What It Is

By LYNDA BARRY

Lynda Barry has given us a rare thing: a work of art that describes its own origins. In this book, the writer and cartoonist behind Cruddy and Ernie Pook?s Comeeks shows readers how she makes art and encourages us to make our own. This is no mere instruction manual: each page is gorgeously illustrated with collage, letter fragments, monkeys, birds, and little Lynda Barry, whose trailer-park, TV-lit childhood and chain-smoking mother will be utterly familiar to devoted readers. In the first half of the book, Barry poses philosophical questions about art: Why do all children dance, draw, play, and write? When does that stop? Why do most adults, having given up art, still find it soothing to doodle in the margins? What is a monster, and what does it tell us about ourselves? In Barry?s case, we see her overcome her childhood insecurities and grow into a pretentious art student, only to become a professional artist stymied by two questions: Is it good? And: Does it suck? Art, she says, is not about thought but images. In the second half of the book, she guides us back into the nest of creation, accompanied by Sea-Ma, the googly-eyed class supervisor, in pursuit of the muse (personified as the Magic Cephalopod). With simple, resonant prompts — list your first phone number, describe a car, a friend’s mother — she helps us fish around for images, then asks us to move around in the image. Both those who put down their pen for good and those who, like Barry, made their ?play? into ?work,? will find revelation.