Shortly after the announcement of her MacArthur Fellowship (or “genius” grant), Lynda Barry released her latest graphic book, “Making Comics,” which encourages immersion in creativity. In this collection of exercises, Barry outlines how she encourages creativity among confident and even first-time students in drawing their own comics. The book takes cues from among other sources for inspiration, Ivan Brunetti’s “Cartooning: Philosophy and Practice,” Jorge Luis Borges, music, poems and cartoons.
“Making Comics” allows a reader to practice with timed exercises and a few simple supplies, and it’s a text that could also be used by teachers. If done within the short time limits that Barry suggests, it’s easy to see how these exercises emulate freewriting, or possibly free-imaging, since she suggests that images are the first language that we learn as children. The time limits also echo Brunetti’s idea that unexpected and exciting lines come from working quickly.
Some of the exercises include drawing one’s self as Batman, inventing animals and monsters, drawing Betty Boop from memory, building autobiographical stories and creating short silent strips without captions or dialogue. As the exercises evolve, Barry doesn’t make more complicated illustrations, but instead, employs other details such as dividing pages into panels and creating borders to frame the work. She talks about creating black space and patterns as major elements and part of the background, and ways to add text as the panels emerge and get longer. In doing so, stories by those who attempt the exercises emerge.
As the semester closes toward the book’s 200-page mark, you see how there can be further generative work with various bags, including a “word bag,” a “picture bag” and a “scene bag,” but Barry also discusses copying other drawings, keeping the pen moving in quick, timed flashes, and not throwing away drawings that can be revisited for inspiration later. She encourages everyone to try drawing, even if they have long ago given up on the act. Her sense of playfulness vibrates in the color and interactions between the whimsical characters in this book, but it offers a thoughtful, clear, step-by-step approach to generating creative work in words and pictures, which is daunting when a person is staring at a blank page and wondering how they could possibly begin.
“Making Comics” is very much aligned with the ideas presented on her Tumblr account “The Near-Sighted Monkey,” but even with that electronic presence, and other notable titles by Barry, such as “Syllabus,” “One! Hundred! Demons!” and “What It Is,” her process to start drawing in “Making Comics” is a delightful addition to her body of work.
By Lynda Barry
Drawn and Quarterly, 200 pages
Tara Betts is the author of “Break the Habit” and “Arc & Hue.” Her interviews and features have appeared in publications such as Hello Giggles, Mosaic Magazine, NYLON, The Source, Sixty Inches from Center, and Poetry magazine. She also hosts author chats at the Seminary Co-Op bookstores in Chicago’s Hyde Park neighborhood.