At the 2010 Alternative Press Expo
|Born||Linda Jean Barry
January 2, 1956
Richland Center, Wisconsin
|Ernie Pook's Comeek
The Good Times Are Killing Me
Lynda Jean Barry (born January 2, 1956) is an American cartoonist and author. Barry is best known for her weekly comic strip Ernie Pook's Comeek. She garnered attention with her 1988 illustrated novel The Good Times are Killing Me, about an interracial friendship between two young girls, which was made into a play. Her second illustrated novel Cruddy appeared in 1999. Three years later she published One! Hundred! Demons!, a graphic novel she terms "Autobiofictionalography". 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; it won the comics industry's 2009 Eisner Award for Best Reality-Based Work.
Early life and education
Linda Jean Barry, who changed her first name to "Lynda" at age 12, was born on Highway 14 in Richland Center, Wisconsin. Her father was a meat-cutter of Irish and Norwegian descent, and her mother, a hospital housekeeper, was Irish and Filipina.
Barry grew up in Seattle, Washington, in an African-American neighborhood, and recalled her childhood as difficult and awkward. Her parents divorced when she was 12. By age 16, she was working nightly as a janitor at a Seattle hospital while still attending high school, where her classmates included artist Charles Burns. Neither of Barry′s parents attended her graduation.
At The Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington, Barry met fellow cartoonist Matt Groening. She began her career in 1977 when he and University of Washington Daily student editor John Keister each published her work, which they titled Ernie Pook's Comeek, in their respective student newspapers without her knowledge.
Starting as a cartoonist early in life, Barry was known as the class cartoonist in her grade school. While a fine arts major at Evergreen College she began drawing comic strips compulsively when her boyfriend left her for another girl: “I couldn’t sleep after that, and I started making comic strips about men and women. The men were cactuses and the women were women, and the cactuses were trying to convince the women to go to bed with them, and the women were constantly thinking it over but finally deciding it wouldn’t be a good idea.” These were the cartoons Matt Groening and John Keister published as Ernie Pook's Comeeks in the school newspaper.
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. She later moved to Chicago, Illinois. As she described her career start,
[Editor] Bob Roth called me from the Chicago Reader as the result of an article [her college classmate] Matt [Groening] wrote about hip West Coast artists — he threw me in just because he was a buddy, right? And then Bob Roth ... called and wanted to see my comic strips, and I didn’t have any originals. I didn’t know anything about originals, that you don’t give them to newspapers because newspapers lose them. So I had to draw a whole set that night and Federal Express them. So I did, and he started printing them, and he paid $80 a week, and I could live off of that. And because he’s with this newspaper association, the other papers started picking it up. So it was luck. Sheer luck. [Matt] got into the Los Angeles Reader. For a long time the Los Angeles Reader wouldn’t print me, and the Chicago Reader wouldn’t print Matt even though they’re sister publications. So we both worked on the publishers and the editors to get each other in. It was really funny: when we got into each others’ papers, everything sort of took off for both of us.
Collections of her work include Girls & Boys (’81), Big Ideas (’83), Everything in the World (’86), The Fun House (’87), and Down the Street (’89). In 1984, she released a coloring book with brief text called Naked Ladies! Naked Ladies! Naked Ladies! She also wrote and drew a full-page color strip examining the everyday pathology of relationships for Esquire. In 1989 Barry’s strip appeared weekly in more than 50 publications, mostly alternative newspapers in large cities.
Barry's early work was rendered with pen. In her books One! Hundred! Demons! and What It Is, she works with color and collage.
Due to the loss of weekly newspaper clients, Barry as of at least 2007 moved her line of comics primarily onto the web.
Collections of Barry's comics began appearing in 1981. In addition, she has written two illustrated novels, The Good Times are Killing Me (1988) and Cruddy, also known as Cruddy: An Illustrated Novel (1999). Barry adapted the former as an Off-Broadway play (see below). One! Hundred! Demons! first appeared as a serialized comic on Salon.com; according to the book's 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. 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.
In other media
Barry adapted her illustrated novel The Good Times are Killing Me (1988) as an Off-Broadway play that ran 106 performances from March 26 to June 23, 1991, at the McGinn-Cazale Theatre at 2162 Broadway, then 136 performances from July 30 to November 24, 1991, after transferring to the Minetta Lane Theatre. It was produced by Second Stage Theatre, with the Minetta Lane portion also produced by Concert Productions International, and directed by Mark Brokaw. Angela Goethals won a 1990–91 Obie Award for her lead role as Edna Arkins. Chandra Wilson as Bonna Willis won a 1991 Theatre World Award. Barry was nominated for the 1992 Outer Critics Circle's John Gassner Award.
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.
Workshop and teaching
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. She credits her teacher, Marilyn Frasca at The Evergreen State College, with teaching her these creativity and writing techniques. Many of these techniques appear in her book What It Is.
In the spring term of 2012, Barry was artist in residence at the University of Wisconsin-Madison Arts Institute and Department of Art. She taught a class titled "What It Is: Manually Shifting the Image."
During September 24–28, 2012, Barry was the artist-in-residence at Capilano University in North Vancouver, British Columbia.
For a time, Barry dated public-radio personality Ira Glass, who moved to Chicago in 1989 to be with her.
In 1994, Barry suffered a near-fatal case of dengue fever.
Barry is married to Kevin Kawula, a prairie restoration expert. 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. In 2002 they moved to a dairy farm near Footville, Wisconsin.
She is an outspoken critic of wind turbines and has lobbied the Wisconsin government for clearer zoning regulations for turbines being built in residential areas. Regarding wind power, Barry has also spoken-out about noise pollution, possible health concerns, and efficiency problems related to variability.