Lynda Barry profiled in the Montreal Hour

“Imagine life” / The Montreal Hour / Melora Koepke / January 13, 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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