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Sushi: One Hundred Demons by Lynda Barry

Because I’ve had the opportunity to read both One Hundred Demons and The Freddie Stories by Lynda Barry, I find myself in a good place to talk about her work and how it differs from the norm. After reading One Hundred Demons I noticed that Barry’s style works particularly well in strips – though I’m sure she would succeed in any storytelling format she chooses. Her stories are just so… rich. One Hundred Demons especially capitalizes on Barry’s past. What we have in this collection of fears and anxieties is an autobiographical (fictional?) account of adolescence, life, and family. The beginning of the novel even muses on itself, when Barry asks: “Is it autobiography if parts of it are not true? Is it fiction if parts of it are?” (7). While these questions probably aren’t the easiest to answer, what has been created is a masterful work, filled with quirky images, profound stories, and even a few demons of my own.

The concept of the book is fascinating. After reading about the practice of drawing demons (by Hakuin Ekaku, a 16th Century Japanese monk), Barry sets out to chronicle her own. There’s headlice, and Magic, and Dogs, and Dancing, and a whole bunch of others thrown in – most of the demons seem to take a meaning that isn’t so clear. For instance, headlice would seem a normal demon… but dancing involves a much more heart wrenching explanation. Barry is really opening herself up for the reader in this compilation, something that writers strive for but are often so loathe to do. The bravery of it is unparalleled.

Some of the best things about One Hundred Demons are the tender moments that Barry invites the reader to experience. These moments span across childhood, puberty, and even into recent years. One of the most touching has to be the Magic demon (99). I also think of this section as the ‘hello’ demon, and while it says an amazing amount about puberty and music, what really touched me was Lynda’s relationship with Ev. In the final panel Lynda writes: “Ev, if you’re reading this, hello, it’s me.” (108). What a fantastic and sad moment. Looking back, I believe it will be this section that truly breaks my heart. The regrets of childhood and of our teen years are ever present in our adult years. What can we do to wash them away? Do we hear a cicada and think of the past – always? Barry is so talented – but also so fortunate to have this platform to stand on. Art can change our lives, and for Barry, One Hundred Demons is as much a reflecting tool as it is a means of creation. One wonders if Ev ever picked up the book, or if Barry has yet to achieve the notoriety that would allow her message to be received. Something about that message seems so desperate and haunting. It’s a message that was never intended for me.

Concerning the art and style, One Hundred Demons is Lynda Barry through and through. Of course, there are a lot more interesting artistic effects taking place in this collection of demons. The title pages make use of collages – taking photos, paper foldings, newspaper clippings, and physical objects; all to make the demons ‘pop’. Although this isn’t a traditional graphic novel approach, it just shows the skill that Barry has on the page. She has tried everything. At the end of the book (at least the copy I have) there is an instructional approach to beginning with a brush and inkstone (draw your demons!). Barry writes that she tries drawing on typing paper, wrapping paper, paper bags, and any paper she can get her hands on! The point, in bringing up her method, is to show that, as an artist, Barry is truly interested in the survival of her craft. She wants others to know and continue making comics – and this is truly commendable.

In my own journeys through Barry’s demons, I found myself very familiar with the pangs of adolescence – but also surprised at Lynda’s experiences. Her illustrations and texts reveal a shocking amount about her personal life – things that I don’t know if I would be willing to share. But I know that is what artists do. Those deep down emotions are what people want to hear about, to relate to, and to remember that they are humans. Barry continues to stun me with her work. If anyone needs me – I’ll be drawing demons.