Review by Woodrow Phoenix
There are very few comics creators with the ability to evoke total empathy and then use that identification with a character to wring your heart out like Lynda Barry. Her newspaper strip Ernie Pook’s Comeek featuring the incomparable Marlys and Freddy was syndicated across North America in alternative weeklies for two decades. She has also written three novels, Cruddy: An Illustrated Novel; Naked Ladies! Naked Ladies! Naked Ladies!; and The Good Times are Killing Me which was adapted into an off-Broadway play and won the Washington State Governor’s Award.
One! Hundred! Demons! is a book structured around a Japanese painting exercise using hand-ground inks and brushes. Barry used it to make strips that organise and categorize the ‘demons’ of her early life: the objects, places and situations that defined her childhood and teenage years. This collection of work previously appearing on Salon.com contains 17 ‘autobifictionalographic’ stories (“Is it autobiography if parts of it are not true? Is it fiction if parts of it are?”), presenting a variety of demons that include head lice, pretentious boyfriends, the way other people’s houses smell, strange beliefs that turn into ghosts, and how Al Gore lost the 2000 presidential election.
These strips follow the same basic format as earlier work, with text boxes filled with first-person commentary at the top of each panel, and stylized, cartoonily simple drawings underneath. These have the added benefit of much more space for the stories to spread into, and vivid water-colour hues to warm them up. These long narratives are funny, sweet, evocative and sometimes sad combinations of memories, reflections and observations that you just want to keep reading. Every one of these stories starts with what seems to be a simple observation but they all contain tremendous depth and after they suck you in, you are left thinking about these stories for days afterwards.
Barry has taught creative writing and drawing for years, and if you are interested in trying the one hundred demons exercise yourself, at the end of this book is a demonstration of the process. “Discovering the paint brush, inkstone, ink stick and resulting demons has been the most important thing to happen to me in years. Try it! You will dig it!” she says. Her book What It Is (2008), winner of the Eisner Award for Best Reality Based Graphic Novel, shows you how to adapt these and other creative methods to make your own work. There’s also a follow-up called Picture This: The Near-Sighted Monkey Book (2011) and most recently Syllabus: Notes From an Accidental Professor (2014) which explores the question ‘what is an image?’