cover image The Greatest of Marlys

The Greatest of Marlys

Lynda Barry. Sasquatch Books, $15.95 (224pp) ISBN 978-1-57061-260-2

Charmingly illustrated and written in the voices of fictional preadolescents, Barry's comics (The Freddie Stories) alternate between delightful comedy and un-self-conscious poetry. Her comics catalogue the incremental maturation of the smart but unpopular preteen Marlys; her painfully sensitive little brother, Freddie; her big sister, Maybonne; her cousins Arna and Arnold; and occasionally the various adults in their lives. The book collects more than 200 of her syndicated four-panel strip Ernie Pook's Comeek, in which Barry deftly maps the emotional terrain of Marlys and the inevitable social traumas inherent in growing up. Alternating among the voices of the family, Barry offers stories on difficult teachers (Mr. Valotto has sideburns, wears turtleneck dickeys and ""thinks he's hip""); boys (Marlys goes broke ""buying Twinkies to split with Kevin Turner""); Marlys's difficult mother (""five guys asked her to marry them before she picked my father, the worst mistake of her life"") and much more. While Barry can be funny presenting the silly escapades and fantasies of Marlys, Arna, Freddie and Arnold, her real talent is the very nearly poetic invocation of moments of pubescent joy and humiliation as well as of the wonder at the fast-approaching, mysterious state of being a teenager. Her black-and-white drawings are crudely drawn, yet lyrical and emotionally complex. (Sept.)