In which my mind is blown

November 11th, 2007 | Uncategorized

Thanks for all your compelling ideas about visual storytelling in the last post. What an excellent and oddly synchronistic conversation, given my recent activities.

me, chris, dan & lynda

Here I am having dinner with Chris Ware and Lynda Barry after our PEN/Faulkner panel on Friday. The guy with the camera is Dan Raeburn, who moderated the discussion. You can’t tell from this picture that my brain is exploding in a spasm of profound cartoon transcendence.

Someone asked in the last post what Lynda Barry is like. She’s like what you’d expect, to the power of ten, and divided by zero. Which is to say, she’s a crazy mindblowing bodhisattva. In her reading, she asked the question—koan, rather—“what is an image?” And then answered it for us with her cartoons, like a zen archer hitting bullseye after bullseye.

Chris showed us how he created his series of four New Yorker covers for last year’s Thanksgiving issue. I had no idea there had even been four alternate covers—my copy arrived with this one, which was brilliant enough. But there was also a one-panel cover, a four-panel cover, and a 16 panel cover, which exploded the story of this family through time and space in an exponential progression of narrative detail that culminates in a 256-panel online strip.

How long did this take him, I asked, imagining it must have been the better part of a year. A month, he said. Well, maybe five weeks, he admitted when my jaw hit the table.

Not only are Lynda and Chris comics geniuses, they’re comic geniuses too. Onstage Chris reeled off dry, throwaway one-liners, and everything spontaneous thing that came out of Lynda’s mouth was funnier than the most polished of stand-up routines. Though perhaps her most ludic brilliance manifested backstage before the panel, as she tried to distract the three of us from our nervousness by doing obscene yoga poses and giving herself a wedgie.

Now I’m at home, slowly recovering and trying to assimilate all of this sensory input. One thing I learned this weekend: I need to draw more.

20 Responses to “In which my mind is blown”

  1. Ginjoint says:

    well, nothing motivates quite like a wedgie. Or, if you’d prefer, the infamous Purple Nurple.

    I’m so glad to hear that Lynda Barry is as cool as I hoped she was. Whenever I’m reading her books, I want to go beat up anyone who gave her shit when she was a kid.

  2. tea says:

    totally!!! lynda barry is one of the reasons i’m happy to be alive right now.

  3. Marj says:

    Darling, you appear to be drinking Guinness! Fabulous.

  4. smutti says:

    Not to belay the obvious, but Chris Ware is amazing. In the same way that occurs when I re-read “Fun Home”, each time I read “Jimmy Corrigan, The Smartest Kid on Earth” I find something new and amazing that I had not noticed before. And if anyone also happens to have the bent that is drawn to marvel/DC superhero type-comics, a whole bunch of years ago, DC comics put out a 4 issue mini-series called “Kingdom Come” that offers a similar experience of new discovery with each perusal. The artist, Alex Roth, is a genius.

  5. Austin Kleon says:

    Meeting Lynda, no joke, changed my life: she is a total force, emitting crazy energy which I tried to mooch as much from as possible in the brief hours I got to be around her. A total inspiration as an artist, and more importantly, human being.

    I’m happy to hear that Chris Ware is funny in person! He always seems like such a sad, miserable guy when I read about him…

    What a fabulous session…it wasn’t taped by any chance?

  6. Colin Tedford says:

    I hear Lynda blew minds up at the Center For Cartoons Studies as well – I’m so jealous of all you folks! In retrospect, I don’t know why I didn’t just go up to White River & loiter around…

    Folks who haven’t already can read interviews with her, and listen to a 40-min. NPR interview with her (under Games/Multimedia) at

  7. Eva says:

    You!Met!Lynda!Barry! And Chris Ware, and Daniel Raeburn. And sat on a panel with them, and had dinner with them, too! Did you do your multi-media presentation on Fun Home, or what?

  8. tg says:

    it was a really awesome session. thanks for visiting, ab.

  9. Grisha says:

    AB – Glad to see you’re a Gunness drinker. Which resturaunt we’re you all at?

  10. brooke says:

    As someone who was present at the PEN/Faulkner talk I just wanted to throw in my two cents that it was awesome, inspiring, and (to combine terms) awe-inspiring. The 3 artists were hilarious in their own unique ways, and open and generous with their time and thoughts. It was a fantastic night for everyone in the audience. Thanks for coming to our nation’s capitol, Alison (and for signing my copy of Fun Home).

  11. Sharon says:

    The Masters of American Comics show at the Milwaukee Museum of Art included a Chris Ware piece called something like, So You Want to Be a Cartoonist. He described a monastic life, advised us to to find something we’d be happy drawing 100,000 times (there is no such thing), and to forget distracting extravagances like dinner with the family.

    Ok, he’s a genius. It’s Alison I relate because the characters are compelling and live in the real world and have problems I can relate to and she’s funny!

    Go Alison!

    Sharon Rosenzweig

  12. Roz Warren says:

    Go ahead and draw more! That’s okay with us!

  13. mlk says:

    but please don’t draw out of guilt or anything like that.

    nothing dims one’s light more than comparing it (unfavorably) to others’. their radiance doesn’t distract from yours in the least!

  14. Ellen O. says:

    The cool thing is that on Chris Ware and Lynda Barry’s sites, their fans are raving, “You got to meet Alison Bechdel ??!!”

  15. D. Hooper says:

    I was very fortunate to be able to attend the Friday night event with Ms. Bechdel, Lynda Barry and Chris Ware. You know, once I heard the individual artists talk, much of the work they have produced made a different kind of sense. Their works are very much so extensions of who they are.

    I wish I had an opportunity to converse with Lynda Barry and Chris Ware, but I was a man on mission…I needed Bechdel’s autograph and nothing was stopping me.

    My best friend who was not, I repeat, was not in attendance wrote on his blog about my experience, yes my experience (his version mind you)…and his past experience with Alison. We come across like two teenage girls giddy for a heartthrob.

    Both us of have the pleasure of being in “Juicy Mother 2”, Victor did the story “Bad Day”, I did “What Choice Do I Have?”, I’m determined to get autographs of all the contributors. Being able to converse, get Alison’s “sig” and take a picture (which came out horrible, it looks like a Rorschach test, but I love it anyway) was a blast.

    It’s rare that you actually get to participate as newbie in such a project with so many established greats; my mind is blown.

    Friday made my week.

    You can check it out here:

  16. lb says:

    Mmm…Comic Guiness.

  17. Berkeley Expat says:

    I’m just grateful to the Cosmic Powers-that-Be that we have people like Alison, Lynda and Chris to help us laugh at ourselves.

    Does anyone else remember the Lynda cartoon from way back,
    “Oral Fixation?”

  18. inkerbel says:

    I’m w/Marj, yaaaay Guinness!

  19. Erin Vang says:

    Lynda Barry was my upstairs neighbor for a while when I lived in Evanston, IL. I am a professional freelance french hornist, and being my neighbor meant that Lynda endured countless hours of my practicing at her. She couldn’t have been more gracious and encouraging and even claimed to enjoy it! You should realize that I’m not talking about actual music–I’m talking about woodshedding one audition excerpt over and over for hours, technical studies, long tones that sound like a moose in pain, and so on. She had nothing but fellow-artist-well-met encouragement for me, and I’ll never know how to thank her for that. It was an honor to trade neighborly favors with her, and my only regret is that the time between her moving into the building and my moving out to San Francisco was so short.

  20. michael says:

    oh, but i do love me some lynda barry… thanks for sharing!