10 To Try – Graphic Novels with Lynda Barry

I don't think of myself as someone who reads comics or graphic novels, yet I am someone who faithfully clipped Ernie Pook's Comeek by Lynda Barry from the back pages of Seattle Weekly for years. This quirky strip focused on the daily adventures of young Marlys, her moody teenage sister Maybonne, and little brother Freddy (who was sensitive, gender nonconforming, and generally ahead of his time). The "comeeks" were often funny, but not jokey. The humor came from seeing the world through a child's eyes - the delight in acquiring an empty metal bandaid box, the thrill of running through the sprinkler on the first warm day of summer, or the satisfaction in seeking sweet revenge by whipping up a nice bowl of hair wad Jell-O for your enemy (add the wad of hair left in your brush in lieu of fruit or marshmallows). The last one still makes me snort because, seriously, how random and gross is that?!

The Greatest of Marlys

On the flip side, a fair amount of the "comeeks" dealt with the disappointing realities of being from the wrong side of the tracks - adults who worked crummy jobs and often let you down, moving in with cousins during tight times, even living in foster care. The tone could be bleak, but these slices of real life lent a sense of gravitas to Barry's work. Marlys and her siblings weren't just one-dimensional cartoons who served to deliver a punchline, they were as awkward and funny and weird and sad as any of us. They also prove that graphic novels don't necessarily mean Manga, superheroes, or collections of Sunday comics. If you take yourself to the 741.5 section of your library, your options will fan out in all directions, almost guaranteeing that you'll find the right match for you.


What It Is

If you need further reassurance, check out Lynda Barry's books on creating your own graphic novels, Syllabus and the appropriately named What It Is. Both explore the place where visual arts and the written word collide and encourage the reader to experiment with new forms of expression. There are no right or wrong answers, just as there is no one way to define the graphic novel.

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