On more than one occasion while reading Lynda Barry’s graphic novel “What it is” I’ve tried to pause and think about what it is exactly that unsettles me about her creative style throughout the book. In the beginning it took a few pages in for me to shake the feeling that I was falling down a rabbit hole. There seemed to be too little context for me to grasp on to except for a title or some short text within collage. It took some time away from the book and hearing others talk about their own experiences in class for me to realize that perhaps Barry never meant for us to take her work so literally.
I noticed that within the book I would seek out the more traditional graphic novel elements like when Barry mentioned her childhood or adolescence. The format of these pages was much easier to digest and tended to follow a more linear progression. On the other hand, I found myself neglecting pages that were too busy or that contained little to no text. One of the reasons for this I think is that early on I tried too hard to decipher some message from the arrangement of pictures and words that the process became exhausting. Looking back now, I can see how the style of the book relates to Barry’s overall tone for artists/ writers; we wont all see or take away the same things, and we shouldn’t worry so much about whether that’s a good or a bad thing.
In many parts of this book, Barry focuses on her own thoughts about her personal artistic talents and her fear of mediocrity. I can see this relate to my own thoughts in life and even those while reading her work. I believed that there had to be something more to the text that I wasn’t grasping and so I tried even harder to squeeze meaning out of the pages. I can attribute this stubbornness in part to the way I’ve been conditioned like many of my peers, to over-analyze everything. So many of my college courses have relied heavily on analytical skills and searching for a deeper meaning that I wasn’t allowing the text to have its intended effect on me.
Perhaps Barry didn’t intend for us to spend hours gazing into each page, and maybe instead wanted us to linger only on the images or text that truly intrigued us. I believe that the viewpoint the author grants us into her creative process is not the definitive guide on how to be creative, but rather an example of how to let creativity flow. In the end I think Lynda Barry’s real message is: What it is, is what you make of it.