While a mix of creativity and comics might suggest a family-friendly atmosphere — and as always, that depends on the family — Tuesday's appearance by writer, illustrator, playwright and editor Lynda Barry might not be for more delicate tastes.
In a statement that ponders why people crave art, Barry concludes with "Please note: There will be swear words, party tricks, and jokes about balls."
"What It Is: A Talk on Creativity" by Lynda Barry," will begin at 7 p.m. Tuesday in the Bama Theatre.
So this is not your Sunday funnies, but "Ernie Pook's Comeek," a strip which ran for decades mostly in alternative weeklies. Seattle-raised Linda Jean Barry, who altered one letter to make it Lynda at 12 (“... I changed it to a ‘y’ for the Age of Aquarius”), had drawn cartoons at least since grade school, but turned to comic strips as an outlet and obsession while studying at the Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington, when a boyfriend dumped her for another girl.
"I couldn't sleep after that, and I started making comic strips about men and women," she said, in 1989 interview with The Comics Journal. "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."
A friend and fellow student at Evergreen, himself struggling to start a comic career, published some of her early comics in the student newspaper, as did a University of Washington Daily student editor, John Keister. The guys came up with the name, "Ernie Pook's Comeek," because they hadn't actually told Barry before putting her work in print. They had to explain to her after the demand grew for new comics.
That other Evergreen student was Matt Groening, who did OK with "Life in Hell," which lead to regular animated segments on "The Tracey Ullman Show," which led to something called "The Simpsons," and then "Futurama." Barry may not have become as much of a household name, but "Ernie Pook's Comeek" ran in more than 50 publications through its decades, and she won the Eisner Award for her graphic novel "What It Is." She also adapted her 1988 "The Good Times are Killing Me," an illustrated novel, into an Obie- and Theatre World Award-winning off-Broadway play. She's written a sorta-autobiography titled "One! Hundred! Demons!," the illustrated novel "Cruddy," and the graphic novel "Syllabus: Notes from an Accidental Professor."
She's been inducted into the Will Eisner Hall of Fame, won the Wisconsin Visual Art Lifetime Achievement Award, Milton Caniff Lifetime Achievement Award and others, and been listed as one of 12 women cartoonists deserving lifetime achievement recognition by the Comics Alliance. Barry is currently assistant professor of interdisciplinary creativity at the University of Wisconsin–Madison.
In Barry's statement, she asks: "Why do people wish they could write, sing, dance, and draw, long after they’ve given up on these things? Does creative activity have a biological function? There is something common to everything we call the arts. What is it?
"It’s something I call ‘an image’, something that feels alive and is contained and transported by something that is not alive — a book, or a song or a painting — anything we call an ‘art form.' This ancient ‘it’ has been around at least as long as we have had hands, and the state of mind it brings about is not plain old ‘thinking.'
"This talk is about our innate creative ability to work with images and what the biological function of this thing we call ‘the arts’ may be."
Barry's appearance comes courtesy of the University of Alabama Program in Creative Writing. Any tickets that remain can be found through Eventbrite.
Reach Tusk Editor Mark Hughes Cobb at email@example.com or 205-722-0201.