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Stuff for the Teen Age

Lynda Barry's Graphic Novels About the Creative Process


Lynda Barry, most renowned for her comic strips and graphic novels featuring the character of Marlys, has written and illustrated two different books that incorporate cartoon characters into an unusual and inspiring exploration of the creative process.  One focuses more on writing and the other focuses more on artwork, but the graphic novel format means that fans of words and pictures alike will be able to appreciate both books.

What It Is

In 2008, Lynda Barry published a book that asked the question on its chaotic front cover: "DO YOU WISH YOU COULD WRITE?" The book is filled with other questions about the creative process, like Where/Why Do We Keep Bad Memories? What Is An Idea Made Of? Can We Remember Something That We Can't Imagine?  Like in her comic strips and earlier collections, Barry spends much of her time reflecting back on her childhood and exploring heartfelt questions about writing. In this collection, Barry's artistic talents expand to full-color images that range from diary-style entries to textured collages of words, drawings, and photographs that would not look out of place on the wall of an art gallery. The end of the book is filled with practical and innovative writing exercises for frustrated writers. While What It Is conveys its messages simply, this book will probably be most appreciated by older teens and adults who have the patience to turn the pages slowly and savor Barry's work on all its levels.

Picture This

In 2010 Barry returned with another book using a similar format—part graphic novel, part coffee-table book, part inspirational look at creativity.  Picture This poses its own question on the front cover: "DO YOU WISH YOU COULD DRAW?"  Like her earlier book, Picture This embraces a unique mix of artistic styles—cartoons, scrap paper art, cut paper mosaics, etc.  Also like the earlier book, many of the pictures are drawn on top of other things, so readers can clearly see the lines / words / colors of the previous (recycled) source material.  This technique will speak deeply to artists who remember how years ago (or maybe just days ago) they wanted to draw pictures in class but, with no blank paper available, they used whatever paper they could find instead.  This is not so much a "how to draw" book as a "look at these images and think about what and why we draw" book.  Any teens or adults who enjoyed What It Is will definitely enjoy this companion book.  It will also be an great read for any aspiring artists who want to think about the what and why of drawing and who are captivated by both words and pictures.  It will help if they are open-minded enough to be willing to take advice from Marlys and Arna, near-sighted monkeys, and imaginary creatures.


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