WHAT IT IS reviewed by Time Out New York

What It Is

Time Out New York    |    Ariel Schrag    |    May 29, 2008

Lynda Barry's latest book is both an instruction manual on creativity and an outpouring of questions about the nature of memory, imagination and art. What It Is begins with a comic about Barry, best known for her weekly strip Ernie Pook's Comeek, struggling with the uncontrollable, compulsive tendencies of her thoughts-but we soon learn it is the mind's very independence that allows images and stories to come to us effortlessly if we'd just stop "trying."

Much of Barry's advice involves losing the self-consciousness of adulthood and recapturing the way you thought as a child. Kids play and create with purity of intent-not unlike Barry, whose work has an undeniable sincerity.

The book interweaves pages of comics and collage. The comics chronicle Barry's relationship with art throughout her life, including a heartbreaking story in which 10-year-old Barry earnestly applies to a "Do You Have Hidden Artistic Talent?" scam ad in the back of a magazine. Meanwhile, the collage pages jump-start the imagination with questions ("Did you ever have a toy that scared you?") and sentence fragments varying from the surreal ("Locomotive is my name") to the insistent ("Pretend you are a writer").

The book suffers a little from the frequent shifts between mediums: The comics themselves are a mesmerizing Disneyland ride, but looking at the collages is often more like just walking around the park. The various sections also contain quite a bit of repetition. Still, Barry composes with such urgency-you need to break free and start creating now or it will be too late-that it builds into an inspirational chant. And to answer the most important question: Does this book make you want to sit down and start creating? Absolutely.

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