Cartoonist of the Year Lynda Barry hailed as a ‘great light in dark times’

Barry accepts her Reuben Award. The acclaimed cartoonist is also known as an editor, a writer, playwright, and teacher. YouTube photo

Filipino American Lynda Barry is the recipient of the 2019 Reuben Award for Outstanding Cartoonist of the Year as selected by members of the National Cartoonists Society (NCS) in a secret ballot.

“One of the things that’s so beautiful about comics is that whatever may be missing from your world, you might be able to find it in comics,” said Barry in accepting the coveted award via a virtual ceremony.

Barry – also known as an editor, a writer, illustrator, playwright, and teacher — was born in Wisconsin. She was raised with two younger brothers in a working class and racially mixed Seattle neighborhood, she said in an interview with The Comics Journal in 1989.

TCJ writes: “Although she was known as the class cartoonist in grade school, not until she attended Evergreen State College in Washington did she start taking the cartooning side other drawing seriously. Focused on a degree in fine arts, she began drawing comic strips compulsively when her boyfriend left her for another girl: ‘I couldn’t sleep after that, and I started making comic strips about men and women. 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.’ Her schoolmate Matt (‘Life In Hell’) Groening printed her strips, under the title ‘Ernie Pook’s Comeek,’ in the school paper.”

Her father is of Irish and Norwegian ethnicity, and her mother of Irish and Filipino ancestry. Her parents divorced when she was 12.  

In accepting her award, Barry shared that she grew up “in a troubled house.”  “I think I might be the first recipient who can say ‘Matigas ang ulo ni Lynda, naku po.’ That’s Tagalog…I grew up with people from the Philippines,” she said.

One of the beautiful things about comics, she said, is she could get into the world of different characters, like Brenda Starr or Dick Tracy, and felt “loved” and “welcomed.”

Whatever may be missing in your own life you might be able to find it somewhere in comics. And that’s what happened to me,” she said.

She thanked cartooning colleague “The Family Circus” creator Bil Keane for teaching her “how to really listen to how kids talk and how people talk.” She also expressed thanks to her professor at Evergreen State Marilyn Frasca, for teaching her “how to look at images and writing.” She thanked students at the University of Wisconsin-Madison where she is an Associate Professor of Interdisciplinary Creativity. She said comics is now opening up to “other people, other worlds that people bring with them.”  She held up a book of one of her students, KC Councilor, a transgender comics writer, and said that through comics “we can go into KC’s world and see what world is like.” 

Barry and ‘The Simpsons’ creator Matt Groening when they appeared at the BAM Gilman Opera House in 2015. They met at Evergreen State College in the 1970s and have been friends since.

Barry is best known for her comic strip “Ernie Pook’s Comeek,” as well as several graphic novels such as “The Good Times are Killing Me,” “Cruddy,” and “One! Hundred! Demons!”

In 2016, Barry was inducted into the Eisner Awards Hall of Fame. She was honored in 2017 at the 71st annual Reuben Awards in Portland, Oregon where she received the National Cartoonists Society’s Milton Caniff Lifetime Achievement Award, a prestigious honor that requires a unanimous vote from the Society’s Board of Directors. The Simpsons creator and Barry’s longtime friend Matt Groening presented her with the award. She was awarded a MacArthur Fellowship as part of the Class of 2019.

NCS President Jason Chatfield commented, “We’re so thrilled to be able to honor Lynda and her work in this way. She is a treasure, and we’re lucky to be able to enjoy her wit, wisdom and artistic talent. She is a great light in dark times.”

© The FilAm 2020

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