Chanler Brown: One Hundred Demons by Lynda Barry

For this paper, I read the graphic novel, One Hundred Demons by Lynda Barry. Barry’s novel is similar to Kochalka’s series, American Elf since her life is the main plot and focus. Like the title, Barry divulges into instances from her life that could be considered a demon, or something negative. For example, the first demon she discussed was about her first love and how much he differed from one of her boyfriends. This was considered a demon to her because of how he treated her and how she felt better off without him. In a way, this novel is Barry’s method of expressing her negative moments and sharing them to the public. Not only does this graphic novel encourage others to speak about their demons, Barry is healing herself from her negative experiences while sharing them so others can relate to her story.

The front cover of One Hundred Demons reflects the art style and subject matter of the graphic novel. Designed in a scrapbook like fashion, Barry has an array of colors and medias that make up the front cover. A reader can see a collage of paintings, glitter, photographs, scraps of paper, lace, string and ink that give the cover a disorganized feel. Like the rest of the novel, the art functions as a collection of memories thrown together. The cover follows a color scheme that is used throughout the book as background colors and colors frequently used in the illustrations.

The inside of the book is similar to the cover with the expression of Barry’s imagination. In the first few pages, the collage-esque theme is continued with the use of mixed medias to design each page. The colors; orange, purple, green, and pink are used in these illustrations and for the background covers. On the borders of these pages are doodles of monsters and animals. This clash demonstrates Barry’s childhood innocence and the negative experiences she endured.

The structure of this graphic novel is fluid and diverse. The front cover, the title of each chapter, and a few pages in between, have the collage/scrapbook type style. The actual chapters and strips are more uniform and structured. Each page had 4 panels and each chapter was 12 pages long. Collaborating with the chapter title pages, the background of each chapter matched. For example, if the title chapter pages had a color scheme of green, then the actual chapter had green backgrounds to fill the space in between panels. This method makes each chapter, or situation, more isolated in comparison to the other chapters.

Plot wise, each chapter wasn’t in chronological order, but told by the instance. By isolating each story, it continues with the scrapbook theme and tone by explaining each situation in moments. Traditionally, when organizing a scrapbook or a memory book, one goes about this by picking out key memories or putting them in chronological order. Putting them in chronological order can be confusing when telling a story, fiction or non-fiction in the way Barry does, since too much information will be told without a real purpose. Barry’s structure organizes her life experiences in such a way that her readers will be able to understand her demons and how they affected her.

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Dylann Kelly: One Hundred Demons by Lynda Barry

February 4

Impressions of Assigned Books

I have already studied Lynda Barry’s Persepolis, What It Is, and One Hundred Demons. I am currently getting through Syllabus. My favorite is One Hundred Demons because it is memoir. Although I admire Barry and enjoy the content of all her books, I am overwhelmed when I try to read them. I can only manage small sections and sense I experience what people with sensory overload must feel at a carnival. I love the colors and drawings, but find relief when she occasionally writes marginal notes or columns without the drawings. Still, I am excited to study her work and thrilled that I will see and hear her speak in our city this spring!

Perhaps some of my “attention disorder” is related to my age and experience. I have an overwhelming sense that there is not enough time to do all I want to accomplish in the time I have left (though I don’t know how much time that is, as does no one). It’s not just Barry’s work…it’s everything, from eating a meal to making time to sleep.

So, with the instructors indulgence, for this first report (I will address the other reserved books) I am excited to report that I have found a graphic novel which I believe will advance my work! It’s 5 Centimeters per Second by Makoto Shinkai. The artist is Yukiko Seike. I found it while looking through graphic novels at Barnes and Noble bookstore. I wanted to give it to my granddaughter, but decided it was unsuitable for her age due to one very well depicted panel that is beyond her innocence.

I was just as happy to keep 5 Centimeters per Second as a tool to use this semester. My perspective is changing already! The panels are beautifully drawn without “clutter” but with wonderful backgrounds. This book seems to have more close and distance shots from all angles, reminding me more of photographic perspective.

Perhaps it is my age that makes it difficult for me to leave reality based stories and embrace fantasy as a genre on which I should spend my time. I do enjoy reading it sometimes, but I don’t feel I can accomplish what I need to do if I focus on it. This is what I enjoy about Barry’s work: It is based in reality.

Philip Sterwerf: The Freddie Stories by Lynda Barry

Lynda Berry’s The Freddie Stories

The Freddie Stories is a collection of four-panel stories involving the mentally-scarred little boy character named Freddie, and the countless and continuous predicaments he winds up in. Many themes are explored with this simplistic design of storytelling, such as trauma, parental neglect, race relations, and basically, tragedy altogether. It is truly amazing how these elements can be explored through the basic ‘doot-doot-doot-doot’ comic storytelling.

While the art seems crude and amateur, Lynda Berry uses her style to give the piece as a whole a more child-like approach. This aspect makes the brutal situations such as the house burning down, and Freddie’s skeletal hallucinations, more traumatic in atmosphere. It is an unspoken rule in storytelling, that in order to make something seem more dramatic, add a child. Since the main character is a child, it works very well, pulling on the readers’ emotions.

Of course, art like this, with dramatic scenes and traumatic characters, needs some comedy to lighten up the tone. No reader really wants to be thrown in the depth of Hell and be burned forever. Berry seems to know this, and deals with the grotesque and dark with dark humor, like Mr. File’s nose spray. This gives the readers a break from the dramatic tension, and it doesn’t drop the overbearing tone. There are sad moments, and funny sad moments.

As a fan of Will Eisner and Dave Gibbons/Alan Moore, I have to say my instinctual feeling from reading a graphic novel is thwarted. Usually, graphic novels give an equal balance in written words, and drawn emotions/explanations in order to make a great reading experience that uses both parts of the brain. I did not get this feeling from The Freddie Stories. I enjoyed the writing, and I enjoyed the art, but where it fell short was how dependent the drawings were to the words. It seems Berry is more of a writer than an artist, which I understand completely, but the art needs to have more of an effect on the words in order for me to absorb it the way where it completely absorbs me. This idea is mainly the difference between illustrated books and graphic novels.

To contradict myself, there is a fantastic example of what I mean on pages, 50-51 in the four panels titled, “Overheard.” In panel three, it shows Glenn the Spaceman by himself, and panel four shows Freddie surrounded by a large, darkened crowd of other kids. The disconnect between panel three and panel four work well with the comparison of Glenn being alone and Freddie being surrounded to bring out more emotion to the words; “ ‘I’m not his friend,’ I said, ‘I just know him.” It was true. But if I had known he was standing right there, I never would have said it” (51). The book had moments like this, but since every four panels are supposed to hold a single point of the story, I think there should’ve been more visual-written mastering. Many comic writers use the space between panels to execute the emotional hold of a story.

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.

Lydia Funnel: The Freddie Stories by Lynda Barry

On Lynda Barry’s The Freddie Stories

It’s not possible to talk about Lynda Barry’s The Freddie Stories without talking about voice. In the best case scenario with any comic, something about the images—a discourse in their own right—should feel not just akin, but vital to the text. In this way, voices mingle and create an experience that feels wider reaching even than the novel; and in a smaller space. Barry’s speaker—the completely flawed and flappable Freddie grounds the narration throughout time and circumstance. Freddie’s is a voice that’s at once devious and sensitive, troubled and sure, mature and very, very young. And the pictures can’t be separated. Barry’s images and lettering are not just hers. They also belong to Freddie. They are as much his creation as hers, and in that way, The Freddie Stories transcend their original serial form. They’re a cohesive scrapbook of what it’s like to be a kid by a character who, without regard for traditional realism, writes one of the most real stories about the passage of time that I’ve ever read.

Barry’s collection of comics—each only four panels—begins properly with a comic titled, “Cooking with Freddie.” It’s a first-person instructional comic on how to make a fried baloney sandwich, and it includes drawings that are meant to look like Freddie’s own. There are even speech balloons in the comic and labels that only Freddie could have included like, “ß(She is floating on the odor)” (Barry 7). It’s important, I think, that even though these comics were published over the course of years, they began as the creation of a character. Because Freddie is such a dynamic, young, and active character (with an equally active inner life), there’s an inevitability to the story he creates alongside the author.

Barry’s drawings in The Freddie Stories, like many of her comics, are often criticized with words like ugly, scratchy, messy, or childlike. Likewise, her panels are sometimes overtaken with her large lettering and disproportionate text. But to the reader who buys into the possessive implied in the title—that these stories are Freddie’s—these visual elements feel completely at home. The manic lines and the darkness of many of Barry’s panels are akin to the subjects: monsters, ghosts, fevers, and misunderstandings. These are the stories of threats of all kinds, both real and imagined, and the drawings communicate that urgency and fear. It’s difficult for me to imagine the work of another artist attempting to tell these stories. Allison Bechdel: too intellectual, too sedate. John Porcellino: too clean, too much quite space. Theo Ellsworth: too futuristic, too technical. Charles Burns: too mature, too self-aware.

About two thirds of the way through the collection, comes a comic called “Stuntman.” It’s a strip where, characteristically for this collection, Freddy’s narration bounces between fantasy and reality. He relates that his mother stopped talking to him after telling him his father was gay, and as he explains, he writes that he’d like to be a stuntman. His fantasy of the latter is peppered with the imagery and weight of the former, and the strip ends with an attempt to self-soothe, “I got time. I got time” (Barry 105). The images, however, depart a little. They are more obviously than anywhere else in the collection the drawings of Freddie. They are, in fact, their own comic strip within the strip. “Stuntman” draws attention to its visual style, but the truth is, it differs little from the intent of the rest. Like almost all of the strips throughout the collection, the narration is Freddie’s. These are Freddie’s stories, and their art, like their text, ought to bear all the messy, dark, emotional shading that makes up Freddie’s story, Freddie’s childhood. There’s no visual style that could suit them better.