Everyone’s got demons, right? And even for those who think they may not, there’s a Zen painting exercise that opens Lynda Barry’s wonderful 100 Demons complete with monstrous critters emerging from her own process therein. So, the ostensibly demon-less can join in, too. Barry’s cartoon avatar-self provides the reader with a brief explanation of the exercise, thereby cleverly framing the book and giving yet another use for yellow legal paper. Then we’re off on a journey through Barry’s own 100 demons, which include “Head Lice and My Worst Boyfriend,” “Resilience,” and “The Aswang.” I highly recommend Barry’s comic book, which collects strips that appeared previously on salon.com into a longer story about the trials and travails of childhood, family, love, drugs, adulthood, death, and being weird. Plus, there are detailed instructions on painting your own demons, complete with supplies lists and suggestions.
First of all, full disclosure, I am a lifelong comic book reader. Regardless of my bias, though, I think I would still love Barry’s book. At a short, rectangular 6” x 9,” the book’s odd size makes it stand out before even being opened, and I know I’m breaking a readerly axiom here, but look at that cover! (My Lit Witches colleague did it first…) Barry’s whimsical, dynamic line quality and bright color palettes dance through every page. A mixture of collage and watercolor opens each chapter, announcing the particular demon she showcases. The pages’ large, often dialogue-heavy panels recall both old school underground comix and newspaper comics, yet Barry’s style is all her own.
Make no mistake, potential reader, there is not only a nostalgic fun aesthetic, but also some lurking cognitive creepies at work here. The juxtaposition of stylized cartoon bodies, glittery collages, chain-smoking and hollering matriarchs, nasty realities (no spoilers, just read it), and the monumental awkwardness of adolescence build to a small treasury that mixes the big gnarly, long-toothed demons with the smaller more common variety. Frankly, little Lynda—and big Lynda—suffers, but she also persists. Rather than taking the self-indulgent turn all too common in the days of memoir’s reigning popularity, Barry guides us through all of the hilarity, banality, and despair that hold sway over our short attachments to this mortal coil. Sit in the glittery, bright-hued, mixed media darkness with the demons and laugh and cry.
Annie is a writer, teacher, proofreader, and shy megalomaniac. She is also a PhD candidate at the University of New Mexico where she is currently dissertating about narrative images from medieval manuscripts to contemporary comics. She studies flamenco and puts paint on things, too. You can find her on twitter, and trade red chile or sugo recipes to her for getting you an audience with that shadow you keep seeing in the corner of your eye.