Lynda Barry

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Lynda Barry
Lynda Barry at APExpo 7714.jpg
Born Linda Jean Barry
(1956-01-02) January 2, 1956 (age 60)
Richland Center, Wisconsin, U.S.
Nationality American
Area(s) Cartoonist, Writer
Notable works
Ernie Pook's Comeek
The Good Times Are Killing Me
One! Hundred! Demons!

Lynda Jean Barry[1] (born January 2, 1956)[2] 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.[citation needed] 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.[3]

In recognition of her contributions to the comic art form, Comics Alliance listed Barry as one of twelve women cartoonists deserving of lifetime achievement recognition [4] and she received the Wisconsin Visual Art Lifetime Achievement Award in 2013.[5] She is currently an Assistant Professor of Interdisciplinary Creativity at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.[6]


Early life and education[edit]

Linda Jean Barry, who changed her first name to "Lynda" at age 12,[7] was born on Highway 14 in Richland Center, Wisconsin.[8]

Her father was a meat-cutter of Irish and Norwegian descent, and her mother, a hospital housekeeper, was of Irish and Filipino descent,[8] but Barry grew up in Seattle, Washington in an African-American neighborhood,[2] and recalled her childhood as difficult and awkward.[7][9] Her parents divorced when she was 12.[7] 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.[9] Neither of Barry's parents attended her graduation.[why?][7]

At Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington, Barry met fellow cartoonist Matt Groening.[10] She began her career in 1977[7] 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.[2][10]


Starting as a cartoonist early in life, Barry was known as the class cartoonist in her grade school. While studying fine arts at The Evergreen State 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.[11] She also credits her start in comics to Evergreen State College professor Marilyn Frasca, saying, "The lessons I learned from her when I was 19 and 20, I still use every day and have never been able to wear out."[12]

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.[9] 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.[2]

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.[11]

Due to the loss of weekly newspaper clients, Barry as of at least 2007 moved her line of comics primarily onto the web.[13][14][15]


Collections of Barry's comics began appearing in 1981.[16]

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;[17] 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. Time described the book as a collection that uses "acutely-observed humor to explore the pain of growing up." [18]

Barry has also published three books about the creative processes of writing and drawing. The books What It Is, Picture This, and Syllabus: Notes From an Accidental Professor focus on opening pathways to personal creativity. Publishers Weekly gave Syllabus a starred review and described it as "an excellent guide for those seeking to break out of whatever writing and drawing styles they have been stuck in, allowing them to reopen their brains to the possibility of new creativity."[19] The AV Club named Syllabus one of the best comics of 2014.[20]

In other media[edit]

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 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.[21][22]

Workshop and teaching[edit]

Lynda Barry signing What It Is at San Diego Comicon in 2008

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.[7] 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.[citation needed] A New York Times article about her writing workshops summed up her technique: "Barry isn't particularly interested in the writer’s craft. She's more interested in where ideas come from — and her goal is to help people tap into what she considers to be an innate creativity."[7]

In the spring term of 2012, Barry was artist in residence at the University of Wisconsin-Madison Arts Institute and Department of Art.[23] She taught a class, What It Is: Manually Shifting the Image.[24]

She joined the faculty of University of Wisconsin-Madison in 2013 as an assistant professor in the art department and through the Wisconsin Institute for Discovery.[25]

During September 24–28, 2012, Barry was the artist-in-residence at Capilano University in North Vancouver, British Columbia.[26]

Personal life[edit]

For a time, Barry dated public-radio personality Ira Glass, who moved to Chicago in 1989 to be with her.[27]

Barry is married to Kevin Kawula, a prairie restoration expert.[28] 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.[29] In 2002 they moved to a dairy farm near Footville, Wisconsin.[30]

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.[31] Regarding wind power, Barry has also spoken-out about noise pollution, possible health concerns, and efficiency problems related to variability.[32]

In 1994, Barry suffered a near-fatal case of dengue fever.[where?][7]



  1. ^ Lynda Jean Barry at the Lambiek Comiclopedia.
  2. ^ a b c d Powers, Thom (November 1989). "The Lynda Barry Interview". The Comics Journal (132). Archived from the original on April 14, 2011. 
  3. ^ Doran, Michael. "2009 Eisner Award Winners". Newsrama. Retrieved March 5, 2016. 
  4. ^
  5. ^ Schumacher, Mary Louise (May 14, 2013). "Wisconsin 'hall of fame' artists announced for 2013". The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel (Milwaukee Journal Sentinel). Retrieved March 5, 2016. 
  6. ^ "Lynda Barry Wisconsin Institute for Discovery". University of Wisconsin. Wisconsin Institute for Discovery. Retrieved March 5, 2016. 
  7. ^ a b c d e f g h Kois, Dan (October 27, 2011). "Lynda Barry Will Make You Believe In Yourself". The New York Times. Archived from the original on February 23, 2013. Retrieved October 27, 2011. 
  8. ^ a b "Lynda Barry: About". University of Wisconsin-Madison Arts Institute. Spring 2012. Archived from the original on April 24, 2012. Retrieved February 23, 2013. 
  9. ^ a b c Garden, Joe (December 8, 1999). "Interview: Lynda Barry". The A.V. Club. Archived from the original on December 22, 2010. Retrieved October 27, 2011. When Robert Roth at The Chicago Reader called me in Seattle and picked up my comic strip ... The Reader paid $80 per week. My rent was $99 a month. Lordy! I was rich. This was when I was 23, so around 1979-ish. 
  10. ^ a b Grossman, Pamela (May 18, 1999). "Barefoot on the Shag". Archived from the original on November 2, 2011. Retrieved March 20, 2008. 
  11. ^ a b Interview with Lynda Barry,; accessed July 31, 2015.
  12. ^ Mirk, Sarah (14 October 2010). "Why Do We Stop Drawing?". Portland Mercury. Retrieved 5 March 2016. 
  13. ^ Garrity, Shaenon K. (December 6, 2007). "All the Comics #4: Lynda Barry". Archived from the original on February 22, 2013. 
  14. ^ "Mixing Up Her Media: Lynda Barry". October 2, 2008. Archived from the original on February 23, 2013. 
  15. ^ Borrelli, Christoper (March 8, 2009). "Being Lynda Barry". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved October 26, 2011. 
  16. ^ Kirtley, Susan (January 25, 2012). Lynda Barry: Girlhood Through the Looking Glass. University Press of Mississippi. ISBN 978-1-61703-235-6. Retrieved March 5, 2016. 
  17. ^ "Lynda Barry profile". Retrieved March 5, 2016. 
  18. ^ Arnold, Andrew (October 18, 2002). "Making It Up As You Go Along". Time. Retrieved March 5, 2016. 
  19. ^ "Publishers Weekly Review of Syllabus". Publishers Weekly. October 2014. Retrieved March 5, 2016. 
  20. ^ O'Neil, Tim; Sava, Oliver. "The Best Comics for 2014". AV Club. The Onion. Retrieved March 5, 2016. 
  21. ^ "The Good Times Are Killing Me". Lortel Archives/The Off-Broadway Database (Lucille Lortel Foundation). Retrieved February 24, 2013. 
  22. ^ "The Good Times Are Killing Me". (Minetta Lane) Lortel Archives/Off-Broadway Database. Retrieved February 24, 2013. 
  23. ^ "Cartoonist and author Lynda Barry is spring artist in residence". UW-Madison News. January 18, 2012. Retrieved 20 January 2012. 
  24. ^ Wing, Dawn. "APA Author Interview — Lynda Barry, Madison, Wisconsin". Asian Pacific American Librarians Association. Asian Pacific American Librarians Association. Retrieved March 5, 2016. 
  25. ^ English, Marianne. "Cartoonist Lynda Barry Joins Art Department and WID Faculty". University of Wisconsin-Madison. Retrieved March 5, 2016. 
  26. ^ Barry as artist-in-residence at Capilano University,; accessed July 31, 2015.
  27. ^ Miner, Michael (November 20, 1998). "Ira Glass's Messy Divorce: What Becomes of the Brokenhearted?". Chicago Reader. Archived from the original on June 8, 2000. Retrieved March 15, 2007. 
    Barry: “I went out with him. It was the worst thing I ever did. When we broke up he gave me a watch and said I was boring and shallow, and I wasn't enough in the moment for him, and it was over.”
    Glass: “Anything bad she says about me I can confirm.”
  28. ^ Kino, Carol (May 11, 2008). "How to Think Like a Surreal Cartoonist". The New York Times. Archived from the original on January 2, 2012. Retrieved March 5, 2016. 
  29. ^ Lake Forest Open Lands website,; accessed March 5, 2016.
  30. ^ What It Is: Cartoonist Lynda Barry Speaks at Johns Hopkins,; accessed March 5, 2016.
  31. ^ Engage State Local Tribal Government: State – In My Backyard?. Wisconsin: Educational Communications Board. 2010. Archived from the original on February 24, 2012. Retrieved February 23, 2013. 
  32. ^ McCombie, Brian (September 10, 2009). "The war over wind". Madison Isthmus. Retrieved November 1, 2014. 

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