Monday, February 8, 2010

One! Hundred! Demons!

There was something quite freeing in reading Lynda Barry's One Hundred Demons. To take an exercise as old a painting demons with traditional asain inkstone and brush is an interesting enough perspective to draw a reader in, but to take it a step further and create this series of stories and collages from your demons is inspiring. Barry's collages proceeding each story are as intense as the demons she draws on the page, telling a small story before each story. One of my favorite collages, not even necessarily chapters, was for Resilience. There was something so sad and so touching about each image chosen for the piece; the little girl with the strip of paper over her eyes, the ancient stuffed panda bear taped upside down, and the play on "can't remember, can't forget".  Another ascpect of the book I found interesting was how much it revealed and how much it didn't. Here is Barry pouring all these personal private demons onto the page, sometimes painful or embarrassing memories, and yet there were some basic elements I was still left wondering about, such as her father, who is all but completely absent from the pages. There are several stories about her relationship issues with her mother and grandmother, she has younger siblings, yet a father figure is absent from the pages. I only assume he is white because everyone else is phillapino, yet Barry and her siblings are red haired and freckled. What seems such a simple element of background created a rather large mystery for me. I wondered why he was left from the pages. What was her relationship like to him? Was he just absent from her life? Or was he an issue so deep she still couldn't write about it?
From a writer's perspective, I have always found a personal connection between art and writing. I often find inspiration from art for stories, including the current novel I am working on which sprang entirely from a picture painted by a friend. Art is also a reader's intial connection to a novel. The "don't judge a book by its cover" line is bull puckey. I am often drawn to a book by its cover art. The cover makes the first impression on a reader, if the novel with be mysterious, or fantastical, dramatic or humorous. The cover to Diary of  a Wimpy Kid draws you in with its handdrawn downtrodden character, its drawn on a torn notebook page which appears taped to the cover. The combination of the title and the sad little frown on the character's face still draws a chuckle from you, it is a caricature of sadness, belaying the humor of the piece. Just as the cover to One Hundred Demons also draws you in, the collage on the cover lets the reader know they are in for an interesting ride.
An effective piece of art on a book cover can sell a book over the novel's description. Twilight for example, presents this very stark contrast of black and white on the original cover, with just the red apple for color. It draws you in, you are mesmerized and filled with wonder. Frankly the cover art for the Twilight series is brilliant, it keeps to a set of stark spartan imagery to produce an almost mystical tone through all four novels. So really good art can do wonders for a book, the connection between art and story is still a strong one.

1 comment:

Karen Romano Young said...

I want to mention that Lynda Barry does an amazing one-week intensive writing course at the Omega Institute in Rhinebeck, New York, in July. If you could ever manage it, I think you'd get a great deal out of it. She has taken the demons idea and built it into a workshop.

Funny, I know that her father essentially abandoned her family, but I can't remember how I know. It's in one of her books. I have One! Hundred! Demons! on your list because I think it's one of the best "fiction" (true stories) writing books I know. But Barry followed it up with What It Is, where she attempts to put her writing workshop on paper. It has a similar look and feel to OHD but goes deeper into her own process. Great reading, but only for someone like you who has already "GOTTEN" where Barry is coming from. I would also highly recommend any of her Marlys comics or Ernie Pook's Comeek. (Google Barry and you'll find a lot.)

Very interesting thoughts about Wimpy Kid. You have such a strong understanding of what makes a book good, Kristin. You're a terrific writer, but you'd make a good editor or librarian, too. Blessings on ya.

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