What It Is

What It Is

Graphic Novel - 2008
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"Deliciously drawn (with fragments of collage worked into each page), insightful and bubbling with delight in the process of artistic creation. A+" - Salon

How do objects summon memories? What do real images feel like? For decades, these types of questions have permeated the pages of Lynda Barry's compositions, with words attracting pictures and conjuring places through a pen that first and foremost keeps on moving. What It Is demonstrates a tried-and-true creative method that is playful, powerful, and accessible to anyone with an inquisitive wish to write or to remember. Composed of completely new material, each page of Barry's first Drawn & Quarterly book is a full-color collage that is not only a gentle guide to this process but an invigorating example of exactly what it is: "The ordinary is extraordinary."

Publisher: Montréal : Drawn & Quarterly, 2008.
Edition: 1st ed.
ISBN: 9781897299357
Branch Call Number: GRAPHIC 701.15 Barry 07/2008
Characteristics: 209 p. :,chiefly col. ill. ;,29 cm.


From Library Staff

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JCLMartyJ Sep 16, 2017

Wonderful graphic art journal with lots of ideas for writing. The library used this in working with young writers on the terrific Elementia, which is published each year by the library. This will get you thinking in a different view and possibly make you laugh. The idea is to try something new... Read More »

"Deliciously drawn (with fragments of collage worked into each page), insightful and bubbling with delight in the process of artistic creation. A+" --Salon How do objects summon memories? What do real images feel like? For decades, these types of questions have permeated the pages of Ly... Read More »

One of my favorite books to inspire creativity. The first half is a graphic novel about Lynda Barry's path to becoming a writer and artist. The second half is all interesting writing exercises that will get you through any writer's block!

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Sep 23, 2017

This book is a great way to get some imaginative writing exercises in. I also love the style of it's art- very eccentric. Although, my overall favorite parts of the book were the times she told the readers stories about her life and how she came to be a writer and a teacher. I could really feel the love in this book.

MirandaJo Feb 13, 2017

My first thought when paging through this book was of being taken aback. The collage style images in Lynda Barry's work is chaotic, colorful, and confusing. Barry raises questions about images, imagination, and memory in such a way that moves your brain into overdrive. Her style of writing and illustration is truly unique and definitely something to see for yourself!

Oct 15, 2014

I got this book because it was advertized as a helper for those who want to write. It says on the front, "Do you wish you could write?" But what I found was something else entirely. It is written in graphic novel/collage pages style. The pages appear to have been struck by a tornado as there are drawings and collage pieces all jumbled together and on top of each other with no flow. My eyes had no idea where to go to make sense of each page. What you see on the cover is what you get, but with less organization.

This book appears to be Lynda Barry's personal journey as she contemplates life. "What is, where is your imagination? Is it inside of you. How did it get there? What is it made of? Are you inside of it?" There are plenty of these questions, but unclear answers. There are A LOT of dark images. Black creatures with strange faces, a cut off head, abusive parents. Finally on page 137 of 210 you get to a section on writing activities. This is slightly more organized, but the pages are still very very busy. 137-173 are writing exercises, p. 174-188 is about how to make a writing kit and the final section contains journal page examples. I had to read through the book several times to figure out what these sections were.

There are a lot of great writing exercise books out there. I would not number this as one of them. I do not wish to read 136 pages of someone else's dark introversion before getting to the confusing writing exercises. Everything she offers as exercises I have seen before in more more creative and easy to use books. Since this is primarily a book about Barry's personal journey, it should not be labeled as a book of writing exercises. Only 15% of the book contains exercises. This should be labeled as a book to help you contemplate life instead. I have never given one star before, but this book does not meet a single one of my criteria for a quality publication.

multcolib_lauralw Mar 14, 2014

A unique vision about art and memory-Lynda Barry is a fascinating read.

Sep 08, 2010

What it is NOT is another book of funny drawings and stuff from Lynda Barry. Rather it is a tour de force of seemingly random, apparently silly, possibly pointless questions laced with potent memory shards that cut and slash with a thousand razor sharp edges.

At times you may ask yourself "Why am I reading THIS!? This is not my beautiful book!" Just when you try to put it down, the wind shifts and she takes you in hand and walks you through a world populated with Alice-like sea creatures, innocent notes from long dead children, and other flotsam that swirls around the planet in formerly unknown currents of air and sea.

Finally, it allows you to discover your own undiscovered country, to cry your own freedom, to walk your own Yul Brynner walk across the dusty square in some forgotten south of the border village.

When you finish and the book begins working its way through your system, you'll know that you've been through a world that no other book has ever taken you to. And there Lynda will be waiting for you at the end of your journey with a towel... because your forgot the cardinal rule of galactic hitchhiking.

Barry packs a real wallop with this book. I'm not kidding.

Oct 02, 2009

What is an idea made of? What is an image? What is the source of memory and imagination? What happens in our heads when we compose words or create anything? What happens in our heads when we read something? What are thoughts? How is thinking different from experiencing?

These are the kinds of questions Barry explores in What It Is. Her collage style may present an obstacle to people approaching this book with the left side of their brains, but her goal is to get people to play, to overcome internalized self-criticism and to embrace the notion of not-knowing-where-the-pen-is-taking-you. A right-brained way of acting.

"I have found that writing by hand slowly is faster than a computer-way of doing it, though I know it's not easy the way a computer is easy. Tapping a finger is not as complicated as making an original line in the shape of an S. Different parts of the brain are used when we make an S by hand and more of the body than a finger tap - and - images seem to come from this kind of being in motion." (Handwritten, with some letters coloured-in, some in all caps, some underlined, etc.)

This is the second time I've read this book and I know I'll be reading it again when I feel like being inspired to create.


Add Age Suitability
Oct 15, 2014

mmcbeth29 thinks this title is suitable for 12 years and over


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