Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Summer Books: Lynda Barry: What It Is

I don't have it yet but I will soon: Lynda Barry's tour-de-force "What Is Is," an inspiring mix of image and text, a how-to create book perfect for where I'm and where I want to be: writing, creating.

Barry's work came of age about the time I did, late 70s, early 80s. I've grown middle-aged while reading her strip, "Ernie Pook's Comeek" where the kids never grow up or if they do, it's not for long.

Check out this interview with her in The Comics Reporter, then check out her work. As the Staples Singers promise, she'll take you there.


BARRY: I try really hard not to think about my comic strip unless I'm doing it. I try hard not to know what people think about it, if they like it or hate it, because it throws me off whatever the thing is that helps me make the strip.

There is a specific feeling, a state of mind that happens when the strip starts to roll. I did one this morning and I could feel the thing just start to move the way a dream has its own movement. I had no idea what the strip was going to be about, or where it was going at all, but if I get into that state of mind I don't have to worry about it, really.

The strip I did today was a continuation of last week's strip. I didn't know it was going to be that when I started. All I do is I start measuring and drawing the panels, I start to ink the panel edges -- today with a pen, though I usually use a brush; more on that later -- and as I'm inking the panels I usually hear a line in my head. It is different than thinking. It's like I actually hear it spoken. It's not magic, not any more magical than when we hear people in our dreams speak to us. I had people yelling at me in my dream last night. They were really yelling and I was really upset by it, I woke up and I was shaking, but I never thought the people in my dream were real. They caused real sensations in my body, but they weren't real in the way you and I are real.

When I work on a comic strip, and I hear the first line, it's that kind of realness, the realness that causes physical sensation.

One of the reasons I make comic strips is to be able to experience that. I believe it's the same thing that happens to kids when they are in deep play. There is an "elsewhere" I get to be when I work.

I've attached the two strips. They were written with no penciling, pre-meditation or corrections apart from one letter I had to white out in the first strip. Are they any good? Well I don't know the answer to that at all. But while I was writing them I had the state of mind I aim toward, and it's a state of mind that seems to have an urge to make a story. I think it's a basic human ability. It's the thing I work toward helping people get to when I teach my writing class. I've found that anyone can do it. Anyone.

The only thing about it is you have to be willing to accept the story that comes, sad or funny, soothing or upsetting. That's the one law I have to follow when I work. I do think it means I have no ability to assess the quality of the work or what it means to others, except when that state of mind won't come. Because sometimes it won't come at all. And there have been times that it has happened for months at a time and I've been convinced I'll have to give up the strip. It comes back. Then it leaves again. And I think this is the way of things in the image world. Flannery O'Conner said that it was as crazy to think your faith will always be with you as it is to think your loss of faith will always be with you.

For the rest of the interview, click here.

1 comment:

skizziks said...

Great post. I didn't care for her stuff when I first came across it, but I wasn't used to comic strips with so much messiness and uncertainty - now I love it. I'm probably being a male chauvanist pig here but I don't usually like female cartoonists' work, too cute and neat, Barry is definitely neither of those things - she's honest. Interesting to hear how she works.

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