An artsy comic-book-cum-journal in which the artist wrestles with the psychological monsters that ravage her soul, One Hundred Demons sounds like a hackneyed exercise in self-indulgence. I mean, come on! The cutesy girl memoir with junior high-style illustrations has been done to death, right? Only the genius of Lynda Barry could give this tired concept wings.
The woman behind the twisted Ernie Pook's Comeek is all over the place these days, with caustic cartoons disseminated through alterna-press publications (like our own and in the Mothers Who Think section of Salon.com).
Her narratives follow misfit teens like Marlys and Maybonne, and offer a particular kid's-eye-view innocence that spins mountains into molehills and molehills into mountains.
Barry brings the same great warped perspective to One Hundred Demons. Based on a Buddhist drawing exercise designed to exorcise personal demons, the gorgeous graphic novella doesn't just fly -- it soars.
Dividing her narrative into 17 sections that shine the spotlight on spectres like Head Lice And My First Boyfriend and Girlness, Barry introduces us to the bizarro ghosts that haunt her.
Her first published full-colour book of illustrations, the deftly detailed comix seem more like short stories and hit like a speed rush to the heart through a right-on mix of hilarity and pathos.
While her ability to nail quirky, idiosyncratic characters in a few black lines is admirable and the vivid watercolour washes are gorgeous, what really strikes you is Barry's talent as a writer.
It's impossible not to identify with stories about her Filipina grandma's Tagalog ghost stories and the way other people's houses smell when you're a kid (a snippet that brings Salinger to mind).
The tiny tales bristle with metaphorical resonance. They're perfect animal-cracker nuggets from childhood that fill you with instant nostalgia, kinda like watching old episodes of The Wonder Years. Somehow, watching Barry's artistic untangling of her psyche is cathartic for the reader.
She gets that. Coolest of all, at the conclusion of the book, Barry offers instructions on how to purge your own demons, with a step-by-step guide through everything from getting brushes and grinding ink to sketching out unlikely fiends.
Just in time to inspire your New Year's resolutions.Write Books at firstname.lastname@example.org
ONE HUNDRED DEMONS by Lynda Barry (Sasquatch), 224 pages, $40.95 cloth. Rating: NNNN