Lynda Barry is one of the most well-loved cartoonists alive, and I'm embarrassed to admit that it wasn't until reading a recent article in the New York Times Magazine—the widely circulated "Lynda Barry Will Make You Believe in Yourself," about Barry's creative-writing workshops—that I really took a look at her work. Now's a great time to dive in, though: Drawn and Quarterly just released Blabber Blabber Blabber: Volume 1 of Everything, which collects Barry's comics from 1978-1981.
Blabber collects the entirety of her newspaper strip Ernie Pook's Comeek, as well as her early books Two Sisters and Girls and Boys. Barry packs a world full of surreal humor into her simple black-and-white, four-panel line drawings, from a dog who thinks he's a toaster to two serious twin girls whose active imaginations bring strange realities into being. In her insightful illustrated intro, Barry unpacks some of her earliest influences: Dr. Seuss' marriage of image and word, which "carried so many of us over the bridge of not being able to read without abandoning the other part of us"; the disturbing illustrations in a Ripley's Believe It or Not comic; the jittery "living lines" of R. Crumb. She also reflects on her later influences of Gary Panter and Matt Groening (to whom the book is dedicated), and describes her own exploration of the tension between bitterness, sweetness, and some "third thing" that "brings about a feeling-change when we read comics."
Some of these comics are more than 30 years old, but they still feel as fresh and funny as they must have when they appeared for the first time. Equally as compelling are her new introduction pages, which convey the same insight and generosity of spirit that shone in the Times Magazine piece. If, like me, you haven't read much of Barry's work, this is a great place to start; for fans, this reissue of long out-of-print material is a must have. ALISON HALLETT