Groundbreaking cartoonist / author Lynda Barry to discuss imagination at Penny Stamps lecture
In the 1980s, Barry broke new ground in the comic-strip world as the writer and illustrator of "Ernie Pook's Comeek," which was unlike other strips in that it was "not a funny strip," as Barry herself has often noted. Indeed, it was an often-sad strip that unflinchingly probed the more troubling and harrowing aspects of the human conditon—particulary growing up in a dysfunctional family.
The strip ran for almost 30 years in alternative weeklies, until the legs fell out from under the alt-weekly industry, as many of them either folded or got bought out by larger, more corporate-minded newspaper-publishing companies.
Even before "Ernie Pook" wound down, though, Barry was expressing herself in other media. She's written 18 books, including "One! Hundred! Demons!," "The Greatest of Marlys!," "Cruddy: An Illustrated Novel," "Naked Ladies! Naked Ladies! Naked Ladies!" and "The Good Times are Killing Me," which was adapted into an off-Broadway play.
She also wrote a how-to graphic novel, "What It Is," in 2008. "What It Is" along with its companion, "Picture This: The Near-Sighted Monkey Book," from 2010, explore creativity and the use of imagination in everyday life—not just to create art for consumption by patrons and / or the masses.Currently, Barry is one busy lady. She is working on a new book, continues to update her blog, The Near-Sighted Monkey, and is also currently conducting an artist residency at the University of Wisconsin in Madison.
Plus, she travels to other cities to give lectures about creativity and writing. One of those will be a free lecture at the Michigan Theater on Thursday. The event is part of the University of Michigan School of Art & Design Penny W. Stamps Lecture Series. The title of her lecture is "Accessing the Imaginary—Where did you get your imagination?," and Barry will discuss her own creative process.
Her "What It Is" book was based on her “Writing the Unthinkable” workshop, which she also conducts in various cities, and which in turn is based on a method of creativity that is accessible to anyone with a wish to write, or to remember—not just to professional writers or artists.
Recently, Barry and Drawn & Quarterly, the comics publisher, have been helping to turn younger readers on to Barry by reissuing her older work. D&C recently reissued "The Freddie Stories," which originally appeared as often-heartbreaking sequences from “Ernie Pook’s Comeek.” They were first compiled in book form in 1999. The new reissue presents the strips in redesigned and enhanced fashion, employing new graphic design, with the panels set over striking and colorful crayon backgrounds.
In 2011, D&C also published "Blabber Blabber Blabber: Volume 1 of Everything," which pulled together the seminal "Ernie Pook’s Comeek" strips, some of which had been out of print for 20 years or more, and also included her earliest books, like "Girls and Boys and Big Ideas," with an introduction written by Barry.
Barry has also long been interested in exploring the question, "What is an image?" Her research on the notion has included conversations with scientists and mathematicians, and has informed her teaching.
"My interest does take a lot of external forms, whether it's teaching or making my own pictures, whatever it is," Barry recently told TheDailyPage.com, in Madison. "But to me they're all tied together by this central question that I've been chasing down since I was 19 and I met my teacher Marilyn Frasca at the Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington ... The only way to explain it is this little question she asked me, which is 'What is an image?'
"The more I studied with her, the more I realized that, for example, everything we call 'the arts' contains it: this sort of living thing. It's the reason we talk about a painting like it's alive or a piece of music like it's alive," she continued. "After working with (mathematicicians and scientists), I would argue that certain mathematical formulas have it. People respond to them as if they're alive."
Barry is also fascinated in the area of of neuroscience that's devoted to brain function and creativity.
"I've been really interested in the work of this brilliant guy named Iain McGilchrist," Barry recently said in an interview with "To The Best of Our Knowledge," a syndicated radio show. McGilchrist wrote the book, "The Master and His Emissary: The Divided Brain and the Making of the Western World."
"He's written brilliantly about how we kind of have two brains. The left side of the brain....likes technology, it likes logic, it likes purpose, it likes utility, it's the parent in you that when you say, 'I want to be an artist,' says 'Well, then I'm not paying for school.'
"The other side is where we respond to music, poetry, metaphors, things as a whole, our experience of actual depth and distance," Barry continued. "So, the studies that McGilchrist talks about (suggest that)....in a weird way, part of the function of the brain is to shut the other side up."
Kevin Ransom, a free-lance writer who covers arts and entertainment for AnnArbor.com, can be reached at KevinRansom10@aol.com.