Monday, May 18, 2015


Second only to humming, drawing may be our most intimate art form.  Drawings can be personal and delicate and spontaneous.  They don't require corporate funding, batteries, committee approval or a fancy uniform. Works of genius can be scratched on a prison wall with a rusty bed spring.  As Roberta Smith wrote, drawings are "a direct extension of an artist's signature and very nervous system."

In my view, one of today's most interesting signatures belongs to Lynda Barry.  I find her work brilliant and hilarious, but most of all she is a true original.  Her distinctive voice has been untouched by the corporate deflavorizing machine.


The thing about drawing is that it works both ways; it's a direct way for an artist to project their ideas, but it's also a way for a viewer to look directly into an artist's nerve center, to see whether the artist really has anything to offer.  There is no faster way to reveal you are a fraud than through the medium of drawing. 

I've said many unkind things about punk drawing and the art in alternative comics; I find so much of the work in graphic novels to be lame, simplistic or prematurely weary.  But Barry strikes me as one who does it right.  She proves that a crude line can be beautiful, and perfectly suited to its content.  If you follow her line into her nerve center you find she is rich, complex, inventive, authentic and unfailingly smart.

 And unlike so many alternative comic artists, Barry understands the importance of design.

How often do you find work these days that is both true and a joy to read?


MORAN said...

She's unique.

Untitled said...

Believe it or not I met her in Pune, India. She and Matt Groening were at a conference there. She gave me this advice( on drawing, writing, cartooning):
1. Tell a story like you are on the phone
2. Always give your self less time than you have
3. Limitation brings structure
4. Limit yourself to a number of panels and then plan your story
5. She recommended Ivan Burnettis book : Cartooning: Practice and Philosophy

She was very forthcoming, friendly and she didnt mind that I had never heard of her until Matt Groening ( whom I had gone to see, told me to spend time with her and ask her for advice).

BTW she does not do email. She gave me a PO Box to write to and I have lost that address. I never did write her.

chris bennett said...

I'd liken your admiration for this to the way in which we enjoy the voice of a certain singer or playing style of a jazz musician. Their 'handwriting' vibe is distinctive and full of little surprises that continue to fascinate because regardless where they go with it, it simultaneously embodies and defines their distinctive hallmark (their subconscious world view) charming us with the charisma of authorship on the fly.

Anonymous said...

Love the mouth on that girl in the 5th example.


David Apatoff said...

MORAN-- Yes, she is what the lawyers call "sui generis."

Untitled-- Sounds like good advice to me. I will have to check out Ivan Burnetti's book. As far as I can tell, his cartoons demonstrate only a tiny fraction of Barry's talent and creativity, but it's possible he is a good writer on the subject.

Chris Bennett-- Yes, I think that's a good way to put it. Her cool jazz riffs on her childhood or on the relationships between men and women, or on human nature, provide a distinctive perspective that continually surprises us about familiar truths.

JSL-- A perfect example of how a crude punk style can be so much more effective than a sophisticated, representational look. In the second panel, her mouth extends all the way to the side of her head away from the cute blonde boy, in a marvelous "yeesh" expression while she is thinking her private thoughts about how awful this is. Then in the third panel, when she talks to the boy her mouth shifts to the side of her head closest to the boy, in a marvelous expression that conveys that she doesn't mean what she says. Barry really shows us what plasticity can be used for.

Matthew Harwood said...

Lynda Barry gave me profound insights into poetry in this short video

Untitled said...

Thanks David. The burnetti book is very small and is designed for beginners.

I am repeating a message i had posted elsewhere on your blog that you have not seen yet.
Hi David,

I wish there was a search engine on your blog for looking up illustrators. I recently saw a library book of drawings from Simplissimus. Eduard Thony was a revelation in design and composition of social scenes. Have you written about his work? I found it hard to find high quality images on the net to look at. Do you have any? Thanks

Untitled said...

And what do you know..everyone is talking about David Letterman:

Jono said...

I've always loved her work. I have a very beat-up poster of her Poodle With A Mohawk cartoon that I bought decades ago.

Picture of the poster (not my picture):

Obat Vimax said...

nice blog and article, thanks for sharing

David Apatoff said...

Amitabh-- I've seen Eduard Thony's work in Simplissimus and enjoyed it very much, but I never knew enough about him to contribute anything of value. There are some decent images on AskArt if you subscribe to their service, but nothing high resolution.

There were so many good artists in Simplissimus and in Jugend, handling such interesting subjects, I'd love to devote a year just to learning more about them. Can anyone else point to some good resources for Thony?

Tororo said...

With your permission, David: Thierry Robin's blog Illustration s'il vous plaït has some nice scans of Eduard Thöny's illustrations:öny

Annefesto said...

Ohhh my absolute favorite of all. In college in Chicago (where Ivan Brunetti wrote the school paper comic, yeah, it was a disembodied penis but that is another story), we were lucky enough to get The Reader with all the comics (NOT The Reader of today, which has none!). All over our fridge on 57th Street near the tracks, there you could find faded yellowed cut-out Ernie Pook's Comeek. It was so a part of our lives. Thank you for posting this.

David Apatoff said...

Tororo-- Thanks very much.

Annefesto-- Hey! I used to live on 57th street near the tracks.