Friday, December 18, 2009

On Our Shelves: 741.5 BAR

What It Is by Lynda Barry

"What It Is is many things. Part autobiographical comic, part watercolor and collage, part instructional manual, and part workbook, the book is that rare breed that tries to be many thing at once and succeeds in its own grand ambitions, transitioning from one section to the next rather gracefully. Author Lynda Barry successfully arranges the different parts of the book so that they compliment each other nicely, giving each other value and depth that they wouldn’t necessarily have on their own.

What It Is would be far less interesting as a straight autobiography. Or just collage. Or a book about how to write. Barry’s collage pages, which reveal some of the inner workings of her mind with their clever and thoughtful essay questions—“When images come to us, where do they come from?”—resonate with her autobiographical comics because of the thematic links she creates. The comics depicting Barry’s personal struggle to find her own creativity and maintain it make the writing instruction section much less pedantic and much more exciting, because we know that she’s struggled as we have. The existence of the book itself gives the how-to section credibility as well, because knowing that Barry has created such a fantastic work using the methods she teaches means there’s gotta be something to it.

At the very end of the book, Barry includes some of the pages from her side notebook—the pad she keeps at her side while working so that she will have a place to doodle and keep her pen moving when her mind draws a blank. These pages are the best part of What It Is. A chance to see someone else’s doodles—the unaffected, spontaneous wanderings of someone else’s mind—is rare, particularly someone as creative and talented as Barry. She has created a deliberately complicated book for our benefit, and the result is fantastic."

Read the complete review by Jillian Steinhauer as well as other reviews of graphic novels and comics at The Daily Cross Hatch

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