cover image What It Is

What It Is

Lynda Barry, . . Drawn & Quarterly, $24.95 (209pp) ISBN 978-1-897299-35-7

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)