Chicago Reader on Syllabus

“Comic book roundup: 'Syllabus' by Lynda Barry, more” / Chicago Reader / Jake Austen / January 22, 2015

Longtime Chicago Reader readers will always think of Lynda Barry as one of the brilliant cartoonists that made alternate weeklies truly special. But her second act (or third, if you don't count her autobiographical graphic novels and theater work as extensions of her magnificent newspaper serial, "Ernie Pook's Comeek") has proven far more fascinating. Barry has led workshops for years, and in 2008 published the Eisner Award-winning book "What It Is," a rich, hypnotic reflection on creativity. It also served as a kind of textbook for anyone interested in going on similar journeys. As that philosophy morphed into an actual course at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Barry formalized her lesson plan, and "Syllabus," presented in the form of the densely packed composition books she encourages her students to fill up, is a fascinating flight launched from the actual syllabus and classwork. She encourages nonartists to join her class and requires them to draw, quickly and without visual reference, cars, Batman and self-portraits; this results in some of the most beautiful, strange renderings this side of Hieronymus Bosch. Her course is no knockoff, as students read theory, sketch in a rigid, unyielding schedule, and face ridicule for using crayons in public. The best thing about "Syllabus" is not that it makes you want to take Barry's class, but that it makes you feel like you have.

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