Lynda Barry (born January 2, 1956) is an American cartoonist and author. One of the most successful non-mainstream American cartoonists, Barry is perhaps best known for her weekly comic strip Ernie Pook's Comeek. Barry's cartoons often view family life from the perspective of pre-teen girls from the wrong side of the tracks. She has also produced novels. She garnered attention with her book, The Good Times are Killing Me, about an interracial friendship between two young girls. The book was made into a play. Her novel Cruddy (2000) was well received.[1] One! Hundred! Demons! (2002), a graphic novel she terms "Autobiofictionalography," uses collage and a Zen Ink painting exercise to address personal and social topics. What It Is (2008) is a graphic novel that is part memoir, part collage and part workbook in which Barry instructs her readers in methods to open up their own creativity. What It Is won the 2009 Eisner Award for Best Reality-Based Work.

Early life and educationEdit

Born in Richland Center, Wisconsin, Barry moved as a child to Washington. She is one quarter-Filipina,[2] half Irish (each parent is half Irish), and one quarter Norwegian. She attended Kimball Elementary School on Seattle's Beacon Hill and used some of her experiences there as an inspiration for her work. Barry hints that her childhood was very unhappy.[3][4] Barry′s parents divorced when she was 12, the same year in which Barry changed the spelling of her name from “Linda” to “Lynda”.[3] By age 16, Barry was working nightly as a janitor at a Seattle hospital while still attending high school.[3] Neither of Barry′s parents attended her graduation.[3]

She went to the same high school as artist Charles Burns.[4] At The Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington she met fellow cartoonist Matt Groening, who first published "Ernie Pook's Comeek" in the school paper without her knowledge.[5]

Career in comicsEdit

After graduating from Evergreen she moved to Seattle. When she was 23, the Chicago Reader picked up her comic strip, enabling her to make a living from her comics alone.[4] She later moved to Chicago, Illinois. While Barry's work is humorous, the undertones are usually serious. It depicts life as harsh but occasionally joyful. Her work addresses themes of intolerance and psychic pain, and at times includes some starkly left-wing political commentary.

Barry's comics do not strive to depict beauty or demonstrate artistic virtuosity, and in that sense are similar to the works of her peers Matt Groening (like her, a graduate of The Evergreen State College), Lloyd Dangle, and Mark Alan Stamaty. For all their grubbiness, though, these comics are extremely expressive and evocative.

The visual aspect of her work follows the verbal. She has an extreme facility in reproducing the voices of children and adolescents with the psychological depth and humanity of those characters. While unconventionally rendered, they carry an undeniable psychic charge legible in the context of her writing.

Barry's early work was rendered with pen and had a distinctly New Wave, '80s look. She later told The Comics Journal that she was forced to give up the pen because it was hurting her wrist, turning to a brush which gave her work a much looser, child-like quality.

In her latest books, One! Hundred! Demons! and What It Is, she works with color and collage. These works possess a vitality and visual beauty few would deny. Opening with tens of pages that combine collage with the thesis of the book, What It Is expands the genre of the graphic novel, bringing its bounds closer on one side to collage and on another to the picture book.

Barry has moved her line of comics primarily onto the web.[6][7][8]

Books Edit

Barry's books include The Good Times are Killing Me, which was adapted into a musical play that ran off-Broadway; The Greatest of Marlys; The Freddie Stories; Cruddy: An Illustrated Novel; One! Hundred! Demons!, a collection of the series published in venues such as; and, most recently, What It Is and Picture This.

Her backlist includes Everything in the World, The Fun House, It's So Magic, Naked Ladies Naked Ladies Naked Ladies (1984), Shake a Tail Feather, Down the Street, Big Ideas (1983), Come Over Come Over, Girls and Boys (1981), and My Perfect Life.

The book ONE! HUNDRED! DEMONS! first appeared as a serialized comic on, then as a hardcover book from Sasquatch Books. According to the book's own introduction, it was produced in emulation of an old Zen painting exercise called "one hundred demons." In this exercise, the practitioner awaits the arrival of demons and then paints them as they arise in the mind. This is done, one supposes, as a form of exorcism. The demons Barry wrestles with in this book are, among others, regret, abusive relationships, self-consciousness, the prohibition against feeling hate, and her response to the results of the 2000 U.S. presidential elections.

The book contains an instructional section that encourages readers to take up the brush and follow her example.

Workshop Edit

Barry offers a workshop titled "Writing the Unthinkable" through the Omega Institute in Rhinebeck, New York, and The Crossings in Austin, Texas, in which she teaches the process she uses to create all of her work. Barry conducts approximately 15 writing workshops around the country each year.[3] She credits her teacher, Marilyn Frasca at The Evergreen State College, with teaching her these creativity and writing techniques.

Barry is also a big fan of Mary Parker Follett's Creative Experience.

Many of these techniques appear in her book What It Is.

Other published work Edit

Lynda Barry's spoken-word CD The Lynda Barry Experience contains a variety of her semi-autobiographical stories, such as "I Got an Accordion", "Good Grief, It's the Aswang", "The Lesbo Story", and "I Remember Mike". It also contains a variety of home-made answering machine outgoing messages.


While they were still in college together, Matt Groening proposed to Lynda, who declined. He still notes, whenever he mentions her in print, that she is “Funk Queen of the Galaxy”, in response to her references to him as “Funk Lord of USA”.[9]

For a time, Barry dated public-radio personality Ira Glass, who moved to Chicago in 1989 to be with her. Barry does not remember the relationship fondly. The louse in her excellent One! Hundred! Demons story “Head Lice and My Worst Boyfriend” has been identified as Ira Glass. She is quoted in a 1998 Chicago Reader article as saying of Glass, “I went out with him. It was the worst thing I ever did. When we broke up he gave me a watch and said I was boring and shallow, and I wasn't enough in the moment for him, and it was over.” Glass confirms, “Anything bad she says about me I can confirm.”[10]

Barry is married to Kevin Kawula, a prairie restoration expert.[11] They met each other while she was an artist-in-residence at the Ragdale Foundation and he was land manager of the Lake Forest Open Lands project in Lake Forest, Illinois.[12] They live on a farm near Footville, Wisconsin.[13]

In 1994, Barry suffered a near-fatal case of dengue fever.[3]

She is a vegetarian and says she came to it slowly.[14]

More recently, she has become an outspoken critic of wind power.[15]

Selected publicationsEdit

  • The Lynda Barry Experience (1993)
  • Cruddy (2000)
  • The Good Times are Killing Me (2002)
  • What It Is (2008)
  • Picture This (2010)

Further readingEdit

External linksEdit


  2. Lynda Barry – Cartoonist, Novelist, and Filipina Redhead: Reads The! Greatest! of! Marlys!
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 3.4 3.5 NY Times: "Lynda Barry Will Make You Believe In Yourself"
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 A.V. Club interview
  5. Barefoot on the Shag]
  6. Lynda Barry is moving her comics online Shaenon K. Garrity, 2007-12-06
  7. An interview with the Washington Post's Express about Barry's life and "What It Is" 2008-10-02
  8. Chicago Tribune: Being Lynda Barry
  9. Comics Review Sunday Interview: Lynda Barry, June 29, 2008
  10. Ira Glass's Messy Divorce: What Becomes of the Brokenhearted?
  11. The New York Times, "How to Think Like a Surreal Cartoonist"
  13. What It Is: Cartoonist Lynda Barry Speaks at Johns Hopkins
  14. lynda barry: "are you a recluse?"
  15. ENGAGE Government: STATE - In My Backyard?
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