripped off.

Amazon.com: How has your perception of your audience changed as your work has become more widely known?

Lynda Barry: Well a lot of the people who read my comics are getting older--not just the people who are my age, I’m talking about kids--especially the ones who started reading my work when they were little. I love meeting them now in their twenties and thirties and having them tell me about sneaking my books out of their parents' room, or running into them at the library. I love that. And I love the younger cartoonists I meet because of my work. So maybe my perception of my audience hasn’t changed as much as my perception of my work as being something that moves reliably though time.

But the biggest change has come because of teaching my writing workshop for the last ten or so years. It’s changed my perception about people in general and the role that images play in our lives. I see people completely differently now because of it--my "audience" now is anyone who has had an urge to write a story or make a picture but is too confused about where to begin and worried about what the point of doing any of this might be.

Amazon.com: Has your art changed as a result of interaction with your readers?

Lynda Barry: It’s changed because of my interaction with my students and other people who are curious about working with images. I don’t get to interact much with my readers because unless I’m giving a talk or doing a book signing I don’t meet my readers at all. I live on a farm in Wisconsin and unless I’m traveling I’m pretty isolated.

However, I think I can say my art has been affected by other artists I meet on the road and the conversations we have. While touring for Picture This I’ve gotten to hang around some brilliant writers and brilliant cartoonists, some who are my long time heroes like Jaime Hernandez, some who are new to me and I’m completely smitten by, like Vanessa Davis and Sarah Levitt. And there are some who have no category--the badass ones who are completely unique in what they do, like Joe Sacco. I was lucky to meet Canadian writers like Ryan Knighton and James Grainger, and Vancouver’s poet laureate, the soulful and hilarious Brad Cran. I can say it was worth making Picture This just for these beautiful meetings.

Amazon.com: Do you find any value in misreading of your work by reviewers or your readers?

Lynda Barry: I don’t read what people write about my work and when people talk to me about my work I do my best to change the subject as quickly and politely as possible. Sometimes though when people get the name of my books wrong I love it. I really love how “What It Is” became “What Is It” and “This Is It” and “Where Is It” and “What Is That”.

But by far my favorite mix up was when someone was telling me how much they liked my book “Cruddy” but they thought the name was “Crappy”--which still cracks me up. I don’t correct anyone about such things and my hope is no one ever corrects them. I like that kind of "misreading" the best.

Amazon.com: Can you talk about the importance of creative play in art? Is it underrated?

Lynda Barry: I don’t think art is anything other than a form that contains the potential for that very thing I think you’ve nailed with this term: "creative play".

It’s the interactive element through which an image is transferred from one person to another, or between one part of the self to another part of the self. When I read a poem by Emily Dickinson I have to hold my mind open in the same way I do when I’m listening to someone in conversation. A good conversation can’t be forced or led a certain way. The moment that happens, the conversation sort of dies. What makes it good is both people being absolutely present and interactive with no plan in terms of where the conversation is going. The conversation is a third thing that is neither of the people who are talking, though they are making it happen in the way musicians might be make a song happen by playing their instruments--but they are not the song. Reciprocity is an essential element of play in the same way it’s essential in conversation. Otherwise you’re just stuck listening to some blowhard go on and on, or worse, you’re that blowhard.

The best thing I ever learned to do was stop, look and listen and then respond. This is true for conversations with others as well as making pictures or stories when I am alone.

Amazon.com: What would you say to someone who asks about the functionality of your books, their purpose?

Lynda Barry: My goal is to make a book for someone who is sitting in the waiting room at the Jiffy Lube while they were getting their oil changed. I want to make books that are picked up by a bored or waiting person who starts to thumb through them and gets drawn in enough so that they stop noticing they are waiting at the Jiffy Lube and instead start to itch to make something with their hands. A picture, or a comic or anything at all. I’m devoted to the idea that the use of images can not only transform our experience of time and space, but also has an absolute biological function that is directly tied to an essential state of being which is this: the feeling that life is something worth living.

I don’t mean this on a huge scale. I mean this on the smallest scale. The feeling that life is worth living is like opposable thumbs. They are physically very small things compared to the rest of our body, but so much is possible if we have them.

Amazon.com: I love cephalopods and I get the sense you love them too, from your art. What draws you to them?

Lynda Barry: Well, they are spectacular creatures, very smart, able to change their skin color and surface, some can strobe a bioluminescent trip on you, and nearly all can squeeze in and out of tight spots. Also they have beaks. They are wonderful to draw.

Unfortunately they are also very delicious. That’s been tough. I love them so much. I also like to eat them so much. But I like to think they would feel the same about me. That I’d be something worth eating as well. I don’t know what the squid equivalent of deep frying, salting, squeezing on lemon and serving with sauce would be, but cephalopods aren’t fools. There must be a way to prepare people like me in a way that would make a fantastic appetizer.

Amazon.com: Any recommendations of artists you think are underrated and deserve more attention?

Lynda Barry: Actually what fits that description--underrated and deserves more attention--is poetry. There is something about poetry that I’m only now beginning to glimpse and I think it’s huge. I’ve only been able to get closer to it by memorizing poems. Just reading them on a page doesn’t really have the same power. It’s like reading sheet music or hearing a song once. Those are legitimate experiences but there is something so much deeper going on if you spend time with the music. Same with poetry. It’s much more alive than I ever suspected. And much more useful than I could have known had I not memorized some poems. I try to memorize at least one poem a month. When I’m working on a book I try to memorize one poem a week. These are very short poems. Not epic poems. Emily Dickinson is a particular favorite. A.E. Houseman and William Blake and Issa too.

Amazon.com: What are you currently working on?

Lynda Barry: I’m working on a novel called “BIRDIS”--but it’s hard to do while traveling. I am aching to finish this book. Mostly because I want to be in the world of the book for a sustained period of time because that is a miracle kind of feeling. It’s as good as reading a really good book, even if the book I’m writing isn’t all that good. The feeling of being in the story is incredible. Again, there is a feeling of being able to transform my experience of time and space. Who doesn’t want to be able to do that? I love to be in an image world that rolls out in every direction as long as I keep moving my brush across the page. Not much more to say about BIRDIS except I’ve been working on this book for awhile. Picture This was an unexpected book that popped out where BIRDIS was supposed to pop out in time. Picture This jumped the line. But I’m very glad it did.
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NPR's Priska Neely learns to love LYNDA BARRY

Updated November 30, 2010


Learning To Love Lynda Barry

by Priska Neely
November 11, 2010

So, I have to admit that I'm not familiar with the world of comics. My parents chose a really awkward time to have me, so I grew up with significantly older siblings and didn't do any normal kid things. When other children were watching Nickelodeon or something normal like that, I was in my room listening to the Last of the Mohicans soundtrack (not even joking).

Keeping that background in mind, let me remind you that I know nothing about comics. So when I opened up Lynda Barry's new graphic memoir Picture This: The Near Sighted Monkey Book to prepare for today's show, I was overwhelmed and confused. I didn't even understand how to read it. The book mixes Barry's classic comics with watercolor, collage and lots of doodling. I’m thinking: do I read left to right, or top to bottom? Will I miss a plot point if I don't read the text on the newspaper clippings in the background?

But, as I got deeper into the book, it started to grow on me. Picture This is divided into different seasons (starting with winter and ending with fall) and by the time I got to spring, the ice on my closed mind started to thaw. By summer, I was hooked. Barry's new character, The Near Sighted Monkey, is hilarious and a terrible house guest. I actually laughed out loud because of some of the situations she gets into.

I also really started to appreciate her message that it’s really quite valuable to draw and write by hand. I realized that I believe that too. In my senior year of college, I started writing the first draft of all of my essays by hand, because I really got my thoughts out better that way. And it's true, I draw when I play with my nephew, but never on my own anymore.

When I talked to Barry on the phone, she explained that she wanted this book to be like the Highlights magazines that you picked up to suppress anxiety in the waiting room at the dentist's office — you can start on any page and it makes the time fly. So, even though I can’t go back and give myself a normal childhood, this book helped me get in touch with my inner child and realize the importance of drawing and movement. I came to understand that the book isn't something that you really need to read but something to experience. I’m very glad that I did.
 
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  WILSON and PICTURE THIS on Salon.com's best new graphic novels list

Updated November 30, 2010


The best new graphic novels
From "The Little Prince" to Daniel Clowes' latest -- 9 great releases from the illustrated genre

...

"Picture This"
by Lynda Barry (Drawn & Quarterly)
A companion to Barry's wondrous 2008 book, "What It Is," which presented itself as a guide for people who want to write, this ravishing volume is an exhortation to draw, color, paste and paint from one of the world's greatest cartoonists. There are Marlys comics as well, and a host of enigmatic and evocative characters, including the Nearsighted Monkey (apparently an avatar for Barry herself) and assorted cephalopod/elephant/ghost things of mysterious provenance. It's rare that a book designed to encourage the creative impulse in others is itself a work of art, and the literally minded will probably find "Picture This" confusing. But anyone with an imagination will wander through these enchanted pages in delight, and (if not too intimidated by Barry's own prodigious gifts) might just be inspired to pick up a pen or brush.

...

Wilson
by Daniel Clowes (Drawn & Quarterly)
If you've ever stopped to imagine the private lives of some of Salon's most socially dysfunctional commenters, then what you pictured probably looks a lot like the story of Wilson. Firm in his conviction that he "loves people," Wilson is instead borderline delusional, solipsistic, isolated and teeming with free-floating rage. In a series of two-page vignettes, Clowes follows Wilson's misguided attempts to rejuvenate a failed marriage and connect with the daughter he never knew he had, efforts that somehow end in a prison term. Although self-excoriating dissections of geek psychology have long been a staple of indie comics, Clowes enlivens the material by adopting a Sunday-funnies format (with a different style of artwork in each vignette) and applying the comic timing of, say, "Peanuts" to such subjects as grief, prostitution, incarceration and the inexplicable proliferation of nail salons.
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Lynda Barry
Daniel Clowes

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Wilson
Picture This




Jeff VanderMeer recommends PICTURE THIS on SF Signal's holiday gift guide

Updated November 25, 2010


MIND MELD: Great Gift Ideas For Geeks and Science Fiction and Fantasy Fans

by Jeff VanderMeer

When I think about gift books to recommend, I think of certain qualities: that the books in question be beautiful in some way, that they be rich in imagination, and that they be something that the recipient may not have heard about but will love anyway-because who doesn't want an unexpected treasure?

Three books in particular struck me as fulfilling these criteria this year:

...

Lynda Barry's Picture This: The Near-Sighted Monkey Book - I put Barry's previous book What It Is on my list of the best of the decade for the Omni book blog, writing that it was an extraordinary "exploration of the imagination, an invitation to create, and a moving autobiographical account... one of those rare books that offers solace for the soul and brilliant commentary on the artistic impulse. The images by themselves would be amazing, the text by itself wise and luminous yet pragmatic. The combination of text and art provides new insight that feels three-dimensional and oddly soothing." That description would also fit the follow-up, Picture This, a slightly less focused effort but no less wonderful. Barry's a national treasure and this is a book you can give to anyone and they'll thank you for it.
 
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Lynda Barry

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  ACME NOVELTY LIBRARY #20 and PICTURE THIS on Quimby's Weekly Top 10

Updated November 25, 2010


New Stuff This Week
Weekly Top 10

November 23, 2010

1. Roctober #48 $4.00 – The world’s best music magazine from the folks behind the world’s best cable-access show. A million zillion pages, b&w with tons of pictures and loads of comics.

2. Make Your Place: Affordable, Sustainable Nesting Skills by R. Briggs (Microcosm) $7.00

3. Gaylord Phoenix #5 by Edie Fake $4.00 – New issue from our very own Edie. Don’t miss his event here at Quimby’s to celebrate the release of his Gaylord Phoenix book published by Secret Acres here at Quimby’s on Dec 9th!

4. X’ed Out by Charles Burns (Pantheon) $19.95 – Ever wonder what would happen if Charles Burns took over drawing TinTin? Today’s your lucky day, punk. You like eggs, don’t you?

5. Acme Novelty Library #20 Lint by Chris Ware (D&Q) $23.95 – The most recent addition of Chris Ware’s running issues. Interpret issues how you want.

6. Picture This by Lynda Barry (D&Q) $29.95 – Although I doubt this book needs any introduction, I’ll go ahead and quack a little about Lynda Barry’s exciting follow up to What It Is. These books are sort of a portable pair of life-coaches on the means and meaning in personal artistic process. Where Scott McCloud tries to crack open all the formal and technical elements of comics-making step-by-step in his “Understanding Comics” series, Lynda Barry is using rather sub-conscious processes to burrow deep into the intuitive realms of how and why content is created. It’s a pretty amorphous thing to get a handle on and Barry’s collaged approach reflects the subtleties of the fog while still assembling a book on “how to draw”. Picture This allows her to dig into the core of creating without being didactic or judgemental, writing the secret missing chapter to every “How to Draw Comics” book ever published. -EF

7. Wowee Zonk #3 (Koyama Press) $8.00 – Yo! It’s so good: Michael DeForge, Jan Avendano, Andrei Georgescu, Zach Worton, Ginette Lapalme, Selena Wong, Chris Simonen, Chris Kuzma, Dan Rocca, Patrick Kyle…And everyone really pulled out their A-game here, not a single bad apple in this whole round-up. Insanely beautiful cover art too – what planet are those colors from? -EF

8. Possum and the Pepper Spray by Pete Hodapp $4.00

9. Grime Time #3 $8.00

10. Believer #76 Nov Dec 10 Art Issue $10.00
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Chris Ware
Lynda Barry

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Acme Novelty Library Volume 20




Publishers Weekly reviews PICTURE THIS

Updated November 25, 2010


Comics Reviews: 11/22/10

Nov 23, 2010

Picture This
Lynda Barry, Drawn and Quarterly, $29.95 (226p)

Barry's follow-up to her critically and popularly acclaimed What It Is focuses on the practice and purpose of drawing. As before, this oversized, full-color book collages comics, drawings, and found images to blend memoir, fiction, and philosophy with workbook-style instruction. Picture This proceeds from the same ideas in Barry's earlier work--which regard creative activity as a necessary extension of childhood play--but may be neater in its marriage of theory and practice. By focusing on drawing as directly as the first book did on writing, this ornately visual book shows the fruits of Barry's practice on every page even as it makes her methods overtly accessible. The book is interspersed with comics narratives including moving autobiographical shorts and sequences featuring her beloved characters Marlys, Maybonne, and Arna, as well as full-page images of her new character: a self-satisfied avatar called "The Nearsighted Monkey," who represents, perhaps, a well-fed creative impulse. A pedagogical sketchbook by a wise and eccentric kindergarten teacher for adults--who is also a fully mature artist--Picture This teaches, nurtures, and encourages without sacrificing the edge that makes art a thrilling journey into the unknown. (Nov.)
 
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  The Miami New Times profiles LYNDA BARRY

Updated November 23, 2010


Cartoonist Lynda Barry and Her Near-Sighted Monkeys

By Amanda McCorquodale
Miami New Times
Nov. 15 2010

How do you beat writer's block? Do you thrash your head against the wall? Down a fifth of Jack and start muttering atonal Bob Dylan songs? Do you give up and start selling insurance? Next time a blank page inspires a panic attack, try doodling. That's the advice of famed writer/cartoonist Lynda Barry, who appears this Sunday at the Miami Book Fair.

In her latest graphic memoir, Picture This: The Near-Sighted Monkey Book, Barry writes: "The worst thing I can do when I'm stuck is to start thinking and stop moving my hands." The book, published by Montreal-based Drawn & Quarterly, is the story of two monkeys, one of which -- the Near-Sighted Monkey -- is Barry's alter-ego.

Barry is such a believer that the visual part of you brain also holds the keys to sussing out narratives, she holds fiction workshops called "Writing the Unthinkable" throughout the country. The cartoonist, who's been described as equal parts Dalai Lama and Gilda Radner, is acclaimed for her Ernie Pook's Comeek series, which ran in weekly papers in the '80s and catalogs the day-to-day struggles of lonely, snarky pre-teens.

Her book The Good Times Are Killing Me, which was adapted as an off-Broadway play, won the Washington State Governor's Award, and her bestselling creative writing-how to-graphic novel, What It Is, won the 2009 Eisner Award for Best Reality Based Graphic Novel as well as an R.R. Donnelly Award.

And she's also rubbed shoulders with a little posse of creative geniuses, suggesting you are indeed the company you keep. She went to high school with graphic novelist Charles Burns (author of Black Hole who was supposed to appear at the Book Fair); she met future Simpsons creator Matt Groening at Evergreen State College, who later proposed to her; and she also dated Ira Glass.
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Lynda Barry

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Take a look at LYNDA BARRY's on-air doodles from NPR's Talk of the Nation

Updated November 23, 2010


Picture This: Lynda Barry's On-Air Doodles

by Priska Neely

Cartoonist and author Lynda Barry believes drawing can solve a lot of problems: writer's block, anxiety, grief. And it even may be the key to giving a good interview. If you listened really closely to last week's show, you could actually hear the sound of her sketching. That's right, she even draws when she's being interviewed.

She was kind enough to scan her doodles, which in this case were drawn on a page was out of her journal. She says she likes the way drawing looks on top of writing. It looks pretty cool indeed.
 
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Lynda Barry

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  LYNDA BARRY discusses the process of drawing on WBEZ

Updated November 16, 2010


Cartoonist Lynda Barry discusses the process of drawing

Produced by Eight Forty-Eight
Nov. 15, 2010

Cartoonist Lynda Barry has Midwestern roots that run deep: She was born in Wisconsin and she moved to Chicago after her comic strip, "Ernie Pook’s Comeek," was picked up by the "Chicago Reader." In her drawings, Barry explores the highs and lows of childhood and young adult life. Her characters Marlys, Arna and Maybonne have won her great acclaim and a devoted following. She is is an award-winning cartoonist, painter, writer, playwright and teacher. She is the author of books and plays, like "The Good Times are Killing Me." Her latest is called "Picture This."

Her new books focus on the process of drawing – which is why she’s returned to Chicago. Monday night, she speaks at 6 p.m. at the School of Art Institute’s ongoing Visiting Artists Program. She told Alison Cuddy about this process and her career as a cartoonist.
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LYNDA BARRY at the School of Art Institute in Chicago, Nov. 15th 2010

Updated November 16, 2010


Lynda Barry
When: Mon., Nov. 15, 6 p.m. 2010
Phone: 312-899-5185
saic.edu/vap

by Jerome Ludwig

Lynda Barry stopped drawing her beloved strip, Ernie Pook's Comeek, in 2008, after about 30 years. But she didn't stop drawing, and her new book is an ode to the joy of putting pen (or brush) to paper. Picture This: The Near-Sighted Monkey Book (Drawn & Quarterly) is less a how-to than a why-not. While Barry offers plenty of helpful hints to get you going—like how to draw amoebas and branches—her main business is to laud the therapeutic benefits of the creative act. If there's any manifesto here, it's this: "I believe making lines and shapes and coloring them in can still help us in the way it helped us when we were kids." Barry started drawing a meditating monkey, for instance, "while crying in an airport bar en route to a funeral." "I found it helped," she writes, "and I drew it again and again. I have since painted hundreds more, maybe thousands" to get through stressful times. Barry discusses the book and signs copies as part of the School of the Art Institute's Visiting Artists Program.

School of the Art Institute, auditorium
LOOP 280 S. Columbus Dr.
312-899-5185
saic.edu
 
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Lynda Barry

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  NPR's Talk of the Nation interviews LYNDA BARRY

Updated November 16, 2010


Doodle Your Way Out Of Writer's Block

NPR Talk of the Nation
November 11, 2010

When it comes to writer's block, author Lynda Barry believes the key to unblocking your thoughts is right in your hands.

In her latest graphic memoir, Picture This: The Near-Sighted Monkey Book, she writes,"The worst thing I can do when I'm stuck is to start thinking and stop moving my hands."

And if you also have doodler's block too, or think you can't draw?

"All I tell them is try drawing a cigarette on anybody in a magazine," Barry tells NPR's Neal Conan. "They always start laughing, and I can tell they always feel better."

A lot of Barry's characters smoke — her fictional brand of cigarettes is called Don't — and she says that's a deliberate choice.

"I wanted to piggyback on the idea of cigarettes being bad for you," she says, "[and] this idea of not drawing or not writing ... as being just as bad for you."

Picture This tells the story of two monkeys, one of which — the Near-Sighted Monkey — is Barry's alter-ego. Barry says the first thing you should know about the Near-Sighted Monkey is that she's a really bad house guest.

"[She] hogs the remote, when you get up to answer the phone she'll finish your drink ... she loves to smoke," Barry says.

But that doesn't mean Barry didn't enjoy drawing her. In fact, Barry says Near-Sighted Monkey helped motivate her to keep working.

Read An Excerpt

'Picture This'
"Whenever I do a book, I'm usually guided by a question or something that I'm trying to tease out," she says. "And I was trying to figure out why drawing this dang monkey made me feel so good."

The story of the second monkey, Meditating Monkey, is a bit more sober. Barry says the attacks on 9/11, the beginning of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, Hurricane Katrina, and the deaths of several friends had left her bereft.

"I found myself compelled — like this weird, shameful compulsion — to draw cute animals," she remembers, "just cry and draw cute animals."

She says she started with dancing dogs and friendly ducks — then she found the Meditating Monkey.

"When I drew that monkey, it's not that it fixed the problem," she says, "but it did shift it a little bit, or provide me some kind of relief."

Barry says that's when she began to think about the power of images.

"I believe with all my heart they have an absolute biological function," she says. "They are not decoration. They are not an elective. They have a function."

She says drawing the monkey's lines over and over again reminded her of being 12, falling in love with a favorite song and listening to it on repeat.

"It fixed something," Barry recalls, "or it made a difficult time more bearable."
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Lynda Barry

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Nathalie Atkinson spends a day with LYNDA BARRY in Toronto for The National Post

Updated November 16, 2010


Everything is illuminated: Tagging along on Lynda Barry’s magical mystery tour of Toronto

by Nathalie Atkinson
November 12, 2010
National Post

Lynda Barry is a happiness bomb. There’s no other way to put it, because the cartoonist, teacher, artist and bestselling author is at once an aura of calm and an invigorating, entertaining presence. She’s equal parts Dalai Lama and Gilda Radner, alternately wise and cracking wise like a Zen vaudeville act. When Barry says the word awesome — which is often, usually followed by an emphatic “man” — she draws out the lead vowel like the Hollywood stereotype of a stoned hippie. I discovered this after spending a day with her last month during Toronto’s International Festival of Authors while promoting her new book Picture This (Drawn & Quarterly, $31.95).

It’s a bleak morning when I spring Barry from her hotel, figuring she’d find a walk in Kensington Market groovy (and yes: “This place could make me happy on my worst day,” she says). A jaunty red kerchief is knotted around Barry’s head, just like her long-running comic strip character Marlys, and her hair is piled up and stuck with something resembling a beaded geisha chopstick. This hair quill quivers distractingly in those many moments I think Barry might burst into rapping an ode to Elmer’s school glue.

We discuss her passionate theory of art over an omelette (“perfect!”) at our first stop, Aunties & Uncles. The retro diner is an artfully decaying mix of layers of paint, peeling wallpaper and found objects. It’s a collage not unlike the pages of Picture This, wherein Barry festoons page after page with her signature mix of markers, legal paper, plentiful dots and scraps of ephemera (principally cut from mid-century Grade Teacher magazines, a trove salvaged from the basement of a neighbour’s aunt). “I love garbage – really nice paper I don’t get along with.”

Where 2008’s enormously successful What It Is was a primer on how to tell stories, Picture This is an encouraging exhortation to art, a sort of Artist’s Way for boho eccentrics. One guided principally by Barry’s alter ego the Near-Sighted Monkey, with characters Marlys and Arna from Ernie Pook’s Comeek making cameos throughout the illustrations and exercises.

“It’s not so much drawing to make a nice picture but this idea that I have now,” she explains, “which is that the thing we call arts has an absolute biological function. It’s the same thing how our immune system helps keep us alive; this helps keep us wanting to be alive.”

As if her positive energy weren’t enough proof of her theorem, she offers an anecdote. Remember drawing a Thanksgiving turkey in class, with your hand? she launches. “You just trace it, add little feet, maybe a hat.” Pause. “Think about just what happened to you physically when I talked about drawing that turkey. Don’t you feel better? What the hell is that?” she gushes. “I’d love to have a functional MRI on somebody when they’re drawing that turkey. First, you’re having fun, then it cracks you up, then you realize you are an adult and you look around and think, ‘What do I do with it now? What does this mean?’ It doesn’t occur to you that you can just put it in the trash because the experience has already happened. The experience is what matters.”

We discuss glitter (she likes it – a lot), figure skating and the Real Housewives franchise (ditto, and ditto) and commiserate about transcribing tapes. For past two years, Barry has been living with and following the lives of 20 families and wildlife who live near her farm in Wisconsin in the vicinity of wind turbines, recording interviews for her next book (to be called Wind Hater; “the first name I was called for asking questions about it, though my favourite was wind jihadist”). At least, I try to commiserate. “Transcribing is heaven!” Barry exclaims, chin tilted heavenward before positing a theory about listening to the rhythm of people’s voices. Observing a young couple canoodling reminds Barry of another. “I have a theory we become the toys we played with as kids. My Little Pony and there you go: out comes Britney Spears.”

Next we hit Good Egg, a shop for foodsters, where Barry fondles the Le Creuset. “I love this stuff,” she says. “We have the big one” (she extends her arms into a big circle — “and use it all the time. It’s almost never empty.” We flip through Taro Gomi’s colouring books for grownups and chuckle over How High Am I? A journal. (“Stage 10: have you ever really looked at your hand?”) Enthralled by a scratchy but elaborate handwritten bike map of Dallas, she buys the display copy of From Here to There, a collection of reproduced hand-drawn maps, because “I like pre-thumbed books better than new ones.”

As we walk to the alleyway of rowhouses, Barry reaches into her satchel, fishes out a tube and reapplies a coat of M.A.C.’s burnt red ‘Chili.’ “It’s just the right shade,” she proclaims. “There’s enough orange in it and just enough red. Very hard to find.” Chili has been her signature lipstick shade for six years, she says, “because it gives me a chin. So long as I wear a red necklace.”

“This store wins,” Barry pronounces as we make our way in to stalwart vintage shop Courage My Love. Strings of beads hang over a cabinet of deadstock pantyhose, garters and embroidered name badges, each drawer labelled with a childlike doodled tag. Rifling through retro names like Rose and Horace, she holds a pair of Stub badges up to herself as though pasties and grins like a certain mischievous monkey. Later, browsing the prints at nearby Kid Icarus, Barry approves of the dots she can achieve with a new Bionic gel pen on display (“that’s a nice black”) and offers a soliloquy on beloved ballpoint pens she has known before our penultimate stop: Honest Ed’s discount emporium.

“The first time I ever came to Toronto,” Barry recounts, “this is the one place my friend took me. At night. It was all lit up.” She marvels at the hundreds of hand-painted signs, which I explain are the daily work of long-time lettering employee and one-man font Wayne Reuben.

“Is he by any chance from the Balkans, do you know?” Barry inquires. “Because I have a theory about that.”
 
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Picture This




  The A.V. Club reviews PICTURE THIS

Updated November 11, 2010


A.V. Club
November 5, 2010

Lynda Barry follows up her beautiful memoir/how-to collage, What It Is, with Picture This: The Near-Sighted Monkey Book (Drawn And Quarterly), a book that moves beyond the generalized subject of how artistic creativity gets beaten out of us as we get older, and focuses more specifically on drawing. “Why do we stop drawing?” Barry asks throughout the book. “Why do we start?” Picture This is far more rambling than What It Is (which was itself very freeform), with page after page of loosely related paintings and sketches broken up by the occasional Marlys strip or illustrated essay. And though it’s divided into four sections, Barry doesn’t really build much on her initial ideas about the great societal “DON’T” that stops us from expressing ourselves on a page. Still, even though Picture This is little more than a sketchbook with a theme, the sketches are lively, and the theme profound. Barry writes about how she’s heard “you can’t draw” for her entire cartooning career, and provides a simple, elegant reply: “If I can’t draw, what am I doing?” It’s an inspiring thought, from a different kind of instructional manual, one that offers hundreds of examples of how art is mostly a matter of picking up a pen and starting to scrawl… B+
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Douglas Wolk reviews the "raw" PICTURE THIS and "cooked" ACME NOVELTY LIBRARY 20

Updated November 10, 2010


Comics Raw and Cooked
Essay by Douglas Wolk

One way of thinking about drawing style in comics is to reduce it to a single axis: the continuum of styles between "raw" drawing and "cooked" drawing. Those terms are borrowed from Robert Lowell, who, in turn, borrowed them from anthropologist Claude Levi-Strauss and used them in 1960 to describe two competing schools of American poetry. In comics, it's not a competition—art-comics are a little too collegial for that. But it's easy to reframe Lowell's ideas to describe what cartoonists do. Raw drawing is (or presents itself as) the barely mediated expression of the artist's impulses: it eschews rules and straight-edges, it flows directly out of the brush, it bubbles over with life. Cooked drawing originates in the conscious mind: it's precise and rigorous, with a firm distinction between "correct" and "incorrect" execution, and it's best suited to carefully planned narratives. Raw vs. cooked isn't a useful way to classify most cartoonists; most of them work somewhere between those two poles, and a lot of them change their position on the line from moment to moment. But the Canadian art-comics publisher Drawn & Quarterly has just published a pair of remarkable books that perch near opposite ends of that spectrum.

Lynda Barry, the creator of the weekly strip "Ernie Pook's Comeek," is about as invested in raw drawing—as a practitioner and advocate—as it's possible to be. Her new book Picture This is a companion piece to her earlier What It Is, which was a sort of illustrated version of her famous "Writing the Unthinkable" workshops; that one was a bunch of images and doodles and personal stories surrounding a set of writing exercises, and this one is a similar framework for drawing exercises. For Barry, though, they're very similar processes; they're all about putting a pen or brush down on paper and moving it until something comes out. Drawing, she claims, is "not something that you are good or bad at. It's something else. You move your hand and you scribble all you want and it feels very good."

As you might guess from that description, Picture This isn't particularly structured, and it's very scribbly. Its interior is in the form of four quarterly issues of an imaginary magazine, and its focus is whatever Lynda Barry feels like drawing that day. (Which means, of course, that it's gorgeous; part of why drawing feels so good to her has to be that funny pictures and wonderful shapes appear where her brush meets the paper.) There are questions meant to spur readers into making marks of their own ("Why do we stop drawing? Why do we start?"); there are panels and strips about Marlys, the pigtailed protagonist of "Ernie Pook's Comeek"; there are pasted-in words and phrases from old magazines and school papers; there are a bunch of images of a character that Barry calls the Near-Sighted Monkey. (Barry's pleasure in drawing it, a kind of ultra-stylized self-portrait, is palpable.) Most of all, there are decorations: hand-scalloped borders, circles and blocks and leaf shapes, flowers and curlicues.

Barry jokes that "if you use coloring books past the age of ten, you will wreck your imagination forever"; then she provides a bunch of shapes to trace and color and cut out, as well as a diagram to make "a chicken in winter." Is it possible to make the leap from thinking about tracing and cutting out a chicken shape to actually doing it? Not easily: Barry notes over and over that children are willing to take the risk of making pictures in a way that most adults aren't, but maybe the reason for that is that some adults—like her—have a gift for it, and others don't. And the suggestion that raw self-expression is not just a universal right but a universal delight is a little disingenuous coming from someone who's so good at it.

Way over on the other side of the stylistic scale is Chris Ware, whose artwork is cooked to the point of falling off the bone: perfectly geometrical shapes, micro-calibrated line weight, flawlessly composed images that strip everything down to iconic simplicity. The Acme Novelty Library 20 is the official title of his new book (the creator is identified only as "F. C. Ware" in the book itself), and it's the twentieth in a series that he's been publishing since 1993 (first as individual stapled comics, more recently as hardcover books). The only word that appears on its front cover, though, is "LINT": this is the life story of one Jordan "Jason" Wellington Lint, from birth to death. It's apparently a chapter of Ware's work-in-progress "Rusty Brown," but it's also a standalone volume, formally complete in itself.

Jordan Lint, like most of Ware's protagonists, is a genuinely pathetic person, although of a different ilk than the nebbishy Jimmy Corrigan or geeky Rusty Brown. Lint's world is one of privilege and instant gratification: he obeys every impulse he has, no matter who it hurts. That, of course, means that he's a moral failure every step of the way. Acme 20 runs through the crucial moments of his life as he experiences their importance—and they're not necessarily the moments that are most important to other people, as we find when off-panel events surge up from his past.

Ware, a master formalist, has actually worked up a new set of storytelling tools for this particular volume. Lint's world is dominated by language, and oversized words (that stick out in his experience) are graphic elements on almost every page. So are arrays of tiny dots, another kind of lint. At the beginning of the book, a set of Ben-Day dots form the face of baby Jordan as his consciousness coalesces and he speaks his first "mama." And at the end, as elderly Jordan is dying, his world disintegrates into dots again, as he thinks "am I... am... am..." Which, of course, bleeds through the back cover to appear, in almost imperceptible white type, as "ma... ma...."

All this precision pays off emotionally. There's a phenomenal page where we see that teenage Lint has gotten into a car accident—which we later understand has killed his friend in the passenger seat—while getting high behind the wheel. Every single graphic element on the page is significant: the huge red stop sign has been foreshadowed on the previous page (and echoes a series of little red bursts throughout the book); the spatter of dots representing the moment of impact recapitulate Jordan's birth-of-consciousness image (and are echoed in miniature by the glow of his one-hitter); the "dude" and "whoah" that erupt into the page's white space are his verbal memories of the incident; the images of Jordan lifting his head out of his hands in the hospital waiting room are as tiny as it's physically possible to get away with.

Near the end of the book, there's a section where we briefly move away from Lint's perspective and see a crucial scene from the point of view of his son. All of a sudden, the artwork isn't in Ware's standard style any more, shifting to an all-red palette as it assumes a scraggly, deliberately awkward technique partly borrowed from the super-raw cartoonist Gary Panter for five pages. It's a visual shock, it looks like nothing Ware has ever drawn before, and it drives home one of the story's points—that Lint's carefully conditioned perception of his life is entirely his own, because he's utterly oblivious to the devastation he's caused. It's also not exactly Ware being "self-expressive"—there's nothing unpremeditated about it—but he proves his mastery of his "cooked" style by simulating rawness.

For all its relentless darkness, Acme 20 is at heart a satire. There's a brutally funny gag imagining what a big-box media store will look like a decade or so from now, for instance. And the artist saves some of his choicest barbs for himself, and the limits of the mastery to which he has aspired. On the inside front cover, there's a complicated diagram that's this book's closest thing to an "about the author" paragraph: a schematic illustration of Ware, at his drawing board, producing this volume of The Acme Novelty Library, a labor that he puts in the context of his entire life-span, the amount of time it takes someone to read it—and the size of the entire Milky Way galaxy.
 
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Chris Ware
Lynda Barry

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Acme Novelty Library Volume 20




  Guttersnipe interviews LYNDA BARRY, the "Dalai Lama of cartoonists"

Updated October 28, 2010


LYNDA BARRY

by Shawn Conner
October 25th, 2010

Lynda Barry is, I think, the Dalai Lama of cartoonists…

This past weekend I had the privilege of interviewing Barry. In Vancouver for the 23rd annual Vancouver International Writers (and Readers) Festival (Oct 19 – 24, 2010), she sat in on a couple of panels and, on Sunday morning, led a packed house through a series of writing exercises in a workshop that was a two-and-a-half-hour condensed version of a longer course she teaches in upstate New York.

Lynda Barry is probably best known for her long-running comic strip about her heroine Marlys, “Ernie Pook’s Comeek”, which has been appearing in alternative weeklies all over North America since 1979. The cartoonist is also the author of two illustrated novels, Cruddy (2000) and The Good Times Are Killing Me (2002), as well as the 2002 collection One! Hundred! Demons! and numerous collections of “Ernie Pook”.



Born in Wisconsin, Lynda Barry learned how to unleash her creativity at Evergreen State College in Oregon, then lived in Seattle before moving back to Wisconsin at the age of 30 (she is now 54). Her latest, Picture This, is a pictorial/drawing sequel to What It Is, her 2008 book in which she illustrates (and adds to) the lessons she learned at Evergreen from her teacher Marilyn Frasca about accessing the storyteller inside us all.

Playing with story and writing and memory, What It Is is really a must-read for anyone who is intimidated by the blank page. Both it and Picture This were published by Drawn & Quarterly, the Montreal company Barry credits for more or less saving her career when she couldn’t find a publisher.

As warm and wise in person (hence the Dalai Lama reference – you just feel good in her presence) as you would hope – uhm, our first topic notwithstanding – Lynda Barry was kind enough to sit down for this impromptu discussion the afternoon of Friday, Oct 22 at the Granville Island Hotel, Vancouver.



Lynda Barry: One of the things I like to ask people, especially after we’ve had a couple of drinks is, if you had to kill someone – if you had to, they were just really awful, what would be your style?

SC: I haven’t given it much thought… I’m Canadian!

LB: I had lunch with four Canadians today, and they all came up with very detailed answers. I’ve been asking a lot of people and I’ve never heard the same answer twice. Today was four new ones! I’m an axe to the forehead kind of girl.

SC: Old Skull-Popper! [Old Skull-Popper is the name of the booze that figures prominently in Barry's first novel, Cruddy.]

LB: There it is!

SC: Ever since I read Cruddy I wondered where that came from.

LB: Old Skull-Popper… [thinks] I don’t know for sure if I made it up or if I got it from somewhere, but I can tell you that I had a book on the Old West, and there were a lot of terms in there. I would say it was at least inspired by some of those terms, or maybe it was in there.

SC: You’re doing a workshop Sunday morning. I know you’ve been teaching, is it art or creativity?

LB: I teach writing. The funny thing is, the name of the class is, “Do You Wish You Could Write?” But somebody [at the Vancouver Writers Festival] named it, “Do You Think You Can Write?” So I was mortified when I saw it – it seems like the most aggressive kind of title!

It’s a writing class, a way of working when I was in college and studied with my teacher Marilyn Frasca. It gives step-by-step instructions. Her idea was that everything we call the arts, whether a painting or dance or writing, contains what she calls an image. And she really believed that everything was a container for this thing, and once you understood what an image was and what it felt like, the form you gave it was up to you. But she convinced me when I was very young that they were all the same thing. The quickest way to show people how to do it is with writing.

SC: It’s “the old skull-popper.”


Lynda Barry's novel Cruddy.
[There follows a brief discussion about the biological benefits of art.] Should governments fund the arts? There’s been a huge hue and cry in BC with cuts to funding, but in the U.S. I think arts funding is almost non-existent. And then I think of this short story by Lorrie Moore, there’s a character in there, a father whose son has cystic fibrosis, and he’s talking to a dancer friend of his and he says, “I love the arts, blah blah. But I think every fucking extra penny should be put into medical research.” I’m paraphrasing. Isn’t art, whether enjoying or making it, a privilege?

LB: Let’s talk about what art is… I think governments should be funding it just like they should be funding health care and public school. There’s the art that’s up in galleries and you don’t know what the hell it is, sometimes I look at it and have to imagine it in a gas station because I can’t tell how I feel about it when it’s in a gallery. But there have been some really interesting studies done on the brain, and there was this really interesting study on what’s going on in an adult’s brain when they’re engaged in what’s called “creative concentration”. And then, a kid’s brain, when they’re engaged in “deep play”, where you’re playing with an object but it seems like the object is playing back with you, what they found is, they’re nearly identical – the entire brain is activated.



So I started to think about kids, and play. If you have a kid, and you give them everything they need but they’re never allowed to play until they’re 21, most people understand that person would have a lot of trouble. There’d be some mental health issues. Why do we know that? There’s a tacit understanding – because we’ve experienced it.

So this kid’s never allowed to play – let’s show him a picture, or a DVD, or go live. It’s not going to work. And I think that’s where people are as adults – this idea that, unless we’re really good at something by a certain age, you have no right to continue to do it.

And I think this stuff has a biological function, and it’s corollary is to our immune system. And I think it has to do with being able to cross from one side of the brain to the other, though I think it’s a lot more complicated than that.

The arts are key – look at a high school student and his relationship to music. Or to skateboarding. Which I would argue is art. I would even argue it’s drawing. So yeah, I think government should fund it. But I also think they should do a lot of other stuff. If I ran the circus…

But Canada has always been a little beacon of hope for us, that there has been an acknowledgment that this has an important function. And it’s another reason a town like this seems so rich.

So I don’t think it’s a privilege, and I also don’t think you can stop people from doing it.


What It Is (Drawn & Quarterly) by Lynda Barry.
[The conversation turns to the act of reading, and drawing, and doodling in the margins and how that helps time go faster; I admit one of my favourite things to doodle is Tony Millionaire's Drinky Crow...]

LB: Drinky Crow is awesome! I was just spending time with Tony Millionaire. Did you know he’s 6′ 5″? And he’s very charming and a gent, a total gent. We were staying at the same hotel in San Francisco and we were at [Eightball and Ghost World cartoonist] Dan Clowes’s house and afterwards we got into town, and Tony had had quite a few to drink and I’d had a few less, and he just took my hand and I was kind of walking this giant man down the street.

SC: Do you feel close to other cartoonists? Are you part of that community?

LB: I do feel very close to cartoonists, come to think of it. I mean, I’ve been doing this for thirtysomething years, so it’s hard to remember what I used to feel like before. I actually feel close to anybody who’s just making something.

SC: You’re a pioneer when it comes to comics, being one of the first in the new wave of alternative comics back in the early 1980s.

LB: I suppose. I think there were a lot of people at the same time. [Black Hole cartoonist] Charles Burns, I went to high school with him. I always feel [Evergreen State College classmate] Matt Groening, because The Simpsons is so huge, his comic work [Live In Hell] is totally disregarded. It’s like it’s not even mentioned. But he was doing stuff early on.

And then, Stan Mack, who did “Real Life Funnies”, in the Village Voice. Jules Feiffer, M.K. Fisher, there were all these people who kind of fell in the gap, who were big influences on me. I feel the one thing I did, I was able to do sad comics. That might have been unusual.
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Lynda Barry

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Straight.com interviews "raconteur" LYNDA BARRY

Updated October 21, 2010


Lynda Barry draws out the creativity of memory

by John Lucas
October 14, 2010

For someone who professes to hate talking on the phone, Lynda Barry is a hell of a raconteur. When the Straight connects with the celebrated cartoonist at her home in the farm country near Footville, Wisconsin, what could have been a routine 15-minute interview turns into a conversation nearly three times that length, covering subjects that range from the changing face of the suburbs to children’s cruelty toward bugs.

Barry’s ability to delve into just about any conceivable subject matter is part of what makes her a great writer. And she is indeed a great writer, as exemplified best by Ernie Pook’s Comeek, a strip that ran in many alt-weeklies (including the Straight) for just over three decades. Illustrated in Barry’s charmingly scratchy style, the stories of bespectacled little Marlys, her siblings Maybonne and Freddie, and their cousins Arna and Arnold were often poignant, sometimes hilarious, and always utterly true to life.

Marlys and Arna also feature prominently in Barry’s latest book, Picture This (Drawn & Quarterly, $30.95). Like 2008’s What It Is, the scrapbooklike Picture This finds the author expounding, in her own wonderfully nondidactic way, on the creative process.

That’s also what Barry does in her Writing the Unthinkable workshops, one of which she will present as part of the Vancouver International Writers and Readers Festival. What exactly does writing the unthinkable entail? According to Barry, it’s about tapping into the same unconscious associations that are triggered at random in our everyday lives. “You know when you’re walking down the street and somebody passes you, and they’re wearing some kind of perfume or cologne that you smelled when you were in the eighth grade, and suddenly the whole thing comes back to you?” she asks. “Or you’ll be in a car and you’ll hear the first three notes of some song by Foghat, like ‘Slow Ride’? You’ll hear the first three notes and your life will come back. People will call it ‘a flood of memory’.

“If one could just freeze that moment for a second—say what comes back is your Aunt Lois’s rec room down in the basement—I feel like at that point I could say to somebody, ‘Where are you? What’s directly in front of you, and if you turn to the left what’s over there, and if you turn to the right what’s over there? And what’s behind you?’ And I can ask a lot of questions like ‘What season does it seem to be? What time of day does it seem to be?’ And people, for the most part, can answer those questions. And it sort of surprises them. This kind of thing happens to us all day long, and we don’t even notice it that much.”

Barry, who has been leading her workshops for 15 years, says she learned her techniques from the artist and writer Marilyn Frasca while studying at Olympia, Washington’s Evergreen State College in the late 1970s. Barry asks participants to write down the numbers 1 through 10 and make a list based on a given topic—teachers, for instance—and then scan that list for the entry that stands out the most vividly. And that’s where the writing begins.

“I ask them to write in the first-person present tense, like it’s happening to them right then,” Barry says, using an example drawn from her own youth: “ ‘I am walking down the hall of Building A at Asa Mercer junior high school, walking toward science class, and Mrs. Levins is standing there.’ She had these huge bosoms that she liked to stick out, and she had a green dress. So there she is with her huge bosoms in a green dress. Whether we do it with teachers or cars or back yards or drunk relatives, it doesn’t really matter. Any noun, or -ing words or gerunds, will usually allow people to have these stories to come up.”

Creativity, Barry insists, is not the domain of a blessed few. She feels it is an essential part of human nature, which is why she especially encourages those who would describe themselves as nonwriters to come to her workshops.

“Teaching this class has really led me to believe that this thing that we call the arts, or what Marilyn called images, have an absolute biological function—that they’re not decoration, they’re not an elective,” she says. “I think they’re a corollary to our nervous system, or the autonomic immune system that regulates body temperature and glucose processing. I think there’s something about the image world that is just like that, and that developed along with our little opposable thumbs and everything else.”

Art as an evolutionary necessity? That’s not unthinkable at all.
 
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Lynda Barry

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Picture This




  Portland Mercury Q&A with LYNDA BARRY about the fear of drawing and her new book PICTURE THIS

Updated October 21, 2010


Why Do We Stop Drawing?
A Q&A with Lynda Barry About the Fear of Drawing

by Sarah Mirk

LYNDA BARRY HAS SCRIBBLED and painted and collaged cartoons for over 30 years. Recently, she has turned to making art about making art; 2008's What it Is and its just-released companion, Picture This, are elaborately collaged free-form narratives speculating on what makes adults so afraid to write and draw.

MERCURY: Hi, how are you?

LYNDA BARRY: Well, it's kinda fun to talk on the phone. I don't do it very often. I stopped using the phone for business about 15 years ago, and just got back into it. The phone doesn't ring here very often, so it's a thrill when it does. I just ran in to grab it.

Where were you when the phone rang?

I live on a little farm in Wisconsin, so there's a house and a little grain barn for my studio. I was in there and there's WiFi, but no phone.

Why did you stop using phones?

I don't know, it's been so long, I can't remember what made me not want to use it. But I think my last five books, I did them with editors without ever talking to them on the phone. It's all through email. I used to do interviews all through emails, but that's hard on me and it's hard on reporters. There's not that spontaneity.

Do you prefer the medium of email to talking on the phone?

Yeah, always, but actually, not in this situation. I realize when you email for an interview, you miss out on knowing who that other person is, even just the quality of voice. And also after living in the country for eight years, it's kind of nice to talk to another person.

You get kinda lonely.

Not lonely, I'm just interested in other three-dimensional people.

How come you like living in the country?

There's a whole lot of freedom and privacy. Yeah, freedom and privacy. And also it allows me to keep a frame of mind as long as I want to keep it. Usually when you live in a city, you run into people, or you go somewhere and it changes your frame of mind.

Well, this is sort of a weird way to start an interview, but I wanted to let you know that your work means a lot to me and was a big inspiration when I started writing.

Right on! I'm so happy to hear that! Every time anybody says anything like that to me, I feel like I have to bring up my teacher Marilyn Frasca at Evergreen State College in Washington. The lessons I learned from her when I was 19 and 20, I still use every day and have never been able to wear out.

What are those lessons?

The big lesson I learned from her was this idea, and I think it's kind of a revolutionary idea, that the one thing that unites everything we call the arts is this thing that she called the Image. This kind of living thing that's in the center of a song, a dance, or a piece that you're writing that you're interacting with. You can try and run the whole show, or you can see this thing as an interaction, where there's a reciprocal interaction going on. It's kind of like when kids are in deep play, the toy is playing with them and they're playing with the toy.

Also, the other thing is to just be able to stand what you're making long enough for that thing to exist. The problem with using a computer to write is that delete button. You delete everything you write and then there's no trace of it. I tell my students, you're going to write three sentences, delete them, and then write the same three sentences again. Whatever you're working on, you have to give it time to be in the world with you. It sounds kind of spacey, but I think the best metaphor for it is when you have a really good conversation with someone. There's you and there's the person you're talking to, but it's reciprocal. But then there's this third thing. And that's what I would think of as an Image. And you know from talking to someone, and I'm guilty of this myself, that's just sitting there waiting for you to take a breath so they can pop in with their thing. That's not a good conversation—it's not reciprocal. You're just sitting there, thinking, "Okay, I didn't know I was at a parade."

I like that way of thinking of it: a parade.

And I'm on every float!

Picture This looks like you're just playing around while sticking ideas together; it's all handmade collage and watercolor. I'm sure there's a lot of stuff you throw away, but it doesn't seem like you're stressed out while writing or drawing.

Not once I get into that state of mind, no, I don't stress out. For Picture This, it's a picture book. The way I always start a book is with a question and the whole reason I do the book is to see if I can get to the answer. The question for Picture This was: Why do we start drawing and why do we stop? When we're a kid, what attracts us to drawing? And what makes us stop, around the fourth or fifth grade—to be really worried about drawing? And what can make us start again? The only way I could do that was to make a lot of pictures that I didn't know what they were for.

What's your process for making a book like this, that's really a series of paintings?

Well, I always make paintings all the time for no reason. Sit down, drink a beer, turn on TV—gosh, I just watched the Real Housewives of DC, I love reality TV—and then I'll watch that and paint. So I always have these piles of paintings around and every once in a while there's a group that'll sort of emerge. For Picture This, there was this nearsighted monkey character that was really fun to draw. And my husband is a really good watercolorist, he can draw things that are far away and I can draw things that are close up. So I started drawing these monkeys and leaving them on his desk and say, "Put in a background." And then the picture I'd get back would just blow my mind. So I just let them sit there for a long time and then I started to think about them as a picture book. I don't know if you've ever gone with anyone to get their oil changed? You have to sit there in the Jiffy Lube waiting room and you're just desperate for anything to look at. I started to think about, what would be something I'd be really happy with in the Jiffy Lube waiting room? And that was my goal. To make this the book you'd be really happy to find in the Jiffy Lube waiting room. I wanted you to be able to just pick it up, flip to any page, learn something, and put it down, like a magazine.

Have you ever collaborated with someone before like that?

No, I've been with Kevin 17 years, and I've always really liked his work. I was never so attached to the painting I would give him, no matter what he did with it, I was always really happy.

Why do you like reality television so much?

You know, he asks me that a lot.

It's a you thing, it's not a we thing?

No, it's a me thing. I think it's a lifelong fascination with narcissists who are given a full-speed-ahead signal. I love to just watch them. People who are really into themselves drive Kevin crazy, but I could just watch them for hours. Like, if I'm watching it on a DVD, I'll even put it in slow motion so I can just watch their eyes when they say that terrible thing. I like that non-scripted language. Like the first Real World, before they had their editing down, they used to let the cameras just roll a little too long and there'd be quiet moments in there. They didn't feel so compelled to lead us by the nose through the story.

You like thinking about the way people talk.

Yes, I also like to transcribe. There's this book I want to write about people who live on wind farms, I've been following 20 families for the last two and a half years and going to hearings and stuff. I love videotaping stuff and then transcribing them.

Like boring city council meetings? You go to those and transcribe them?

I could just do it all day long.

I have a job for you.

[Laughs.] I love to transcribe. There's something about the way people speak. Like, I've been following this group of 15 people who write the rules for regulating wind in the state, they're all pretty heavily on the wind industry side. And there's this one guy who can't speak in a direct sentence no matter what. He gets almost to the middle of it and then it forks off. He's really hard to transcribe, but then I'm fascinated with how once his sentences are written down, they contradict each other constantly. And then the corporate speak, "We're flyspecking the rule," this corporate lingo that, for some of them, makes them feel very powerful. Some of them get really into saying, "We're going to roll up our sleeves."

So is that going to be a book? Is it going to be illustrated?

Yeah, I think it's going to be. I've been trying to figure out what the story is here, how to unite the book. I think I'm just going to stick to my whole experience from going from someone who had no experience in politics, except for yelling at the TV that politicians suck, to being someone who's really active both in my city and state. Democracy is so interesting. It's a very boring topic. Most people that know me, they try their hardest not to bring it up, because I'm like a kid with Aspergers.

Okay, before you go off on a tangent, we should stick to writing and drawing. Why are people scared of drawing?

That's so interesting, I think it's the same reason they're scared of singing and dancing. But writing people are a little less afraid of, because writing you can cover it up with your hand while you're doing it. I had this kind of breakthrough when I was at a big design conference in Chicago. If you know my work, you know I use hand-ground Chinese inks, thousand-year-old tools. So I always have a little set that I bring with me and wherever I go, whether it's for drinks or whatever, I usually bring it out and do some drawing. And people always come over and ask me about it, and I explain, and then I try to hand them a paintbrush and say, "Do you want to make a line?" And kids always will. But these people who were big designers absolutely would not touch the brush. So I made up a game, where I said, "Okay, draw a square, then divide it in half, then keep dividing it and try and get as close to the line as you can without touching it. If you touch the line, you get electrocuted." Then they all wanted to do it. As soon as it's a game. Nothing has changed, it's the same brush, but it's no longer drawing, it's something else. And that's one of the reasons why we stop drawing, at least with kids, a piece of paper is a place for something to happen. And for adults, it's a thing. And it's either a good thing or a bad thing.

Are you still scared of drawing after all these years?

I'm not at all unless I'm writing or drawing on really expensive paper. I have this paper I bought in bulk when I was in my 20s, and it's very nice paper, but I still can't draw on it. I freeze. Because it's too expensive. I can use paper from the garbage and that was a big revelation for me: As long as the paper doesn't have a big monetary value, and I don't feel like I'm wasting something, which is something I've never gotten over, I can draw whatever I want. With writing, I love writing, and I have the same problem everyone has, which is sitting down to start it.

Did you grow up reading art books? You make fun of how-to art books in Picture This.

No, we didn't have any of that stuff at my house. I was a huge fan of the library, I was one of those kids who went early to school and stayed until the librarian left. I loved books so much and there just weren't any in my house, there was no interest in any of that. Dr. Seuss was the biggest influence on me, because he was one of those guys who wrote and drew, but his images weren't sugary.

I've given your book One! Hundred! Demons! to a couple people who are just getting started writing. I want to know, how did you get to the point where you can write and draw about the things you don't want to think about?

To not know what you're going to write about until the moment you're doing it. For One! Hundred! Demons!, I knew that each story was going to be 24 panels. So I'd sit and draw 24 squares. [I had a] brown paper bag, I'd stuffed it with index cards that just had a word written on them—"teeth" or "broken" or "screaming." Then I number a page from one to 10 and swear that no matter what word I pulled out, that would be the word I'd use to write the first 10 images that came to me when I read it. And no matter where I teach, no matter what word I choose, people have some association with it.
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LYNDA BARRY of PICTURE THIS at the IFOA 10/29 & 10/30

Updated October 20, 2010


Painter, cartoonist, writer, illustrator, playwright, editor, commentator, activist and teacher, Lynda Barry returns to the IFOA for the Toronto launch of her new book PICTURE THIS, the creative how to draw companion to her D+Q bestseller WHAT IT IS.

FRIDAY OCTOBER 29TH, 8:00 PM
Fleck Dance Theater
READING: Barry, Bismuth, Laferrière, Martel
Lynda Barry, Nadine Bismuth, Dany Laferrière, and Yann Martel read from their latest works. James Grainger hosts.

SATURDAY OCTOBER 30TH 5:00 PM
Studio Theater
Illustrator and bestselling author Lynda Barry reads from her new book, Picture This, and is interviewed by Peter Birkemoe.
 
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  The Vancouver Observer profiles LYNDA BARRY

Updated October 19, 2010


JUST BETWEEN US

Vancouver International Writers & Readers Festival presents Lynda Barry, author of "Picture This: The Nearsighted Monkey Book"

by Alfred DePew
Oct 18th, 2010

American cartoonist Lynda Barry is an original. Best known for her comic strip, Ernie Pook’s Comeek, she’s also a novelist, philosopher, and champion of an unpopular cause: calling attention to the unintended impact of industrial scale wind turbines on a rural community.

Last month, I spoke to her from her home in southern Wisconsin in preparation for her appearance at the Vancouver International Writers Festival, October 19-24.

In her new book, Picture This: The Nearsighted Monkey Book, she explores where drawing happens, why it doesn’t, and all that drawing can be.

“I wanted to figure out a way to write about drawing that didn’t involve writing about drawing,” she says. “I wanted to make some stuff on the page that as soon as you saw it it made you want to make stuff on a page.”

Take her Recipe for Depression, for example: “gluing wads of sadness on a chicken.

“Drawing isn’t the thing that’s left on paper,” she says. “That’s not where it happens. It’s an experience.”

For Barry, drawing is a process that begins well before we put pencil to paper.

“When you were a kid on a long car ride,” she continues, “there’s lots of staring—at stains on the back of the front seat, for example—and if you stare at them, they turn into stuff. That counts as drawing. You don’t have to physically make a picture. You’re taking this thing and relaxing until an image presents itself to you—clouds, let’s say—that counts as drawing.”

Then once we’ve begun to make marks, drawing has everything to do with hands and motion.

“A completely different kind of story is available when you write by hand,” she says. “Also graphically. Something different happens. The happy accident gets undone on Photoshop. When you don’t see immediate value, you delete it. Let’s say I want to draw, and I start drawing. I’m liking it, and then I do something that starts to kill the drawing. It’s dying! Give it CPR! The thing you’re doing to keep it from dying is the real drawing.”

Picture This was completely handmade. Barry glued all of the images onto pages with Elmer’s school glue.

“We didn’t have money growing up. We never had art supplies. We used whatever was right there—Q-tips and watercolours, ball point pen, pencil, glue, scissors, a ruler. That’s it.”

What was important was the act of playing.

“We have a tacit understanding of the connection between mental health and playing. The one thing almost everyone knows around the world is that a kid who’s never allowed to play is crazy by 21.

“I’m really interested in the brain and what’s going on. Now they can put a shower cap with a million wires on the head of toddler and an artist and look at what the brain is doing in creative concentration in the adult and deep play in the child. Their brains look identical in that the whole brain is activated.

“This thing called ‘the arts’ is something we’ve been doing forever—as important as opposable thumbs. When you are shamed out of the thing that helps you stay not crazy … we’re in trouble.”

Luckily, Barry often works in schools, with students and teachers alike.

“I’m trying to figure out a way to teach painting without interfering. I start painting, and if somebody wants to paint, I dip their brush in and say ‘make a mark.’ I watch them. They get gorgeous lines, and I’ve seen some weird ways of holding the brush.”

She was once asked to present a workshop at a design conference.

“Hot shot designers!” she laughs. “Those guys didn’t want to touch the brush; they were freaked out by it. I had to invent a game. I said, ‘Divide the page in half and in half again until you can’t divide it anymore. But if the lines touch, you get electrocuted.’ It changed from making a drawing to play.”

People fill her workshops, saying they wish they could draw.

“Look,” says Barry, “if you’re stuck on the phone, you doodle. Eyeballs, whatever. OK. That’s all that’s left for a lot of people but that’s all it takes.

“It’s weird for adults—unless we know why or what it’s for, we won’t do it. When I sit down with six-year-olds, they don’t ask ‘what’s our budget?’”

When Barry isn’t thinking about drawing, writing, and creativity, she finds herself active in an unpopular cause: making people aware of the unintended impact of huge wind turbines being used to generate electricity in rural Wisconsin.

A nearby national wildlife refuge is being affected by 85 industrial scale wind turbines (each one is 40 stories tall) two miles away. The bat population is threatened, for one. Wisconsin now has the second highest bat kill rate in the U.S. And wind developers are lobbying to build more turbines within one mile of the refuge.

Other turbines have been built closer to people’s houses and farms. And this has caused real problems for many of her neighbors.

In principle, Barry supports alternative energy sources. She and her husband heat with wood. They cook with wood. They have no clothes drier.

“We were all about the wind,” she says. “But the way the developers were talking, I got this sick feeling. They were so slick.”

So Barry started doing research. At a public hearing in the state capitol, people complained that they couldn’t sleep because of the noise of the turbines. They asked legislators to come stay in their homes, so they could see for themselves.

Barry volunteered.

“I didn’t say I was a cartoonist. They call for an ambulance, and I show up in a clown car!”

When she visited them, she began to see there was a problem. So she decided to follow 20 families, interviewing them and making videos. People’s health was deteriorating due to lack of sustained sleep because of the noise of the turbines. Normally fit people were getting fat due to a low frequency thump which affected the organs and the body’s ability to process glucose. One family finally abandoned their home out of desperation.

“What makes me crazy,” says Barry, “is no one’s listening. I saw these wind developers using legislation to bully local communities. I don’t like bullies. I never have.”

And here the story takes an interesting turn. Many of her neighbors are at the other end of the political spectrum from Barry.

“I’m a liberal with a capital L,” she explains, “and many of them are Evangelical Christians. One of my neighbors invited me to church. My stomach turned. I girded my loins to sit through—whatever. And they never mentioned liberals once. I was disappointed. It was like a regular church service. It didn’t occur to me that they would do anything else but demonize liberals.

“When the other side becomes human to you—being with these families and seeing how much misery they’re in—it’s difficult to be smug. Polarization opens the door for corporate greed. If neighbors aren’t communicating, it allows for something very bad to come in. It’s done wonders for me knowing conservatives. It’s been life transforming.”

Lynda Barry will be participating in three events at the VIWF: # 40. Comic Book Confidential; # 61. Do You Think You Can Write?; and # 57. The Lighter Side.
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KQED Arts interviews LYNDA BARRY

Updated October 19, 2010


Cartoonist Lynda Barry makes a case for phone-book doodling

by Lisa Hix
Oct 11, 2010
KQED Arts

For someone who's been told she can't draw, Lynda Barry has made quite a 30-plus-year career out of drawing and writing. In the late '70s, she first introduced a cast of misfit preteen girls with her comic strip Ernie Pook's Comeek and, in 2000, garnered accolades for her brutal novel Cruddy. For her 2002 graphic novel, One! Hundred! Demons!, she put her own spin on a Zen Buddhist exercise and faced her personal demons in comic-strip form. Also a teacher, Barry puts on a writing workshop called "Writing the Unthinkable," which she translated to yellow lined legal paper for a how-to book called What It Is, a mashup of memoir, drawings, Elmer's glue collages, and writing exercises.

Now, Barry is making her first appearance at the Alternative Press Expo, where as a special guest, she will debut yet another one-of-a-kind how-to book, this one for all the people who've been told they can't draw. She'll present Picture This: The Nearsighted Monkey Book, published by Drawn & Quarterly, in a slideshow workshop format. This year's APE -- which in 16 years has become the world's largest convention for alternative and independent comics -- also features underground hero and Ghost World creator Daniel Clowes, a discussion on the history of Bay Area comics, and a new event called "Comics Collaboration Connection" designed to connect writers with artists.

Barry spoke to me about her new book and some of the drawing secrets she'll be sharing at APE.

LH: Tell me about the book you're going to debut at APE.

Barry: I wanted to find a way to do a book about drawing that wasn't just writing about drawing. Or you know, those instructions that always make me feel tired right away, like how to draw a picture of a glass of water and the color wheel and all those things that just make you go "Huhn-uhhh!"

At the dentist when I was a kid they had Highlights for Children, and they weren't very good, but there were certain things I really loved, like "Goofus and Gallant" and I really liked "find the hidden whatever" picture. So I wanted to make a book that had that same kind of feel, sort of like a magazine, something that you could flip through, that has no real starting point necessarily.

LH: What inspired you to publish these how-to books?

Barry: When I was 19 at the Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington, my teacher Marilyn Frasca got me thinking from the very beginning about how everything we call "the arts," whether it's a novel, or a painting, or a song, all contain something that she called an image. Her idea was once you understood what that was, the form you gave it was up to you. In her mind, there wasn't a lot of difference between writing or dancing or singing. And I believed her -- because I was 19 and I wanted to believe in magic. But it turns out I've found it to be absolutely so.

After I published What It Is, I started getting interested in why people are so terrified of drawing. I was at this design conference, with all these hotshot designers, and I had stepped out and just started painting, so people would come by to talk to me. Then I would hand them a paintbrush to see if I could get them to draw with me. To my surprise, these designers were terrified and none of them would take the brush. Then I drew a square on a piece of paper, and I divided that square in half, and then I divided those halves in half. I said this was a game, to see how many times could you divide those halves, and if the lines touched each other, then you get electrocuted. As soon as I told them you would get electrocuted, then everybody wanted to do it. And I thought about that, and this other question about why do people start to draw, why do kids start to like to draw, and why do we stop.

I really believe this stuff, whether it's writing or drawing -- the stuff that my teacher called an image -- I believe it has an absolute biological function. I don't think it's decoration, and I don't think it's an elective. I think it's the corollary to our immune system, except it has something to do with regulating our moods, and our ability to be in the world -- you know, be able to stand it.

Do you draw at all?

LH: No, not really.

Barry: But if you're stuck on the phone ...

LH: I doodle, yeah.

Barry: You do, right? You doodle. Almost everybody does. The reason I think we do that is there's something about it that makes the unbearable hanging on the phone waiting for cable guy to come back on, it makes it bearable. That's the little place for most people who've quit drawing, they still have a little thing that they usually draw when they're stuck.

Part of Picture This is taking drawing from that starting point, from the doodle part, or the scribbly part. It's also championing things like tracing, and coloring books, and copying -- all these things we were told were really uncreative. What's sad is because of all these strict ideas about what creativity is there's a feeling the scrapbook trend is not creative or coloring a coloring book as an adult isn't creative. I think that people have it backwards. I think it's a state of mind that that brings you, not so much the result.

LH: Your book One! Hundred! Demons! was intended as a cathartic exercise, to let your demons go?

Barry: Or letting them in. I'm opening the door for 'em, "C'mon in!" They're there anyway. I'd rather draw about them then accidentally date them. Because that's what I think happens. Unless we have this place, the image world, and we can work stuff out there, which is what part of our biological makeup gives to us, then I think that we're fated to try to date them or marry them.

A scientist named V.S. Ramachandran has done some astonishing work with neurological problems he's actually solved with a mirror. He had a patient who had lost his hand, but the patient's experience was that the hand was still there, and not only there, but it was in a really tight fist -- you know, painfully tight. This guy was miserable; he couldn't get away from that feeling. Ramachandran made a box, tilted the mirror in there, and then he put a hole in the other side. He asked the guy to stick his hand in the hole, the fist that was still there, and look down. So what the guy saw was his fist and then the reflection of it, which was like his other hand. Then, he told him to open his hand, and what he saw was the reflection of his other hand opening, and it solved the problem.

That's a perfect example of what images do. My feeling is that in the course of life there are certain things for us that are like phantom limb pain, like a horrible, horrible parent who dies before you ever work things out with them. And I think the only way that those things can be worked out is through something that's akin to that mirror box -- except it may be a fairy tale, or it may be a painting, or it may be a song you can remember from when you were 14 and you had to play the same song over and over and over again, like 400 times in a row. Yeah, what are you doing there? You're opening your fist. You're looking at a reflection.

The arts, sadly, have kind of become separated from all the tools we use to just take care of ourselves normally. But that's what they do. Rather than it being this acclaimed creation that you either get a prize for or you don't, it's more about blood sugar balancing or temperature balancing of your body.

LH: Are you familiar with Esther Pearl Watson and her Tammy Pierce Is Unlovable comic?

Barry: I love her. She's something. I love her drawing style and I love how balls-out it is. She just lets it happen.

Do you think that Ernie Pook's Comeek was a big influence on her?

Barry: Well, maybe. I think that kind of squirrelly drawing can happen anywhere. I ran into a cartoonist a couple months ago. We were meeting for the first time, and he said he'd done a really mean parody of my work, like, 20 years ago, And I said, "I'll bet it was hard." And he said, "It's really hard to parody your work. It just looks like bad drawing." I guess it does to people.

I've always been told I can't draw. I think it's because my characters are homely and they're female. And I always think that people must assume that if I could make them pretty, I would, that the only reason that they look as gnarly as they do is that I can't make them look any better. That's not true; I certainly could, but I felt that way when I was a kid. I felt kind of like a gargoyle. I can draw some pretty girls, but it's not as interesting to me.
 
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  LYNDA BARRY talks about tapping your inner creativity on Wisconsin Public Radio

Updated September 29, 2010


by Veronica Rueckert
Wisconsin Public Radio

Air time: Friday, 9/24/2010, 10:00 AM

Can people learn or be taught to be more creative? Yes, according to Veronica’s guest, after ten, who provides useful tips for tapping your inner creativity.

Guest: Lynda Barry, painter, cartoonist, writer, illustrator, playwright, editor, commentator and teacher. Creator, syndicated strip Ernie Pook's Comeek. Author, "One! Hundred! Demons!," "The! Greatest! of! Marlys!," "Cruddy: An Illustrated Novel".
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Lynda Barry on tour this fall!

Updated September 29, 2010


Lynda Barry goes on tour this fall to promote new amazing book PICTURE THIS: THE NEARSIGHTED MONKEY. Lynda will be in San Francisco, LA, Portland, Vancouver, Chicago and NYC. We will be adding events over the Fall and early into 2011. If you have never seen Lynda in person before, it may be one of the most exhilarating and inspirational experiences one can have at an author event. Get your tickets and preorder your books now!

10/16-10/17/10 SAN FRAN ALTERNATIVE PRESS EXPO
10/19/10 LOS ANGELES SKYLIGHT BOOKS
10/20/10 PORTLAND ART MUSEUMREADING FRENZY
10/22-24 VANCOUVER INTERNATIONAL WRITERS FESTIVAL
10/29-10/30/10 TORONTO INTERNATIONAL FESTIVAL OF AUTHORS
11/15/10 CHICAGO SCHOOL OF THE ART INSTITUTE OF CHICAGO
12/02/10 NYC 92nd STREET Y WITH MAIRA KALMAN (Holy @#&$%&*?)
12/04/10 BROOKLYN COMICS AND GRAPHICS FESTIVAL
 
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  WHAT IT IS and GEORGE SPROTT are comics of the decade says Omnivoracious

Updated January 19, 2010


Graphic Novel Friday: Comics of the Decade

by Alex Carr

After a few years on the wagon during school, I came back to comics in 2000 and returned to my long-boxes just in time to witness a tipping point in the industry. In the 1990s, the top billing generally went to artists working with mainstream superheroes (and occasionally moonlighting as spokesmen for button-fly jeans), but in the past ten years, the industry made a marked shift in its spotlight on talent. This isn't to say that comics artistry has declined in importance--of course, where would comics be without pencils and inks?--but a balance has returned, and writers are once again held in as high of esteem. And this leveling of talent and emphasis allowed for the advancement of more personal storytelling both in and outside of DC and Marvel, producing some of the most literary projects yet in the medium. Add to these works the box office domination of capes and cowls, and all of sudden comics are reviewed on NPR, and no one bats an eye when the medium has a New York Times Bestseller List devoted to it.

For our picks for Comics of the Decade, we tried to find a similar balance between indie and mainstream, superheroes and comics lit--and a few cases where it all blended together. We narrowed this list by naming titles that set the bar for the next decade.

Black Hole by Charles Burns
Jimmy Corrigan by Chris Ware
Promethea by Alan Moore and J.H. Williams III
David Boring by Daniel Clowes
Fun Home by Alison Bechdel
Planetary by Warren Ellis and John Cassaday
Bottomless Belly Button by Dash Shaw
Y: the Last Man by Brian K. Vaughan, Pia Guerra, Jose Marzan, et al.
New X-Men by Grant Morrison, Frank Quitely, et al.
What It Is by Lynda Barry
But not all that is great about comics is necessarily new, and there's no doubt that this decade saw a vast improvement in archival and collected editions. There was so much material that we had to break these objets d'art into their own separate category. Below are our picks for Comics Archives and Anthologies of the Decade:

Complete Peanuts (Fantagraphics)
Love and Rockets Library (Fantagraphics)
DC Comics's Absolute Editions (Sandman, Watchmen, Crisis on Infinite Earths)
The Complete Calvin and Hobbes (Andrews McMeel)
An Anthology of Graphic Fiction, Cartoons, and True Stories: Vol. 1 and Vol. 2. (Yale University Press)
Creepy and Eerie Archives (Dark Horse)
The Best American Comics (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)
Bone: The Complete Cartoon Epic in One Volume (Cartoon Books)
McSweeney's Issue 13 (McSweeney's)
MOME (Fantagraphics)
And just so I can sleep tonight, here's what the rest of the comics list would have looked like if this were a Top 25:

All Star Superman by Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely
Asterios Polyp by David Mazzucchelli
Astonishing X-Men by Joss Whedon and John Cassaday
Blankets by Craig Thompson
Clumsy by Jeffrey Brown
Criminal by Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips
Daredevil by Brian Michael Bendis and Alex Maleev
Eightball #23 by Daniel Clowes
Fables by Bill Willingham, Mark Buckingham, Lan Medina, et al.
George Sprott: (1894-1975) by Seth
Hellboy by Mike Mignola, et al.
Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi
Scott Pilgrim by Bryan Lee O'Malley
Stitches: A Memoir by David Small
The Ultimates by Mark Millar and Bryan Hitch
The Umbrella Academy by Gerard Way and Gabriel Bá
Ok, that's more like a Top 26, but we had to cut the list somewhere. Here's to another ten years of remarkable comics. Up, up, and away.


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George Sprott: (1894-1975)




WHAT IT IS inspires exploration in one's creative deep waters says the International Examiner

Updated January 5, 2010


Chaos and Order in “What It Is”
A book that is neither textbook, graphic, or novel, it demands a personal interpretation from readers.

By Thomas R. Brierly

A tepid reader who first gazes upon this book may shy away from breaching its pages. The captivating collages of magazine cutouts, mammalian illustrations mounted in magic and glittered fascination of a helpful cephalopod can seem discordant for most, but the celebrated world Lynda Barry has created for the imagination and inspiration is actually most harmonious. It would be a dereliction of doting, which she attempts to reinstate for the sake of one’s imagination we all once probably had as children and few of us have foster in our adulthood. What Is It happens to be the catalyst for minds needing a helping hand.

She may hesitantly refer to it as a textbook, not wanting to classify it, being the author’s only description for the book though even describing it as an activity book, which is apt considering the pedagogy in the last third, doesn’t do it justice. Barry does what artists often do is the device of having the audience arrive to their own conclusions. Whether packaged as a textbook or a freeform, visual barrage of considerable interest, one does learn or maybe invite back memories of youth, something safe to the say is what the author intends.

As an earnest textbook, these lessons complied here are something of a compendium to Barry’s Writing the Unthinkable, her creative writing class. Though to also state that this is a book only for writers needing inspiration would be wholly short on the understanding what Barry has created. We see the illustrative techniques that Barry uses, she incorporates found objects building structure and stories by overlaying cutouts with her own hand-drawn rendering as the visual aids in a maxim of her’s, pictures can help us find words to help us find images. The phrase being of a snake biting it’s tail conjures the continuous effort to keep the creative juices flowing. “What It Is” isn’t all writing activities for inspiration, there is Barry’s story-telling she injects as the opener.

The personal narrative starting with her childhood and weaved within the first two-thirds tells of the author’s vivid imagination coping with barren inspirational life that existed growing up. A childhood experience of parental neglect, as a young girl, she conjured for comfort a method of waiting or more like meditating on inanimate objects to tell her stories. These objects being of toys or characters in magazines or television’s revelry on a child’s imagination speak to the author and by way of her, divulges an intimacy that locks the reader to the narrative.

It would be a mistake to turn away from these pages. One might find personal particulars relatable to Barry’s childhood. These particulars present themselves in wonderful illustrative forms and fashion harkening one’s memory to their own experiences. An old song playing in the background or a smell sparking a memory can be turned into her catalyst which she’ll have intertwined elements ready for your own narrative to react to. The small drops dripping from your conscience will be flooded by the innate voice ready to replenish the drought of your riverbeds of creativity.

What It Is commands a mouthful of descriptions that may be difficult for a person not familiar with her style, but all the better for it when you take the time to bond with its content. Barry’s has created a wonderful book that balances a narrative that delves in things of the past that can be the fodder for the expulsion of one’s memories for her lessons bringing full circle a fun read and even better, inspiring exploration in one’s creative deep waters.
 
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  WHAT IT IS on the Make: Gift Guide 2009.

Updated December 14, 2009


Make: Gift Guide 2009: Creativity tools

What It Is By Lynda Barry

I can't think of a better example of a real-life Blakean character, someone who's cultivated a similar self-modeled creative universe and who sees things from many and unique angles, than contemporary comic artist and memoirist Lynda Barry. This is profoundly evident in her new book, What It Is. This densely collaged work is utterly uncategorizable - so many modes of expression at the same time: a textbook/workbook on inspiring creative writing and cultivating creativity of all kinds, a memoir-comic of Barry's personal struggles with creativity and self-expression as a child, a stunning and challenging piece of collage art, and a sort of extended fever dream on the nature of memory, imagination, play, and creativity. And like William Blake, Barry's message is also about waking up to yourself. It's an extended pep talk on finding the inspiration between your ears and using your senses and memories of life experiences to express yourself in ways that can truly enrich your life. It's hard not to open up this book, poke your head into its dream-like sea of memory-ticklers, imaginative ideas, creative inspiration, and surreal imagery, and not want to put it down to go make something on your own. As if to drive home the beastly, manifold nature of feral creativity, Barry introduces the Magic Cephalopod (aka squid), a sort of creature from your Id who swims through the murky depths of the text, its many appendages constantly in creative motion, gently guiding you to swim off to some grand adventure inside the Mariana Trench of your own creativity. This is Blakean art, and Blakean inspiration, for the 21st century. -- Gareth Branwyn
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WARE and BARRY participate in discussion panel

Updated November 9, 2009



 
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  Lynda Barry in the Janesville Gazette

Updated August 27, 2009


Alternative cartooning icon enjoys simple life in Footville
By CATHERINE IDZERDA ( Contact ) Tuesday, Aug. 11, 2009

FOOTVILLE — First came the stories of childhood.

The dusky evenings playing kickball on a quiet suburban street. The stories of being 8 or 9 or 10 years old and trying to understand the mysteries of the universe—the cool girls table in the lunchroom, kind teachers and cruel ones and the unpredictable moods of parents.

Then came the stories adulthood—funny, awkward, tender.

Finally, other people's stories. Not the big ones—like the time we won the big game right at the buzzer. But those small, framed moments of life: The barber putting a wooden board across the arms of the barber chair for a child to sit on for a haircut.

All those stories come from—and are encouraged by—the heart and mind of Lynda Barry.

Lynda Barry and her husband, Kevin Kawula, live quietly on a farm near Footville. He restores prairies; she teaches writing, writes and illustrates her own books and, until recently, produced a weekly comic strip.

Her artwork isn't easy to describe. It's a mixture of cartoon panel drawings, ink and water color on paper and collage. Even the script in the cartoon panels carries emotional weight.

Barry was born in Richland Center in 1956, but her family moved to Washington when she was young. She attended Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington, where she met Matt Groening of Simpsons' fame. He was the editor of the student newspaper and published her comics.

Barry started her career as a cartoonist during the hey day of alterative newspapers. They wanted something sophisticated, edgy and funny, and she obliged with "Ernie Pook's Comeek."

The comic told the stories of Maybonne, Marlys and Freddie, preteens struggling with the vicissitudes of childhood.

Sometimes, the strips were straight up funny, other times strange, poignant, disconcerting, but most often, they were all of the above—that's the way childhood is.

Barry became an artistic celebrity, a leading alternative cartoonist. Collections of "Ernie Pook's" comics were furious sellers.

Over the years, however, alternative newspapers began to close, losing ground to the Internet, and Barry had trouble finding outlets for her work.

In 2001 she created a series of cartoons called "One! Hundred! Demons!" for Salon.com., and it was later published in book form.

The work is kind of artistic devotion developed by Buddhist monks. Its goal was to exorcise personal demons by giving them form on paper.

It sounds like a grim exercise—but it's actually about telling stories, and those stories can be really funny, especially when they involve self-involved boyfriends, insane roosters and former Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris.

The first demon in the compilation is "Head Lice." It's a story about your first crush, the uncomfortable life of fifth graders and looking back with chagrin at the relationship you had with that self-absorbed jerk with the ponytail.

In that self-absorbed jerk, Barry creates a universal metaphor for every wienie anyone has every dated.

And though Mr. Pony Tail doesn't get his comeuppance, he does get head lice, which is almost just as good.

The opening panel reads "Although head lice have been with us since Neanderthal days, they seem to have skipped my neighborhood in the '60s. Was it all the TV dinners we ate? Or the candy so loaded with preservatives it never went bad?"

Several panels later, we meet her boyfriend, a "somewhat gifted" child from the suburbs who is reading the "Lonely Genius Gazette."

"Although I'd been making my living from my writing and art for years, he saw a lot of room for improvement," Barry writes in one panel.

His doubts about her fitness to be his partner only seem to increase her love.

After an extended stint volunteering in a fifth grade classroom, she catches head lice from the kids.

It's a horrible and hilarious moment: "He was frank with me about this feeling that I was not his peer in many ways, now I had to tell him I'd given him head lice."

In the cartoon bubbles above their heads, she says, "There's no easy way for me to say this."

He says, "You don't have to. This relationship isn't working for me, either."

She says, "No, I have head lice."

It's funny, but also reminds us of the people we've dated who didn't recognize our worth. Worse, it reminds us that we continued to date them even after we knew the truth.

But Barry forgives our frailties by showing us her own: "I wish I could say my revelation made an instant difference, but head lice are much easier to get rid of than bad love. It's been true since Neanderthal times, I'm sure."

In 2008, "One! Hundred! Demons!" was one of three books picked as required reading for the Stanford University Class of 2012.

At the end of the book, Barry encourages readers to paint their own demons—to tell their stories.

In 2008, Barry published "What It Is," an entirely different work with a similar theme: Tell your story.

Each page is its own artwork created with ink, watercolor, scraps of text photos and images cut from books, magazine and newspaper and a variety of other items. It's visually complicated and tremendously engaging.

The first half of the book is like a graphic novel: With images and words she tells readers about the creative life—where it comes from in childhood, how it disappears and, most importantly, how to get it back.

On page 138, a multi-eyed sea monster brandishing a pencil announces, "Welcome to Writing the Unthinkable!"

"Useful, distinctive and inexpensive," announces another line of text that looks like it was cut from a pamphlet.

What follows are lessons Barry uses in her writing classes.

"We notice that when people tell the story of their lives, it often sounds like an obituary," says the cartoon bubble next to the multi-eyed sea monster. "A lot of general information, but almost no images."

Those images hold the key to our ability to tell stories. Instead to trying to remember the details of a childhood trip to the Corn Palace, start with the image of the station wagon. Vinyl seats? A big space in the back for a fort made of suitcases? The smell of Aunt Mary's cigarettes?

Those kinds of images loosen up our brains, taking us back to the rich world of childhood, and those framed moments in time that, in the end, are the only ones that matter.
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WHAT IT IS reviewed by The National Post

Updated May 19, 2009



Cartoonist Barry teaches how to tap creativity

Weekend Post Published: Saturday, May 09, 2009

What It Is: The Formless Thing Which Gives Things Form by Lynda Barry (Drawn & Quarterly; 208 pp.; $24.95). The American cartoonist and writer's instruction manual for older teens and adults provides, in collage format, strategies to help artists pull ideas from the inside out. This visually stunning book -- part memoir, part guide -- offers readers a glimpse of how Barry herself has tapped into her creativity. Beverley Brenna, reviewing in the Saskatoon StarPhoenix, writes: "Not a book to be read sequentially, or even much in one sitting, What It Is provides a great deal of food for thought, but readers who attempt to digest it as a more traditional writing guide will get a headache." As Barry delves into her storied past, she provides recollections that offer insight into her definition of imagination. "When I was little, I played a certain staring game that seemed to have invented itself. I would hold myself as still as I could and make my eyes like a toy's eyes that don't move -- and I would wait. I would wait for the other things in the room to forget about me and begin to move ... I believed there was another world that would show itself to me in the smallest ways." Buy it.
 
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  WHAT IT IS reviewed by The Star Phoenix

Updated April 30, 2009


Giving form to images too often kept inside
Beverley Brenna, Special to The StarPhoenix
Published: Saturday, April 25, 2009

American cartoonist and novelist Lynda Barry is the kind of artist who detests self-censorship. Her writing instruction manual for older teens and adults is proof that the muse is varied and rich.

What It Is (hardcover, Raincoast Books, $24.95) provides, in collage format, strategies which allow artists to pull ideas from the inside out. On visually stunning pages, Barry offers readers a glimpse of what she herself has pulled out . . . things which most people would be too reserved to share.

There is, in some, a suspicion that if we share the artistic process, it will disappear. Not so with Barry, who offers her inner workings for readers to examine. She also sends explicit thanks to teacher Marilyn Frasca at The Evergreen State College, on whose techniques much of this book is based.

Not a book to be read sequentially, or even much in one sitting, What It Is provides a great deal of food for thought, but readers who attempt to digest it as a more traditional writing guide will get a headache.

Assumptions which Barry contradicts in her book include the notions that artistry requires particular time, space, phase of the moon, or nutrition break. She also quashes the idea that writers must be particularly talented. Instead, she offers, through words and graphics, the philosophy that everyone has an inner writer and artist, and that the requirement for production is simply to engineer its release. She also hinges much of her advice on embracing the life of an image, a recommendation that definitely shows up in her own work.

As Barry delves into her storied past, she provides recollections that offer insight into her definition of imagination. "When I was little, I played a certain staring game that seemed to have invented itself. I would hold myself as still as I could and make my eyes like a toy's eyes that don't move -- and I would wait. I would wait for the other things in the room to forget about me and begin to move . . . I believed there was another world that would show itself to me in the smallest ways."

She goes on to describe how it is up to us to bring back the illusions, the realities of that other, earlier world. "Where is the past?" she asks, and then answers, "Everywhere, nowhere, somewhere, anywhere, elsewhere, and here."

Barry relates, in autobiographical terms, a childhood swelling with doubts and fears, and four books that made it into their house. Four books and a radio became her map and her compass, because although they had TV, "both misery and joy seemed to perish in its light." How do images get inside of us? How do they get out? These are questions that connect to the personal and social demands that make writers want to write.

"Why don't you write?" she asks. The answer to this question can be explored in terms of place. Stories have transformational capabilities. "They can't transform your actual situation, but they can transform your experience of it." Yet if we are in a place where we see no reason for writing, or in a place where the reason for writing is overshadowed by a feeling that we can't write, we don't.

Barry implies that school is a place that often gives many reasons for writing, and sometimes, at the same time, no reasons for writing. That reasons are contrived may be enough of a detriment to the writing process to make students disinclined. And imagine building a house, where every strike of the hammer caused the foreman to yell, "Too hard! Too soft! Too loud! All wrong!"

Some of the pages separate the book from a younger audience, including Barry's very dark exploration of monsters. "Why are monsters in so many old stories?" she queries. Her response is that it's perhaps because we need them when we are children, as a way of helping us come to terms with the monsters we face in real life. "That I had a very gorgon-like mother never occurred to me, and if it had, I would have been lost. Did the (fictional) gorgon help me love my mother? I think she helped me very much."

In her artistic work, Barry certainly tackles a great number of monsters. Her characters in the weekly comic strip Ernie Pook's Comeek offer views of family life from the perspectives of marginalized groups. In her novel The Good Times are Killing Me, she describes an interracial friendship between two girls, and in Cruddy, she offers a gritty and at times hilarious portrayal of an adolescent girl caught in drug subculture.

Straddling the divide between advice for teachers and advice for writers, What it Is provides an inspiration to consider what gives form to the images we keep inside us, the purpose for giving these images voice, and the autobiography of a woman whose artistic life is a memorable tribute to good teachers everywhere.

Brenna is a Saskatoon author of six books for young people. Her junior novel The Moon Children is shortlisted for a Silver Birch Award from the Ontario Library Association.
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LYNDA BARRY interviewed by Radar Redux

Updated April 30, 2009


What It Is: Cartoonist Lynda Barry Speaks at Johns Hopkins
Tuesday, 21 April 2009 16:54
Brigitte Warner

The morning after her talk and slide-show presentation at Johns Hopkins University's Homewood campus, Cartoonist Lynda Barry sat across from me in a small tea shop on the fringes of Charles Village. Her talk and slide-show about her illustrated, genre-bending book What It Is, had shaken the audience with unending laughter. Some slapped knees; others had to wipe away tears from their eyes at her intensely personal, unrelentingly honest humor. Now, I had a quiet moment to talk to her about life in the midwest, Wind Turbines, and the importance of poetry.



“I’ve never been a breakfast person. I wouldn’t eat until 2, but now I’m forcing down a raw-food bar in the mornings. Otherwise, my glucose levels would go like this. (She motions a wave with hand).

"I'm living with my husband in Footville, Wisconsin and have started learning so much about plants. He's a prairie restoration expert. When I moved to the midwest I hadn't realized how close-minded I was. I mean, I'm liberal with multiple L's. Llllllllliberal. I never thought I'd be such close friends with - be able to love people so much - whose views are so different from mine. My friend invited me to church with her. Most people in Footville are Evangelical. Part of me was expecting the entire service to be about how terrible liberals were, but it wasn't like that at all.

"I've gotten very involved with wind turbine advocacy. My friends in the midwest call them 'turbans.' They're 400 feet high when measured to the tip of the blade and newer ones will be 500 feet. They're only required to be 350 steps away from a house, and they're wreaking havoc with a lot of peoples' bodies. That repeated sonic boom is making it hard for people to concentrate or even sleep. Studies are showing how the continual vibration of soft tissue causes it to harden. It's also messing with the inner ear. I don't want to call it Wind Turbine Syndome - there's a researcher at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine named Dr. Nina Pierpont who's published a book on it - but Wind Turbine Syndrome? (laughs) I'm not sure how people would respond to that.

"The wind turbines are killing bats too. You'd think these bats -- the only flying mammal -- could outfly wind turbines, but we keep finding dead ones at their bases. It turned out they were flying into sudden drops in air pressure caused by the motion of the blades - the bats were dying of the bends. Their lungs were collapsing.

"I never expected to get so involved. I've become such close friends with those in my community. Dr. Forni's work on civility has transformed our meetings with wind turbine companies. His work is so important to me. It was incredible to meet him last night.

"I've given myself two more years to pour everything into this, and then I need to focus on my writing again. I don't miss being in New York City or Chicago. Seattle was never a good fit for me. I don't mind not being around people - I mean when there are people I'm like the friendly dog in the neighborhood that has to run up and get to know everyone. It's just the images are always with me no matter where I am. The mentality of artists in New York can be distracting. I need to keep striving and not get caught up in it. You keep thinking as an artist that you'll someday reach a point when you'll graduate and have it figured out.

essay_questions"It's like that with faith too. I grew up a strict Roman Catholic and went through a hard-core atheist phase. You think you're going to graduate and come to conclusions about things, but the questions remain. That competition between disbelief and God will always be with you until the final punctuation (laughs).

"My depression influences shifts in my work. I've dealt with it since I was a little girl. I think drawing - the creative process - is essential for our mental health. I've been memorizing poetry. Especially Emily Dickinson. There's something about the form that is able to contain an image so concisely. It's been tremendous for my creative process."

(This article has been transcribed from notes from the interview)

Lynda Barry's book What It Is, published in May 2008, is a richly illustrated work book detailing her creative writing process and is based upon her Writing the Unthinkable workshop.


 
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Lynda Barry in The Chicago Tribune

Updated April 2, 2009


Being Lynda Barry
For the legendary cartoonist, it's been a [very bumpy] road less taken

By Christopher Borrelli
March 8, 2009

Lynda Barry

Cartoonist Lynda Barry photographed while teaching a class on creativity at the Old Town School of Folk Music Sunday, August 24, 2008. (E. Jason Wambsgans, Chicago Tribune / March 8, 2009)

"There's a gas leak."

That's the first thing Lynda Barry said to me. Then she looked at me sideways, like a shy child, and though it was late summer and uncommonly pleasant, conducive to an outdoors interview, she led me into the living room, where we talked for hours, enveloped by disorienting fumes, which grew in pungency by the minute. She wore a red bandanna, which she wears a lot; a white shirt because she sweats a lot; glasses with lenses so thick they reminded me of an aquarium; and intense red lipstick, because that's her uniform. "The great thing about leaving Chicago for Wisconsin," she said, "is Wisconsin's full of eccentrics." "There's no pressure to be straight. You might think there is. But they know I'm a nut. There are a lot of nuts here, which is good because the thing I can't do is tamp down the way I look. This is as straight as I get. I look crazy. I know I do. Been true since I was a kid! I looked like Alfred E. Newman. Now look at me!"
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LYNDA BARRY in the SF Examiner

Updated March 31, 2009


Writers and Artists to Follow: Lynda Barry
March 30, 1:56 AM ·
http://www.examiner.com/x-6065-SF-Graphic-Narrative-Examiner~y2009m3d30-Writers-and-Artists-to-Follow-Lynda-Barry

I had the supreme pleasure of meeting Lynda Barry a few months ago when she came to speak at The Booksmith, one of my favorite bookshops in San Francisco. She gave a fascinating, untraditional presentation about the importance of play and creativity to the human psyche (a big chunk of which can be found on her Marlys website.) Barry’s latest book, What It Is, largely deals with these themes as well.

If play is the key to mental well-being, Lynda’s got to be the sanest person on the planet. I say this because from a visual standpoint, it’s very clear from Barry’s work that her inner child is alive and flourishing. Her use of yellow notebook paper, glitter, sequins and lots of knick-knacks creates a lovely homemade aesthetic with the illusion that you could do it yourself. However, anyone who has actually attempted such an endeavor with said materials knows Barry’s true mastery of her craft.

Some people will be turned off to Barry’s arts and craft aesthetic from the get-go and that is their prerogative. However, I would urge those people to take a second look for two main reasons. First of all, Barry’s visuals contain many subtle, thematically crucial details that can easily be missed upon first glance. This is especially true in the ornate collage pages that run rampant throughout One! Hundred! Demons! and What It Is.

Secondly, the true genius of Barry’s kindergarten-on-crack visuals is in how aptly they fit the narratives she portrays with them. Like the visuals she evokes, Barry’s storytelling style combines equal parts whimsy, innocence, nostalgia and ghostliness. Acting as perfect thematic complements, her art and text seamlessly integrate so that the resulting narratives are breathtaking and spellbinding. Together they possess the uncanny ability to evoke all the terrible, beautiful and awkward aspects of growing up most of us have so readily forgotten.

This brings me to what is perhaps Barry’s absolute best quality as a writer: to genuinely, flawlessly capture the voices of her teenage and child characters—and in doing so, to take her readers back to a time much less familiar than they think. In her comic sequences in works like What It Is, One! Hundred! Demons!and Ernie Pook's Comeek, her economy of language is impressive enough considering the scope of sentiments, ideas and detail she gets across with it. But the fact that she’s constantly accomplishing these feats in the voice of youths is what’s really astonishing. If you’ve ever read Cruddy, her illustrated novel (which, despite certain graphic novels being mislabeled as such, actually is a novel with illustrations), you know her verbal talent for getting into character extends beyond captions and dialogue.

Barry defines her writing as autobifictionalography, a term which I think would also aptly apply to the myriad other loose memoirs and pretend-autobiographies on the shelves today. A number of recurring motifs, themes and stylistic elements can be found throughout her work, including teenage angst and rebellion, cruel or abusive parents, self-reflexivity, personal vices, socioeconomic status, ageism, and creativity.

Lynda Barry is quite prolific, so I’m just going to focus on a few of my personal favorites in my recommendations. Her newest book, What It Is, is the perfect read for any creative type who sometime finds him or herself confronted by writer’s block or similar frustrations. It contains many helpful exercises to stimulate the creative self and thus keep the rest of the self sane.

As much as I enjoy What It Is, I would say that One! Hundred! Demons! is actually the quintessential Lynda Barry work. Here she is in top from as a storyteller, using a unique Zen Ink painting exercise to exorcise the various metaphorical demons that plague her semi-autobiographical protagonist. These include her mother, regret, self-consciousness, drugs, and Ira Glass. How could that not make for a great read?

If you’ve never read her work before, I’d recommend you start with one of those and then move on to the other, followed by some collections of her strips such as The Greatest! Of! Marlys! or The Freddie Stories and then maybe to her novel Cruddy. If you find yourself desperate for more Lynda Barry after devouring all of these and reading all her work on Salon.com, you can check out this huge list of all the work she's done and then maybe buy some of her original drawings on ebay.
 
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  WHAT IT IS reviewed by The Graphic Novel Reporter

Updated March 13, 2009


What It Is
written by Lynda Barry
reviewed by John Hogan
March 2, 2009
GRAPHIC NOVEL REPORTER

This is not just an exciting time to be reading comics and graphic novels. It’s also a time when many people want to write and draw them too. With so many options available to share their creations (and several success stories that have come about from self-publishing startups), people who want to do more than read have begun to explore their creative sides. While the results of those efforts have been wildly diverse (for every great breakthrough, there have been more than a few clunkers), the excitement in the industry has created a small but valuable niches: the how-to guide.

Two recent books have set the standard for guides to creating graphic-novels. One, Drawing Words and Writing Pictures, from the team of Jessica Abel and Matt Madden (click here for the Bookreporter interview of Jessica and Matt), gave a thorough, explicit, and delightfully well-rounded look at how to create a graphic story from start to finish. Do we really need another one after that?

The answer: If it’s a book as wildly inventive as Lynda Barry’s What It Is, then yes indeed. Barry is a respected creator often noted for creating rich subtext and resonating meaning that transcend her dense imagery; read between (and through) her lines and you find a powerful world of haunting memory. Here, though, she’s come to show you how it’s done. From the most basic—where do those crazy ideas to come from?—to the abstract—when an unexpected memory comes calling, who answers?—she delivers a jarring experience in the art of writing. She goes for the jugular of the whole creative process and lets it all come pouring out.

It’s not a quick and easy experiment. But it’s hardly long and arduous either. It’s, of all things, actually fun. Barry’s creative process is childlike, full of wonderment, hard to pin down, and gloriously all over the place. To that end, What It Is works not just as a jumpstart for creating graphic novels but for all writing. (A quick side note: Considering how well What It Is and Drawing Words and Writing Pictures complement each other, it’s fitting that the books’ three creators have recently teamed up as editors for the upcoming Houghton Mifflin release The Best American Comics 2008).

A cheeky tagline at the bottom of the book’s cover promises it’s “Dramatically illustrated with more than color pictures.” And so it is. Barry throws pictures, images, and words at you at a breakneck pace, challenging you to write and think, relentlessly forcing you to get at the heart of what makes you tick, creatively. So what is it, exactly? Ah, that’s the big question. Barry knows she can’t answer the question decisively for everyone. But she can take you to the brink of your own wellspring of inspiration and show you how to drink from it in a new and unexpected way.
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WHAT IT IS reviewed in MAKE Magazine!

Updated March 4, 2009



 
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  WHAT IT IS on Pop Candy's Best of list

Updated February 27, 2009


POP CANDY
Best of 2008
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WHAT IT IS in The Contra Costa Times

Updated February 27, 2009


Best of 2008: Graphic novels
Randy Myers
12/22/2008
ContraCosta Times

2. "What It Is," by Lynda Barry (Drawn and Quarterly, $24.95, 209 pages) At a time when buyouts, lay-offs and bailouts have become catch phrases of the year, it's comforting that Lynda Barry is here to extend an encouraging hand for us to tap into our creative powers . "What It Is" is a delightful how-to hybrid — a memoir, an activity book, and a motivational speech. Hope is still alive, and one place you can find it flourishing is within the folds of this lovely book.


 
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  WHAT IT IS in The Boston Globe

Updated February 27, 2009


Season's Readings
Boston Globe
28 November 2008
The Boston Globe

Lynda Barry's "What It Is" (Drawn & Quarterly) is equal parts cartoon memoir, collage album, scrapbook, and Zen roadmap. Written and drawn in a chaotic but riveting style, it offers itself as a guide to creative self-ignition. Barry is an iconoclastic cartoonist best known for her unsentimental evocations of childhood dreams and terrors. Based on her writing seminars around the country, the full- color book uses her drawings, musings, and writing exercises to guide readers toward artistic focus and expressive freedom. Betty Edwards's "Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain" has long been a staple of art classes; Barry's book might be subtitled, "Drawing All Over the Brain." Not for neatniks or the timid.


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WHAT IT IS chosen for Globe and Mail's "Best of" list

Updated February 27, 2009


WHAT IT IS
By Lynda Barry
Nathalie Atkinson
December 10, 2008
GLOBE AND MAIL

Barry's autobiographical, instructional and inspirational graphic work is both an intensely personal memoir of her creative life and a writing guide. In more than 200 pages of dense, personal material, Barry examines the nature of imagination and memory, combines comics and collage, and blurs the distinction between drawing and handwriting.
 

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  WHAT IT IS picked as one of the year's best by School Library Journal

Updated February 27, 2009


'School Library Journal' Picks Best Adult GNs
For High School Students
12/02/2008

The School Library Journal has included eight graphic novels in its list of 30 adult titles that “will appeal to high school readers and provide a bridge into the vast world of adult publishing.” The books, which were all published between September of 2007 and November of 2008, were chosen by SLJ’s Adult Books for High School Students Committee made up of librarians from public and school libraries who work with teens in a variety of rural, urban, and suburban settings across the U.S. and Canada.

The eight graphic novels on the list include Lewis Trondheim’s pirate saga Bourbon Island published by First Second, Lynda Barry’s What It Is from Drawn & Quarterly, Andrew Helfer’s Ronald Reagan: A Biography from Hill and Wang, Akira Hiramoto’s Me and the Devil Blues from Del Rey, Mat Johnson’s Incognegro and G. Willow Wilson’s Cairo from DC’s Vertigo, Marc-Antoine Mathieu’s The Museum Vaults: Excerpts From the Journal of an Expert published by NBM ComicsLit, and Howard Zinn and Paul Buhle’s A People’s History of the American Empire from Henry Holt.

Hiromoto’s haunting biography of blues legend Robert Johnson was the only manga title on the list, which definitely leans toward the literary side of the graphic novel spectrum, which is understandable given the educational emphasis of the SLJ.

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Kelly Link recommends OJINGOGO and WHAT IT IS on Salon.com

Updated December 10, 2008


Books we love
Some of our favorite authors weigh in on the best reads of 2008.

Compiled by Abby Margulies
Dec. 9, 2008 | Yesterday we revealed our favorite books of 2008. Today we've asked a selection of our favorite writers to chime in and tell us what books got them excited this year.


Kelly Link, author of "Pretty Monsters"

"
...And because I can never just recommend one book, I'll also note that this was a terrific year for graphic novels. I loved the new "Scott Pilgrim" by Bryan Lee O'Malley, Matt Forsythe's beautifully produced, weird and wordless "Ojingogo," and Lynda Barry's "What It Is."
 
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  WHAT IT IS reviewed inthe OC Weekly!

Updated December 9, 2008


Reviewer Bill Kohlhaase does a rare thing in comics criticism - he provides a lengthy, in-depth review of just ONE book. No one or two sentence plot summation group review of a zillion unrelated titles here.

Kohlhaase says: "What It Is (The Formless Thing Which Gives Things Form) is a beautiful and unsettling book that serves as a primer on artistic creation and self-knowledge. Barry digs into her twisted psyche to pass on what she’s learned, and in the process, she has created a dreamy art book."
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LYNDA BARRY interview by The Walrus

Updated November 28, 2008


A Conversation with Lynda Barry
by Sean Rogers
November 17th, 2008
WALRUS

Lynda Barry visited Toronto recently to speak at a book festival, and to teach her class on creative writing, “Writing the Unthinkable.” In her lively festival talks — which felt more like happenings than your typical button-down, staid author’s reading — she presented excerpts from her latest book, What It Is, asked the audience to shout their first phone numbers out loud, and sang “You Are My Sunshine” with her mouth closed. She also bemoaned her sometime status as a publishing industry “gateway chick” — she says she’s like the last girl guys go out with before they realise they’re gay, only in her case it’s publishers realising they want to “date” something completely different than Lynda Barry books.

That’s changing now that she’s settled with Drawn and Quarterly, who plan to collect all of Barry’s longrunning, seminal alternative comic strip, Ernie Pook’s Comeek, and who recently published What It Is to tremendous acclaim. A memoir-cum-workbook, What It Is incorporates collage, cartooning, and longhand writing in an effort to explain and disseminate the author’s creative process—which, loosely, focuses on one word, image, or memory to begin with, then spirals out from there. Lynda Barry was gracious enough to browse through a copy of What It Is with me, all the while speaking about her craft, about the creative state of mind, and about the collage material she used from her neighbour’s mother, Doris Mitchell—as well as a little bit about Family Circus. This is the first part of that conversation.

* * *

What It Is goes back to all the different modes you’ve worked in, in terms of the different techniques like pen and ink and watercolour and so on, but to me it feels connected to One Hundred Demons.

Oh, it absolutely is. It’s the sister book.

There’s that autobiographical aspect, and in the prologue to that book you actually talk about the process of putting those demons to paper.

The method that I used to write One Hundred Demons was to put a bunch of nouns and -ing words, gerunds, in a paper bag and pull them out. It was all based on that method I learned from my teacher, Marilyn Frasca. Right after One Hundred Demons came out my next plan was to do this book, but the publisher came out and admitted he was gay and he didn’t want to do another book with me [laughs]. But my plan all along was to do this, to try to do an instruction book, because it really is like following a donut recipe, and it was really fun. In What It Is I have a word list that I encourage people to just xerox and cut up. So that’s how I did One Hundred Demons. It wasn’t anything that I sat around and went, “I should think about smell, and come up with a story about smell.” No, I happened to pull that word out. Sometimes you pull a word out and you’ll just go, Nooooo! but I really stuck to my vow that I would do it no matter what.

The one that sticks in my mind from One Hundred Demons is “Resilience.”

It’s a heavy strip. And you know what’s interesting about that strip is, I went to speak at a high school in Washington DC, this inner city school, and these students had done their own One Hundred Demons, they had done their own books, so when I walked in I saw their books, and saw them, and started crying, and they hadn’t ever had an author before so the last thing they expected was that she’d walk in and go wauuuuugh! So they were frightened [laughs]. But it turned out that they had all this stuff prepared, and they asked if I would read a strip and I said, “Which one would you like me to read?” and that was the one they picked. Blew my mind, because it’s a weird thing for comics—not so much anymore, for comics to be sad or have so much trouble in them.

When you were publishing that, it was a webcomic at that point. Webcomics, or the ones that I know of anyway, don’t really move into that territory very often.

Yeah, or the ones that do we probably don’t even know about. It’s so funny to me because it’s like saying, we know music has the capacity to be incredibly sad and moving, and happy and all kinds of stuff, but it’d be like having music, something as big as that, stuck with only happy songs for a long time. I mean, happy songs are cool, but it’s the sad ones we use and play over and over and over again while we’re crying over somebody who broke our heart.

I found that What It Is kind of connects back to your very early work, also. You seem to be working with strict ideas, or what you’re thinking about, rather than any kind of extended narrative. It makes me think of, say, Big Ideas. Do you think that you’re returning to that, or is that something that’s always been present in what you do?

You know, it’s funny, because those early books of mine, I was a real know-it-all and I was in my twenties and I didn’t know anything. But that’s the beauty of being in your twenties and being a teenager, where you’re just like, “Well, I have this shit figured out and I know why people don’t get along.” But actually, in What It Is, I tried for the longest time to find any way other than using myself as a narrator and making the memoir part of it. I tried to think of any way I could, but that one’s my whole relationship with making things and writing. I tried really hard not to have to use myself as a narrator because One Hundred Demons really is the only close to real autobiography—and I say close to real, not quite real—but I couldn’t find any other way to tell this story. I haven’t thought on that at all, but I think you’re absolutely right on. It’s an instruction book and that’s what I was way into. Matt Groening, the Simpsons guy, he and I have been friends since we were 19, and our comics strips kind of evolved together, and we would call each other up on the phone and give each other shit all the time while we were working. But we started calling each other, because he did a lot of instructive—do you know the early Life in Hell stuff?

I know a few of the chapbooks that were published.

That stuff’s just amazing, like Work Is Hell and Love Is Hell. But there was some reggae guy called the Explainer, and that’s what we called ourselves, The Explainers—but I couldn’t write such things now. Well, no, take it back, I just did! “With my hand on my heart, I wouldn’t do it, except for when I do.”

But you think it’s coming from a different place than it was in your twenties.

Well, yeah, I do, because I think what I’m really trying to do here is get people itchy to make something. That’s my goal. And it’s not so much about relationships or, I don’t know—I mean, first of all, I never read my work. Like, people talk to me about the novel Cruddy, and I can’t break it to them that—

You can’t remember what happens.

No, I’ve never read it. I read it while I was writing it, but I’ve never read it. But Drawn and Quarterly’s going to reissue everything, and as I’m gathering comics I’ll see some of the stuff and I’ll know how old I was when I wrote it and [laughs] it works just fine, but it’s not my experience now. I’m definitely not the same kind of person that I was then.

I wanted to ask about the collage technique that you’re using here. It kind of goes from these strips—

Yeah, so these are all on legal paper.

How did that come to be? I know you did the prologue to One Hundred Demons on yellow legal paper.

Well, part of it is that I have this real fear—I still have art paper that I bought when I was in my twenties and I still don’t feel good enough to use yet. But I found that whenever I was around paper that was very inexpensive or already in the garbage I felt completely uninhibited to use it. I keep a journal like these back pages right here, so the way that I set up my desktop is, I’ll have a comic strip on my left side, and I’ll be working on it, and when the comic strip dries up—because it always does; everything you do, the wheels fall off a little bit—instead of sitting there and going, “Oh, what comes next,” I would just move my pen over and start scribbling stuff. And while I was drawing sometimes I would hear a sentence in my head, like, “Take a ouija board attitude toward your brush.” So there’s January 11th, and most of these were done while I was doing What It Is. There was something about the legal paper—I felt freed by it. I also thought, if other people see it on legal paper, then they’ll be like, “Legal paper is good enough! You don’t have to go to the art supply store and buy some special paper!” So I liked it and I’ve been keeping a journal this way for years and years and years. I have thousands of those pages. In fact I sent a whole slew of them in to Drawn and Quarterly and just let [D&Q publisher] Chris Oliveros pick which ones he wanted.

To use them in the reprint series, or—

No, for this. There were so many, there were hundreds and hundreds, and I was too close to them. I couldn’t pick, so he’s the one that picked—and did a good job, I thought, editing those back pages. And there’s my Little Women, [ which was turned down by Penguin because they thought it] wasn’t Lynda Barry enough. These are really cute little dolls, though.

Well, you know what, Penguin didn’t turn down Frank Miller when he turned in his Gravity’s Rainbow cover [laughter].

I know—it’s really a bummer. But you know, I think part of it is, the guy who was the art director hadn’t seen One Hundred Demons and wasn’t familiar with the newer collage stuff, so to him it really looked like a violent departure and he didn’t want to be the petri dish for whatever I was trying to cook up [laughter].

But for these other collage pages, you move from this kind of narrative strip to these collages which are very singular and do connect to each other, but they’re very much their own page and composed as a page.

Actually, the collages came first.

OK, that’s what I was wondering.

And they came before I found Drawn and Quarterly. But until I found Drawn and Quarterly I just knew that nobody wanted to publish my work—it was over. And I just thought, “I still want to make this book that I’ve been wanting to make since Sasquatch dropped me,” so I thought, “Just make it. Just start.” And again I had that idea about doing this book about writing, but the idea of writing about writing, doing a book that was about writing with writing in it, was something that was so different than my class. I wanted to give some kind of visual equivalent to the class that I teach, so I just started messing around and making collages—and actually there are many, many more than are in this book. And while I would work I would just hear these little things, like, “What would be different if there were no monster stories? Anything?” And that’s all I’d have to have and then I could start messing around. So once I had the collages and I knew I wanted to do a workbook, then I was thinking, “The collages and the workbook aren’t quite enough. I need to map out the story of how we have this ability to have images, then all of us lose it—very few people don’t, but almost all of us lose it—then the trick is to get it back again.” Which is also the basic story of every fairy tale: the kingdom was once in good shape, and then it went to hell, then we have to figure out a way to get it back. So I think that’s a pretty classic human experience.

That’s what I was wondering about the collages, whether it was you going back and revisiting everything and making this article for meditation or something like that, or whether it was actually you thinking through your process.

My whole philosophy is just, make a mess and do it every day and then eventually you’ll be able to figure out something from it. So the collages just sort of started. And also this lady in the back, Doris Mitchell, this is all her. This is from one of her students. You’ve probably seen all the little pieces—I was working on the collages and then, she passed.

I was wondering how you approached using these kids’ artwork, because it seems like you’re really sharing them.

All of them were in little pieces. There was hardly any whole sheet of paper, because all the paper that she had saved was just piled on top of each other, and had been wet and dried and had mice running through it, and so really sometimes there was only this much left. And then I would also just find like this. This kind of stuff where there’s somebody who’s doing math, doing math, and then all of a sudden it’s, I love you I love I love you, Patsy Patsy Patsy. That stuff would just blow my mind because, to me, it illustrated what thinking’s like. Here I’m trying to work on this problem and there’s, Patsy Patsy Patsy.

The really shaky handwriting, is that—

That’s Doris’s.

That’s amazing. Just the marks on the paper.

She also was somebody who kept every little thing and she liked to package certain things. For instance, I found this plastic bag that was full of twist-ties and around it, it had a twist-tie that had a tag on it that said, “twist-ties” [laughter]. I have that hanging on my wall. She was obsessive that way. And this is her shirt, she made this. I have not only her scraps, but I have all her clothes. I always say, it’s the curse of one hoarder put on another hoarder. I can’t throw away anything. She also kept all her school pictures, but they’re all ones that had water on them. So sometimes you’ll only be able to see somebody’s eye, but on the back there’ll be their names. So I’ve gotten to know all these people—it’s really cool.

And the photos that you’ve covered over, are they from her collection as well?

No, a lot of them would have been from really old National Geographics, and then I just used gel pencil. I used every source that I could think of. Any piece of paper is fair game. Weirdly, I stopped sweeping my floor while I was doing this because as soon as I saw a scrap on the floor, I don’t know why, that was much more likely to be used. So I realised, every time I swept the floor I was sweeping away possibilities. So I had the dirtiest floor for nine months, but I wouldn’t sweep it.

It’s like the ultimate hoarder mentality.

It is! They’ve done MRI stuff on hoarders—on people who have that thing where they can’t throw away anything. They do these MRIs to see what part of the brain is getting blood flow, and they had this woman who had a really big hoarding problem. She had coupons that had expired ten years earlier and what they wanted to do was measure her blood flow as they put the coupon that had expired ten years earlier through a shredder. And it was the blood flow exactly as if she herself had been attacked. My husband is also a hoarder—we love garbage—and this wish to transform garbage into something valuable, it’s sort of a feeling about yourself as well. The hoarding thing is really interesting. I do think it’s a defence. Also, my mom was very neat, so I know as long as there’s stuff on the floor she’s nowhere around [laughs]. If things are a mess, that woman is not ever around. So I made my ring of trash to keep her away. And then I used a lot of glitter—it’s hard to…

It does show up. At the beginning I was noticing it a bit more than when I actually got into the book.

The most ridiculous thing I did is, there’s a whole bunch of glow-in-the-dark paint—not that anyone in this world could ever see it, but there was something really fun for me about doing it. And then turning off the lights to go back up to the house, and then the thing would go, Woooooooo!

I had one last thing that I wanted to ask you about the collages. It seems to me like it’s a different kind of using your hands than the kind that you talk about in the rest of the book, than the doodling and the alphabet-writing. I’m just wondering if that’s accessing the same thought process that goes into the image-making that you’re talking about.

I think it’s the exact same neighbourhood. All you’re doing is practicing a physical activity with a state of mind—there was something about this way of working that allowed accidents to happen more than if I’m writing. That’s the part that was so valuable about it. Chip Kidd talked about it today—when something would just fall when you set it down, when you went to answer the phone, and the way it was sitting was just right. That helped me a lot. And while I’m moving stuff around, that’s when I hear in my head a sentence like this. None of this is written when I’m not actually working on it. For me that was a really important thing, because I feel like if something is occurring to you as you’re doing it, it sounds kind of flaky, but it might transfer a little. Also I like that you can look at this and go, “I could do this.” That’s like, “Yes, you can! Mission accomplished!”

That’s got to be your goal, teaching, too.

Oh, yeah. I really do think that the health of the world, the future of the world, depends on people connecting. The future of the world depends on people feeling mentally healthy and stable and having the will to live. This is one of the natural ways that human beings have always done it, is the arts. It’s such a new word, compared to what it’s describing, because people were making marks and singing and dancing and there were story arcs long before there was anybody to call it a story arc. I think it’s also the best thing that you can have, is a feeling that life is worth living. You don’t have to be happy—you just have to not want to kill yourself or others [laughter].

That’s good—that’s a bare minimum.

No, seriously! From there, you’ve got your vowels and you can throw in the consonants you want.

I wanted to talk a bit more about the doodling or the constant hand movement that you’re talking about. I think you’ve read Ivan Brunetti’s little book on cartooning…

That is the best book ever written, as far as I’m concerned. The Philosophy and Practice—that one? That is the best book I’ve ever read on cartooning, and it is so generous. It’s like, anybody can do this. That book is so good.

Yeah, I think part of that is his business on the doodle as the basic form of cartooning. He promotes it as the ideal form of cartooning because it’s simple and it’s not thought-through—it’s from your brain to the paper.

And the reason you do it is because it’s giving you something. It’s making you able to stand a bad meeting. It’s making you able to stand hanging on line until the electric company comes back. That’s what we do if we have a pen. I saw you do it a little bit on the back of that page, am I right?

Yeah, just circling.

I always spot them. I don’t take those things for granted anymore. When I see them I’m just like, “It’s alive!”

I wanted to ask if you think that the doodling, the constant hand movement, if that maybe makes cartooning closer to the unconscious than any other art form, just because that’s the one that has the most maker’s mark to it?

But if you think of movement—that’s your hand on the page, but then if you think of a dancer, that’s full-on movement. Or even a musician—the main thing for a musician to get to the end of the song is to stay in motion until the end of the song.

Right. So it’s not necessarily the hand on the paper.

No, it’s physical activity with a state of mind for a sustained, not necessarily too long, period of time. There was some guitarist who says that when things are going really well in his band he feels like he doesn’t even know what’s driving his fingers and there are times when he could just take his hand off and the guitar would keep playing itself. That’s absolutely how it feels when you have characters. Once you have characters and you kind of know them it does feel like the strips write themselves—although you have to haul the thousand tons of brick with your pen.

So do Marlys and Fred Milton act on their own?

Beyond the valley of on their own. Fred Milton has gotten me fired from so many papers. He doesn’t care. I’ve been fired from so many papers because of that dog. So, because I have characters and I’m used to having them now, I even do the bag thing with Marlys or Arna—Arna’s been the narrator of the strip for the last year or so. But I try my best not to have a single idea when I sit down to do my strip, and then I’ll pull that word out and do a list of ten things. If it’s Marlys doing it, I know what her memories will be, and Arna. But it’s not even like I’m thinking—it’s like when you’re a kid and you had a car. You didn’t have to go, “I think what I’ll do now is, I’ll do this and then it will swerve and go off the cliff and I will feel anxiety and then I’ll catch it and feel release—let’s go!” There’s some other thing that goes on that’s very quick. It’s like getting a joke: getting a joke is way past the thinking part of it. So what is that? How do we do that? I find it to be fascinating. Or why we can read a novel and not have to keep every little part in mind. After a certain point it just rolls. That means we have that power.

And we’re just not using it, maybe.

Or we’re shamed out of using it, for sure. I said that thing in my talk about finding out that What It Is made the science fiction list [on an online bookseller]. It does seem like there is some kind of science fiction plot to get everyone to stop doing all the stuff that would make us feel better and then instead start consuming. [Pause.] But that’s fucking bullshit [laughter]. Well, it is, you know. I mean, frankly, it is. That’s one thing about getting older: when you’re younger you can come up with a concept and it kind of fits and you think, “Heeeeey.” You don’t even care if it’s true or not—it just made somebody go, “Yeeeeeah!” Now, I know, I just made that up and it’s bullshit. It does fit, but it’s like drawing a key. Yeah, it looks like a key, but it’s not going to start your car [laughter].

You were talking earlier about dancers and musicians. The whole book is about finding images and getting access to images. Do you think that they are accessing images in different ways, or is it the same kind of image with them as it is with your writing students?

I think the thing that Marilyn, my teacher, called an image, is an arbitrary word. “Image,” for most people, in the beginning, makes them think of a visual image or a memory of something. But I feel like what she meant by it was that living part that’s in the container of the song. So maybe “an experience” is more accurate. So in the container of the song, in the container of the dance, in the container of the good reciprocal conversation with a stranger which we have every once in a while and it’s fucking miraculous—at a certain point in the conversation, that person’s going to get off the train, or you are. There’s something about that timeframe of, our train ride’s going to last for 27 minutes and that’s the container. I don’t know how else to describe it except as this living thing that’s activated either by reading it or watching it or making it, and it’s contained in the thing we call the arts, or what kids call play. I just keep trying to figure out the exact metaphor for this other space that human beings have made and that we all can talk about. We can all talk about Batman or how Superman, no matter how strong he is, his outfit is sooooooooo baaaaaaaaad. No matter what he does—I don’t care how he fixes his hair, I just can’t get past his outfit. But I can talk to you about that. So where is Superman?

He’s in a kind of space that we all share, yeah.

In computers they call it a virtual world. But this is an entirely other workspace or living space and even the word “imagination” doesn’t capture it. It really is the place where most stuff happens, but I know that I haven’t gotten my mind around it yet. I’m just missing about three feet of my mind to be able to get around the whole thing. I keep going back to one of the early Star Treks—when Whoopi Goldberg was on and they would play that three-dimensional chess. Do you remember that?

Yeah.

See, that’s another thing! That’s in the image world. What I’m talking about doesn’t really exist. There was no actual game, but for me—terrestrially, we’re here in the world, and then there’s this other place where we’re able to go. But I can tell I don’t quite have the way to describe it yet. But I’m interested in it. All literature, all art takes place in that spot. Even Ronald McDonald is there! It’s an equal opportunity spot.

Well, I guess anything that we see on TV is.

Advertisers really know how to take advantage of it. They really understand mixing images with words and music. I’m 52 and I love having stuff that I still chase after like I did when I was 22 trying to find the most obscure Ramones tune. That’s what I like about being a writer or being whatever it is I am. When I was a kid, the main thing I wanted to be was Dr. Seuss. I didn’t know what he was, but that’s what I wanted to be. I like that this stuff is stuff you can do right to the end—to your last little gnarly wrinkled gasp. And Doris’s little shaky handwriting.

Talking about these places that everybody goes to that aren’t necessarily real, I wanted to ask you about Bil Keane.

My beloved.

Because that’s what Family Circus is, to me, is being able to follow around that dotted line.

Now why is that so fascinating? I mean, it’s so engaging. You want to do it when you see it—you don’t just go, “Oh, pssh.”

And it makes that space so much more real, just to have that little line going through it.

One of the things about Family Circus that I did in the intro to Best American Comics—Bil was so kind, Bil and Jeff, to give me permission to print them without the captions. To see them without that, it’s powerful. And once you take the captions away, you realise: this is a world I’ve seen just through a porthole over and over. But I feel like I’ve moved through it. And then when Jeff’s mom died—mommy died this year, Thelma—and when I found out I was like, ah! wauuuugh! And I don’t know this woman—it’s just lines on paper. So we have a capacity to make another world, and it had to have come along with all the other things like our thumbs and our brains, and then at what point did that become an elective? That’s really interesting to me. I guess we just take it for granted. One of the writers I heard the other day said he didn’t think there was any such thing as artistic genius, which is exactly how I feel. And I do feel that art is as integral to human experience as our autonomic nervous system. I think I said, it’s like saying somebody has a talent for saliva production. You’re a genius at producing saliva! Or man, can you grow hair! “He’s brilliant!” But I do think the converse is true. I do think people can be talked out of it, or shocked out of it. It’s amazing to me how frightened people are of making their own art. Terrified.
 
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What It Is




  LYNDA BARRY event mentioned by NBC

Updated November 28, 2008


D'oh! Matt Groening Chats with Lynda Barry
By ALYSIA GRAY PAINTER
Tue, Nov 18, 2008
NBC

We want to be perpetually 10 years old, like Bart Simpson. Or have a tower of blue hair. Can Matt help us? We'll find out, at the Hammer Museum.

"Can't wait to see that new show with the sexy gal who works at that one place," we said to our friend. "It's already canned," said the friend. "Gone." Oy. Shows are leaving the tube faster than we can TiVo them, except "The Simpsons," which has now been on for 87 years, debuting, in an odd twist, several decades before the invention of television.
Matt Groening, the genial, beard-y father of TV's most famous cartoon family, must know something about creating art that can make a profit and not be marched out to the woodshed after exactly two airings. Lynda Barry, the creator of "Ernie Pook's Comeek" has kept a comic thriving in the alternative newspaper world for several years running. That lady is tough stuff for sure. And funny. And deep.

What will be the theme of their conversation at the Hammer? What are their secrets to making hilarious, dark stuff that they get paid for? Do they have an insights for the rest of us? Or will they chat about other matters altogether, like balloons, extra-pulp orange juice and naps? We don't care. These two gifted artist/writers could sit on the stage and have a "don't blink" contest and we'd sign up to watch.

Tuesday, November 18, 7PM
The Hammer Museum, 10899 Wilshire Boulevard, Los Angeles
310-443-7000
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LYNDA BARRY interviewed by LA City Beat

Updated November 28, 2008


Lynda Barry
‘Comeek’ creator talks about the ocean in the back of your mind, and filthy, filthy wind energy
By Gabrielle Paluch
November 15, 2008
LOS ANGELES CITY BEAT

Lynda Barry, author of the beloved “Ernie Pook’s Comeek” and a new book, What It Is (Drawn & Quarterly), has been a voice for pained, weird little girls for 30 years. This Tuesday, she takes time away from her farm in Wisconsin, where she’s been battling industrial wind-power developers, to lecture at the Hammer alongside Simpsons and “Life Is Hell” creator Matt Groening, who first published her work in the college paper.

L.A. CityBeat: Why write a book about writing books, or a book meant to inspire people to write? What gives you the energy and desire to draw stories out of other people?

Lynda Barry: It all goes back to my teacher Marilyn Frasca, who I studied with at the Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington, in the late 1970s. She asked a question, “What is an image?” I think it’s the thing that is contained by anything adults call the arts and kids call playing. And I would even call it a living thing. An image isn’t alive in the way you and I are alive, but it’s certainly not dead either. It’s something in-between that exists in this odd place I call the image world. It’s where Scrooge and Batman are, and Emily Dickinson’s poems, and also the thing that a toy contains for the kid who is attached to it. I don’t think human beings can exist without this image world, I think it has an absolute biological function, and I think that function is related to, among other things, mental health. So though What It Is uses writing to get us to that image world, I think it applies to all of imaginative activity.

I didn’t want to write a book full of writing about writing. I wanted to make a book that would make people feel an itch to make something. To write, or glue paper onto paper, or to just cut things out of magazines – any of these things will get you into the image world in the way a smell will instantly transport you back to your auntie’s kitchen. I think of this kind of physical activity as being a small boat we can row into the ocean of the back of our minds. It’s different than thinking. It requires moving around an object with a particular state of mind – and a pen and paper qualify.

The stories people come up with in my workshops just floor me. They are so vibrant and alive that they make me feel vibrant and alive. I always feel fantastic after teaching a workshop. I always feel renewed and excited about going on in the world. That’s what I mean by a biological function. I feel better about being alive in a world full of horrible troubles.

Can you tell us more about the work you do to save the environment, one sustainable energy source at a time?

The work I’m doing the most of to save the environment is getting the word out about the serious downsides of industrial scale wind turbines. If the goal of using renewable energy resources is to reduce CO2 emissions, industrial-scale wind turbines don’t do this. Because they need fossil-fuel burning power plants to function, and because those power plants are never powered up or down in response to the wind being there or not, the same amount of CO2 is going into the air. This conclusion was reached by the National Academy of Sciences and also a Norwegian study on Danish wind power. You will get more electricity to sell from wind turbines, but no real reduction in current CO2 levels. It’s the only renewable resource that keeps us completely dependent on power companies, fossil fuels (usually coal), and the grid. It’s the only one that doesn’t cause a loss of customers for the power companies. All the other renewable energy choices cause customer loss. Also, industrial wind is used as the justification for more and bigger transmission lines and use of eminent domain. Bigger and more transmission lines allow greater use of fossil-fueled power plants. So industrial- scale wind energy is just another way to say “MORE! MORE! MORE!” Most people don’t realize that unless the wind is blowing at a certain speed – at least 10 miles an hour – the turbines can use more energy than they produce. Most people don’t understand how much electricity it takes to run a machine that is 40 to 50 stories tall. Most people never even ask how the power is getting to and from the turbine. They don’t know about the thousands of miles of cables.

Apart from all this, consider the impact on flying creatures. Turbines are placed in migration corridors because that’s where the wind is. It’s maddening to me that wind developers are getting away with this, siting them in wildlife refuges, national parks, and other protected areas.

By the way, on-site wind turbines of the smaller scale are great. Small, on-site power generation is the best alternative, and it’s the one the power companies are going to fight the hardest against.

My favorite renewable resource option is manure digesters – for both animal and human manure. It’s the only renewable energy option that actually cleans up other environmental problems as it creates electricity. It’s also the least sexy of the choices and one no one wants to talk about.

How do you feel about the trend in comics to do personal narratives, basically resulting in illustrated therapy, and what this says about the position of the “hero” in contemporary culture?
Well, therapy has always been about telling stories, hasn’t it? I think the use of stories to undo and untangle knots inside of people has always been around. I’m not sure we could exist without it. People may think that comics that contain personal narratives are something like therapy, but I think it’s the other way around. Therapy is something like comics that contain personal narratives. Usually the “hero” is the one who somehow restores life to a dead zone, even if he has to die doing it. For me that dead zone is a feeling that life is not worth living. When a story can turn that feeling around, it becomes a lot more than entertainment or amusement. It’s a life-saver.

If you weren’t allowed to make comics anymore, what would you do?
I’d still make comics.
 
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  WHAT IT IS mentioned by Drawn!

Updated November 28, 2008


Lynda Barry: What It Is
November 20th, 2008
DRAWN.COM

The other week I had the immense pleasure of seeing Lynda Barry speak in Toronto. She was in town promoting her book What It Is, part autobiographical comic, part how-to guide for blocked creatives.

The It in the title of the book is the idea of an image–a memory, a place, a feeling–and it is what forms the basis of Barry’s methods for storytelling. Rather than racking one’s brain for the perfect story idea, she shows her readers how to let the stories, the images, reveal themselves through word association exercises, and quick, easy writing assignments.

It’s a book that teaches adults how to play and daydream again, and it’s full of Barry’s humour and matter-of-factness. More than I recommend the book, though, I recommend seeing Lynda in person. I’ve never met anyone bursting with so much creative energy and joyful inspiration.

Her workshop tour, Writing the Unthinkable (Myspace link), finds itself in Chicago next — Jan 3rd and 4th — and it could be just what you need if you think you don’t have any stories in you to tell.
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What It Is




WHAT IT IS reviewed by The Toronto Star

Updated November 26, 2008


A book you can judge by its cover
Artist Lynda Barry urges us to be creative for fun and sanity
DAPHNE GORDON
Oct 26, 2008
TORONTO STAR

So what is What It Is?

As author and illustrator of this genre-bending book, Lynda Barry ought to know. But the best she can do is describe her latest book as "my crazy little dropped plate of spaghetti."

A sloppily delicious and nutritious blend of autobiography, illustration, creativity guide and cultural commentary, the book recently hit shelves, and Barry is in town to talk about it at the International Festival of Authors.

Yesterday, she read from the book, and today at 1 p.m. in the Harbourfront Centre's Brigantine Room, she and famed book designer Chip Kidd will discuss how you can, in fact, judge a book by its cover.

The cover of What It Is hints at the complexity of the content inside. Collages, drawings, comic strips, creativity exercises and blank space for doodling create a dense visual experience.

"People expect it to be a book that you can read front to back," says Barry, 52, the legendary comic artist most known for her syndicated strip Ernie Pook's Comeek and author of several illustrated books. "But it's not really like that."

This plate of spaghetti is meant to be savoured in small bites. Because slowing down is part of the creative process, and that's really what Barry is talking about here. Each page of What It Is meditates on the origins of creativity, and many feature exercises to help wannabe artists get into the groove.

"People long to do it," Barry says. "They want to write or paint or draw or dance. Human beings are born with the ability to tell stories. But something happens at the age of 10 or 11 and they stop doing it. That's when you start to go a little crazy."

Arguing that creativity is the best tonic for mental health, Barry says we've become a culture of consumers rather than creators.

"We're watching these singing and dancing shows instead of doing it. There's something compelling about it, but it's like trying to get your nutrition from gummi bears."

After nearly 20 years of supporting herself as an artist and writer, Barry knows a little about making stuff. And she has been teaching others how to do it, too, at creativity workshops across North America over the past 10 years.

Sharing a creative method she adopted at 19 as a student at Evergreen State College in Washington, she encourages participants to make stuff not for the sake of earning a living or getting famous, but rather for the sake of fun and sanity.

"We know that play and mental health are connected," she says, but at some point, we stop playing. It starts about the time recess is taken away and art becomes an elective.

If unfettered creativity leads to happiness, Barry seems an ideal, if eccentric, role model. Though her comics are known for having a dark side, What It Is suggests contentment and engagement are possible in spite of life's disappointments.

"This is the happiest I've ever been, when I was working on this book," says Barry, "because it's such a strange book, and I could let it be whatever it wanted to be."
 
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  WHAT IT IS reviewed by Bookreporter.com

Updated November 26, 2008


WHAT IT IS
Lynda Barry
Reviewed by John Hogan
October 6, 2008
BOOKREPORTER.COM

This is not just an exciting time to be reading comics and graphic novels. It’s also a time when many people want to write and draw them, too. With so many options available to share their creations (and several success stories that have come about from self-publishing startups), people who want to do more than read have begun to explore their creative sides. While the results of those efforts have been wildly diverse (for every great breakthrough, there have been more than a few clunkers), the excitement in the industry has created a small but valuable niche: the how-to guide.

Two recent books have set the standard for guides to creating graphic novels. One, DRAWING WORDS AND WRITING PICTURES, from the team of Jessica Abel and Matt Madden, gave a thorough, explicit and delightfully well-rounded look at how to create a graphic story from start to finish. Do we really need another one after that?

The answer: If it’s a book as wildly inventive as Lynda Barry’s WHAT IT IS, then yes indeed. Barry is a respected creator often noted for creating rich subtext and resonating meaning that transcend her dense imagery; read between (and through) her lines and you find a powerful world of haunting memory. Here, though, she’s come to show you how it’s done. From the most basic (where do those crazy ideas come from?) to the abstract (when an unexpected memory comes calling, who answers?), she delivers a jarring experience in the art of writing. She goes for the jugular of the whole creative process and lets it all come pouring out.

It’s not a quick and easy experiment. But it’s hardly long and arduous either. It’s, of all things, actually fun. Barry’s creative process is childlike, full of wonderment, hard to pin down and gloriously all over the place. To that end, it works not just as a jumpstart for creating graphic novels but for all writing. (A quick side note: Considering how well WHAT IT IS and DRAWING WORDS AND WRITING PICTURES complement each other, it’s fitting that the books’ three creators have recently teamed up as editors for the upcoming Houghton Mifflin release THE BEST AMERICAN COMICS 2008.)

A cheeky tagline at the bottom of the book’s cover promises that it’s “Dramatically illustrated with more than color pictures.” And so it is. Barry throws pictures, images and words at you at a breakneck pace, challenging you to write and think, relentlessly forcing you to get at the heart of what makes you tick, creatively. So what is it, exactly? Ah, that’s the big question. Barry knows she can’t answer the question decisively for everyone. But she can take you to the brink of your own wellspring of inspiration and show you how to drink from it in a new and unexpected way.

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WHAT IT IS, BURMA CHRONICLES, GENTLEMAN JIM and BERLIN 2 reviewed by Globe and Mail

Updated November 26, 2008



What It Is
by Barry, Lynda (May 2008 | Out of Stock)
978-1-897299-35-7 | Drawn & Quarterly | RAI
Cloth | Price: $24.95

The Burma Chronicles
by Delisle, Guy
978-1-897299-50-0 | Drawn & Quarterly | RAI
Cloth | Price: $19.95

Berlin
City Of Smoke, Book Two
by Lutes, Jason
978-1-897299-53-1 | Drawn & Quarterly | RAI
Paperback | Price: $19.95

Gentleman Jim
by Briggs, Raymond (Jun 2008)
978-1-897299-36-4 | Drawn & Quarterly | RAI
Cloth | Price: $14.95

Drawing from life
The Globe And Mail
Saturday, October 4, 2008
Page: D10
Section: Book Review
Byline: Nathalie Atkinson
Source: Martin Levin

The best books are often hard to classify. Lynda Barry's autobiographical, instructional and inspirational graphic novel What It Is (Drawn & Quarterly, 210 pages, $24.95) is one of these, because it's both an intensely personal memoir of Barry's creative life and a writing guide. Oh, and it's a DIY creative activity kit too. So where to shelve it? The newly minted graphica section? Art? Psychology? Activity books? Memoir? Although the most autobiographical of Barry's books, What It Is is also a creative text presented in a very original way, so it most naturally belongs next to Julia Cameron's The Artist's Way.

Regardless of where it's shelved, What It Is is unique. It starts with Barry herself, whose creative life has stalled. Working through and diagnosing her malaise and writer's block, she becomes introspective. "The thing I call 'my mind' seems to be kind of like a landlord that doesn't really know its tenants, " she begins. Her path as an artist began in childhood and Barry establishes a connection between the importance of imaginative childhood play and art and creativity in adulthood; both, she argues, are essential to well-being.

Art and embellishment fill page after page of yellow legal paper, divided into three distinct sections identified by the colour of page borders. Over these 200 pages of dense, personal material, Barry examines the nature of imagination and memory, combines comics and collage and blurs the distinction between drawing and handwriting. It's much the same way someone might doodle while talking on the phone. Barry thinks most adults continue to do this long after they've given up on art, "because it helps us maintain a certain patient state of mind and there is a part of us which has never forgotten this ... a place where one line can still follow another without a plan."

Stamps and postmarks appear both as decoration and reminders of the passage of time when Barry considers memory and its use in creativity. Here, she poses many questions: "Is a dream autobiography or fiction?" "What makes us able to imagine something?" and the two supreme questions that haunt every artist, whatever the medium: Is this good? Does it suck?

The middle section, called Activity Book, is filled with the exercises Barry uses in her popular creativity workshops: helping others mine their creativity functions as an inspiration to her own. In the final section, Barry provides the essentials of a DIY writing kit, such as words to cut out and tips on materials (a three-ring binder and loose-leaf paper - all in Barry's unique baroque collage style.

Text and image interplay in many ways: Text lies inside an image (unlike a word balloon) and strips of found typography add texture. Ad slogans, sentence fragments, lists of names and random words become a sort of poetry, interspersed with product advertisements clipped from old newspapers and magazines and even glitter. Occasionally, Barry uses vintage primer page for practising children's letters as her sketch paper, superimposing her recurring menagerie of fish, squid, dogs and monkey sketches or cutout pictures of birds. All these images decorate Barry's text rather than merely illustrate it, like an illuminated manuscript. It's an extraordinary peek into the mind of the artist.




After visits to Pyongyang and Shenzhen, Guy Delisle shifts his autobiographical travelogue shtick with Burma Chronicles (Drawn & Quarterly, 264 pages, $19.95). By now a habitué of culture shock, Delisle is chocked by nothing. His talent is noticing the peculiar mundane details of whatever latest totalitarian milieu (this time Rangoon, thanks to his partner Nadège's year- long posting with Médecins sans Frontières).

This time, their toddler son Louis is in tow and Delisle is a househusband, which enables him to add a few new notes to his repertoire of Seinfeldian nothingness, as when he pushes Louis's stroller up to armed guards at a barricade ("a white-skinned baby is a big draw here") to get close to the world's most famous political prisoner, Aung San Suu Kyi, a dissident under house arrest since 1988 and Nobel Peace Prize laureate.

Delisle's observations are at once banal and absurd: Currency is in denominations of 15, 45 and 90 kyats, a "nice way to drive people nuts or make them math wizards." At the supermarket, Nescafé's ubiquitous grinning cow is "the real face of globalization," and he points out the irony of a grocery store playing the songs of anorexic fatale Karen Carpenter in constant loop for ambience.

Nathalie Atkinson is a Toronto freelance journalist who very much wishes she could draw.

***

A cluster of comix

BERLIN
City of Smoke: Book Two
By Jason Lutes, Drawn & Quarterly, 210 pages, $19.95
This long-anticipated sequel to Berlin: City of Stone (2001) recreates the Volatile Weimar Berlin of 1929, a world of Nazis and communists, Jews and gentiles. Lutes handles the sense of menace with delicacy and force.

GENTLEMAN JIM
By Raymond Briggs, Drawn & Quarterly, 32 pages, $14.95
A welcome reissue of a 1980 work by the wonderful author of Ethel & Ernest marks the first appearance of the Bloggs family, stand-ins for Briggs's own parents. Cartoonist Seth adds an illuminating introduction.

Martin Levin

© 2008 CTVglobemedia Publishing Inc. All Rights Reserved.

 

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Lynda Barry
Raymond Briggs

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Gentleman Jim
Burma Chronicles




  WHAT IT IS reviewed by OC Weekly

Updated September 11, 2008


CARTOONIST LYNDA BARRY'S HOW-TO BOOK 'WHAT IT IS' MAKES BEING AN ARTIST EASY
BY BILL KOHLHAASE
OC WEEKLY
September 04, 2008

You, Too, Can Be Creative!
Cartoonist Lynda Barry’s how-to makes being an artist easy
Why is it that most classes in creativity stifle the very thing they seek to nurture? Somehow, becoming conscious of the creative process—in the way it’s usually taught—extinguishes creativity. You remember those grade-school lessons in which what you drew or what you wrote was really an attempt at gaining approval from your teachers and peers, which had little to do with actually making art? When was it that we learned, if we did, to color outside the lines?


Fred Milton
Lynda Barry
Cartoonist Lynda Barry, she of Ernie Pook’s Comeek fame, has pursued these question and come up with a method of making art that renders it a simple process. In distilled form, here it is: Keep moving. Don’t stop drawing or writing. If you’re suddenly stuck on the sentence displayed on your computer screen, switch to the note pad kept handy on your desk. Don’t let the flow stop. You’ll end up with puddles. Write what you know. And what you don’t.
What It Is (The Formless Thing Which Gives Things Form) is a beautiful and unsettling book that serves as a primer on artistic creation and self-knowledge. Barry digs into her twisted psyche to pass on what she’s learned, and in the process, she has created a dreamy art book. A collage of symbols and ideas, the book less resembles her Ernie Pook strip, in which she explores the thumb-sucking angst of pre-adult life, than her weirdly reflective One! Hundred! Demons! in its assemblage and technique. Part memoir, part sketch book, part strategy for unlocking the mystery of image, it’s Barry’s least narrative work and, in a sense, her most ambitious. A riddle about visual puzzles, it stirs both the conscious and subconscious mind. It’s a sort of Zen koan that poses questions—lots of questions—for which there are no simple answers.

Confused? That’s just the state Barry wants you to start from. The inside cover of the book is filled with jottings—some on Post-It notes, some on file cards—that aren’t exactly revelatory. “Living Bacon” and “Freak out after” share space with “No narrative memories until language” and “Images require some sort of representation in the world outside of us.” Once inside, this sort of random thinking begins to firm up, leaving (mostly) clear lines of thought. Certain images reoccur. Birds, cats, monkeys and ghost-like creatures with hollow eyes drift through the pages. Deep-sea images, complete with toothy fish, stand in for the subconscious, and a cephalopod (yes, an octopus) serves as a sort of Beatrice into the world of creation.

In her quest to capture the creative process (you just know she hates the word “process”), Barry pushes innocence. Childhood serves as a vehicle to revelation. “At the center of everything we call ‘the arts’ and children call ‘play’ is something which seems somehow alive,” she writes early on. “Adults are scared to do this,” she pens next to an owl, barely escaping triviality. Questions pile upon questions, and the search for answers seems confused and hopeless. What keeps us moving through this hodgepodge are the personal narratives—her early discovery of Medusa figures—and the strangeness of her pages that blend a variety of scripts and images into thoughtful mosaics.

In other words, this is as pretty and entrancing a picture book as you’ll find, something to be explored under the spell of psychedelics as well as studied when perfectly straight. Many of the narrative pages appear to be done on lined yellow legal paper, giving space to her words and a structured frame for her drawing. Detailed pencil sketches from her “copying” days are contrasted with colorful constructions of flowers, candles, phrases and peanut shells.

It all starts making sense past the halfway point of the book, after the story of how she became a cartoonist and was able to generate “that strange floating feeling of being there and not being there,” in which “one line led to another and a story slowly formed under my hands.” Barry sets us up with somewhat absurd activities as to “writing the unthinkable” and giving images “living form.” Suddenly, all the questions posed find value, if not answers, as she provides ways to bring out the details in the images we create. One facet left unexplored—revisions—seems foreign to her philosophy. (One of the cover-page notes sums up her thinking: “Why we don’t read it over? The person reading it over is not the same person writing it.”) Surprisingly, this weird and wonderful book ends up being as practical as it is dream-like. But you might like it just for its visual appeal.
What It Is (The Formless Thing Which Gives Things Form) is a beautiful and unsettling book that serves as a primer on artistic creation and self-knowledge. Barry digs into her twisted psyche to pass on what she’s learned, and in the process, she has created a dreamy art book. A collage of symbols and ideas, the book less resembles her Ernie Pook strip, in which she explores the thumb-sucking angst of pre-adult life, than her weirdly reflective One! Hundred! Demons! in its assemblage and technique. Part memoir, part sketch book, part strategy for unlocking the mystery of image, it’s Barry’s least narrative work and, in a sense, her most ambitious. A riddle about visual puzzles, it stirs both the conscious and subconscious mind. It’s a sort of Zen koan that poses questions—lots of questions—for which there are no simple answers.


Fred Milton
Lynda Barry
Confused? That’s just the state Barry wants you to start from. The inside cover of the book is filled with jottings—some on Post-It notes, some on file cards—that aren’t exactly revelatory. “Living Bacon” and “Freak out after” share space with “No narrative memories until language” and “Images require some sort of representation in the world outside of us.” Once inside, this sort of random thinking begins to firm up, leaving (mostly) clear lines of thought. Certain images reoccur. Birds, cats, monkeys and ghost-like creatures with hollow eyes drift through the pages. Deep-sea images, complete with toothy fish, stand in for the subconscious, and a cephalopod (yes, an octopus) serves as a sort of Beatrice into the world of creation.
In her quest to capture the creative process (you just know she hates the word “process”), Barry pushes innocence. Childhood serves as a vehicle to revelation. “At the center of everything we call ‘the arts’ and children call ‘play’ is something which seems somehow alive,” she writes early on. “Adults are scared to do this,” she pens next to an owl, barely escaping triviality. Questions pile upon questions, and the search for answers seems confused and hopeless. What keeps us moving through this hodgepodge are the personal narratives—her early discovery of Medusa figures—and the strangeness of her pages that blend a variety of scripts and images into thoughtful mosaics.

In other words, this is as pretty and entrancing a picture book as you’ll find, something to be explored under the spell of psychedelics as well as studied when perfectly straight. Many of the narrative pages appear to be done on lined yellow legal paper, giving space to her words and a structured frame for her drawing. Detailed pencil sketches from her “copying” days are contrasted with colorful constructions of flowers, candles, phrases and peanut shells.

It all starts making sense past the halfway point of the book, after the story of how she became a cartoonist and was able to generate “that strange floating feeling of being there and not being there,” in which “one line led to another and a story slowly formed under my hands.” Barry sets us up with somewhat absurd activities as to “writing the unthinkable” and giving images “living form.” Suddenly, all the questions posed find value, if not answers, as she provides ways to bring out the details in the images we create. One facet left unexplored—revisions—seems foreign to her philosophy. (One of the cover-page notes sums up her thinking: “Why we don’t read it over? The person reading it over is not the same person writing it.”) Surprisingly, this weird and wonderful book ends up being as practical as it is dream-like. But you might like it just for its visual appeal.

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Lynda Barry

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What It Is




WHAT IT IS reviewed in The School Library Journal

Updated September 2, 2008


BARRY, Lynda. What It Is.
SCHOOL LIBRARY JOURNAL


Gr 9 Up–Every so often a book comes along that surpasses expectations, taking readers on an inspirational voyage that they don’t want to leave. This is one such book. Each page is a feast for the eyes with beautiful full-page collages of photographs, watercolors, ink drawings, and text, resulting in a gorgeous volume that explores and encourages writing in a combination of ways. The author challenges readers with philosophical questions to ponder, such as “What is an image? Where are they found? Can we remember something we can’t imagine?” The volume also acts as a workbook that successfully encourages teens to explore their own creativity through writing. In addition, autobiographical glimpses of Barry’s journey from childhood to adulthood appear throughout the book. The struggles and obstacles she faces while following her path of becoming an artist and writer allow readers to believe in the possibility of writing themselves. This stunning book will appeal to those teens who are interested in delving into their creativity through words and art. The questions posed and valuable exercises that exist within its pages, along with the illustrations, could also make this book a valuable tool for English and art teachers in the classroom.–Lara McAllister, Halifax Public Libraries, Nova Scotia
 

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Lynda Barry

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  WHAT IT IS reviewed by Riverfront Times

Updated September 2, 2008


It Is What It Is
A Barry good time

By Nicole Beckert
Published on August 20, 2008

In her new book, What It Is, the beloved indie-comic genius Lynda Barry embraces her audience with a lesson in creative revival. In this collection of memoirist comics, Barry sets aside her syndicated strip Ernie Pook's Comeek and instead delves deep into the root of the creative process and demonstrates how the "ordinary is extraordinary." Throughout her book, the reader is inspired, amused and bewildered -- as any Barry fan should be. The Central branch of the St. Louis Public Library, located at 1301 Olive Street, is graced with Barry's presence from 7 to 8:30 p.m., and she'll discuss her new work and sign copies. Can you dig the freaky, groovy magic, man? Right on!
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WHAT IT IS reviewed by The St Louis Post-Dispatch

Updated September 2, 2008


Comic artist shares creative spark of her art
By Holly Silva Special to the Post-Dispatch
17 August 2008
St. Louis Post-Dispatch

Lynda Barry is best known for "Ernie Pook's Comeek," a weekly black-and-white comic strip she has authored since 1978. In early years, the strip was drawn in angular pen strokes and concerned random characters such as Fred Milton the poodle.

"Ernie Pook" has since evolved to a softer, ink-brush format and a regular cast of child characters, mostly preteen girls in financially and parentally impoverished circumstances, much of which echoes Barry's childhood.

The tone of these strips is simultaneously whimsical and truth-telling. Barry conquers a thin emotional line in storytelling: sorrow that does not spill over into pity, and bursts of joy that are never mawkish.

In 30 years and a dozen published collections of strips, she has occasionally branched out with a coloring book, a spoken word audiotape and two novels, one of them ("The Good Times Are Killing Me," 1988) later produced as an off-Broadway play.

And before releasing "What It Is," Barry published "One! Hundred! Demons!" in 2002, an especially heady mix of longer autobiographical strips in color; photos of bright mixed-media collages; and seven photo-illustrated pages with instructions for the reader to paint his or her own demon using ink stone, ink stick and Asian brushes.

"What It Is" melds those three elements of the "Demons" book into a single purpose. Each 8-by-11-inch page (nearly twice the size of her usual book page) combines collage, autobiography and encouragement to the reader to try this at home. There are outright assignments, exercises and pages that function as an activity book: "Start by copying all 4 pages of our word list onto cardstock or tagboard. Cut out all the words. ... Set aside until needed when you're ready to write."

Throughout "What It Is," Barry credits this creativity formula (which she also teaches in small "Writing the Unthinkable" classes all over North America) to her college art instructor, Marilyn Frasca. A classmate was "The Simpsons'" Matt Groening, if you need more evidence of Frasca's professorial powers.

The idea that readers of "What It Is" can access the singular talent that Barry does is a little like falling for late-night TV ads selling miracle kitchen appliances at $9.99.

But the images of "What It Is" are so seductive, and Barry's encouragement so generous and gentle, that even the most cynical readers will undoubtedly find themselves fully absorbed in "Other People's Mothers. Write the first ten that come to you."

---

'What It Is' By Lynda Barry Published by Drawn and Quarterly, 210 pages, $24.95

Lynda Barry When: 7 p.m. Aug. 25 Where: St. Louis Public Library, 1301 Olive Street How much: Free For more info: 314-206-6779
 
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  WHAT IT IS reviewed The Observer UK

Updated September 2, 2008


Review: Books: [ GRAPHIC NOVELS ]: Magic realism and blue-sky thinking: The latest graphic novels have everything - psychological complexity, masterly satire, out-of-this world artwork and no little dry humour
Roger Sabin
17 August 2008
THE OBSERVER

...Finally, Lynda Barry's What It Is ( Drawn and Quarterly pounds 16.99 ) is a 'how to make pictorial literature' guide with a twist. Rather than set out a boring template about composing images, judging perspective etc, she simply suggests exercises to maximise creative potential (the zone again). But she does so in a style that is itself inspiring, with punkily naive strips, collage and personal reflections ('The lines made a picture and the picture made a story. Every kid I knew could do it.'). You end up convinced that fretting over the status of the graphic novel pales into insignificance against actually trying to create one.

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LYNDA BARRY on Ich Leibe Comics

Updated August 4, 2008


Lynda Barry San Diego 2008
Friday, August 1, 2008
ICH LIEBE COMICS !
By Ralph Mathieu

My absolute favorite 2008 San Diego convention moment was getting my copy of What It Is signed by Lynda Barry.

Lynda's panel (which was in a big room and had a big crowd, I'm happy to report) was on Friday and it was one of the best panels I've ever been to. For anyone who was at that panel who was unfamiliar with her comic work (or her novels), I know they were still highly entertained by Lynda Barry's stage presence and one would easily think she's moonlighted as a stand up comic. She started by introducing herself by singing some lines from Coal Miner's Daughter, albeit with some altered lines to reflect her life growing up and she closed by singing a song without opening her mouth (I hope that these two bits somehow end up on youtube)!

On Sunday I made sure that I'd get my book signed by Lynda Barry and tell her how much I loved her work so I went over to the Drawn & Quarterly booth (the publisher of What It Is) and stood in line. She was very gracious to all of the people in line getting their books signed, but she seemed especially nice to me as I think she sensed what a huge fan of her work I am. I've been to a lot of conventions and have met a lot of comic book creators (most of them are really nice and appreciative of their fans), but I'd have to say that my face to face time with Lynda Barry will be amongst my very top memories of the people I've talked to within the comic book community. After talking to her I was on a high for the rest of the day!
 
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  WHAT IT IS reviewed by BIBLIOLATRY

Updated August 4, 2008


Tapping the inner meditating monkey
August 01, 2008
By Kel Munger
SACRAMENTO NEWS & REVIEW'S BIBLIOLATRY BLOG

Lynda Barry, author of the long-running alt-strip "Ernie Pook‘s Comeek," has a new book out. What It Is is both a both a manual for discovering and unleashing your own creativity and a paen to Barry’s ability to tap into hers.

Using small drawings and collage, this large format book is best examined in small doses—followed by enough time and quiet to really digest what Barry’s suggesting: the everyday accessibility of the great power of creation.

For example, this passage is intriguing in its own right: What do drawing singing dancing music making handwriting playing storywriting acting remembering and even dreaming all have in common? ??? They come about when a certain person in a certain place in a certain time arranges certain uncertainties into a certain form.

But when the passage is combined with the incredibly busy pieces of Barry’s inner workings, it comes out so much more slowly—it actually winds out, as if being pulled slowly from a place where we’ve always known at our core the relationship between fruit, trees and birds (her illustration) and the difference between cursive and block printing (her choices for the words, which change during the passage).

Barry has opened the door for us to see the connection between words, ideas and images in a completely new way. I might have to dig out my crayons.
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MSNBC loves LYNDA BARRY

Updated July 31, 2008


Comic-Con 2008: The empire strikes back
Nerds rule the show, but Hollywood publicity teams want to take control
By Dave White
MSNBC
July. 28, 2008

"Lynda Barry, the cartoonist who will sing to you

This cartoonist, a contemporary and college friend of “The Simpsons” creator Matt Groening, has worked in relative obscurity for over 20 years with her strip, “Ernie Pook’s Comeek,” having been a staple in alternative weekly newspapers in the 1980s and 90s. Her one-woman panel presentation, based on her latest book, “What It Is,” was Comic-Con’s single most inspirational moment, even if most of the 125,000 daily attendees weren’t in the room or, more likely, had never even heard of her (I had to explain her and her work three different times in response to the question, “What panel are you headed to now?”).

An exuberant, no-nonsense cheerleader for life’s outcasts, she led her smallish room’s capacity crowd in a sermon-like call to creativity without fear of failure, to engage in what she called “deep play” or suffer going slowly insane. Of all the convention’s “professional” badge wearers, she was the coolest. She finished her panel by singing, “You Are My Sunshine” without moving her lips and got a standing ovation."
 
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  WHAT IT IS and GOODBYE reviewed by the Contra Costa Times

Updated July 30, 2008


'What It Is' is a work of true creative genius
By Randy Myers
Contra Costa Times
07/27/2008


Let's get those creative juices flowing. Sounds good, huh? Just how we go about successfully drilling into our imagination oil fields can be tricky, though.

To help us kick-start the process, here is comics writer and artist Lynda Barry. Her book "What It Is" -- a "how-to" guide for those who despise that genre -- has spawned sold-out workshops/readings and inspired hundreds to clear creative blockages.

...

"What It Is," written and illustrated by Lynda Barry (Drawn & Quarterly, $24.95, 210 pages). Blinded by writer's block? Snatch up Barry's book, and I guarantee it will four-wheel you out of any creative sinkhole. As inspired as it is inspiring, Barry's scrapbook memoir is a motivational tome that revolutionizes the format of the autobiography and the maligned "how-to" book. It's a genre-shatterer that looks and reads like a crazy patchwork quilt, and gives you the confidence to go out and create. One of the best, most rewarding books I've read -- ever. A

"Good-Bye," written and illustrated by Yoshihiro Tatsumi (Drawn & Quarterly, $19.95, 212 pages). I love it when authors take me to very dark and disturbing places. Tatsumi, an influential Japanese cartoonist who is finally getting his day in the spotlight, does just that by exposing the gnarled, disintegrating psyches of men beaten down by their environment and insecurities. In this intense nine-story collection, Tatsumi exhibits a Raymond Carver-like grace as he peers into the emotional toll wrought by seething masculine resentments over war, marriage and retirement. Must reading for those want to be shaken and unsettled. A
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WHAT IT IS reviewed by the North Adams Transcript

Updated July 23, 2008


An idiot's guide to creativity
By John E. Mitchell
NORTH ADAMS TRANSCRIPT
Friday, July 18

What It Is by Lynda Barry (Drawn and Quarterly)


In this primer for cartooning -- a sort of how to be creative instructional text book -- Lynda Barry takes a very different and very abstract approach. Instead of merely telling you how to fashion ideas and work with them, Barry takes the reader through an autobiographical journey tracing the movement of her brain and consciousness as it learned to fashion ideas and work with them.

"What It Is" unfolds through a bold and abstract presentation, where the subtleties and depth of Barry's creative process -- or, better yet, process to creativity -- is echoed through a mix of sharp cartooning layered within intricate collage work. It may be an instructional work underneath all the clutter, but it's that clutter that does the dirty work, making plain why the instruction makes any sense whatsoever.

Barry employs an arsenal of tactics to walk would-be cartoonists through the process. Sometimes it's straight cartoon narrative -- often Barry messes with this, creating a memoir of childhood with handwritten entries alongside the drawings. The journal winds through the personal circumstances of those years -- including some sad details about her parental relationships -- but the biographical detail provides a road map to the moment where all the circumstances, the doodling and reading and alienation, come together as artistic motivation.

When she's not functioning as the Ghost of Cartoonists Past, Barry is posing a series of abstract philosophical questions about storytelling, the kind of Zen unanswerables designed to get you thinking without entirely worrying about any conclusion. Questions like "What is the past made of?" and "What are thoughts made of?" serve as springboards for Barry's energetic and often gorgeous collage work, providing equally abstract images illustrating the journey begun by the questions.

Reading "What That Is" is like diving into Barry's mind and swimming for a while. You plunge into bits of narrative now and again, but most of it is free form exploration, with your actions working alongside and in contrast to Barry's own. In other words, Barry actually takes you through the act of creation, rather than just telling you how it's done -- by the end, she's a guide in the mysterious world of your own creative brain, not just her own. This should be required reading for any teenager drifting into a creative life.
 
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  WHAT IT IS included on Entertainment Weekly's MUST List

Updated July 3, 2008


ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY
MUST LIST
From the June 6th, 2008 Issue
Ten Things We Love This Week

BOOK
3. WHAT IT IS, by Lynda Barry
The comic legend's graphic-art guide only looks scattered. Really, it's an inspirational tribute to the do-it-yourself creative spirit.
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LYNDA BARRY writes for Tricycle

Updated June 25, 2008


Monkey Business
Artist and author Lynda Barry on the power of the paintbrush
By Lynda Barry
TRICYCLE: THE BUDDHIST REVIEW
Summer 2008

I PAINT THESE MONKEYS with a brush and hand-ground Chinese ink. What began as a response to the death of a friend has become something I lean on, just as I depend on the alphabet to be there when I want to write.

I found the paintbrush when I was working on my novel Cruddy, getting nowhere because I was trying to write it on a computer. The problem with writing on a computer was that I could delete anything I felt unsure about. This meant that a sentence was gone before I even had a chance to see what it was trying to become.

When I was a kid, I never wrote without first having a book to write in. The simple act of folding sheets of paper and stapling them inside a construction paper cover was the first step in writing a book. The second was the movement of a pencil on paper. For most kids, once the experience of writing or drawing is over, the story itself isn’t so important.

Some studies show that for children, handwriting and stories are intertwined. The very motion of writing by hand encourages creativity. The same is true for drawing. It’s only later in life that action and intent part ways.

I decided to try to write my book with a brush, mostly because I wanted to get as far from the computer as I could. I was surprised by the instant change in my experience of writing. Without a delete button, I could allow the unexpected to grow. I finished my novel.

As it turns out, people have been aware of the power of the paintbrush for over two thousand years. Brush, ink, and Buddhism are all bound together. The history of brush and ink in Asia cannot be studied without encountering the Buddha, who long ago traveled, via brush and ink, across China to Japan. He crossed entire centuries to my studio that day.

I’ve used the brush ever since. These monkey paintings are fossils of experience, the remnants of a hand in motion, of breath and being. The vehicle of ink and brush is available to anyone. The picture you make is not so important. Move your brush not to make a picture, but make a picture in order to move your brush.

Lynda Barry is the creator of the weekly comic strip Ernie Pook’s Comeek and the author of several books. Her new book is What It Is (May 2008, Drawn & Quarterly).
 
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  WHAT IT IS a Salon "Critic's Pick"

Updated June 25, 2008


Critics's Picks
SALON
June 14, 2008

The problem with most guides on how to revive your creativity is that the people who write them create little more than guides on how to revive your creativity. Lynda Barry, the great comics artist, is an exception, and this book is part autobiography, part workbook, filled with moving stories and evocative collages. The emphasis is on memoir, with exercises asking readers to list every dog they've ever known or contemplate the feelings that come up when they think about their first phone number. Honest, awkward, funny and shot through with yearning, this is quintessential Barry.
-- Laura Miller
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WHAT IT IS reviewed by Salon

Updated June 25, 2008


How to be a comic book hero: Like graphic novels, manga or superhero tales? New books by Lynda Barry, Jessica Abel and Matt Madden may inspire you to turn your stories and doodles into real cartoons.
By Douglas Wolk
SALON.COM
June, 2008

"It's hard to imagine two worthwhile books on the same subject more different than Jessica Abel and Matt Madden's "Drawing Words and Writing Pictures" and Lynda Barry's "What It Is," both of which are nominally about how to make marks that turn into stories. (One of them is in comics form, and the other one is focused on how to make comics.) The process of making art is mysterious, though, and it's a mystery that deserves multiple explanations -- even contradictory explanations.

Every page of Lynda Barry's book demands to be stared at lingeringly and lovingly. "What It Is" is nominally a book about writing rather than cartooning; it's jumbled and digressive, occasionally vague on the details. Even so, it's likely to be useful and even inspiring to anyone who wants to make comics, or any kind of narrative art, for that matter, because what it's meant to serve isn't the mechanics of creative work but the creative impulse itself.

Barry is a cartoonist (her strip, "Ernie Pook's Comeek," appeared on Salon for a few years) and novelist who also teaches a writing workshop, "Writing the Unthinkable"; this is more or less the book version of that course. The whole thing is in comics form, or rather comics-and-then-some. Nearly every page is reproduced from a yellow legal pad on which Barry has drawn, handwritten, doodled, painted and pasted on evocative snippets of pictures and text until virtually every space has been filled. (One of the sources of collage materials she uses most is a cache of vintage, crushingly earnest schoolchildren's papers.) It's an art object itself as a book, and a gorgeous one, decorated like an envelope sent to a loved one; the birds and fish and monkeys that seem to turn up everywhere suggest that Barry's created the kind of terrain living things are drawn to, sky and sea and air all at once.

The first and longest section of "What It Is" is essentially Barry's artistic autobiography and manifesto. It's framed by a series of not-easily-answerable questions: What is the past? Where is it located? Are there images inside of us? What are toys? What are monsters made of? Barry describes her experience of making art as a child, how that ability went away, and how it eventually came back and she "accidentally became a cartoonist." She changed her life, she writes, by copying other people's work before she could make her own: "In a fairy-tale it wouldn't work but in real life it did." It's a very funny piece of cartooning -- her portrait of herself as a sullen, early-'70s teenager is dead-on -- and insightful about her own experience: "That I had a very Gorgon-like mother never occurred to me, and if it had, I would have been lost. Did the Gorgon help me love my mother? I think she helped me very much."

That extended reflection is followed by the heart of "What It Is": "Activity Book," originally published in part as a Free Comic Book Day giveaway last year. It's a sort of instruction book, but not for writing stories, as such. The core of Barry's concept here is the primacy of "images," by which she doesn't just mean pictures but moments of real or imagined sensory experience that can be brought to life with strokes of a pen. The point of "Activity Book" is for students to inhabit those moments fully, and describe them in every aspect. Barry presents it as a kind of goofy game, guided by a "magic cephalopod" and a many-eyed aquatic creature called "Sea-Ma"; she emphasizes, though, that it's incredibly important to keep your pen moving, rather than stopping to consider what you're doing. And she backs it up with her own example: The final section of "What It Is" is 20 pages' worth of the doodle pad Barry kept by her side while she was working on the rest of the book. That alone looks like she was having so much fun it'd be foolish not to follower her instructions.

If all this sounds process-obsessed, it is. The old joke is that artists like making art and writers like having written; Barry's technique is to treat writing as a kind of visual art (she strongly encourages handwriting instead of using computers), in order to make the process a pleasure. She discusses the torment that set into her (as it does every post-childhood artist) in the form of a pair of demonic questions: "Is this good? Does this suck?" As she points out, "In all the books I read, no one had ever solved the riddle by thinking their way out of it. If anything, just the opposite was true." The pleasure of making marks, she argues, only happens when you're willing to not know what's happening -- to let images pull you along wherever they're going.

If you're looking to learn from any art instruction book, it's worth figuring out the author's particular biases; Barry, pretty clearly, leans toward the principle of making art from one's own personal experiences and memories. For the most part, though, the artwork sparked by "What It Is" is meant to be made, period, rather than imagined and interrogated by the is-this-good, does-this-suck demons and thrown into a bottomless pit before it's finished, or even begun. Barry's directives are meant to let art flow out of yourself, for yourself. She recalls a favorite college art teacher: "When she looked at your work, she looked for a long time, usually while smoking a cigarette, and then the only word she'd say was, 'Good.'" ... The only real area of overlap between "What It Is" and "Drawing Words" is their very similar sets of aleatory story-generating tools. "Drawing Words" includes an appendix of "story cards": personality traits, physical characteristics, germs of stories ("a phone call," "a diamond ring," "an escaped prisoner"). The "writing kit" that makes up the shortest section of "What It Is" includes a set of shorter cues -- words to be written on individual slips of paper and pulled out of a bag: "telephone," "the beach," "snooping." Barry also suggests a similar bag of pictures, and offers questions to be selected at random while considering them: "What does the air smell like?" "What's beyond what's above your head?" "Is there anyone who just left or who may be coming?"

So which of these books should you give to an aspiring cartoonist? Both of them -- maybe with a note that working through their respective exercises in tandem would be a good idea. "Drawing Words and Writing Pictures" is a pragmatic and encouraging manual, a well-wrought selection of tools. It teaches readers how to put stories on paper, but "What It Is" makes its readers need to: Barry's book is about the joy of summoning what its cover describes as "the formless thing which gives things form," and that formless thing has to be present before T-squares and bristol board are of any use."

 
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  WHAT IT IS and THOREAU AT WALDEN nominated for YALSA's Best Books for Young Adults 2009

Updated June 25, 2008


The Young Adult Library Services Association names Lynda Barry's What It Is and John Porcellino's Thoreau at Walden in their compilation of the current year’s books with "proven or potential appeal to teens."
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WHAT IT IS featured by Publishers Weekly

Updated June 12, 2008


Panel Mania: What It Is
Publishers Weekly
5/13/2008

In this 6-page preview of acclaimed cartoonist Lynda Barry's new work, What It Is, she looks back on her teenage years and cites the intellectual and emotional importance of art and comics on her life and development. What It Is will be published this month by Drawn & Quarterly.
 
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  LYNDA BARRY and GARY PANTER discussion panels reviewed in Artforum

Updated June 12, 2008


"Comic Relief"
Andrew Hultkrans
ARTFORUM
06.10.08

Despite lingering cultural prejudices from bluenoses and blue-hairs, comics have periodically "arrived" on the mainstream stage since the late 1960s. Each "moment" generated reams of earnestly legitimizing articles in respectable journals trumpeting the medium's "newfound" sophistication, artistic achievement, and adult relevance, but all failed to reach critical mass. Today, however, with Hollywood working its way through the Marvel pantheon, Adrian Tomine's work frequently gracing the cover of the New Yorker, and museum exhibitions honoring everyone from R. Crumb to Chris Ware, it may be for real. "Post Bang: Comics Ten Minutes After the Big Bang!" nobly sought to map the dimensions of this ostensibly new cosmos. Organized by Art Spiegelman and Kent Worcester and sponsored by the New York Institute for the Humanities at NYU in collaboration with the Museum of Comic and Cartoon Art, the all-day symposium-comprising four panels and two creator interviews-kicked off the weekend-long MoCCA Art Festival. Pacing myself, I attended two of the panel discussions and both interviews.

The first panel paired two comic evangelists with wildly divergent ideas about how to historicize their beloved medium. Moderated by Robert Storr, curator and dean of Yale's School of Art, "Comics and Canon Formation" pitted curator and author John Carlin, who helped mount the 2006 exhibition "Masters of American Comics" at the Hammer Museum and the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, and coedited its massive catalogue, against Dan Nadel, proprietor of PictureBox, a Brooklyn-based publisher of comics and visual books and the author of Art Out of Time: Unknown Comics Visionaries, 1900-1969. Storr began by saying that, for the high-art world, comics had long been viewed as merely supporting materials to painting, and that the long-overdue elevation of comics to capital-a art has finally arrived.

Carlin, who also organized a comics-based exhibition at the Whitney in 1983, when he was a grad student, said that the cartoon-inspired art of Keith Haring, Kenny Scharf, and Jean-Michel Basquiat resonated with his own aesthetics, but it wasn't until he found his way to Spiegelman's studio that he really learned about comics history. Storr, in introducing Nadel, called his book an "alternative canon." Nadel, who onstage had the mild air of awkwardness so common in comics nerds, deadpanned, "No, it's not. It's a broadening of scope . . . adding more lanes to the highway." He testily objected to the high-versus-low frame, the notion that comics need to have aspirations to literature or fine art, and characterized the problem as a generational split: At thirty-one, he feels that older generations are still fighting a fight that has already been won; comics do not need or want any help from the upper crustaceans of "high" art.

Carlin defended his canonization efforts by citing auteur theory in film, linking Krazy Kat's George Herriman and Little Nemo's Winsor McCay to Alfred Hitchcock and John Ford-creative titans who invented the language of their medium-and said that canons were intended to cause controversy and stimulate debate. Nadel countered that any attempt at devising an auteur theory of comics was premature because so much of comics history is obscured or lost, beyond its most famous practitioners. Carlin compared their impasse to that between those who prefer The Beatles' Sgt. Pepper's to Love's Forever Changes or vice versa, with himself tending to side with the more successful cultural products. Nadel refused to be framed this way, saying he was not taking a Nuggets approach to comics history, but that he merely wanted to avoid the mistakes of past canonizations of other art forms. As the panel came to a close, nothing was resolved. No punches, but no hugs either.

The next panel boasted more participants but generated far less wattage. Moderated by Canadian comics scholar Jeet Heer, "Comics and the Literary Establishment" brought together three comics critics and historians to discuss the perils of plying their trade. Wondering aloud whether comics had become "too respectable" in a way that might harm the medium, Heer received a unanimous "No." Hillary Chute, a Harvard research fellow who wrote her doctoral dissertation on, among other things, Spiegelman's Maus; Douglas Wolk, author of Reading Comics: How Graphic Novels Work and What They Mean; and David Hajdu, author of The Ten-Cent Plague: The Great Comic-Book Scare and How It Changed America, all replied that while bandwagon jumpers from book publishing and Hollywood were a mild menace, academic or serious writing on comics would not leach the form of its grittiness and essential disrepute. But the most ear-pricking moment was when Hajdu, whom Heer had called "Hoodoo" twice, corrected the moderator by explaining that there was a David Hodo, but he was the construction worker in the Village People, not the bespectacled author in the room that afternoon.

Unsurprisingly, the creator interviews were more entertaining. First, old friends and colleagues Spiegelman and Gary Panter-painter, punk poster artist, and pervy purveyor of Jimbo and other comics-sat for a tandem Q&A with comics critic Bill Kartalopoulos. Describing their drug-addled '60s initiation into "underground" comics, both under the sway of patron saint R. Crumb, the two artists walked us through the history of independent cartooning in magazines like Zap, Arcade, and Funny Animals. The letters l, s, and d rolled off their tongues frequently, to nervous audience laughter every time -one of Panter's drawings, done on acid, was even projected onscreen. They both admitted, however, that they didn't do any good work while on the drug; it was merely a source of inspiration for later projects, including Panter's production design for Pee-wee's Playhouse. Spiegelman did get the seed idea for Maus while on some speed that the Funny Animals editor sent him to hasten his contribution to an issue: Having heard a theory that Mickey Mouse was based on Al Jolson in blackface, Spiegelman envisioned a strip with Ku Klux Kats. Soon realizing he knew next to nothing about African-American culture but plenty about Jewish culture, he transposed the concept, and a classic was born.

Both creators acknowledged their debt to fine art, though Spiegelman confessed he was a latecomer, or "slob snob," until Ken Jacobs helped him see that painters were cartoonists "who just worked with really large panels." Eventually, Spiegelman wanted to apply modernist styles-Cubism and Art Deco-to comics. Panter liked George Grosz and other early-twentieth-century painters, saying, "We could learn from art up to 1920 forever." Both were fond of Philip Guston, particularly when he returned to his cartoonist roots, and wondered "Who got there first, Guston or Crumb?" Panter said that each of these artists underwent a parallel evolution in 1967-Crumb from a bad acid trip; Guston perhaps from seeing Crumb's work in the East Village Other. Both creators agreed that the "underground" comics style could be traced back to Basil Wolverton's '50s grotesqueries for Mad magazine. During the audience Q&A, the artists were asked, "If LSD had never been invented, how different would your comics be?" After a beat, Panter dryly replied, "Well, there still would have been mushrooms."

"Post Bang" culminated in a star turn by Lynda Barry. Novelist, artist, and creator of the long-running, syndicated Ernie Pook's Comeek, Barry was a genuinely funny, inspirational presence as she discussed her writing workshop, "Writing the Unthinkable," and her recent collage-art-book-as-writing-guide, What It Is. While attending Evergreen College as an art student in the '70s, Barry started making pictures with words to impress friends and get "cute boys and girls" to make out with her. Also inspired by Crumb and Zap, she sent her early comics to the college paper, edited by fellow student Matt Groening. Because she'd always wanted an imaginary friend as a kid, she started making comics about kids to have "real imaginary friends." Likening artmaking to "a cross between a 'cereal trance' and listening to a joke," Barry became fixated on trying to recover a childlike mode of creation, leading to, among other methods, pulling words out of a hat for story ideas and writing her novels with a paintbrush. Maintaining that "art has a biological function and should not be an elective" in school, Barry said that "images may not be logical, but they are satisfying," and they stick with you "like the memory of your first phone number." She said that comics "remind her of music," noting that the blending of pictures with words was one of the most ancient artistic forms. The audience, including some very devoted fans, ate all of this up with radiant glee.
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WHAT IT IS reviewed by the Philadelphia Inquirer

Updated June 12, 2008


What is it?
Artist/writer Lynda Barry can't - or won't - categorize "What It Is," her highly creative memoir. "Crazy book" might work, she says.
By Carrie Rickey
June 4, 2008
PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER

Lynda Barry, prairie dog of the arts, has tunneled her way from underground comix (Ernie Pook's Comeek) to novels (The Good Times Are Killing Me) to the illuminated memoir What It Is, a transporting volume that pretty much defies description. Would she call it a memory map of creativity's source and flow?

"No idea how to classify it," the literary artist responds during a free-spirited volley of e-mails last week.

Nor does Barry have any idea of where to shelve it. "If there is a 'crazy book' section, it might go there," suggests the cartoonist, novelist and playwright whose Good Times enjoyed a successful Off-Broadway run.

Pushing herself for a working definition of What It Is, Barry, who will speak at the Central Library of the Free Library of Philadelphia tomorrow night, calls it "a textbook."

Accurate as far as it goes, but an understatement on the order of describing a Frida Kahlo painting as oil on canvas.

An outgrowth of "Writing the Unthinkable," a creativity workshop Barry teaches at venues across the country, What It Is is, among other things, an apparently free-form, but artfully sequenced, illustrated journal that proffers the key to unlocking recollections. Not just any recollections, but those stored in sense memory, smells, sounds, sights that make the creative juices flow.

One exercise Barry suggests is saying your first telephone number out loud. Do it. Barry says that when she recites, "Park Way Two Four Four Three Five, it feels like someone is saying my name."

Her book, a magic grab bag in which Barry has collected the disparate phenomena - images, doodles, snapshots, anecdotes - helps her get into the zone, and is intended to take readers there.

It does. An immersion in What It Is makes sleeping neurons wake up after a long Rip Van Winkle slumber, and primed to play.

"I really wanted to make a book that would make people itch to make a book of their own," she writes, "... itchy to get started on what most of us have wanted to do since we stopped using images on a daily basis in our lives. What kids call playing and what adults call creativity seem to be pretty much the same thing."

Some say that e-mail lacks tone. Not Barry's, whose electronic voice is as playful and plaintive as Ernie Pook, the comic that, when the New Wave in music and art broke on American shores in the '80s, shared the pages of underground weeklies with Matt Groening's Life in Hell.

Groening and Barry met as undergraduates at Evergreen State in Washington in 1974 and can be thought of as the Picasso and Matisse of alt-art, only friendly.

Groening, who first published Ernie Pook at the Evergreen State newspaper, tells the story about when he and Barry met. She was the girl in Dorm D legendary for having written to novelist Joseph Heller (Catch-22) and received a letter in return. In the return address, the resourceful Barry had scribbled "Ingrid Bergman."

Over the years, Barry, 52, has valiantly defended her belief that word and image are inseparable. (As she puts it in What It Is: "Pictures can help us find words to help us find pictures.")

"When I wrote Cruddy [her 1999 novel about an abused, resilient and resourceful 16-year-old] and wanted to include illustrations, I met with tremendous resistance from the publisher. . . . I was told that people would take the book less seriously if there were pictures in it."

"I think the resistance to comics as literature has to do with the possible unremembered sense of advancement from books with pictures to books with no pictures," Barry says. "To unite [word and image] again makes some people very uncomfortable."

What It Is is definitive proof that a work of art can also be a work of literature - and vice-versa.

"We didn't have any books in the house I grew up in," Barry recalls of her hands-off rearing in Seattle. Thanks to a supermarket giveaway, four books made it into the house. Tales of the Brothers Grimm and Hans Christian Andersen. Heidi. The Arabian Nights.

"It was hard to find a place to read. That's why I loved the library," she recalls. To this day, the once "scraggly kid who didn't have a cared-for look" keeps a bookcase "with glass doors full of the oldest books I can find just so I can have that library smell when I need it. That's a smell that makes me feel that anything is possible."

Barry went to high school with Kenny G ("no comment"), college with Groening ("Funk Lord of USA"), and dated This American Life host Ira Glass ("I'll pass").

Once the ringmistress of the boho media circus, with regular appearances on the Letterman show, Barry has put down roots in Footville, Wis. Since 2002, she's lived in a converted dairy farm with her husband, Kevin Kawula, an artist/naturalist she calls a "plant guy," who runs a native-plant nursery.

As she describes it, the aromas of wood smoke, freshly baked bread, sun-dried laundry, and vegetables fresh from the garden permeate their home.

Life in Footville "was everything we ever wanted" until developers proposed an industrial windmill farm that would surround the Barry/Kuwala spread. These days, in addition to her other roles, Barry is endeavoring to restrict the development of wind turbines.

"They make an enormous amount of noise at times, especially at night, and have made homes unlivable," she notes.

"There may be a place for them," says the queen of green, "but beside people's homes and in bird migration flyways is not the place."

It's little wonder that the author/artist dedicated to sustainable living was moved to write/draw a book about how she sustains and renews her art. For art is, in the end, what keeps her going.

"I believe this kind of play/creative activity evolved along with all the other parts of us, like our thumbs and fingers," she writes, "and without it we go crazy."
 
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  WHAT IT IS reviewed by the Montreal Hour

Updated June 12, 2008


"This is it: American comic great Lynda Barry gets arty and educational with What It Is"
Isa Tousignant
THE MONTREAL HOUR
June 12th, 2008

I came to Lynda Barry late, only a couple of years ago, despite the fact that she's been among the States' most successful non-mainstream comic artists since the 1980s. My first contact with her work was while on holiday, when I was staying with some of my best friends; they had a copy of The Greatest of Marlys. It's an incredible book, like all of Barry's stuff - touching and moving and freaking hilarious, full of characters like Arna, Maybonne and the infamous Marlys that are so well rounded they become like family members. To this day, the warm feeling I have in reading her books is indistinguishable from the love I have for the friends whose bookshelf I plucked The Greatest of Marlys off of and the relaxing headspace of responsibility-free travelling. No matter - it's art with heart, either way.

Barry's new book is an intensely pleasurable turn of events. She's ventured into a variety of art forms extending beyond the regular comic format in the past - apart from her regular syndicated strip, Ernie Pook's Comeek, she's dabbled in theatre, for example, when The Good Times Are Killing Me was adapted to the stage. She's worked on short one-page strips, written longer narratives and drawn books of varying kinds. In 2004 she published an amazing autobiographical art book titled One Hundred Demons, which mixed collage and painting with deeply affecting personal remembrances. This new book, What It Is, is in that vein but dives deeper still.

What It Is is a heartfelt, humorous, skewed kind of linguistics lesson. Constructed of beautiful watercoloured visions of monsters and animals alongside self-portraiture, poetry and collage, this book sets out to answer one overarching question: What is an idea made of? Barry comes up with a few hypotheses, and many, many other questions, thanks to stories from her past and present, as well as meandering philosophical reflections inspired by some of the found material she includes. There are some extracts of what seem to be the artist's childhood school projects here, as well as found postcards and photographs. The entire work is constructed like a student's activity book - or like a manual, like a Thought-Provoking Art Book for Dummies.

With every new work, Barry digs deeper into her well of experiences, stretches further into the vast extent of her artistic talent and shares more intimacy with her readers. This is her richest, most generous work yet. I'm going to give it pride of place on my shelves in the hope that a loved one will pick it up and share in the revelation.
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LYNDA BARRY event in The Chicago Reader

Updated June 12, 2008


Critic's Choice: Lynda Barry
Kathie Bergquist
CHICAGO READER
June 12, 2008

"There are happy childhoods and unhappy childhoods, but most fall somewhere in between, swinging sometimes up or dragging sometimes low," says Lynda Barry in her new writing how-to, What It Is (Drawn & Quarterly). Cartoonist and novelist (and Reader contributor) Barry has chronicled childhood through its minutiae -- its flagrant injustices and small triumphs -- in her comics, novels, and graphic novels. In her new book she encourages would-be writers to "follow the wandering mind," paying close attention to images from their childhoods and emphasizing the connections between image, memory, and imagination. What It Is begins with a series of meditative questions ("What is the past made of?" "What makes something meaningful?") and concludes with a series of practical writing exercises that could function equally well as conversation starters for a dull party ("Make a list of the first ten cars that come to you from early in your life"). Along the way Barry interjects her own narrative about becoming a writer and artist, her swirling, dizzying collage art summoning readers into the depths of the subconscious and treating them to a cast of characters from Barry's personal iconography -- a winking cat, a black-sheathed ghost, various undersea creatures, meditating monkeys, and Abraham Lincoln, to name a few.
 
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  WHAT IT IS reviewed by Time Out Chicago

Updated June 11, 2008


TIME OUT CHICAGO
Issue 172: Jun 12-18, 2008
Creative burst
Lynda Barry uses comics, collage and the kitchen sink to get things going.
By Laura Pearson

Lynda Barry has thought long and hard about the forces that hinder creativity. The painter, writer and nationally syndicated cartoonist, who created the pitch-perfect strip Ernie Pook's Comeek, believes there are two questions we ask ourselves that take the joy and ease out of art making: Is this good? and Does this suck?

"Anytime I begin to make anything, from a painting to a salad, the question of whether it's good or bad seems to immediately swoop in like a vampire," Barry says. "I don't think that these questions can be eliminated, but I do think they can be named and identified as part of [what] happens when adults make something."

Her new book, What It Is (Drawn and Quarterly), thoughtfully guides and invigorates adults who make stuff. It is, among other things (illustrated autobiography, philosophical quest), an instruction manual for dealing with vampiric self-critique. The key, Barry explains, is being okay with not knowing whether something you made is good or bad, but instead working to recapture a childlike, unselfconscious sense of play—focusing on images, letting the stories come to you.

At the book's outset, Barry recalls her childhood games and creative escapes. Using collage, comics and beautifully illuminating scraps of text from old children's books and worksheets (salvaged from the garbage of a Wisconsin school teacher), she describes her early forays into drawing, storytelling and imagining. She recalls nights of getting lost in the fairy tales of Hans Christian Andersen and the Brothers Grimm, afternoons of waiting for her toys to blink and come alive, if only she waited long enough. "I believed that there was another world that would show itself to me in the smallest ways," she writes.

Barry goes on to explain that around age 10, this period of creativity and make-believe was shaken by the idea that people could be "good" or "bad" at artistic expression: "By then I knew who the best artists were in our class, who were the best writers," she says. "The rest of us started wishing. 'I wish I could draw. I wish I could write. I wish I could dance.' By the fifth grade, most of us knew it was already too late." Suddenly, the all-consuming two questions entered the psyche, and creative activity became a kind of wrestling match.

But as a student at Evergreen State College, Barry took a painting class called "Images," in which she began working with unexpected memories. Rather than trying to drum up an idea or concept, she attempted to get inside an image, examining a familiar person or place with fresh eyes. This act required patience and practice, much like staring at toys and waiting for them to move.

"It's an experience, not a thought," Barry says. "Parts of the brain relating to sound, balance, spatial relationship, vision, smell and emotion are all active during certain kinds of memory."

Realizing that unexpected memories might enliven her writing as well, she eventually applied these techniques to other media. Barry even began teaching a workshop about images called "Writing the Unthinkable." The latter half of What It Is explores the curriculum of this class in colorful detail. "Do you wish you could write?" she asks and then follows up with a series of steps to "Make Writing!!"

As a creative handbook, What It Is takes a refreshingly unambiguous approach. Open-ended questions and swirling collage give way to simple advice and concrete steps: Don't stop and think; keep moving your pen. As such, this book isn't just for Lynda Barry fans or writers or people who felt the crush of fifth-grade peer pressure; it's for anyone who has ever wondered how to make something truthfully and honestly and, in so doing, silence the vampires.

Barry will tell you What It Is Thursday 12 at the Hideout.
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WHAT IT IS reviewed by Gutter Geek

Updated June 11, 2008


Lynda Barry, What It Is (Montreal: Drawn & Quarterly, 2008); $24.95, hardcover.
By Michael Moon
GUTTER GEEK
June 2008

When you grow up, would you like to be an actor, a singer, or a dancer? Nowadays, we tend to assume that a kid needs to figure out pretty early which track (and what part of that track) her particular talents (should she be so favored) have equipped her to pursue. Eventual success is supposed to depend on the kid's sticking to that track for a decade or two of continual training and trials - usually to the neglect of other artistic pursuits. But histories tell us that in the early modern period (say, the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries), performers with anything much in the way of formal training studied all these arts extensively. Actors, for example, learned not just the rudiments of singing and dancing but developed sufficient skill to perform credibly alongside other performers for whom singing or dancing were primary pursuits. No one expects a "serious actor" in the theater today also to be able to enthrall an audience with a high C or a quick set of leaps and turns - but performers were once expected to have cultivated this whole range of skills to a pretty high degree. It probably seems strange to most of us now.

Yet something like what theater historians tell us happened in the performance world in the West beginning in the eighteenth century happens to most of us as we start growing up. Many little kids, Lynda Barry observes in her new book What It Is, have a way of making lines on paper that pretty quickly turn into images that pretty quickly turn into stories. As she also points out, many children can also sing and dance to their own full satisfaction. Don't you wish you could draw, write, sing and dance? You were quite likely able to do all these things at least passing well - did them and really enjoyed doing them - when you were a little kid. What happened?

What It Is is an amazing achievement. Full of ideas about how it is that lots of children seem so creative, so well equipped to intuit how to tap and develop the richness of their own sensorium and their own experience in relation to what seems initially to be an inexhaustible reservoir of artistic gifts, the book also provides a toolbox (a "workbook") of exercises and techniques that can enable damaged, depressed, dissociated, and just plain "too busy" adolescents and adults to rediscover and redevelop the enlivening and inspiring connections to our energy, our "good demons," our childhood muses, "the sun in my belly." (Barry has been on to some of this for a long time: in an earlier work, she describes how, as a child at home, she would sometimes lie on the living room floor and take a perfectly sharpened pencil and poke tiny holes in the fabric that covered the stereo consoles' speakers - why? Because, she says, it gave her "a perfect feeling in my pants.")

Barry does this through a pretty compelling set of ideas about the image / images, and about human psychic functioning and its relation to the image. Rather than defining "image," Barry intimates what seems important to her to understand about it: it's "somehow alive" ("not in the way you and I are alive, but it's certainly not dead"). It can move, and move us - in one of her most suggestive evocations of the dynamics of the image, Barry calls it "the pulltoy that pulls you." "At the center of everything we call 'the arts' and children call 'play,' is something which seems somehow alive" (p. 14). "A kid who is playing is not alone. There is something brought alive during play, and this something, when played with, seems to play back" (p. 51). "An image," she writes, "is a place. Not a picture of a place, but a place in and of itself" (p. 88).

The heart of the book, and of Barry"s method, is to be found in the section entitled "Two Questions." "Is this good? Does this suck? I'm not sure when these two questions became the only two questions I had about my work, or when making pictures and stories turned into something called 'my work' - I just know I'd stopped enjoying it and instead began to dread it." But the relentless internalized censor with his two obsessive questions can be evaded. "When I was little," Barry recalls, "I noticed that making lines on paper gave me a certain floating feeling. It made me feel like I was both there and not there" (pp. 123-24). Here and elsewhere Barry's ideas about the creative process and its relation to self, identity, consciousness, and self-judgment may remind us of Gertrude Stein's similar pronouncements in her 1936 lecture, "What Are Masterpieces and Why Are There So Few of Them":

It is not extremely difficult not to have identity but it is extremely difficult the knowing not having identity. One might say it is impossible but that it is not impossible is proved by the existence of masterpieces which are just that. They are knowing that there is no identity and producing while identity is not.

"To be able to stand not knowing long enough to let something alive take shape," Barry writes, "Without the two questions ["Is this good?" "Does this suck?"] so much is possible. To all the kids who quit drawing . . . come back!" (p. 135).

According to Barry, and in contradiction with almost everybody's working (and perhaps also playing) habits today, the practices one needs to do in order to regain one's lost connections to image-play cannot be performed on a computer. Call her oldfashioned, but three-hole notebook paper, a binder, and, above all, a pen is necessary. Many of the enabling exercises Barry presents have as their central imperative, "Keep the pen moving." Choreographer Agnes De Mille tells in her 1952 memoir Dance to the Piper how once, during a discouraging phase in her own artistic life, her friend and fellow movement genius Martha Graham sent her the following message:

There is a vitality, a life force, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all Time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and be lost. The world will not have it. It is not your business to determine how good it is; nor how valuable it is; nor how it compares with other expressions. It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly, to keep the channel open. You do not even have to believe in yourself or your work. You have to keep open and aware directly to the urges that motivate you.

Barry's "Class Monitor," the friendly, many-eyed creature named Sea-Ma, couldn't have put it better.

Barry shows more of the raw than of the finished edges in her processes and projects in this book. Readers of What It Is, for example, get a preview of Barry's fabric constructions of the four sisters in Little Women, of which she writes:

Here are my rejected little Women. I like them so much but have been told they are not LYNDABARRY enough - The art director says it doesn't look like my work enough which make me laugh a little and also cry a little. (p. 200)


Although she is not identified by name in the book, the tired-but-resolute-looking woman depicted seated and reading at a desk on p. 169 is Louisa May Alcott, who knew a thing or two herself about what goes into unblocking life force. The Wikipedia entry for Lynda Barry claims that she is a fan of Mary Parker Follett's 1930 magnum opus Creative Experience. Follett lived at the foot of Beacon Hill in a "Boston marriage" with the woman who'd been the principal of the first school where she'd taught. Follett gave us the invaluable concept of a "win-win situation" and many other nuggets of relational and organizational wisdom, and her work is now recognized as having been the Motherlode (so to call it - Follett was no one's mother) for the ideas of many of the "management gurus" of the later twentieth century. Follett had graduated from Radcliffe in 1898 alongside classmate Gertrude Stein (Follett summa, Stein magna). Lynda Barry has been doing brilliantly innovative and moving work for decades now. With What It Is she has produced an account of her own discoveries about the creative process that are as helpful and inspiring as Follett's, Stein's, De Mille's, and Graham's. If you want to get up close and personal with that weird but accessible being or state of being that Barry calls "the formless thing which gives things form," I suggest you get out your gluestick and scissors and start making your way through What It Is.

But just looking at the book, even if you don't fully get with its "Writing the Unthinkable" program, has its own transformative potential. Every one of its 210 pages is a collage of enigmatic phrases, weird creatures (many of them pretty cute, it must be admitted), and helpful directives. Barry's way with color in this book represents a breakthrough for her: the palette is both strong and muted; its combination of softly bright figures against sometimes shadowy or even muddied backgrounds makes many of the pages look more like certain old quilts and other handsewn objects than like what we expect to see in a conventionally printed picture-book (those "rejected" Little Women dolls may epitomize this new aesthetic of Barry's). Hats off to Barry's new publishers, Drawn & Quarterly, for giving this artist's work the very special treatment it deserves.
 
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  WHAT IT IS on Channel Frederator

Updated June 11, 2008


Lynda Barry's Tour de Forces Beyond Our Control
CHANNEL FREDERATOR BLOG
Anne D. Bernstein
June 8, 2008

Going to see Lynda Barry is like going to see the Dalai Lama. (Actually, I've never gone to see the Dalai Lama, but I plan on doing so the next time he's in town to see if he could possible be more inspiring than the personality-packed "Funk Queen of the Universe".) Lynda was in NYC this weekend to promote What It Is, which is likely the world's first collage how-to-write book. She was interviewed by Hillary Chute Friday Night at the NYU Post Bang all-day comics symposium, and had the audience in stitches the entire time-but in a deep way!

The book is not specific to animation, but applicable to any artistic endeavor. It is all about how to recapture the playful attitude to creativity that we all have in childhood, but lose along the way, especially when we start looking at our work and judging it. (Or, as she put it in her own inimitable way: "Is my baby defective? Should I put the baby back up inside?")

For a taste of what you're in for, here's a podcast interview from NPR, a recent article in The New York Times, and a page about her "Writing The Unthinkable" Workshop, coming soon to a city possibly near you.

A few new things I learned about Lynda Barry:

-When she was a kid, she was obsessed with Family Circus, and really want to "get into the circle" and take part in their wholesome and charming oval-headed world.
-She can recite Beefaroni lyrics.
-She had an imaginary imaginary friend.
-She did a college art project called "Erotic Spaces" that involved drawing electrical outlets.
-When she met Matt Groening in college she was impressed because he was the only guy at hippie school with "buttons on his shirt".
-She has a huge crush on Elmer The Cow of Elmer's Glue.
-You can buy her original art on ebay and she would really appreciate it.

-Anne D. Bernstein
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WHAT IT IS and 365 DAYS reviewed by The Republican-American

Updated June 11, 2008


New titles push the cartooning envelope
By ALAN BISBORT
REPUBLICAN-AMERICAN
May 20, 2008

When Harold Ross, editor of The New Yorker, was first shown James Thurber's cartoons by his friend E.B. White, he was reported to be equally amused and confused. White, who had fished the now famous doodle-like work out of Thurber's office trashcan, wanted Ross to print the cartoons in the magazine.

"Yes, these are pretty funny, but where are the finished drawings?" Ross asked.

"No, you don't understand," White explained. "These ARE the cartoons. These ARE the finished drawings."

Ross eventually relented, and published Thurber's child-like scratchings, and the cartoons are now considered classic American humor. We still derive as much delight from them as we do from Thurber's short stories and memoirs.

Modern readers might have a similar reaction as Ross's to "What It Is," a new book by Lynda Barry. Barry, a cartoonist, painter, illustrator and teacher, is best known for her nationally-syndicated strip "Ernie Pook's Comeek," a staple of alternative papers since the 1980s. Her work shares certain "simple" qualities with Thurber's but her aim has always been to do more than just amuse.

Indeed, "What It Is" (published by Drawn & Quarterly) may be one of the most important books published this year. Never mind that it looks as if it were drawn by a child and pieced together by manic monkeys. It is nothing less than a primer on (and to) the human imagination. Ostensibly a step-by-step guide to her own quirky creative method, "What It Is" quickly lurches into the unknown.

By page 6, she is already asking readers such profound questions as "Where do sudden troublesome thoughts come from? Why is there anxiety about a past we cannot change?" Her answers are also provocative: "The top of my mind has no answer for this - I find myself arguing in my head with people I haven't seen in 15 years. Or apologizing or trying to explain…it's like there is a place in me where it is all still alive."

"What It Is" recalls the work of Kenneth Patchen, whose painted poems in the 1950s have a startling power. Barry asks, "Does your imagination know what year it is?," whereas Patchen asked, "Do the dead know what time it is?"

Each of the 210 pages in "What It Is" lays out questions that prod the mind in unexpected directions, augmenting them with watercolor, ink, scribbles, doodles and collage elements from old letters, books and catalogs. The pages can be studied for minutes at a time, and revisited continuously, without losing their hold. The effect is captivating. Her work resonates as strongly with adults - at least those who will allow it - as with children, who need no prodding when it comes to things in the imaginative realm. Barry seems to have a special gift for capturing the losses, fears, panics and joys of childhood, noting, "I believe a kid who is playing is not alone. There is something brought alive during play and this something, when played with, seems to play back."

It is clear from her earlier work and implied throughout "What It Is" that Barry had a painful childhood. Her mother was a monster, depicted herein as a Gorgon with whom little Lynda dared not make eye contact for fear of being frozen in place. Hers was the drunken, chain-smoking mom who never spoke when she could shout and said absurd things like "You don't know how lucky you are." Children treated in this manner can go in two different directions, to anger and defiance - or toward the imagination.

Lucky for us Barry took the latter route. "What It Is" is the pinnacle of her artistry.

As great as Barry is, she must be hearing the footsteps of another talented and engaging cartoonist: Julie Doucet. Doucet is, in fact, catching up with Barry for the "Most Lovably Eccentric and Bizarrely Confessional (or Confessionally Bizarre) Woman Cartoonist of the New Millennium" Award. With "365 Days: A Diary" (also published by Drawn & Quarterly), the younger Doucet has made giant strides toward Barry's throne. Like Barry, Doucet fills every teensy corner of every page with oddities - squiggles, cut out letters (like a kidnapper's ransom note), marginal doodles, provocative collages, fortune cookie sayings - and yet recreates her own highly personalized world. And, like Barry, her profusely personal perspective has strong elements of the universal in it.

She may be soul-bearing but she's not self-absorbed. She's humane and never needlessly cruel to or about other people.
 
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  WHAT IT IS reviewed by Impressions

Updated June 11, 2008


Did you ever have a toy you were afraid of?
Nancy Tousley
IMPRESSIONS
THE CALGARY HERALD
Wednesday, June 04, 2008

A couple of years ago, for no good reason except to see if I could, I started revisiting a little town called Oakdale in my mind.

I tried visualizing the brick main street and what was on it - the big high school at the head of the tree-lined boulevard, my grandmother's house, my friend Ann Irwin's house next door, the Cookson's.

Further down, after the boulevard stopped to widen the street, there was the white-painted Methodist church, the parsonage, a movie theatre, the dime store, the post office, some shops and my grandfather's men's clothing store. The street ended at the railroad tracks that ran across it at a right angle.

At the centre of central Louisiana, Oakdale is the site of my early childhood memories, the perfect place to set an idyl. I thought I might write about it and never did.

But relaxing and floating down through layers of time onto the brick street - and looking up, down and all around to see what I could see, like what season it was and who, if anybody, was with me - are things Lynda Barry tells prospective writers to do in her terrific and long-awaited new book, What It Is.

The grown-up artist, who is the brilliant creator of Ernie Pook's Comeek, steps out from behind the panels of her cartoon and shows herself. She talks about her work. What It Is is part creative memoir and part how-to book about getting down to writing what she calls "the unthinkable." But "unthinkable" doesn't mean what you think.

Barry favours an intuitive approach that draws on the complex relationships among dream, memory, experience and the imagination, and she shares her method. Stop thinking too much! Build gates that open up those places deep inside us that harbour the things we have not so much forgotten as fenced off. One thing remembered leads to another and, before long, you find a story.

This is rich territory for writing: you are swimming down into the unconscious, signaled here by the sea life that courses throughout the book.

What It Is, her first book with Drawn & Quarterly, is a revelation of the wellspring of Barry's creativity in childhood reverie and how she accesses the stuff she draws and writes about, activities each of which she regards as making marks that give shape.

She gives us a glimpse of her vivid imaginative life. She tells us how it was fed and formed when she was a child living in a trailer park under the thumb of a Gorgon-like mother, who was clueless and careless about her child's imaginative inner life. She reminds us of how imagination can give life to even inanimate things like shadows and toys.

At the start of What It Is, in a kind of two-page prologue, Barry appears as a troubled middle-aged artist who can't put her finger on what's bothering her. "Why is there anxiety about a past we cannot change?" she wonders. "The top of my mind has no answer for this." Then we are off on subterranean journey, led by the octopus (Barry?) and the many-eyed Sea Demon, to discover "the formless thing which gives things form."

Giving form, with words and images, and keeping moving to keep the images flowing is what this poetic, multilayered book is about. "What is an image?" Barry asks, along with a lot of other questions - "Did you ever have a toy you were afraid of?" - and she helps us figure them out and why they matter without handing out pat answers.

The question pages, like the cover, are collages of images (drawn and found), texts (printed and handwritten), postmarks cut off of old letters, children's art and writing, stamps, old people's spidery penmanship, bits of greeting cards, printed papers and fabrics, snatches of old letters, and the like.

The layered collages refer all at once to dream, memory, experience and imagination. They make the link between creativity and play. They layer time. A lot is going on in them because the images and the texts that each are signifying on different levels. They ask for a slow, thoughtful read.

Interspersed with the questions is Barry's story about her childhood and adolescence and her origins as an artist. Her story is told on yellow, ruled pages illuminated with watercolours of her freckle-faced, red-headed child self. The mature Barry appears here too, making asides on things like writer's block, doodling and how the innate creativity of children gets stiffled as they grow older.

She tells how she became paralyzed in her adult career, was ready to give it up, until one day "That strange floating feeling of being there and not being there came back. One line led to another and a story slowly formed under my hands."

What It Is then proceeds to stop explaining and "to just show you how to do it." Barry gives us the gist of what she teaches in her Writing the Unthinkable workshops, so unlike classes she took in high school.

Her life changed in college. Barry has dedicated the book to her teacher, Marilyn Frasca, who taught a class called Images at Evergreen State College, where she and The Simpsons creator Matt Groening both studied. Much of the book is based on what she learned in Frasca's class, Barry says.

Of course, What It Is carries Barry's inimitable stamp. Her memoir, which is as poignant as anything in Ernie Pook's Comeek, and the demonstration of the underpinnings of her method allows us deeper into her mind. This might just be the most complex cartoon book yet. It is also witty and satisfying in a way that still leaves you wanting more.

Even if you don't wish you could write, you'll want to read and look at it many times over. It's a very wise and beautiful thing.

"We don't create a fantasy world to escape reality," Barry writes in these pages, "we create it to be able to stay. I believe we have always done this, used images to understand what otherwise would be intolerable."

What Is Is by Lynda Barry was published by Drawn & Quarterly in Montreal. It is on sale at bookstores and www.drawnandquarterly.com
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LYNDA BARRY event included in the New York Times' Urbaneye

Updated June 11, 2008


The New York Times: Urbaneye
The Best of New York Today
By MELENA RYZIK
June 4, 2008

Hula With Patter and Cartoons

The reclusive cartoonist Lynda Barry makes a rare trip to the Strand tonight. The creator of the long-running strip "Ernie Pook's Comeek," anchored by the snooty pig-tailed Marlys, will share her first book, "What It Is," a series of collages about her take on art-making. If her appearance is anything like her workshops - in which Carol Kino says she "sings, tells jokes, acts out characters and even dances a creditably sensual hula, all while keeping up an apparently extemporaneous patter on subjects like brain science, her early boy-craziness, her admiration for Jimmy Carter and the joys of menopause" - you will come away with a new appreciation for pig-tailed creativity.
 
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  WHAT IT IS reviewed by Booklist

Updated June 11, 2008


BOOKLIST
By Gordon Flagg
June 1, 2008

What It Is.
Barry, Lynda (Author)
May 2008. 208 p. Drawn & Quarterly, hardcover, $24.95. (9781897299357). 741.5.

Though she has drawn the weekly Ernie Pook's Comeek and other alternative comics for nigh-on two decades, Barry still manages to surprise and delight. Take this hard-to-categorize book, an ambitious work that combines ink and watercolor drawings, collage, and handwritten and typeset text to explore the creative process by posing open-ended questions ("What is an image?" "What is a memory?"), and
autobiographical passages about Barry's harsh, lonely youth and creative struggles. A freewheeling "Activity Book" follows, proceeding in the same lively fashion by drawing on exercises from the creativity workshops Barry holds around the country and inviting readers to join in the fun of unleashing
their imaginations. Although such content is a departure from the usual for Barry, her distinctive style,with its vividly messy expressiveness, remains a constant. Barry's legions of fans will appreciate the insight she provides into her work, but her entertaining, accessible approach to weighty philosophical matters deserves a still larger audience. Drawn and Quarterly, this book's publisher, plans to bring the Ernie Pook strips back into print -good news for us all.
--Gordon Flagg

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WHAT IT IS reviewed by the San Antonio Current

Updated June 11, 2008


Serious playtime
By John DeFore
SAN ANTONIO CURRENT
May 28, 2008

Lynda Barry, the cartoonist behind the classic alt-weekly strip "Ernie Pook's Comeek," has kept busy in recent years with a number of side ventures. She sells original art - drawings of "Pook" characters like Marlys, and stranger ink paintings featuring subjects like a meditating monkey - on eBay; she has produced the occasional hand-decorated messenger bag; and she pops up around the country from time to time to conduct "Writing the Unthinkable" workshops, which appear to be sort of intensive, avant-funky, creative-writing seminars.

Now she has adapted some of her "Unthinkable" wisdom for a book called What It Is (Drawn & Quarterly). An odd little creature, What It Is certainly doesn't look like any creative-writing text before it. It isn't a textbook, of course: It aims at some kind of hybrid of workbook, memoir, and compendium of Zen koans, and will surely hit different readers (users?) in very different ways.

Longtime Barry followers will appreciate it even if they have no ambition to become writers, as it documents the wild paths the artist follows when not constricted by "Pook's" four-panel narrative format. Though it does offer some chunks of comic-style illustration (often depicting the author herself in her quest to become a writer), the book also offers glimpses of her non-Marlys drawings (that monkey again, now rifling through old magazines for pictures to clip, or a many-eyed marine beast named Sea-ma) and swaths of quirky collage.

The dense construction of those collage pages is aimed at triggering unconventional reader responses to questions like "Where do we keep bad memories?" and "What is the difference between awake and asleep?" - little meditations that set the stage for practical creativity exercises found later in the book. What It Is just came out, so I can't claim to have had time to put Barry's techniques into practice, but I can say that just reading through them elicits a kind of weird-inclusive, giddy embrace of the possible that could hardly hurt a bottled-up adult looking to reconnect with a creative side not seen since pre-school.
 
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  WHAT IT IS reviewed by Read About Comics

Updated June 11, 2008


READ ABOUT COMICS
Greg McElhatton
May 26, 2008

What It Is
By Lynda Barry
208 pages, color
Published by Drawn & Quarterly

One of my favorite books published in 2002 was Lynda Barry's One Hundred Demons, as Barry told stories of her past in an attempt to exorcise those demons. In doing so, her observations on a lot of parts of life had really resonated with me, bringing up those emotions and ideas that I'd been carrying around for years as well. In her first original graphic novel, What It Is, Barry plumbs her early life again as she tries to understand imagination and creativity and how it works. The end result is perhaps one of the most necessary books of 2008.

What It Is is several different books in one. The most prominent feature of the book is Barry telling her own story, about the games she played as a child, her experience with art classes, the effect her home life had on how she viewed the world, and more. That part alone is worth the cover price of the book, easily, and it's the easiest part of What It Is to fixate on. Interwoven throughout this narrative, though, are full page questions, massive collages that ask a question and are then a combination of Barry giving some of her own ideas to the answer, as well as asking more questions at the same time. "Where/why do we keep bad memories?" "What happens when we read a story?" "What is the difference between awake and asleep?" My initial inclination upon seeing these was to skip them, and no doubt go through the book later and examine them. I was maybe about 20% of the way through the book when I stopped and looked at one of them really closely. Then I went back, and started the book over. In some ways these are part of the narrative, these "essay questions" that that Barry asks. So much of What It Is involves getting inside Barry's head, and these creations of paint and clippings and stamps come together in a way that a simple written answer never could have conveyed.

The story itself is, honestly, a little disturbing in places. Maybe it's because it's easy to see our own defeat in parts of Barry's story, the way that creativity is so often beaten down by others or even by ourselves. Barry talks about how she stopped doing things like bursting into song around other people, that sudden moment of being self-conscious about the way that others look at us. "It's not that we stop singing," she notes. "I still sang. I just made sure I was alone when I did it, and I made sure I never did it accidentally." And really, how many other people are in that same boat? Barry believes it happens to most of us, still singing but secretly and all alone. And it's easy for most readers, I suspect, to see that in themselves.

At the same time, though, Barry uses What It Is to show how she got herself out of that cycle of doubt and self-defeat in her art. There's a section where she's continually questioning herself, the art having shifted from lush painted pages on yellow legal pads, to a simple thin pen line on a white page, full of muted greens and Barry's own demons mocking her for being able to answer the two questions she continually asks herself about her art ("Is this good?" "Does this suck?"). And then, as she finally answers the question, everything shifts back to its original style. It's a visual trick that others have used as well, of course, but that doesn't make it any less dramatic or appealing here. It's almost as if we're hearing Barry exhale as that final tick forward occurs, answering a puzzle that she notes she'll forget she's solved before and have to go through again and again. But in that moment, as Barry not only gives her sudden moment of clarity to the reader but explains it in context with her earlier statements on creativity and quitting, it's hard to not be completely enchanted by What It Is.

The last third of What It Is, once it has finished urging people to rediscover their own creativity once more, turns into two manuals on doing just that. It's not a narrative here, but Barry's discussions on how to get your project rolling and ways to recognize your own imagination very much feed into everything she'd said in the book up until then. It's the sort of thing that you should read even if you aren't planning on working on your own creative project, just so that you can have some of those long-dormant sparks in your own head again.

What It Is's strange blend of workbook, narrative, and existential essay doesn't feel like anything else out there, but in the best possible way. Barry's art is at its most expressive and open here, and it's hard to not just keep reading and re-reading it. (In the space of a week I've already read it five times.) If What It Is doesn’t top a number of best-of lists at the end of the year, I will be shocked. Buy this book, buy this book, buy this book.
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GOODBYE and WHAT IT IS reviewed by Newsarama

Updated June 11, 2008


Good-Bye
Written & Illustrated by Yoshihiro Tatsumi
Edited by Adrian Tomine
Translated by Yuji Oniki
Published by Drawn & Quarterly
Reviewed by Michael C Lorah

The third and most recent volume of Yoshihiro Tatsumi's gekiga continues to show a subtlety and emotional nihilism not found in the vast majority of the Japanese comics imported to our shores. Nine short stories, ranging from the shattered remains of Hiroshima in the weeks following the World War II atom bombing to then-modern depictions of the working class's daily turmoil in the early 1970s, bring readers into a less romanticized, bleaker era of Japanese history than is typically seen.

From the opening narrative, "Hell," Tatsumi dives right into the darkness of Japan's post-War psyche. A shadowy embrace, blasted into a wall, of two people stands as a testament to the love and desire to protect that the Japanese felt for one another when the atomic bomb was dropped -- except, what if it wasn't an embrace? What does it mean to the city's identity if somebody can prove that the shadow depicted a far less charitable moment? Emotionally harrowing, "Hell" is one of Tatsumi's best stories.

Other stories deal with the fractured minds of Japanese people, burrowing into protagonists beset by rashes, undone by sexual urges, emotionally dazed by the discovery of a deceased neighbor, conflicted about sexual identity, or wrapped up in serving the various needs of American G.I.s. Few of the stories crescendo in any obvious way: the narrative simply tracks the protagonist from one moment to the next, then moves the reader on to the next tale, leaving the emotional instability of each character to weigh on the reader's mind.

Quiet and subdued, Tatsumi's artwork operates as a voyeuristic level: clean, open cartooning that focuses intently on the characters and emotional beats. The backgrounds are rendered and complete, capturing the moment in time, yet Tatsumi knows when to drop the backgrounds out of a panel to focus on the characters' emotional landscape. With myriad body types and distinct postures --often poor ones-- the characters come across as unique individuals, survivors on whose backs the future of modern Japan is built.

If you don't like manga, or even if you do, but haven't read Yoshihiro Tatsumi's desolate, personal comics, you really owe it to yourself to read one of the most talented practitioners of the most under-represented genre of manga work. Good-Bye is nine soul-searching tales of a country at a crossroads, looking for an identity and struggling to live with its social taboos. It's dark comics, but it's very good comics too.

What It Is
Written & Illustrated by Lynda Barry
Published by Drawn & Quarterly
Reviewed by Michael C Lorah

Lynda Barry's What It Is is her creative autobiography and personal theories on art and its creation. The first 130 pages are spent talking about her life and creative thinking, with particular attention paid to the second-guessing creative people are prone to, as well as positing her own theories on how we channel our creative impulses most effectively.

With so much theoretical content, it's certainly not a book for everybody, but anybody who's ever tried to write or illustrate anything will certain connect with what Barry's trying to say in these pages. Her observations are incredible sharp, cutting directly through the preconceptions of any reader, while the autobiographical content serves to underscore how Barry herself reached the conclusions she's drawn, literally, on the pages of What It Is.

After explaining where she's coming from and the importance of images, capturing the physicality of a memory, sensation, moment, Barry opens up her "Activity Book," a 60-odd page supplement to What It Is's theoretical component - complete with many exercises for would-be authors to use when faced with writer's block or when they're struggling to capture the core of a scene. I can promise that this particular writer will use her suggestions repeatedly.

The book itself is extremely well made. The large hardcover has a hand-made quality, which is continued on every aspect. The pages combine art, collage and hand-written notebook-lined paper passages, all "pasted" up on colored paper. Hand-writing, I should add, is a big part of what Barry's driving at in the book, so the aesthetic supports her thesis as well as working to give the book a distinct graphic tone. Chock full of details, each page is a sensory overload, where Barry doodled into every nook and cranny, letting her brain run free until it captured the essence of each page. It's sometimes challenging: you have to read everything to truly absorb the full context of what's being said, but Barry's intelligent enough to make the effort absolutely worthwhile.

Plenty of comics have tackled the theoretic elements of creativity in the medium, but only Lynda Barry is exploring creativity as a whole - regardless of your chosen medium. How does a mind connect two ideas, play them off one another, set the scene, examine the palpable reality of the situation? Barry understands, and she wants to help readers find out for themselves. What It Is is the textbook of creative thinking.

 
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Good-Bye




  WHAT IT IS reviewed by Publishers Weekly

Updated June 11, 2008


What It Is
LYNDA BARRY. Drawn & Quarterly, $24.95 (210p) ISBN 978-1-897299-35-7
PUBLISHERS WEEKLY
May

This brilliant, beautiful, nearly uncategorizable book is a print version of Barry's famous seminar "Writing the Unthinkable" a class about writing from "images," recollected or imagined moments. It's part cartooning, part handwritten text, part ornate multimedia collage (with heartbreaking pieces of decades-old school papers and words snipped out of old textbooks)-all three appear on almost every page, most of which Barry constructed by decorating every available space on ruled yellow notebook paper. The first and longest section is a bizarre and hilarious memoir of Barry's creative impulses: how they developed when she was a child, how they flickered and faded when she started asking herself "Is this good?" and "Does this suck?" and how they returned when she learned to escape that trap. The core of the book, though, explains the "writing the unthinkable" technique; it's narrated by a sea monster and stars a "magic cephalopod." Finally, Barry shows us a sheaf of her note pad, the pages she fills with doodles and spare phrases while she's working on a "real" project; they are, naturally, as vivid and radiantly eccentric as everything else here. The whole thing is overflowing with quirks, strangeness and charm, and makes palpable Barry's affection for her students and the act of art making itself. (May)

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LYNDA BARRY event in New York Magazine's The Word

Updated June 11, 2008


NEW YORK MAGAZINE
The Word
Critic's pick: Lynda Barry
May 2008

Legendary alternative-comics writer Barry reads from her latest book (and first for Drawn & Quarterly), What It Is.
 
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  WHAT IT IS reviewed by the Chicago Tribune

Updated June 11, 2008


What you ought to be reading
Julia Keller
CHICAGO TRIBUNE
June 1, 2008

There is no Nobel Prize for cartoonists, which irks me. (There also is no Nobel Prize for mathematicians, but I can live with that.) When and if the Nobel folks wake up and do the right thing, I am ready with my nomination: Lynda Barry.

In her new book, "What It Is" (Drawn & Quarterly), Barry spins around and around and bumps into so many touchstones that you get dizzy right along with her. It's a heavenly hodgepodge of philosophical speculations, biographical musings, funny observations, pointed interrogations and poignant recollections, all wrapped up in the funky, colorful, eclectic artwork that has made the former Chicago resident famous.

"Do memories have mass?" she asks. "Do they have motion? Do they have inertia? Why do we say, 'It came to me?' " And just when you're thinking dreamily about the abstractions, she head-butts you right in the belly with something such as this: "My parents were not reading people. They worked, shouted, drank, slapped and belted and were broke. They had affairs and secret lives my two brothers and I had no part in, and if they could have turned back time to the days before we were born, I believe they would have. But there we were."

"What It Is" is part diary, part showcase, part manifesto for the power of the imagination. It's bold and beautiful; angry and sad; joyful and loving and nervous. Memo to the members of the Nobel Committee: You could do worse.
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LYNDA BARRY interviewed by Neal Conan on NPR's Talk of the Nation

Updated June 11, 2008


'What It Is' Plumbs the Depths of Creativity
TALK OF THE NATION, NPR
June 2, 2008

Illustrator Lynda Barry has questions: What is an image? Where is your imagination? What is an imaginary friend, and are there imaginary enemies? Can you have thoughts without language? Barry grapples with these ideas and more in her new book, What It Is.

The cartoonist, artist, author and teacher says that in her book of full-page color collages, she is trying to tap into the creative, artistic exploration that comes so easily to children.

"Something happens to us as we get a little older," she says. "Adults would never consider [drawing] on a piece of paper and then just throwing it away afterwards. In fact, unless it's valuable afterwards, most adults don't think the experience was worth it. So that's kind of what the book is about. It's about what happens. What happens to that creative urge."
 
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  WHAT IT IS reviewed by the Montreal Mirror

Updated June 11, 2008


Writing the unthinkable: Lynda Barry explores creativity and risk in What It Is: The Formless Thing Which Gives Things Form
by JULIET WATERS
The Montreal Mirror
May 15 - May 21.2008 Vol. 23 No. 47

When I finally got my copy of Lynda Barry's book on writing What It Is: The Formless Thing Which Gives Things Form, I was like a kid who'd been waiting a year for her Sea Monkey kit to arrive.

Last summer, Drawn & Quarterly sent out a teaser section of this book: a crazy, colourful "Activity Book." It was like something your mother might have bought you for a road trip, if your mother was an underground comix genius intent on stretching your brain.

It promised fail safe exercises to help you "write the unthinkable." Various characters, like Sea-Ma the tutorial sea monster, and her friend the multi-armed "magic cephalopod," led you through a series of simple, fun exercises for generating images and stories.

Barry has a lighthearted creative process that feels something like doodling on a pad while you're on the phone with your muse. I fooled around with it for a while, but for some reason, the exercises alone never quite satisfied me. Just like when I was a kid, pictures of funny characters weren't enough. I needed to have a family of them in their very own sea monkey aquarium. So, I waited for the book.

Finally, here it was in all its beauty. And it is beautiful. If you've ever seen the illustrated version of William Blake's Songs of Innocence and Experience, you'll recognize the colour scheme. Still, on my first reading of the somewhat murky, meandering opening section, I felt a vague unease.

I flipped through watery images seemingly clipped from old school books and bad dreams, images of kittens, spiders and pre-historic fish, collaged around abstract essay questions like "What is an Idea made of?" "Can we remember something that we can’t imagine," and "What year is it in your imagination?" I felt something of the buzzing, bitter irritation that accompanies this question, "Excuse me, but when do these formless things turn into monkeys?"

What kept me reading were the autobiographical sections interspersed with cartoons of mean, smoking mothers, rigidly stupid teachers and perfect, taunting classmates. Barry is best known for her comics, but I'm a big fan of her writing, particularly her coming-of-age novel Cruddy. These are invariably grim, bleak, absurdist tales of homily, poor children deprived of emotional warmth. Stories barren of all hope, except for the vague sense that someone out there must care about these kids, or no one would know this was a story.

Barry's own tale about her creative death and re-awakening is compelling enough to get anyone through the first reading of the cryptic first section. It is a story that will probably resonate with any reader who grew up in the '70s or '80s, as they gave up crayons for television, and creating for consuming. This story leads to an epiphany of sorts, that creativity only thrives if you develop a tolerance for uncertainty.

Most writing books lure you in with easy promises. Follow the simple formula and you will write that novel, screenplay, memoir. Do this and there'll be sea monkeys, and they'll live forever.

Essentially, it's the same thing that most of our media promises us. Subscribe to this cable company/internet provider/DVD mail plan, and you will never run out of interesting, stimulating things to entertain you. And it's true, you won't. That is certain, as long as you continue to believe one thing: that there is nothing interesting for you to do with your own mind and a piece of paper.

Barry's book promises something else. Risk that queasy feeling of boredom and uncertainly, and you'll never run out of things that can be created. Try this. Try that. And one day, inevitably, the monkeys you made on your own will be even bigger and weirder and better than the ones you thought you needed to order.
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WHAT IT IS reviewed by the Onion

Updated June 11, 2008


Comics Of Note
Comics Panel: May 19, 2008
Reviewed by Donna Bowman, Noel Murray, Tasha Robinson

Most contemporary art-comics look like they were more fun to make than they are to read, but the trend toward overpriced collections of page-long mixed-media scrawling has produced a few exciting hybrids of comics and fine art. Lynda Barry's offbeat collection What It Is (Drawn & Quarterly) makes a fine case in point. In short illustrated essays, Barry reminisces about how her interest in art and writing developed from childhood to young adulthood, and she muses about how and why creativity becomes a more self-conscious, unnatural act as we get older. In between the essays, Barry presents page after page of striking collages on which she's written questions designed to get readers to pick up pens and make their own art. What It Is borders on the shapeless and even pretentious, but Barry's down-to-earth prose style and earnest interest in a deeper understanding makes the book cumulatively moving. It isn't just a comic; it's a conversation piece. A-
 
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  WHAT IT IS reviewed by The Clevland Plain Dealer

Updated June 11, 2008


Vibrant picture books entertain the adult child
Sunday, May 11, 2008
Karen Sandstorm
Plain Dealer Reporter

Those idea was it to take the pictures away from all the grownup books?

Certainly no one who foresaw how visual our world would become by way of television and then computers. Nor anyone who understood the rich conversations between text and illustrations on the page.

But the exponential growth of the so-called graphic novel (a troublesome term, as plenty aren't novels at all) speaks to the increasing desire among some grownups to be bewitched by the artist's pen even as they're whisked away by suspense, revelation and other qualities of storytelling.

Always on the hunt for the beautifully illustrated book that also has something to say, I found a quartet recently that offer satisfaction at different levels. The most mesmerizing is the brand new What It is (Drawn & Quarterly, 208 pp., $24.95), in which artist and essayist Lynda Barry takes a unique approach to a time-worn form: the creativity guide.

These books usually grant permission for the reader to reconnect with his or her freer, more creative inner child, and lash back at the critics who trample artistic hearts. Thus did Julie Cameron give writers "The Artist's Way." More recently, artist Danny Gregory did it with pen-and-ink drawings in his guide, "Creative License."

Barry enables her readers, too, in a beautifully produced hardback highly illustrated with collage and combinations of cartoons and text on what appears to be yellow legal paper. She posits ideas and questions such as, "To follow a wandering mind means having to get lost. Can you stand being lost?"

In drawings, cut-and-pasted text from old books and letters, and clipped images from unspecified sources, Barry tells her own story of creativity, then leads readers to the inevitable exercises to help them jump-start their own ideas.

It's one thing to crack the creativity pinata and another to organize the goodies into a readable book or a piece of art that someone else wants to consume -- thus the high ratio of people who, say, have an idea for a novel versus the number that actually write one.

"What It Is" is all about whomping the pinata and not about how to turn those newly minted thoughts into poems or essays. I didn't care. Barry's intricate pages, with their jumble of birds and monsters, sea creatures and flowers, kept me entranced.
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WHAT IT IS reviewed by Pop Candy

Updated June 10, 2008


Exclusive peek: Lynda Barry's 'What It Is'
By Whitney Matheson
May 19, 2008
POP CANDY, USA TODAY

Lynda Barry is one of the artists who got me into comics. While living in Chicago, I read Barry's weekly strip in the Chicago Reader and instantly fell in love with her characters, which evoke layers of childhood wonder, curiosity, humor and sadness. Over the years, I have devoured Barry's books, including The Greatest of Marlys (my favorite), One Hundred Demons (read it in one sitting), The Freddie Stories (also awesome) and Cruddy (a heartbreaking, disturbing coming-of-age novel).

I don't have any tattoos, but, if I ever get one, I've considered inking myself with a Lynda Barry-drawn octopus. They are the best.

Anyway, Barry's new book just arrived in stores, and it's a part-memoir, part-creativity guide called What It Is (Drawn and Quarterly, $24.95). In it, the artist shares her life story and art-making advice via colorful collages and narrative pages. If you're stuck on an artistic project, this might help you get out of that rut. The book could also make a fun gift for that artsy person in your life.

Below is an exclusive, seven-page excerpt from the new work. Click the images to enlarge them. If you want a signed copy, Barry will be appearing at this year's MoCCA Art Festival in New York.
 

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  WHAT IT IS reviewed by Philadelphia City Paper

Updated June 10, 2008


On the DL
Lynda Barry
by Sam Adams
PHILADELPHIA CITY PAPER
June 3, 2008

Lynda Barry once wrote that the good times were killing her, but the bad times seem to have brought her back. With her comics falling out of print (CP dropped her syndicated Ernie Pook's Comeek in 2006 after a 20-year run) and her publisher rejecting new work, Barry channeled her creative energies into teaching a workshop called "Writing the Unthinkable," which in turn formed the basis for What It Is (Drawn and Quarterly, $24.95).

Part memoir, part manifesto and part workbook, the pages of What It Is overflow with text, collage and brightly colored images, which, she writes, are "alive in the way thinking is not, but experiencing is." Using pictures to key memory (as ever, the basis of her work), Barry explores the artistic impulse at its root: What makes us create, and how can we free that impulse from the fetters of self-doubt? At once inspired and inspirational, What It Is is a shot in the arm for artists and admirers alike.
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WHAT IT IS reviewed by Philadelphia Weekly

Updated June 10, 2008


Lit Gloss
Lynda Barry’s What It Is.
by Liz Spikol
PHILADELPHIA WEEKLY
June 10, 2008


At first glance, cartoonist Lynda Barry’s latest book What It Is is a beautiful, meandering scrapbook that’s part Joseph Cornell and part Annie Dillard. Collages made from legal pads, glitter, book fragments, scraps of student assignments and Barry’s incredible drawings, doodlings, lettering and watercolors shimmer on each page. The juxtapositions are startling and eloquent. Mixed in with rabbits, birds and Abraham Lincoln stamps are meditations on big ideas: reality vs. imagination; the nature of memory; what images mean; what’s lost when childhood cedes to adulthood. Barry asks questions like, “When an unexpected memory comes calling, who answers?” The book’s rich landscape encourages the discovery of personal responses. On other pages, Barry comic-strips her childhood development as an artist. At one point she becomes mildly obsessed with the image of the gorgon. She now realizes children need monsters to counter other disappointments. “Did the gorgon help me love my mother?” Barry writes. “I think she helped me very much.” The theme of what children feel is an enduring one in What It Is. Barry says as children we were free from the Two Questions—“Is this good?” or “Does it suck?”—that came to dominate Barry’s adult life as an artist. Barry argues persuasively that the sudden thoughts, patience, inclination to play and spontaneity children naturally have are essential to enjoying the process. To that end, the latter part of the book is a remarkably unconventional writing manual with a monster named “Sea-Ma” as “class monitor.” Almost halfway through Barry writes, “Kids like making marks that make shapes that make stories. Adults are scared to do this.” Most adults, maybe. But not Lynda Barry. What It Is, above all, is fearless. » Thurs., June 5, 7pm. Free. Free Library, 1901 Vine St. 215.686.5322. www.freelibrary.org
 
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  WHAT IT IS reviewed by Entertainment Weekly

Updated May 30, 2008


WHAT IT IS
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY
May 20, 2008

Lynda Barry's What It Is is a unique, transporting, inspirational book. The well-known underground comics artist (''Ernie Pook's Comeek''), memoirist (One! Hundred! Demons!), and novelist (Cruddy) offers with this volume a way to create art. Inspired by one of her college teachers' methods but marinated in Barry's own decades as an artist and writer, What It Is is filled with drawings, collages, diary entries, and paintings — all examples of work she has created via the deceptively simple techniques she propounds.

This beautifully designed volume is intended to look like the stuffed workbook of a vivid imagination, and as Barry insists, anyone with persistence, time, and will can create art of some degree of quality. I usually cringe at sentiments like this, not believing for a second that most of us possess one percent of the free-flowing creativity of Barry. But there's a lot to be said for Barry's open-hearted generosity, sincerity, and earnestness — her contagiously exciting belief that creating even the most amateurish art not only nourishes the soul but can lead to renewed clarity and purpose in life. I realize this sounds like a lot to heap upon a book of cartoony sketches and you-can-do-it-too advice, but What It Is is itself a fine work of art — not merely a valuable addition to Lynda Barry's achievements, but something of an explanation of how she achieved them. A — Ken Tucker
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WHAT IT IS reviewed by Book By Its Cover

Updated May 30, 2008


WHAT IT IS
BOOK BY ITS COVER
5.12.08

You may have noticed a new ad popped up on the blog of the cover of the new Lynda Barry book I am about to review. The book is available now from Drawn and Quarterly and you should get your hands on one as soon as possible. It’s gorgeous. Between auto-biographical comics are these incredible collages that ask questions that will confuse your creative brain like- “What is an image?” or “Can we imagine something that we can’t remember?” Lynda’s comic-drawn self says “The thing I call ‘my mind’ seems to be kind of a landlord that doesn’t really know its tenants.” Through these pages, filled to the brim with funny drawings, comic anecdotes from her past and collaged bits of books, stamps and childhood writing, Lynda explores herself as an artist and challenges you to do the same. The back of the book even has some activities you can try to get your imaginative ideas flowing like making a word bag - you collect a bunch of words and pick blindly from the bag to spark a thought. When I look up Lynda Barry on Wikipedia, it calls her “one of the most successful non-mainstream American cartoonists” because of her weekly comic strip Ernie Pook’s Comeek and her numerous publications. Her book The Good Times are Killing Me was even made into a play
 
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  WHAT IT IS reviewed by the Montreal Mirror

Updated May 29, 2008


Writing the unthinkable
>>Lynda Barry explores creativity
and risk in What It Is: The Formless
Thing Which Gives Things Form
by JULIET WATERS
MONTREAL MIRROR
May 15, 2008

When I finally got my copy of Lynda Barry’s book on writing What It Is: The Formless Thing Which Gives Things Form, I was like a kid who’d been waiting a year for her Sea Monkey kit to arrive.

Last summer, Drawn & Quarterly sent out a teaser section of this book: a crazy, colourful “Activity Book.” It was like something your mother might have bought you for a road trip, if your mother was an underground comix genius intent on stretching your brain.

It promised fail safe exercises to help you “write the unthinkable.” Various characters, like Sea-Ma the tutorial sea monster, and her friend the multi-armed “magic cephalopod,” led you through a series of simple, fun exercises for generating images and stories.

Barry has a lighthearted creative process that feels something like doodling on a pad while you’re on the phone with your muse. I fooled around with it for a while, but for some reason, the exercises alone never quite satisfied me. Just like when I was a kid, pictures of funny characters weren’t enough. I needed to have a family of them in their very own sea monkey aquarium. So, I waited for the book.

Finally, here it was in all its beauty. And it is beautiful. If you’ve ever seen the illustrated version of William Blake’s Songs of Innocence and Experience, you’ll recognize the colour scheme. Still, on my first reading of the somewhat murky, meandering opening section, I felt a vague unease.

I flipped through watery images seemingly clipped from old school books and bad dreams, images of kittens, spiders and pre-historic fish, collaged around abstract essay questions like “What is an Idea made of?” “Can we remember something that we can’t imagine,” and “What year is it in your imagination?” I felt something of the buzzing, bitter irritation that accompanies this question, “Excuse me, but when do these formless things turn into monkeys?”

What kept me reading were the autobiographical sections interspersed with cartoons of mean, smoking mothers, rigidly stupid teachers and perfect, taunting classmates. Barry is best known for her comics, but I’m a big fan of her writing, particularly her coming-of-age novel Cruddy. These are invariably grim, bleak, absurdist tales of homily, poor children deprived of emotional warmth. Stories barren of all hope, except for the vague sense that someone out there must care about these kids, or no one would know this was a story.

Barry’s own tale about her creative death and re-awakening is compelling enough to get anyone through the first reading of the cryptic first section. It is a story that will probably resonate with any reader who grew up in the ’70s or ’80s, as they gave up crayons for television, and creating for consuming. This story leads to an epiphany of sorts, that creativity only thrives if you develop a tolerance for uncertainty.

Most writing books lure you in with easy promises. Follow the simple formula and you will write that novel, screenplay, memoir. Do this and there’ll be sea monkeys, and they’ll live forever.

Essentially, it’s the same thing that most of our media promises us. Subscribe to this cable company/internet provider/DVD mail plan, and you will never run out of interesting, stimulating things to entertain you. And it’s true, you won’t. That is certain, as long as you continue to believe one thing: that there is nothing interesting for you to do with your own mind and a piece of paper.

Barry’s book promises something else. Risk that queasy feeling of boredom and uncertainly, and you’ll never run out of things that can be created. Try this. Try that. And one day, inevitably, the monkeys you made on your own will be even bigger and weirder and better than the ones you thought you needed to order.
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Lynda Barry

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What It Is




WHAT IT IS reviewed by The Village Voice

Updated May 29, 2008


[BOOK]
PEEK-A-POOK
Lynda Barry emerges for a round of applause
VILLAGE VOICE
May 27th, 2008

Cartoonist and former Voice contributor Lynda Barry asks many questions in her new book, What It Is, like "What is the past?" and "Where is a story before it becomes words?" In the scrapbook/journal/workbook, Barry answers these questions by recalling her troubled childhood, making it something like a prequel to her most popular work, Ernie Pook's Comeek, the 30-year comic strip responsible for her cult following and several books, including The Good Times Are Killing Me (adapted into an Off-Broadway musical), Cruddy, and One! Hundred! Demons! Now living a semi-reclusive life on a farm in Wisconsin, Barry is being dragged back into the spotlight with the publication of the new book. So go see the creator of Marlys before she disappears again! At 7, Strand Bookstore, 828 Broadway, 212-473-1452, free ARACELI CRUZ
 
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  WHAT IT IS reviewed by Time Out New York

Updated May 29, 2008


What It Is
Time Out New York
May 29–Jun 4,


Lynda Barry's latest book is both an instruction manual on creativity and an outpouring of questions about the nature of memory, imagination and art. What It Is begins with a comic about Barry, best known for her weekly strip Ernie Pook's Comeek, struggling with the uncontrollable, compulsive tendencies of her thoughts-but we soon learn it is the mind's very independence that allows images and stories to come to us effortlessly if we'd just stop "trying."

Much of Barry's advice involves losing the self-consciousness of adulthood and recapturing the way you thought as a child. Kids play and create with purity of intent-not unlike Barry, whose work has an undeniable sincerity.

The book interweaves pages of comics and collage. The comics chronicle Barry's relationship with art throughout her life, including a heartbreaking story in which 10-year-old Barry earnestly applies to a "Do You Have Hidden Artistic Talent?" scam ad in the back of a magazine. Meanwhile, the collage pages jump-start the imagination with questions ("Did you ever have a toy that scared you?") and sentence fragments varying from the surreal ("Locomotive is my name") to the insistent ("Pretend you are a writer").

The book suffers a little from the frequent shifts between mediums: The comics themselves are a mesmerizing Disneyland ride, but looking at the collages is often more like just walking around the park. The various sections also contain quite a bit of repetition. Still, Barry composes with such urgency-you need to break free and start creating now or it will be too late-that it builds into an inspirational chant. And to answer the most important question: Does this book make you want to sit down and start creating? Absolutely.
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What It Is




WHAT IT IS on Jog The Blog

Updated May 28, 2008


"Come On Come On! Remember to Forget to Forget to Remember"
What It Is
JOG THE BLOG
5/25/2008

This is the much-anticipated new book from Lynda Barry, her first with publisher Drawn and Quarterly. I don't think it's out in Direct Market stores just yet, but some large bookstores should have it right now. It's a 208-page hardcover, sized at 11" x 8.5", priced at $24.95. You won't easily gloss it over on the shelves.

That's reassuring; Barry may be an experienced, influential figure in alternative comics -- her signature weekly strip, Ernie Pook's Comeek (which D&Q will reprint in five collected volumes starting later this year), has been running for over one quarter of a century -- but she doesn't have a terribly pronounced presence in book form. Most collections of her work are out of print, and even highly-acclaimed recent books like 2002's One! Hundred! Demons! (from Sasquatch Books, collecting material from Salon.com) can be tricky to find offline. But D&Q, fully in spite of its size, excels at getting its projects into a broad range of venues, often with a supple backing of varied media attention.

It'll be interesting to see what those sources make of What It Is, a colorful, sometimes cacophonous mix of 'How To' writing instruction, philosophic text and creative autobiography, adopting the visual attributes of anything that might meld words and pictures, be it comics, collage or activity workpages. Steeped in personal reflection and lessons learned from valued teachers -- not to mention the author's own Writing the Unthinkable seminars -- it's as crisply straightforward in presentation as any student could like, yet as elusive and challenging in certain passages as the questions it confronts, those Barry deems fundamental to the individual human experience.

Memory, imagination, myth, thought, meaning, image - all are addressed, perhaps in so individual a manner that those looking for basic writing instruction from a glance at the cover might find it all unduly digressive, a bit arty for adequate tutoring as to the arts. But I'm not sure how else this book could have read, given Barry's take on the inseparability of creation and being, the impossible beauty of transubstantiating the several species of recollection, the immaterial, into the experiential.

The bulk of the book's space is occupied by a 133-page section titled, appropriately, What It Is. As you can see, the paper stock is blue, the images themselves appear to have been composed on sheets from a yellow notepad, and all of the text is handwritten, with certain words displayed in cursive, just as a typical comic book dialog bubble might set some words in bold. Other elements of the page include drawings, as exuberantly doodled as any Barry has done, and 'found' elements pasted down among the rest. Across the scope of her narrative, Barry suggests the importance of everything we can see that she has done.

For most of the 'blue' section, the narrative alternates between two modes: (1) text and drawing-heavy narration, tracking some of the author's experiences from childhood forward; and (2) "Essay Questions" illuminated through intensive mixed-media displays, involving bits of old textbooks, altered photographs, childlike scribbles, snatches from a cache of elementary school assignments dating back to the 1920s and other miscellaneous objects. The overall texture is that of a deeply purposeful scrapbook; when Barry opts to plug in a 13-page story that first appeared in McSweeny's, it looks as if she may have literally cut the pages out of copies of the original publication, laying it all down on her yellow base.

Both modes are autobiographical; that becomes clear very quickly. There's a telling bit later on in the book in which Barry presents some of her initial mixed-media designs for the Penguin Deluxe Classics cover of Little Women she was commissioned to do - her initial plan was rejected by the art director for not looking enough like 'her' work, a reaction she found both funny and sad (I wonder what that art director made of Frank Miller?). As such, Barry's 'mode one' narrative begins with her initial childlike inability to segregate living things from images, which she uses as a springboard for discussing how some images are indeed alive in the manner of memories and imaginings. Images are the base of Barry's concept of 'writing' -- in contrast to events or impressions -- and as the narrative proceeds, realizations and metaphors spring up to accompany the girl's growth.

"We don't create a fantasy world to escape reality, we create it to be able to stay." So declares Barry as she muses on the transportation of reading, which in the uncertainty of recollection can become just as vivid as 'real' experiences. She tells of her favorite mythic monster, the Gorgon, who helped her understand her own mother, although she also explodes the notion into a larger metaphor of passive media consumption -- watching television -- as turning one to stone, both to the effect of pleasurably destroying oscillating life emotions (even providing some creative inspiration!), and freezing the recollected life into a prepared flow of images while rendering the viewer perfectly still. I have to wonder if the reader of a comic would be any less still if the characters could stare out past the fourth wall, but I presume by this understanding that the reader's involvement with filling in the gutters would transport them inside the work.

All of this is bolstered by Barry's 'mode two' creations, which aren't so much answers to her omnipresent queries ("We do not know the answers," she remarks up front), as marshallings of how the contours of those questions can be understood through creative work, writing presented as the natural extension of reading. There's an excellent image repeated twice (with some variation) in the book, depicting Barry as a child seated in a darkened room, a square source of light transfixing her - the initial impression is that of a television, but Barry's linework within the light source suggests a scribbly drawing of shapes, that which lays close but cannot immediately be grasped without desire. It's perhaps the best of several visual metaphors at work in a book not lacking for anything of the type.

Connections pile up as the narrative goes on. Barry does not address drawing as drawing-for-comics, but insists on the power of writing by hand: drawing words. This is linked to the concept of childhood 'play,' which can be very much like work to a young kid left alone. But just as kids give up many forms of play as they grow self-conscious to societal standards of behavior, so do people stop creating when confronted with democratic or academic decrees of what 'good' art is; this does not sit well with Barry, whose advocation of creation, writing, is in the form of a personal means of expression best kept far away from the concerns of audience or commerce, in that way that one needn't take the stage to breathe.

Ah, but Barry is a respected, successful artist, one who did eventually revise that book cover! This not unimportant facet of her experience forms the concluding pages of the blue section, in which the eventual demands of art-as-work extends the societal concept of 'good' art into Two Questions the author finds surrounding her work, as she works: "Is this good?" and "Does this suck?" She depicts it as a paralyzing dichotomy, abrogated only by a temporary abandonment of the very concept of 'good' work when actually creating (Marion Milner's On Not Being Able to Paint is duly cited). After all, Barry characterizes her own career as a cartoonist as accidental; to invoke one of her own explanatory tales, writing is like setting your life free from a can, and while fame or fortune or even a living wage cannot be guaranteed, being out of the can is its own powerful joy.

The rest of the book serves to spur action or reflecting regarding what has gone before. There's a 37-page pink section titled Activity Book -- a good portion of which served as D&Q's Free Comic Book Day giveaway for 2007 -- which provides more pointed, exercise-driven instruction from Barry and her cast of characters (a multi-eyed beastie called Sea-Man, a helpful Magic Cephalopod), much of it taking the form of expanding memory points into environments, keeping the hand moving at all times, basic steps to shore up (or establish) the bond between thought and language. A 15-page green section called Let's Make a Free Writing Kit focuses on tools to use in furthering your exercise, and a 22-page orange section, Notes on Notes, serves as both a slightly obscure appendix -- letting the reader see what Barry was doodling while working on other pages -- and a further extension of the artist's always-writing ethos, always personal.

But maybe it's the most appropriate way to 'end' a book that can't have an ending. What It Is surely isn't going to lead anyone into creating a commercially viable or particularly entertaining work, because it aches to address the creative impulse on a more primal level, one of sheer self-satisfaction as a means to assure one's self of simple aliveness. As a result, it can only end with the end of life itself, and can otherwise spread into every evocative and opaque form, neat or unruly. This book is all of that, but it's mostly a success in embodying how emphatic Barry is about her means of creation, and how far inside she's ready to climb.
 
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  WHAT IT IS reviewed by The Austin Chronicle

Updated May 1, 2008


Your Library Wants These Bad
Four graphic volumes for your entertainment and edification
BY WAYNE ALAN BRENNER
MAY 2, 2008
What It Is


You know those books that, putatively, explore what it means to be creative? Those books that, it seems, are written for people who'd really like to spend their time making art but are just too busy doing, well, other things – watching the latest episode of Lost, meeting pals for a drink at their local, shopping – to ever get around to it? This isn't one of those. This is what all those books, if they got together and looked deep into their printed souls, might admit that they truly wished they could be. This is the artist Lynda Barry at her enthusiastic best, her most sincerely encouraging, urging readers toward journeys of self-discovery and the joy of making, of appreciating, art. And how does she do this? How does she communicate such ideas, all the while documenting her own travels through those vivid realms? With artwork. With page after page of collaged images and words, with original cartoons and paintings and notes lovingly delivered via sumi-e handwriting and calligraphy. The beauty here, the sheer complexity, is almost overwhelming. It's like, um, seeing a dozen simultaneous sunrises on acid while a redheaded life coach whispers in your ear that you never have to let go of the parts of childhood that are eternally worthwhile. So of course every single page of this volume from Drawn & Quarterly is in full, gorgeous color on good thick paper. So of course, because you're alive, we recommend this book to you.
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WHAT IT IS in Vanity Fair

Updated April 30, 2008


“The collages in legendary cartoonist Lynda Barry’s What It Is (Drawn & Quarterly) are a bathysphere-like odyssey through the depths of her funky subconscious,” so says Elissa Schappel of VF’s Hot Type column
 

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Lynda Barry

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  Core female cartoonists as named by Booklist

Updated March 27, 2008


My New York Diary. By Julie Doucet. 2d ed. 2004. Drawn & Quarterly, paper, $15.95 (9781896597836).

With brutal honesty, Doucet, creator of the underground comic Dirty Plotte, looks back on her harrowing bohemian days in Manhattan. Her loopy, cluttered drawings and postfeminist insouciance lend her account improbable charm.

One Hundred Demons. By Lynda Barry. 2002. Sasquatch, $24.95 (9781570613371); paper, $17.95 (9781570614590).

This collection of long stories by the creator of the weekly Ernie Pook’s Comeek is based on an art exercise that Barry uses to exorcise personal demons, among them, old boyfriends, grandmas, liars, hippies, the 2000 election, and her own bad behavior.

Summer of Love. By Debbie Drechsler. 2002. Drawn & Quarterly, $24.95 (1-896597-37-8); paper, $16.95 (1-896597-65-3).

Ninth-grader Lily has moved with her family to a new community and must find her place in her new high school’s pecking order. Drechsler compellingly captures the angst, insecurities, and petty feuds typical of the teen years as Lily tries to make friends and sexually awakens.

We Are on Our Own. By Miriam Katin. 2006. Drawn & Quarterly, $19.95 (9781896597201).

The first graphic novel by 63-year-old animator Katin recounts how she and her mother faked their deaths and fled Budapest after the Nazis occupied it. Passages set decades later reveal that Katin’s experiences deprived her of any religious faith to pass on to her child.

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Debbie Drechsler
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Lynda Barry

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We Are On Our Own
What It Is




From The Desk of Betty Bong...New Lynda Barry Workshop

Updated January 3, 2008


Hellooooo beautifuls,

New new new WRITING THE UNTHINKABLE with LYNDA BARRY
class -- just announced!

Beautiful Madison, Wisconsin! Do you like cheese,
hmmmm??? Well, how about beer??? It is so great there!

Only 28 seats left! Only six weeks away! Get BUSY!

Just $200.00 for this amazing two-day class! Two
six-hour days! You will laugh -- you will work your
butt off -- we will all write the unthinkable!

Okay -- just write to me, Betty Bong, at
fromthedeskofmarlys@yahoo.com and I will tell you
where to send your tuition! You will send it straight
to Lynda! It is a simple and satisfying enrollment
process!

Send me an e-mail right now!

THANKS +++ I love being y'all's secretary...

Betty Bong
Secretary, WTU

PS -- yes! we hear you! more classes all over USA and
Canada in 2008 -- stay tuned for classes in San Fran,
L.A., PIttsburgh, NYC, Toronto, Montreal, and more!

OUR MYSPACE SPOT
http://www.myspace.com/writingtheunthinkable

LYNDA BARRY "What It Is" OUT June 2008 on Drawn and
Quarterly http://www.drawnandquarterly.com/

FAN SITE http://www.marlysmagazine.com/

 
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  LYNDA BARRY reviewed by Comixology

Updated December 7, 2007


COMIXOLOGY
By Shaenon K. Garrity
Thursday December 6, 2007 10:00:00 am


According to Spurge (www.comicsreporter.com) and the Drawn & Quarterly blog, Lynda Barry is moving her comics online in response to the loss of weekly newspaper clients. I've been reading Barry's comics online at the! excellent! Marlys Magazine (www.marlysmagazine.com) for years now, but it startled and saddened me to learn that she has trouble making a living through the newsweeklies.
Not that it's a huge surprise; the newspaper comics market is brutal these days, and, from what I've heard, weekly cartoonists are hit particularly hard. Alt-weekly newspapers have always comprised a small pool of clients without a whole lot of money, and in the current market, with virtually all print media forced to cut corners, they're especially hard to sell to. All the weekly cartoonists I've talked to recently are trying to expand into other formats—daily strips, graphic novels—or thinking seriously about getting out of the weekly strip biz entirely.
And that's a shame, because I love weekly strips. Some of my favorite comics are weeklies: Keith Knight's The K Chronicles, Carol Lay's Story Minute and WayLay, Matt Groening's Life in Hell, Alison Bechdel's Dykes to Watch Out For (although I'm always faintly perturbed to come out as Stuart on the "Which Dyke Are You?" LiveJournal quiz, no matter how many times I take it). It's a great format, allowing a little more space and flexibility than the traditional four-panel daily strip, but still encompassing a satisfyingly concise chunk of comic. It may also be worth mentioning that the alt-weeklies have traditionally attracted more diverse cartoonists than other areas of American comics, as suggested by the fact that only one of the cartoonists I've mentioned so far is white and male, as compared to almost all the cartoonists I've mentioned in my last three columns.
But Lynda Barry...even in hard times, Lynda Barry shouldn't have to struggle. Last year, when that big Masters of American Comics show toured the country, a lot of people complained that there wasn't a Mistress of American Comics anywhere among the fifteen chosen artists. Loudmouthed feminist that I am, I was one of the complainers. But in all honesty, there's only one female American cartoonist I'd consider worthy of joining the admittedly exalted ranks of Eisner, Kirby, Kurtzman, Schulz and Crumb, and that's Lynda Barry. She's that good. (I won't get into the thorny issue of who I would've knocked off the list to make room for her. Oh, all right, Gary Panter. Or maybe one of the action strip guys.)
In college, I went through a phase of obsession with Barry's weekly strip, the unforgettably titled Ernie Pook's Comeek. At the time, it ran in the Village Voice, next to Life in Hell, and I used to get back issues of the Voice out of the Vassar library and photocopy all the Ernie Pook strips. I carried them around with me in a folder and memorized them. The discovery that there were actual Ernie Pook collections, often available at the secondhand bookstores in New York City to which I would escape whenever I had train fare, was a revelation akin to first looking into Chapman's Homer. I am not too proud to admit that the best story I wrote for my senior composition class, one of the stories I submitted in place of a thesis, was written in a voice that owed an enormous, possibly actionable debt to Lynda Barry.
Even after I accumulated all of Barry's strip collections (and her novels, and errata like the oversized, glorious illustrated essay Naked Ladies! Naked Ladies!), her work remained somehow semi-mythical. There were strips in that folder I've never seen reprinted, like a sequence relating certain events from The Freddie Stories, wherein Marlys' little brother Freddy undergoes horrible traumas and metamorphoses into the flamboyant Skreddy 57, from Marlys' point of view. What happened to those strips? They're not gone. I still have that folder somewhere.
Barry's comics are often crude on the level of draftsmanship but beautiful in all the ways that count. They tell painful truths, mostly about growing up, but we never stop growing up so they never stop being painful. I still laugh every time read one of the earliest Ernie Pook strips, "The Night We All Threw Up," where every throwaway detail is hilarious and perfect (when the kids establish sleeping-bag territories, Arna labels Marlys' area "'Land of Marlys' also known as 'Butt Island'" and her own "My land which was gorgeous and smelled like perfume from France." How many times have I used the phrase "smelled like perfume from France" in conversation? A lot of times, that's how many times). And I still cry reading One Hundred Demons. There's a time in your life when the world is made of glittering possibilities dangling just out of reach, and if the magic isn't out there you might as well die. Barry lives in that time. What a terrible and wonderful fate.
We all have a few writers and artists who are specifically ours, the ones who hit us so hard in a very particular, personal place that their mark will be on us forever. And there are usually some oddball names on that short list. For me, it's Daniel Pinkwater and Lynda Barry. 2 good 2 be 4gotten, to quote The Lynda Barry Experience.
The Village Voice dumped Ernie Pook and Life in Hell years ago to make room for a sports page. I'm glad I can still read Barry's comics online. And I'll be first in line for her upcoming book What It Is. So things aren't so bad. But I declare it a shame that some other weird teenager, not so long from now, can't clip Ernie Pooks for her personal mobile shrine.
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LYNDA BARRY Free Comic in The Arizona Daily Star

Updated July 17, 2007


Here's a freebie that's eye-catching
ALBERT CHING
ARIZONA DAILY STAR
3 May 2007

NPR/indie rock fan? Search for the "Lynda Barry Sampler," a collection of works from the noted nonmainstream cartoonist, put out by Drawn and Quarterly, which publishes thoughtful, definitely nonsuperhero comics. Bonus points: Barry used to date "This American Life" host Ira Glass.
 

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Lynda Barry

          



  Lynda Barry in Newsarama

Updated May 22, 2007


05/21/07
NEWSARAMA

Activity Book (an excerpt from What It Is) (Drawn + Quarterly; review by Mike) – This little FCBD gem stuck up on me, printing a preview of Lynda Barry’s upcoming book, What It Is, due spring 2008. Barry currently teaches the writing workshop Writing the Unthinkable, and in this comic’s pages, she translates the exercises of her workshop into comics form. Activity Book mixes her hilarious, chaotic, design-oriented illustrations with a series of exercises meant to strengthen the writer’s ability to visualize scenes and translate them to a page. True to its name, it has places where the reader/writer is encouraged to make his or her mark directly onto the comic itself. The exercises, though repetitive (one can hope that the full-length book will have some more variety), are interesting and helpful. I suspect that this will be the first comic since Jill Thompson’s Scary Godmother Activity Book that I’ll mark up with my own pencil!
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Lynda Barry

          



Lynda Barry on Jog - The Blog

Updated May 16, 2007


5/14/2007
The Internet is my benefactor.
JOG - THE BLOG

*In a short follow-up to something I mentioned the other day, I finally got a hold of Drawn & Quarterly's Free Comic Book Day thing from this year, a little pamphlet titled Activity Book, which is actually an excerpt from Lynda Barry's Spring 2008 project What It Is. I didn't manage to find any loose copied sitting around in stores, by the way - luckily, someone with an extra copy heard my cries and gave me free comics succor, which was nice.

I'm pretty glad I got a copy of this book, because it strikes me as one of the most personal of the 'How To Make Comics' projects that tend to proliferate on FCBD, being essentially a series of excercises the reader can perform in order to get their storytelling juices flowing. Lots of emphasis on observation, and (moreover) developing skills in transmuting silent personal observations into something that might eventually resound on the page. It's not so much geared toward the communicative, in the writer-audience sense, but the writer's own solitude in processing the stuff of past and present surroundings into the stuff of stories. As a result, it naturally adopts a more personalized feel, as Barry cannot avoid spilling out her own interior workings in teasing out better workings within the reader.

I think I was most struck by the element of anxiousness in the book, a real grasp of how little illusion barriers crop up to impede progress toward storytelling, especially the simplest illusion of believing, simply, that you don't have much of interest to say. Barry is wise enough to know that a mere ticking off of events in a person's life doesn't really make for good stories, nor does purely swimming in emotion - she posits the wielding of the 'image' as necessary, that being not necessarily drawings but charged things that crackle with the stuff of living, as opposed to the 'obituary' nature of facts' simple relation. Above all, the act of creation is held up as a self-evident good, one that needs no attachment to the validation of capital or reknown to better the outlook of the creator - this isn't a recipe for 'breaking in' to any industry or whatnot, but a genuine attempt to promote what Barry sees as the betterment of life itself.

As a result, it doesn't care much to deal with 'styles' or trends of the sort - heaven knows some readers may find Barry's own patchwork visual approach to be cluttered, although her linework is disarmingly smooth and lovely. I appreciated it as a dumping out of the contents of one head to facilitate further dumpings on the part of the reader, and I think it's a worthy FCBD pursuit to put out a book of that sort.

So, I'm saying I'm glad I got the thing. I do believe D&Q will send you a copy with any order from their online store, if you can't find one and don't want to wait until Spring 2008.
 
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Lynda Barry

          



  Salon.com gives Lynda Barry Free Comic A+

Updated May 8, 2007


Steal this comic
From superheroes to "The Simpsons," ultraviolence to kid stuff, our guide to Free Comic Book Day offers graphic fun for all.
By Douglas Wolk
SALON.COM

Activity Book (Drawn & Quarterly)

Lynda Barry, the cartoonist behind "Ernie Pook's Comeek," teaches an unusual sort of writing workshop. This excerpt from a forthcoming book is basically her introductory lesson, and it's a joy in its own right, deliciously drawn (with fragments of collage worked into each page), insightful and bubbling with delight in the process of artistic creation. A+
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Lynda Barry

          



World Literature Today spolights D+Q authors

Updated March 16, 2007


WORLD LITERATURE TODAY
March- April 2007
Lynda Barry, Miriam Katin, Guy Delisle, Jason Lutes, Chester Brown
 
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Guy Delisle
Miriam Katin
Lynda Barry

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We Are On Our Own
Shenzhen: A Travelogue From China




  D+Q to publish Lynda Barry

Updated January 17, 2007


For Immediate Release

As reported in this week's issue of Publishers Weekly, Drawn & Quarterly has announced plans to publish seven titles by the acclaimed and legendary cartoonist Lynda Barry, starting in 2008 through 2011. The publishing plan includes new material, collected material and plans to reprint the complete seminal strip "Ernie Pook's Comeek" which was created in 1979, and has been syndicated for more than two decades. The deal includes world english rights.

Barry's first book "What It Is" will be comprised of completely new material and will be published in early 2008. Following "What It Is" in Fall 2007, is the first of a five-volume hardcover reprint collection of "Ernie Pook's Comeek." Each of the five volumes in the reprint series will have an introduction penned by Barry herself, complete with visual ephemera. Also planned is a new collection of Barry's freelance work for various magazines over the years. In May of 2007, Drawn & Quarterly will publish a "Free Comic Book Day" issue with all Lynda Barry material.

"Lynda Barry is one of the world's most influential, inventive and ground breaking contemporary cartoonists whose fans stretch well beyond the comic book medium," said Chris Oliveros, President & Publisher of Drawn & Quarterly. "To borrow a word from Dave Egger's New York Times Book Review of Lynda's comics, her "oeuvre" should always be in print, and Drawn & Quarterly is thrilled and honored to be the company that gives her work the publishing treatment that it deserves."

Drawn & Quarterly is Barry's first comic book (only) publisher, and will join the company's esteemed coterie of the world's best cartoonists including Seth, Chester Brown, Julie Doucet, Chris Ware, Adrian Tomine, Joe Sacco and more.

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Lynda Barry

          




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