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NY Times, How to Think Like a Surreal Cartoonist.
Taking the workshop, which Ms. Barry teaches several times a year, is a bit like witnessing an endurance-performance piece. Aided by her assistant, Betty Bong (in reality, Kelly Hogan, a torch singer who lives in Chicago), Ms. Barry sings, tells jokes, acts out characters and even dances a creditably sensual hula, all while keeping up an apparently extemporaneous patter on subjects like brain science, her early boy-craziness, her admiration for Jimmy Carter and the joys of menopause.
But this is just camouflage for the workshop’s true purpose: to pass on an art-making method that Ms. Barry learned from Marilyn Frasca, her junior- and senior-year art teacher at Evergreen State College in Olympia, Wash.
It involves using a random word, like “cars” or “breasts,” to summon a memory in unexpected, filmic detail; writing about it by hand for a set time period (as she says, “Limitation creates structure!”); and then not reading it or talking about it for at least a week. Within the workshop it also involves positive feedback. As students read aloud, Ms. Barry kneels before them, head bowed, listening intently, and says: “Good! Good!” (“I was a kid who was never read to,” she explains.)
This is essentially the method that Ms. Barry has always used, not just for “Ernie Pook” but also her novels: “The Good Times Are Killing Me” from 1988, about biracial childhood friends, and “Cruddy” (1999), whose 16-year-old narrator recounts a long-ago murder rampage. She also deployed it for “One! Hundred! Demons!,” a soulful 2002 graphic memoir that she describes as “autobifictionalography.”
“What It Is,” which outlines the method in detail, could be considered a picture book for grown-ups. Using ink brush, pen and pencil drawings as well as collages and luminous watercolors, many of them on lined yellow legal paper, it explores deep philosophical questions like “What Is an Image?” (The answer, Ms. Barry says, is something “at the center of everything we call the arts.”) It also includes an activity book, instructions, assignments and several passages of purely autobiographical writing and drawing in which Ms. Barry recounts her own journey to making art.
Let's not forget the supremely talented Kelly Hogan. Unfortunately, I don't have much of her music, other than her showing up on Jesus Christ Super-Star: a Resurrection as Pilate. Here she is in a duet with John Wesley Harding from his Awake album: