In her fourth collection on the creative process (after Syllabus: Notes from an Accidental Professor), MacArthur Fellow Barry posits that when we’re young and less self-conscious, words and images are inextricably linked. Through slightly madcap exercises, Barry asks us to find that mind-set, in which the pressure to do things perfectly can be lifted and one can speak one’s mind through images. The activities, drawn from Barry’s own magical classroom, are fun, flexible, and easy to follow, at once challenging and comfortingly familiar, often set to music, sometimes featuring self-styled superheroes. The guide has the textured collage aesthetic of the author’s recent works, and in the margins of the exercises, her nearly mystical voice reminds that an act of creation is about something bigger than perfecting a cute comic in neat boxes—“Have mercy on the unspeakable monster who has no other way to tell you it’s you.” On its face, the style seems almost goofy, but the reality that art drives and sustains us, if we let it, is present on every page.
VERDICT An engaging combination of how-to and why-you-must, perfect for Barry superfans, budding cartoonists, and anyone with a story itching to be told.