lynda-barry-what-it-is-drawn-quarterlyA tepid reader who first gazes upon this book may shy away from breaching its pages. The captivating collages of magazine cutouts, mammalian illustrations mounted in magic and glittered fascination of a helpful cephalopod can seem discordant for most, but the celebrated world Lynda Barry has created for the imagination and inspiration is actually most harmonious. It would be a dereliction of doting, which she attempts to reinstate for the sake of one’s imagination we all once probably had as children and few of us have foster in our adulthood. What Is It happens to be the catalyst for minds needing a helping hand.

She may hesitantly refer to it as a textbook, not wanting to classify it, being the author’s only description for the book though even describing it as an activity book, which is apt considering the pedagogy in the last third, doesn’t do it justice. Barry does what artists often do is the device of having the audience arrive to their own conclusions. Whether packaged as a textbook or a freeform, visual barrage of considerable interest, one does learn or maybe invite back memories of youth, something safe to the say is what the author intends.

As an earnest textbook, these lessons complied here are something of a compendium to Barry’s Writing the Unthinkable, her creative writing class. Though to also state that this is a book only for writers needing inspiration would be wholly short on the understanding what Barry has created. We see the illustrative techniques that Barry uses, she incorporates found objects building structure and stories by overlaying cutouts with her own hand-drawn rendering as the visual aids in a maxim of her’s, pictures can help us find words to help us find images. The phrase being of a snake biting it’s tail conjures the continuous effort to keep the creative juices flowing. “What It Is” isn’t all writing activities for inspiration, there is Barry’s story-telling she injects as the opener.

The personal narrative starting with her childhood and weaved within the first two-thirds tells of the author’s vivid imagination coping with barren inspirational life that existed growing up. A childhood experience of parental neglect, as a young girl, she conjured for comfort a method of waiting or more like meditating on inanimate objects to tell her stories. These objects being of toys or characters in magazines or television’s revelry on a child’s imagination speak to the author and by way of her, divulges an intimacy that locks the reader to the narrative.

It would be a mistake to turn away from these pages. One might find personal particulars relatable to Barry’s childhood. These particulars present themselves in wonderful illustrative forms and fashion harkening one’s memory to their own experiences. An old song playing in the background or a smell sparking a memory can be turned into her catalyst which she’ll have intertwined elements ready for your own narrative to react to. The small drops dripping from your conscience will be flooded by the innate voice ready to replenish the drought of your riverbeds of creativity.

What It Is commands a mouthful of descriptions that may be difficult for a person not familiar with her style, but all the better for it when you take the time to bond with its content. Barry’s has created a wonderful book that balances a narrative that delves in things of the past that can be the fodder for the expulsion of one’s memories for her lessons bringing full circle a fun read and even better, inspiring exploration in one’s creative deep waters.

“What It Is: The Formless Thing Which Gives Things Form” by Lynda Barry. Drawn and Quarterly, 2008.

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