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Lynda Barry

Graphic novelist and educator Lynda Barry.

Jason Marck

Cartoonist Lynda Barry Calls Us Back To The Drawing Board

Cartoonist and educator Lynda Barry is out with the new book “Making Comics,” a curriculum and exercise guide to comic storytelling.

Reset sat down with her to hear about the book and her recent 2019 MacArthur award.

On why anyone can make comics

Lynda Barry: One of the things that I run into over and over again when people find out I'm a cartoonist is people saying they wish they could draw, you know, and it's a wish that doesn't go away. And I got really interested in looking at comics as a way to change that, because not everybody can draw like Michelangelo, . but pretty much everyone can make comics. ... Most people quit drawing at about the age of … eight or nine. Usually it's an encounter with an adult who wasn't very smart or sensitive, but also, it's when a kid realizes they can't draw a nose.

One of the beautiful things about comics is comics [leap] right over that problem. You wouldn't want Charlie Brown or Bart Simpson with a hyperrealistic nose and hands. I mean, that would be kind of a horror comic, right? …. And so I thought, what if I can give people just the very basic, very basic language, and I can. I found that I can show people in about three minutes a very basic way to draw a figure and then show that they can start to make that figure move and do all these different things.

On the language of comics

Barry: I don't like drawing representationally as much as I love drawing freaky little comics … because the comics surprise me. They feel like I'm in a dialog with something that's a little bit out of my control, and they crack me up. … The ability for a comic, making a comic, to change your mood with just an index card and a flair pen — in a minute — that's interesting. ... I don't get that same feeling when I'm trying to ... draw ... a house that has the proper perspective. You know, that to me is — it's a completely different kind of drawing. You know, just like there are a lot of different languages, those are two different languages of drawing.

On the role of comics and drawing in her life

Barry: I’d say it actually saved my life. I'm 63. I’m going to be 64 very soon. And I was drawing this morning and I woke up — You know how it's gray out? I'm gray inside, it's November — and I just started drawing myself four scenes from yesterday as Batman. And by the end of it, I mean, in 12 minutes, I felt completely different. And that I could do it with just a pen and a composition notebook, you know. … Especially right now where things just feel so grim, this idea that you might have something in your pocket that's not your phone, but the size of your phone, a little index card that you might be able to use to transform your mood or make you start to pay attention to the world around you.

On winning a 2019 MacArthur award

Barry: I hung up on them like seven times because I thought it was a robocall, so it took them a long time to get a hold of me. And even then, I think a lot of people probably had this reaction where it just doesn't seem real. It still doesn't seem real. ... But every time I think about it, I laugh really well.

This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity. Click the “play” button to hear the entire conversation.

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