Law and Conversation

November 10, 2010

The! Greatest! Of! Lynda! J.! Barry!

Monday’s Read This! post urged everyone to read Lynda J. Barry’s amazing comics and graphic novels.  All of her books enthrall me, but today I’m choosing three to highlight.  (On Wednesdays from now on, I’ll be posting reading recommendations around a particular theme.  For brevity’s sake, I’m limiting myself to three books or stories in other media in these posts.)

1)  Girls And Boys.  Seattle:  The Real Comet Press, 1981.  Very early Barry.  Tragically out of print, along with other collections such as The Fun House (New York:  Harper and Row, 1988), Big Ideas (Seattle:  The Real Comet Press, 1983), and Everything In The World (New York:  Harper and Row, 1986).

2)  The! Greatest! of! Marlys!  Seattle:  Sasquatch Books, 2000.   Middle, mature Barry, exploring feelings from and about childhood on the wrong side of the tracks.

3)  What It Is:  Do You Wish You Could Write?  Montreal:  Drawn and Quarterly, 2008.  Barry today, using cartoons, water colors, collages, and text to explore creativity.  The colors and movement of her art remind me of William Blake’s illustrations of his poems, “Songs of Innocence and Experience.”

I love Barry’s work so much that I’ve already fudged my self-imposed limit of three books to recommend on Wednesdays by sneaking a few extras in under #1.  

I highly recommend listening to and/or reading interviews with Barry, in which she speaks eloquently and articulately about art.  I’ve listed a few in my Monday post, including one from November 4 on CBC’s Q.  In that interview, Barry said she believes art serves a biological function:  it helps us make difficult or unbearable situations bearable.   “[Stories] can’t transform your actual situation, but they can transform your experience of it.”  (“What It Is,” p. 40.)  Unfortunately, she continued, around the age of 9 or 10 children start thinking they’re not good enough to continue drawing, and they stop.  In “What It Is,” and now in “Picture This,” Barry provides exercises that she uses in her workshops for renewing the creative impulses that we all retain.

There’s lots of room for divergence on Barry’s greatest works.  Barry fans, which of her books are your favorites?

November 8, 2010

Read This: Lynda J. Barry

Filed under: Books and writing,graphic novels,Read This! — Helen Gunnarsson @ 3:31 pm
Tags: , , ,

I can’t think of another graphic novelist that I love as much or whose talent leaves me in such awe as Lynda J. Barry, known for her syndicated “Ernie Pook’s Comeek” among many other works.  She’s been interviewed on the CBC several times, including by Eleanor Wachtel on Writers And Company and Jian Ghomeishi on Q on November 4, 2010. has a compilation of articles about her, including links to comics that may or may not still work.  NPR has an interview with her on Talk of the Nation, and other articles and interviews with her are here, here, and here.

Barry’s last book, “What It Is,” is full of exercises and suggestions for developing creativity; I’m excited to find that she has a new one out last month, “Picture This.”  Her very grown-up comics, drawn in a very childlike style, intrigued me the minute I saw them in the Chicago Reader in the early 1980s, and her play, “The Good Times Are Killing Me,” produced in Chicago in the 1980s, is one of the best plays, and most sensitive explorations of the awareness of racial divisions that children experience as they grow up, that I’ve ever seen or read.

I’ll be dedicating my Wednesday posts to recommending three books, so please check back this Wednesday for three books of Lynda Barry’s.  (How to choose?)

What cartoonists have you found memorable or moving?

Create a free website or blog at