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What It Is
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What It Is

4.0 5
by Lynda Barry

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"Deliciously drawn (with fragments of collage worked into each page), insightful and bubbling with delight in the process of artistic creation. A+" -Salon

How do objects summon memories? What do real images feel like? For decades, these types of questions have permeated the pages of Lynda Barry's compositions, with words


"Deliciously drawn (with fragments of collage worked into each page), insightful and bubbling with delight in the process of artistic creation. A+" -Salon

How do objects summon memories? What do real images feel like? For decades, these types of questions have permeated the pages of Lynda Barry's compositions, with words attracting pictures and conjuring places through a pen that first and foremost keeps on moving. What It Is demonstrates a tried-and-true creative method that is playful, powerful, and accessible to anyone with an inquisitive wish to write or to remember. Composed of completely new material, each page of Barry's first Drawn & Quarterly book is a full-color collage that is not only a gentle guide to this process but an invigorating example of exactly what it is: "The ordinary is extraordinary."

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
Praise for Lynda Barry:

“Barry is, underneath the wonky handwriting and the quirky, naïve drawings, a great memoirist . . . Like [Tobias] Wolff and [Dave] Eggers, she finds a tone that accommodates self-criticism and self-irony without tipping over into self-loathing . . . but what she is particularly good at is resonance.” —The New York Times

“Barry is not just a storyteller, she’s an evangelist who urges people to pick up a pen—or a brush . . . and look at their own lives with fresh, forgiving eyes.” —San Francisco Chronicle

“America’s leading cartoon artist of childhood angst . . . The precise rightness of Barry’s smallest observation puts TV’s The Wonder Years to shame.” —Entertainment Weekly

Publishers Weekly

This brilliant, beautiful, nearly uncategorizable book is a print version of Barry's famous seminar "Writing the Unthinkable" a class about writing from "images," recollected or imagined moments. It's part cartooning, part handwritten text, part ornate multimedia collage (with heartbreaking pieces of decades-old school papers and words snipped out of old textbooks)-all three appear on almost every page, most of which Barry constructed by decorating every available space on ruled yellow notebook paper. The first and longest section is a bizarre and hilarious memoir of Barry's creative impulses: how they developed when she was a child, how they flickered and faded when she started asking herself "Is this good?" and "Does this suck?" and how they returned when she learned to escape that trap. The core of the book, though, explains the "writing the unthinkable" technique; it's narrated by a sea monster and stars a "magic cephalopod." Finally, Barry shows us a sheaf of her note pad, the pages she fills with doodles and spare phrases while she's working on a "real" project; they are, naturally, as vivid and radiantly eccentric as everything else here. The whole thing is overflowing with quirks, strangeness and charm, and makes palpable Barry's affection for her students and the act of art making itself. (May)

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VOYA - Timothy Capehart
Novelist and cartoonist Barry creates a difficult-to-categorize (surprise!) and entirely wonderful volume of autobiography, writing/art instruction, inspiration, and just plain art. The book is split into four sections. Within the first, full-page collages of pictures, objects, and paintings are at once artistic challenges (more than writing exercises because those come later) and at the same time meditations on the origins of memory, thought, creativity, moods, and the images that form in one's mind. These pages alternate with descriptions of her childhood and of her development as an artist from early elementary school through college. These last are painted on yellow, lined paper after Barry abandoned the pen for the brush because of wrist pain. She ends this section with a comic on dealing with the editor/art critic who is always asking, "Is this good? Does this suck?" thus paralyzing the creator. The next section is a series of writing exercises she has used in classrooms to get the pen moving and keep it in motion, followed by a section of instructions on the creation and use of a writing kit that will endlessly and randomly generate inspiration to start the pen moving. The final section contains reproductions of pages from her journal. The whole is a call to people of all ages to return to the childlike joy everyone once took in the act of creation. Barry's fans will want their own copies. Any older teen interested in writing or graphic arts (especially edgy arts) will dive right in. This book is a must for collections serving zine creators and aspiring artists. Reviewer: Timothy Capehart
Library Journal

"It" is a highly imaginative, image-and-words collage, mashed-up with a how-to-write book and highlighted with autobiographical snippets. Barry's purpose is to urge readers to interact with their own imagery, ideas, and stories, then write and/or draw them. The text wanders through a colorful, free-form garden of birds, animals, flowers, and snippets of letters and quotations, almost demanding that readers break any habits of associating "creating" with fear-inducing concepts like "assignments" or "rules." As her own form of exercises, she invites readers to write what first comes to mind, using various prompts and tricks to disable inhibitions and the hypercritical overseer in the head. Doodles, hypothetical questions, ornate borders, and dialog all become grist. Create images, and words will come; create words, and images will come. What It Is will frustrate readers who want to follow a clear trail of ideas and pictures but delight those who take the time to let their minds taste all of Barry's visual and literate smorgasbord. For teen and adult collections.
—Martha Cornog

School Library Journal

Gr 9 Up

Every so often a book comes along that surpasses expectations, taking readers on an inspirational voyage that they don't want to leave. This is one such book. Each page is a feast for the eyes with beautiful full-page collages of photographs, watercolors, ink drawings, and text, resulting in a gorgeous volume that explores and encourages writing in a combination of ways. The author challenges readers with philosophical questions to ponder, such as "What is an image? Where are they found? Can we remember something we can't imagine?" The volume also acts as a workbook that successfully encourages teens to explore their own creativity through writing. In addition, autobiographical glimpses of Barry's journey from childhood to adulthood appear throughout the book. The struggles and obstacles she faces while following her path of becoming an artist and writer allow readers to believe in the possibility of writing themselves. This stunning book will appeal to those teens who are interested in delving into their creativity through words and art. The questions posed and valuable exercises that exist within its pages, along with the illustrations, could also make this book a valuable tool for English and art teachers in the classroom.-Lara McAllister, Halifax Public Libraries, Nova Scotia

Product Details

Drawn & Quarterly
Publication date:
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
8.30(w) x 11.00(h) x 0.90(d)
Age Range:
14 - 18 Years

Meet the Author

Cartoonist, novelist, and playwright Lynda Barry is the creator behind the syndicated strip Ernie Pook's Comeek, featuring the incomparable Marlys and Freddy. Her books include One Hundred Demons and The Good Times Are Killing Me.

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What It Is 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 5 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Lynda Barry's sharp wit, consummate literacy, and clever artistic eye shine through. She encourages everyone to do what they love to do and not to wallow in feelings of 'I-can't-do-this-because-I'm-just-not-good-enough-at-it.' Her pages--colorful and crowded with ideas--were created on yellow legal pads, yet you can see from the cover that she has filled them with life and lessons worth learning. We bought this book after hearing her speak/sing/perform at Haverford College last fall and we've loved the book ever since. She is amazing. Enjoy!
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