Friday, September 4, 2009

A Book That Will Get You In The Mood... to Birth Freaky Brilliant Brain Children, a.k.a. Lynda Barry Rocks!

Last fall my fantastic friend Simone and I went to the New Yorker Festival and listened to Matt Groening and Lynda Barry chat about the artistic process. Simone and I walked away high on ideas, clutching our newly signed copies of Lynda Barry's book, WHAT IT IS, to our chests, clicking our heels all the way home.

Barry is an acclaimed comic strip writer and novelist, best known for Marlys from Ernie Pook's Comeek, as well as a playwright. I hope that sooner or later she will be just as well known for
What IT IS, because it is one of those rare books I want to give to everyone I meet.

What excites me about the book is Barry's understanding of the interplay between visual creativity and writing. Like other mammals, humans tend to think, imagine, and remember in images, and yet when we write, we often forget about that. Playing with images helps us remember. The book is part graphic memoir, part creativity workbook, part exploration of the nature of art. It is impossible to read the book and not feel inspired.

After reading it for a bit I wanted to pick up a glue stick and some images and dance a little jig and then do some writing. It reminded me just how much fun the creative process can be. Whenever I open it, it feeds my desire for stories and fresh ideas while my eyes feast on Barry's deceptively simple ('I can do that too!') artwork.

It feels wrong to flatly state the shimmery ideas inside the book, presented like treasure in a child's pirate game. Here is something from my journal that I was inspired to write in watercolor, without stopping to think, on Barry's suggestion.

'I bought a blue rose on Avenue A today with Eve.
It was expensive, but I was thinking about...making friends with death.
How to do that?
'Blue roses' reminds me of Tennessee Williams, of course,
and my grandmother
who lit her hedges with blue lights
in honor of Mary, goddess of the sea, at Christmastime.
It is clearly unnatural, this blue rose.
I carried it with me,
poking out the top of my green shopping bag
unconcerned, like it was somehow tougher than other roses.'

Here are some of the questions Barry asks in the book:

When images come to us, where do they come from?

Does your imagination know what year it is?

What is the past made of?

When we imagine things we don't want to imagine, why can't we stop ourselves?

She expresses many of her ideas obliquely through her graphic memoir, suggesting fun games to strengthen her readers' imagistic powers in the fourth quarter.

Lynda Barry has a website that has said it is 'coming soon!' for at least a year. There are some great images of
What IT IS on her myspace page, but I find that format really difficult to navigate.

She typically teaches writing classes at least a couple of times a year, and I hope to have the chance to take one sometime for the hit of inspiration I know I'll receive.

And yes, I know I'm frothing at the mouth about her, but she and
What IT IS are worth the froth.


boosfood said...

I already had my materials out for collaging when I read this post - now I'm motivated to get off the computer and get to it.

boosfood said...
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Andrea Stern said...

Oh, yes, great book, and I checked out One! Hundred! Demons! from our local library and renewed it all of the times I could renew it because it is just so much fun and inspiration.

Kate Temple-West said...

boosfood-- let me know how the collaging goes.

Andrea-- I love that book, too. Need to check it out again, soon.

Tracy Hart said...

Ooh, another book to put on my list! I'd forgotten how much I loved Lynda Barry. There's one strip (I think it's from One Hundred Demons) that I glued into a journal from about six years back, in which she describes her special childhood blanket and how adults just did not understand the power and meaning of it.

Kate Temple-West said...

O.k. One! Hundred! Demons! has been on my unofficial wish list for a long time. Now going on official one.