36c7648cc66b3f77a7f6a8550e12dfdaLynda Barry is not afraid to show herself on the page. Her alter-ego characters, like Marlys and the nearsighted sock monkey and Sea-Ma remind me of all the things we are to ourselves and the people in our lives. It’s a good reminder if you want to be the funk queen of the universe, start looking at the characters you’re bringing to the page. 

Matt Groening, creator of The Simpsons, dedicated one of his Life in Hell collections to Lynda Barry. I was only just getting into Life in Hell and had no idea who Lynda Barry was, but if she was the funk queen of the universe, I had to see for myself. I found her in Marlys, her terrific semi-autobiographical comic, and years later as a student, I found her again in What It Is, her creative writing text/art book.

61+6OwlIB3L._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Barry describes a lot of ways to get those images into words, just like every creative writing textbook you’ve been assigned. What it Is is different. Every page of the book is a collage, with layers of color and images and words – handwritten, typed, cut from magazines and encyclopedias.

At some point, stop reading the book for the exercises and start looking at the art as a way to leave words behind for a while. Lie on your back with the book overhead and turn it around so you can look at the images and words from a different angle and see if there’s something different in where they come together.

If you’re in a writing program, you may or may not hear much about the Process. If for Barry an image is “the formless thing which gives things form,” then the Process is the formless thing that moves you to write and, in a lot of cases, the thing that shuts your writing down. The book includes an illustrated story of how Barry became an artist, with all the doubts and fears that push writers to the sidelines. You’ll recognize yourself in her pages, and from there you can find your own images to keep writing.

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Elaine Kenny has worked as a paralegal, wedding officiant, tarot card reader, and a bartender before becoming a student. She attends Hamline University, working toward a BFA in Creative Writing.  

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