WHAT IT IS reviewed by Entertainment Weekly

Viva 'Iron Man'!

Entertainment Weekly    |    Entertainment Weekly Staff    |    May 20, 2008

Lynda Barry's What It Is is a unique, transporting, inspirational book. The well-known underground comics artist (''Ernie Pook's Comeek''), memoirist (One! Hundred! Demons!), and novelist (Cruddy) offers with this volume a way to create art. Inspired by one of her college teachers' methods but marinated in Barry's own decades as an artist and writer, What It Is is filled with drawings, collages, diary entries, and paintings — all examples of work she has created via the deceptively simple techniques she propounds.

This beautifully designed volume is intended to look like the stuffed workbook of a vivid imagination, and as Barry insists, anyone with persistence, time, and will can create art of some degree of quality. I usually cringe at sentiments like this, not believing for a second that most of us possess one percent of the free-flowing creativity of Barry. But there's a lot to be said for Barry's open-hearted generosity, sincerity, and earnestness — her contagiously exciting belief that creating even the most amateurish art not only nourishes the soul but can lead to renewed clarity and purpose in life. I realize this sounds like a lot to heap upon a book of cartoony sketches and you-can-do-it-too advice, but What It Is is itself a fine work of art — not merely a valuable addition to Lynda Barry's achievements, but something of an explanation of how she achieved them. A — Ken Tucker



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