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Graphic Novelist Lynda Barry Wins MacArthur Genius Grant For Her Impressive Career

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BY April 27, 2020
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Lynda Barry has many titles to her name. She is a cartoonist, graphic novelist, painter, educator, and author. But now she can add Lynda Barry: MacArthur Genius to her accolades. Because last week, Lynda Barry won a prestigious MacArthur Genius Grant. Otherwise known as ‘the genius grant.’ The MacArthur Foundation offers grants to creators, writers, and talented professionals to facilitate their future work. This year Barry is among the 26 fellows who join the ranks of MacArthur geniuses. Winners receive a $625,000 stipend, paid out quarterly over a span of five years.

MacArthur Genius Lynda Barry Has A Storied Career

The MacArthur Foundation describes Barry as “inspiring creative engagement through original graphic works and a teaching practice centered on the role of image making in communication.” She became well-known for her underground comic strip “Ernie Pook’s Comeek.” This comic ran in 70 alternative publications over a span of 30 years. It was re-issued by Drawn & Quarterly in 2016 in the collection The Greatest of Marlys.

In addition to her comic compilations, Barry has published the graphic novels Cruddy, One! Hundred! Demons! and The Good Times Are Killing Me. Her forthcoming work is Making Comics, an instructive graphic novel drawn from her work as an educator and artist-in-residence at the University of Wisconsin. Making Comics will be out in November. It follows up on her previous instructional works – Syllabus (2014), Picture This (2010), and What It Is (2008).

Lynda Barry MacArthur Genius Wrote and Illustrated Ernie Pook's Comeek Ernie Pook’s Comeek by Lynda Barry

Lynda Barry Writes The Unthinkable With Words And Images

Much of Barry’s work is semi-autobiographical, and concerned with memory. She teaches a workshop called “Writing the Unthinkable.” This class helps students translate memory into fiction. This quote from the Omega website gives insight to Barry’s teaching process.

“When people try to write stories, they tend to drag the stories behind them,” says Barry. “They think the story and question it and try to arrange it into something understandable, which is no fun at all! It makes a person feel exhausted and cranky. The best way to write is to let the image pull you. You should be water-skiing behind it, not dragging it like a barge. Writing should take you for a ride.”

Barry is the fourth graphic novelist and cartoonist to receive a grant since the inception of MacArthur Fellowship Foundation in 1981.  She joins fellow cartoonist Ben Katchor (2000), feminist icon Alison Bechdel (2014), and comic expert Gene Luen Yang (2016). The inclusion of graphic novelists and cartoonists in the ranks of MacArthur geniuses shows how far the medium has come in recent years. Because comics are not just for children anymore.

However, it is important to note that all of the graphic novelists who have won the genius grant thus far have utilized comic storytelling for autobiographical purposes. The next great hurdle is recognition for the many talented graphic novelists and comic writers/artists who work in genre comics. Still, this is one more step towards comics being considered a higher literary form like fiction and poetry. It took Lynda Barry over 40 years to receive recognition for her work. Hopefully it won’t take that long for genre comics to catch up.

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(Featured Image via MacArthur Foundation)

COMICSPop CultureAlison BechdelBen Katchorcartoonistcomic stripscomicsDrawn & QuarterlyErnie Pook’s ComeekGene Luen YangGraphic NovelLynda BarryMacArthur Genius GrantMaking ComicsOne Hundred DemonsPicture ThisThe Good Times Are Killing MeThe Greatest Of MarlysUnderground ComicsWhat It Is

Emily O'Donnell is a writer and photographer with roots in some of the earliest online fandoms. She cut her genre teeth on the Wizard of Oz books at the tender age of 6 years old, and was reading epic adult fantasy novels by the age of 10. Decades later, she still consumes genre fiction like there is no tomorrow. She is delighted to be living through the golden age of sci-fi and fantasy popularity. She is unashamed of the amount of fanfiction that still lingers online under her name.

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