Genius At Work: Lynda Barry

Listen to this 'Talk of the Nation' topic

Source: Lynda Barry, courtesy of Drawn and Quarterly
Source: Lynda Barry, courtesy of Drawn and Quarterly

I first came across Lynda Barry's work in the back of some zine I picked up at Tower Records in high school... Ernie Pook's Comeek. Protagonist Marlys was just what I needed at the time: someone more awkward, less popular, and less attractive than myself who somehow summoned up 48x the sass at all times, even though she was just a kid. Marlys was the one who told you how it really was (and was often wrong), and didn't seem to care one bit about what other people thought (and with a name like Marlys, how could she?). I love Barry's chaotic black-and-white panels, but as I flipped through her newest book, What It Is, I realized what many more dedicated fans have long known: She's an incredible artist whose illustrations are just... WOW. Now I know I've got a lot of back-Barry to catch up on — where do you suggest I start? What's your favorite Barry strip or collection?

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Check out "1000 Demons". I may be wrong about the number of Demons, but you will see it. Also, "What it is" is worth working through. I was fortunate to spend 5 days in Lynda's "Writing the Unthinkable" course. She is a terrific teacher, anyone who teaches anything would benefit from taking the course. The exercises in the book are from the course.

Sent by Barbara Delgross | 3:27 PM | 6-2-2008

My daughter played Edna in Lynda Barry's wonderful play about race relations, The Good Times are Killing Me. The girl who played Bonna, her African American friend, lived just a few blocks away--but we didn't know her! Now the two girls are good friends in real life. The play was a wonderful experience for my daughter, largely because of Lynda's funny, truthful writing. Thanks!

Sent by Joan, Charlottesville, VA | 3:29 PM | 6-2-2008

Regarding our lose of symbolic abilities as adults I would suggest you read Prof. Kieran Egan's work. He suggests that we have a cultural trade-off. As we teach (socialize) children to think in terms of text we loose capacity for rich oral memory traditions.

Sent by John L. Hanson | 3:31 PM | 6-2-2008

As a middle school Art teacher for 21 years I can tell you that the goal of most Art teachers is to crush out the creativity in children. I have always tried to teach children the skills that they would need to paint or draw anything. My colleagues are mostly interested in teaching kids projects and hopefully projects that will win contests. I have taken much ridicule from my fellow Art teachers for this. Its the teach a man to fish and he'll be able to eat for the rest of his life.

Sent by John Schuler | 3:37 PM | 6-2-2008

Speaking about creativity and money and mental health...what about being an artist and loosing your mind because of the difficulty of making money while being creative? It's just as scary, the idea of blocking creativity as it is to be?

Sent by Tiffany | 8:00 PM | 6-2-2008

Thanks for the whimizacal insight today on the show. I shared the insights with my kids especially the breakfast space out episodes which I encountered just today. I think as adults we all to often fail to find the supernatural insights that young minds bring to the table. I esp. liked the alfreda comment. Funny how Alfred has taken such a backset in our hyper inflated super plamsa (add extreme word of the day here...). Well time for me to go to the dictionary and proof read my latest addition to binary emphany.

Sent by R Lee | 11:10 PM | 6-2-2008

Lynda Barry's comment about her brother drawing military battles on paper and then tossing the paper away is similar to the way my husband drew as a young child. He would draw his family in his house, or in another regular situation, and then proceed to blacken the entire paper with his black crayon. It alarmed his teachers so much that they referred him to a psychiatrist. Upon asking him about his drawing, he simply said "I drew my family in the day time, then it became nighttime. The sun went down, so it got dark." He treated drawing as a process, a type of play, and the adults had a hard time understanding that.

Sent by Erika Mudrak, Wisconsin | 4:09 PM | 6-3-2008

I'm a drama teacher/actor. I'm convinced that American society begins to discourage creativity when children are 8 or 9, with these wicked words: "You're too old to pretend." Somehow, our society has come to believe that it is wrong or unhealthy for people, except very young people, to spend any amount of time imagining that they are someone or something other than what they are. (Yet who among us has not, when all alone, "been" a spy, a movie star or the world's funniest stand-up comic?) We equate "Stop pretending" with "Stop imagining." How often have we heard "Get real", "Grow up" or "Act your age" and thought it was good advice? I've heard parents say, when talking about a child, "He was so creative when he was little ... I don't know what happened." Hmmmm ...

Sent by Jenn | 5:00 PM | 6-3-2008

I would recommend Lynda's workshop "Writing the Unthinkable" (or her book "What It Is") to anyone who had a childhood.

"Writing the Unthinkable" was a singular and absolutely transformative experience.

Sent by MeGo (Melissa Gould) | 6:55 PM | 6-3-2008

In one of Freud's essay, "Creative Writers and Daydreaming," it is suggested that children and artists alike play with real enthusiasm, even seriousness.

Sent by Trung Nguyen | 8:42 PM | 6-3-2008

Sarah, you should check out "Come Over, Come Over" and "Down the Street". Both are out of print, because some publishers are big boneheads, but both are excellent books and still available through used book sources. Responsibility takes a toll on creativity, and it can be hard to grow up without disdaining the innocence you leave behind. Lynda Barry's work helps all of us appreciate our own young souls. Thank you, Lynda, and thank you, NPR, for this most dig-able interview.

Sent by Lorna from Cincinnati | 4:06 PM | 6-4-2008

Lynda Barry's brother, Michael, and I worked together in California for a chemical waste treatment company and he introduced me to her work - which has been nothing other than pure creative genius in action since my first amazing indoctrination via Michael. Sadly, I lost touch with Mike but I wonder about him often, he was SO CREATIVE ... is he still?

Sent by Garth Lytle | 4:18 PM | 6-4-2008

We don't have to lose our creativity as we get older. If we keep creative we can delay the onset of diseases like Alzheimer's. We can keep our spirits high, connected to others, we can feed our souls. That's part of what I tell my clients as I am an art therapist, and I absolutely love to help people heal and grow and change, through art.

Sent by Kimberly Hanrahan-Havern | 9:25 PM | 6-4-2008

Lynda Barry's interview on Monday so struck a chord. I have spent the past twenty years working in and out of theater - mostly with youth. I'm the "mad pringle can lady," as I am known for the set building I do with "found" things and recyclables. "Fiddler's" roof was about 300 painted pringle cans(split length-wise) The fervor I always discover in my youth crews is the absolute delight they express in discovering an "old" lady (50+ eeeh, thats really old) who still plays, .. sometimes more than they do. It is my absolute vocation in life to inspire in the youth I work with (and adult volunteers as well) the joy in always thinking outside the box. Thank you, Lynda Barry for vocalizing my own philosophy so well!

Sent by Melody Stratton | 1:46 PM | 6-5-2008

Lynda rocks. Fantastic teacher, great human, inspiration. My cube is decorated with a classic Barry poster: "Poodle with a mohawk--you'll never call him Fifi again!"

Sent by Martha GArvey | 11:30 AM | 6-6-2008

Twenty years ago, I was visiting an old college roommate in Chicago, and she handed me a stack of clippings from the Reader, saying "this person talks about being a kid the way you talk about having been a kid."

I never realized I talked much about being a kid, but the clippings were my delighted introduction to Ernie Pook's Commeek. Down The Street is one of my favorite books. Ever. Check out her strip "june" from june of 2002 and you'll laugh and cry at the same time.

When her writing class is in your area, take it. Two days of non-stop entertainment AND it changes your life!

pipetti dot livejournal dot com

Sent by Betty Pipetti | 9:22 PM | 6-6-2008

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