Eisner Hall of Fame inductee Lynda Barry has received the National Cartooning Society’s Milton Caniff Lifetime Achievement Award. Longtime friend and Simpsons creator Matt Groening presented the honor to Barry at the 71st annual Reuben Awards in Portland, Oregon last weekend.
Previous recipients of the prestigious prize, which requires a unanimous vote from the National Cartooning Society’s Board of Directors, include Will Eisner (The Spirit), Charles M. Schulz (Peanuts) and Joe Kubert (Tales of the Green Beret).
However, the award wasn’t the only recognition Barry received that weekend — Jeff Keane, son of the late Family Circuscreator Bil Keane, drew her into one of the strip’s iconic circular panels.
Barry, who is a longtime fan of Family Circus, spoke about her love of the strip to the Washington Post after Bil Keane’s death in 2011.
"I was a kid growing up in a troubled household. We didn’t have books in the house, but we did have the daily paper, and I remember picking out Family Circus before I could really read. There was something about looking through a circle at a life that looked pretty good to me. For kids like me, there was a map and a compass that was hidden [in] Family Circus. The parents in that comic strip really loved their children. He put that image in my head and it stayed with me."
Barry also added that meeting Jeff Keane for the first time caused her to burst into tears, and that she’s a vehement defender of the strip.
"I’d always heard that great art will cause people to burst into tears, but the only time it ever happened to me was when I was introduced Bil Keane’s son Jeff. As soon as I realized who he was, I just started bawling my face off because I realized I’d done it. When I shook his hand, I realized I had climbed through the circle to the side Jeffy was on. To me, they are family. My soul family. That’s why if someone says a word against Family Circus to me, I will slug them so hard."
After receiving both honors, Barry reiterated her love for the strip on her Tumblr, while also revealing that Jeff Keane was surprised by her passion for it. Keane reportedly told a mutual friend, “It’s not a ‘cool’ comic strip,” to which Barry responded: “Dearest Jeffy K, Know this: Love is ALWAYS cool.”
Barry is well-known for her comic strip Ernie Pook’s Comeek, which ran in alternative newspapers across the United States from 1979 to 2008. Groening was the editor of the student newspaper that first ran the comic. She’s also received much acclaim for her graphic novels.
In 1988, Barry released The Good Times Are Killing Me, a book that followed the interracial friendship between two girls in the late ’60s and was eventually adapted into an off-Broadway play. Other works by Barry include Cruddy, One! Hundred! Demons! and What It Is, which won an Eisner Award for Best Reality-Based Work in 2009.
Drawn & Quarterly will release a reissue of Barry’s acclaimed The Good Times Are Killing Me in September.