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Posts Tagged ‘Lynda Barry’

Thinking Through Images: An Interview with Nick Sousanis

July 20, 2015 | by

First idea map for Unflattening, April 14, 2011.

First idea map for Unflattening, April 14, 2011.

Everything about Unflattening is odd, from its ungainly title and unfashionable subject matter (Rudolf Arnheim art theory meets Herbert Marcuse radicalism meets Scott McCloud comics boosterism) to its provenance: Nick Sousanis initially wrote and drew this full-length comics essay as his graduate-school dissertation. (He was earning his doctorate in education at Teachers College Columbia University, studying under the philosopher and social activist Maxine Greene.)

Sousanis’s career might be considered a little odd, too. He followed up an undergraduate degree in mathematics with a brief stint as a professional tennis player, then cofounded and edited a cultural magazine in Detroit, while also working as an artist. This isn’t the typical career path for a cartoonist—though to be fair, that profession doesn’t provide many followable emblematic models in that regard. Wild enthusiasm and plunge-taking fearlessness aside, Sousanis seems like a solid citizen; while his ideas are radically utopian, their flavor is resolutely wholesome. He is reminiscent of the kind of small-town high school teacher who’s popular with students because they believe he tells the truth and is unafraid to veer away from the curriculum-assigned script.

The script Sousanis is veering away from in this case is the age-old Western bias against visual imagery (and in favor of the Word), which he traces back to Plato’s cave. Sousanis believes that verbal language alone is a poor vehicle for capturing the multidimensional, many-layered fullness of human experience, the equivalent of Edwin Abbott’s two-dimensional flatworms trying to explain a sphere. It’s not so much that a picture is worth a thousand words, but rather that a picture is worth concepts that can’t even be put into words. And in an attempt to prove his case, he drew it.

What does “unflattening” mean?

It would be easier to tell you what the book’s about than to tell you what “unflattening” is. Actually, I’ve thinking about that lately because there’s a French translation in the works, and they can’t use that word because it doesn’t mean anything.

How could it not mean anything?

Well, I don’t think it means the right thing. It doesn’t mean anything in English—it’s not a word people use. The book is very much an argument that we make sense of the world in ways beyond text—teaching and learning shouldn’t be restricted to that narrow band. So rather than talking about visual thinking and multimodal stuff—from Howard Gardner to Rudolf Arnheim, people have been talking about it—comics just let me do it.

That’s what the book is about, if it’s about anything. Read More »

The Thrills of Good Suction, and Other News

May 15, 2015 | by

antique-vacuum

(Nicholson Baker, Bissell Zing not pictured.)

  • Gay Talese has held on to his address book for fifty years, and he’s never erased a name. It has just the kind of history and pedigree that makes documentarians salivate—so, sure enough, it’s soon to be the subject of a documentary. “ ‘Do you really think you can make a film out of this?’ Talese asked me, somewhere around the F’s. Absolutely, I told him.”
  • William Zinsser has died at ninety-two. His On Writing Well belongs on the shelf next to Strunk and White—a clear, well-styled guide to clear, well-styled writing. A classic Zinsserism: “There’s not much to be said about the period except that most writers don’t reach it soon enough.”
  • In which Nicholson Baker, a vacuumer as much as a writer, contends with the utility and beauty of true suction: “So strong is the Zing’s suction that it has a volume dial in its forehead that you can adjust on the fly from gentle to area-rug-ravaging. I vacuumed several rooms before a dinner party last week and found myself singing Irish drinking songs loudly as I worked.”
  • Hannah Arendt is still at the center of the argument: “Like so many Jewish texts throughout the ages, Eichmann in Jerusalem is an invitation to an auto-da-fé. Only in this case, almost all of the inquisitors are Jews. What is it about this most Jewish of texts that makes it such a perennial source of rancor among Jews, and what does their rancor tell us about Jewish life in the shadow of the Holocaust and the creation of the state of Israel? What does the wrongness of Eichmann’s readers reveal about the rightness of its arguments?
  • Lynda Barry on drawing and storytelling: “People think if you’re writing a story that you have to follow story structure … it’s like thinking the only reason we have teeth is because there are dentists.”

A Week in Culture: Matthew Thurber, Cartoonist

February 9, 2012 | by

MONDAY

6:30 A.M. Woke up. Bought coffee at deli.

Read amNewYork on the subway to Queens. Page six: Khloe Kardashian and her giant basketball-player husband wear their pajamas to open Xmas presents.

8:30 A.M. At Queens College illustration class, one of my students turned in a drawing of anthropomorphic poop.

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A Week in Culture: Jonathan Lippincott, Designer

January 12, 2011 | by

DAY ONE

I have decided to resurrect my “walking to work” photo project. I was a reluctant New Yorker when I first moved to the city in the early 1990s, but immediately loved being able to walk everywhere. I would take long walks on the weekends, in part to learn my way around the city, and in part to get out of my squalid apartment. There was so much to see! One of the things that always struck me was the sheer quantity of stone carving on so many of the buildings. The combination of great craftsmanship and brute strength required to carve all these ornaments is remarkable, and all around Manhattan there are gargoyles and goddesses to rival any in Paris or Rome. And while all these cities have remarkable troves of artwork in their museums, walking down the street provides endless sights of beauties as well—these architectural details are another facet of the city’s public art. The photos this week are all taken between 34th and 14th, on Madison or Fifth Avenue. You have to look up (and watch your step when you do). Most street-level spaces on these avenues are stores or restaurants with little detail. For the most part, the detailing becomes more elaborate further up. I should probably remember why this is the case from my art history classes; maybe it was simply to celebrate the colossal height of these buildings. (Click the images to enlarge.)

9:30 A.M. Arrive at the office to find a sample of the box set of Elizabeth Bishop’s Poems and Prose, which I designed (it's coming out in February). To my delight and great relief, it looks marvelous. The color is an excellent match to the jacket of Bishop’s The Complete Poems, from 1969, which was the inspiration for the design of the new box and books. Nice way to start the new year. Spend the morning going through endless e-mail and other post-vacation office tidying. Finish work on the interior design for the Vargas Llosa Nobel lecture, due out ASAP.

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Lynda Barry on ‘Picture This’

December 1, 2010 | by

Lynda Barry is many things: a cartoonist, best known for her long-running strip, Ernie Pook’s Comeek; the author of two illustrated novels, Cruddy and The Good Times Are Killing Me; and the sought-after instructor of the workshop “Writing the Unthinkable.” In her two memoir-cum-workbooks—2008’s What It Is and Picture This, published last month by Drawn & Quarterly—Barry puts her many talents into play. The books’ dense collages, lively cartoons, and hand-drawn text use autobiographical tidbits and philosophical flights of fancy to explore the creative impulse, asking such questions as What is an image? and Why do we stop drawing? Barry, a friend of Matt Groening’s since their days at the Evergreen State College in the seventies, agreed to meet me for breakfast, where we talked art, writing, and cigarettes.

One of the themes of Picture This is forgetting in order to remember, which seems pretty counterintuitive. When you combine it with Don’t—the name of the cigarettes, which are a running gag throughout—the meaning of the lines becomes very contradictory.

Forget to remember to forget to remember, or remember to forget to remember to forget. Yeah, it just makes your brain go uuuuuuuhhh. That’s exactly what I wanted: to get to the point where you realize you don’t know what you’re looking at. Plus, it’s fun coming up with slogans. “What would you do for a don’t?” “Don’t consider it.”

I stumbled on these magazines called Grade Teacher, which were sent to grade-school teachers every month, and I have a pile of them from the late twenties to the sixties. They have stuff like “Fun Things to Draw” or “Let’s Do Our Bulletin Board.” But the big ad sponsorship is from coal companies and asbestos companies: “Free giant charts for your class about how wonderful coal is!” The weirdest things are the art projects with asbestos powder, like “Lets make beads and make necklaces and wear them.” I am not joking.

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