Art, Criticism & Creating Comics  > Creating Comics

Picture This h/c

Picture This h/c back

Lynda Barry


Page 45 Review by Stephen

A second book of love, handcraft and creativity from one of the most individualistic voices in comics designed to encourage and inspire your own. Like WHAT IT IS, it cannot fail to succeed, for it's in Lynda's nature to nurture.

Were you encouraged when young, or did you have the imaginative stuffing knocked out of you? Sometimes it seems to me that the greatest lesson we can learn from our parents is to pay close attention then remember to behave in exactly the opposite fashion; this early exchange between Lynda and her mother over a magazine cover she's embellished pretty much says it all:

"You ruined this!"
"It was in the garbage, so I thought.."
"You thought! You call this thinking?"
"But you threw it away..."
"When I put something in the garbage I want it to stay there! Do not ruin the garbage!"

Linda's learned that lesson well and put it into pitch-perfect practice here lest you too stop drawing at thirteen or, should you have already done so, to rekindle your love of art and the joy of the written word. That some of the compositions are painted on top of dictionary pages, legally binding documents or ruled school exercise books might (might) even be a direct thumbing of the nose to her Ma. So often we're told that so much is verboten, but for Lynda Barry anything and everything goes and there's something wonderfully direct and liberating about her treating such a plush hardcover as if it were her personal 'zine or scrapbook.

Lynda's invented a brand-new character to join her Staring Cephalopod: the Near-Sighted Monkey complete with horn-rimmed glasses, a housework headscarf, and a lit ciggie dangling from her mouth. There's an early portrait of her with a Caribbean tinge to it, playing poker in front of a book case: "The Near Sighted Monkey won't fold!" Good advice for life; invaluable advice for the artist in all of us. In fact PICTURE THIS is packed with the most elaborate, organic collages of image, autobiography and exhortation whose swirling frames often form hidden messages, and there are questions far more fundamental to the creative process than most of us are used to in our everyday lives. "What's Inside Your Artbox?" is, I'd contend, a much wider question than a physical accounting would necessarily answer - though Lynda does ask you to love your brush and care for it.

She asks us questions like what's the difference between writing and drawing the alphabet, what makes a picture creepy, and what makes adults scared to draw? She breaks down the unnatural barriers between the adult and the so-called child's domain. Why is colouring for retards? Why are picture books only for children? Why is writing or drawing a waste of time? Answer: none of them are. I think as readers and/or creators of comics in the U.S. and U.K., you can empathise with the rejection of that sort of censorious ignorance which will have told you several times that comics are just for kids. My own father asked me aged nineteen, "Why are you still reading those things?" and again, when I was attempting to hone my writing skills, "When are you going to get a proper job?" If he were alive I'd show him Page 45; he was, after all, he was a businessman. Truth be told, he'd just have come back with those same two questions again.

But picture this instead: a life liberated from the confines of what is supposedly allowed. You are allowed, for example, to be stressed or upset, and to work your way through that with painting in Pointillism or, you know, drawing a bloody chicken. Here's Lynda in gloriously mischievous mode with barely a punctuation mark in sight:

"Sometimes we feel we cannot draw a chicken so here is a chicken to use on those days, to copy, trace, cut out and paste. The dear chicken is on the job! (Dear Van Dyke, At first I thought the chicken was crappy looking but then I had my heart broken and making that crappy chicken was the only thing that made me feel better.) Take some dark moody paper and draw a chicken outline. Ball up little pieces of cotton or lint or tissue paper it will get better things will get better put down a line of glue on the chicken and put wads of sadness onto the chicken, then more glue then more wads of sadness it is okay to watch TV while you are doing this, it will get better."

Too much maturity seems to me overrated - it smacks of old age and conservatism. It smacks of windows closed, and no risks taken; no adventure in sight. It smacks of having stopped, and although I'm only a quarter of my way through this book so far, I won't be told that I can't publish my enthusiasm this early during my reading process, my thinking progress because, as Lynda so rightly proclaims of the spiritually healthy,

"Always, we are en route."