'Amazing' What It Is on Unshelved

“What It Is by Lynda Barry” / Unshelved / Gene Aumbaum / April 10, 2015

A meditation on drawing, creativity, memories, and writing by cartoonist Lynda Barry, created with comics, drawings, collages, paintings, notecards, images, questions, and more.

Why I picked it up: I read bits of this amazing book all the time. But after I read Barry’s Syllabus, I had to pick it up and read it all the way through.

Why I finished it: The autobiographical comics are my favorite part, where Barry talks about her creative experiences (and missteps). Her parents were not readers. Mine, either, so I identified with her throughout, especially when, as a kid, she remembers the artists and writers who stood out in her teacher’s mind, and how she wished she was one of them. These personal episodes break up sections of big, seemingly imponderable questions (“What is an idea made of?” “Where are images found?” “What happens when we read a story?”) and bring me right right back. Plus, in the margins and front-and-center, Barry draws a myriad of creatures, including many-eyed octopi and monkeys, that seem to have leapt right out of her mind.

It's perfect for: Anyone why thinks they need high-end art supplies to be creative. Most of this was clearly created on yellow legal pads. I’m always thinking that a new (and expensive) pen is going to make me draw better. Barry’s lesson is that all I really need to do is keep my pen or brush or whatever moving and let go. I’m sure I’m not the only one who needs to hear this.

 

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