Lynda Barry is an American cartoonist of the Underground Comics and Alternative Comics movements. Active from the late 70's to The New '10s, Barry is one of the only notable women of Underground Comics. Most of her work was published as Ernie Pooks Comeek (Pook rhyming with book), a serial in alternative weeklies, but have since been collected into books. Barry has essentially retired from cartooning and now works as a creative writing instructor; her most recent works are non-fiction about the creative process.
Barry's comics often draw from her life experiences growing up in a working-class, racially mixed neighborhood of Seattle. Barry's father was of Irish descent, her mother was of Filipino, and she had a difficult childhood raised primarily by her mother. Her comics contain themes on sex, relationships, childhood, loss of innocence, and fears, childhood or otherwise. Her earlier work was more episodic, focused on adult relationships. Over time her work became more serial, focusing on the semi-autobiographical adventures of a particular family: Maybonne, the rebellious teen sister, Marlys, the cheerful bookish younger sister, and Freddie, their emotionally disturbed cousin who visits from time to time, with cameos from other family members.
Barry is friends with Matt Groening, another underground cartoonist from the Pacific Northwest.
Tropes present in her comics
- Adults Are Useless: None of the children ever go to adults for help for their issues, and the adults around generally don't do anything other than punish the kids, even when the kids are facing serious issues such as sexual assault, drug abuse, and serious mental issues. Teachers are almost always Sadist Teachers who have it out to get the child characters.
- The Alcoholic: Maybonne and Marlys' father is an alcoholic, which implied to be a cause of much of the familial strife. One arc has him going into recovery and entering his children's life, then relapsing and leaving again.
- Alliterative Family: Sisters Maybonne and Marlys, and their mother Mavis.
- All Men Are Perverts: A theme in Barry's older comics is men who seem only interested in sex. One comic features two male friends having a conversation that consists only of grunts and Sexual Euphemisms. Many of the men in her later comics are somewhat predatory.
- Ambiguously Gay: Freddie. He is the target of homophobic bullying, and is implied to have been involved in a grey-consenting sexual act with another boy at school. But given his young age and generally confused mental state, it's hard to say for sure.
- Art Evolution: Barry's style started out as two-dimensional, exaggerated and almost cubist, but transitioned to a more realistic style as her subject matter transitioned to childhood.
- Art Shift: Her strips that deal with serious topics such as sexual assault are drawn in a more realistic style, compared to more lighthearted strips which are more cartoony.
- Bigger Is Better in Bed: One comic that parodies Cosmo-style "what do you want in your man" quizzes has "I want a man with a big one" as an option for every question, as apparently this is an important priority for some women.
- Big Red Devil: Satan, the big goat-man with horns, red skin, and a pitchfork, makes an appearance in some of the strips in Bad Ideas.
- Bookworm: Marlys loves reading
- Bratty Teenage Daughter: Maybonne. In some issues she's given more POV, while in others she fits the standard exterior view of the teenage daughter. Regardless, she's the oldest in the family and is a boy-crazy, mildly rebellious girl who frequently fights with her mother over phone usage and the ability to see her friends. This contrasts with the more bookish and quirky younger sister Marlys.
- Disappeared Dad: Maybonne and Marlys' parents are divorced, and their father is in and out of their life.
- Dysfunction Junction: In some of the stories. Maybonne and Marlys's mother is borderline abusive, Maybonne (and many of her friends) do drugs, get sexually assaulted, and run away from home, and Freddie has trouble in school and hangs out with a bad crowd. Marlys is relatively well-adjusted, but with everything else going on her needs and wants are often ignored.
- Dysfunctional Family: Mom is generally too busy working/hanging out with her friends to pay too much attention to her kids, and Maybonne and Freddie get into all kinds of trouble in and out of school. The kids are frequently shuttled around between family members.
- Enter Stage Window: In one of the Maybonne stories, her friend Brenda enters her window after running away from home.
- Growing Up Sucks: 13-year-old Maybonne has to deal with a lot of problems related to puberty, such as female infighting, angst about appearance, and sexually threatening men.
- Gonk: Many of Barry's older comics feature people with huge angry mouths, stylized hair, and generally distorted features.
- My Nayme Is: Barry changed her name from Linda to Lynda as a teen.
- Parental Incest: Maybonne's friend Cheryl's father molests her, and does it front of Maybonne.
- Plucky Girl: Marlys. She does a lot of work to keep her family together, and despite a lot of family dysfunction is always cheerful and perky.
- Troubled Teen: Maybonne is a classic example. In various stories, she runs away from home, uses drugs and alcohol as a 14-year-old, and gets in a lot of bad relationships involving Questionable Consent. Her friends behave similarly. This is explained by her home life, as she has a Disappeared Dad and a mother who is cold, unloving, and often not around.
- Unusual Euphemism: In one strip, Brenda refers to an "F.U. and an Elvis", some sort of sexual act, being forced on her. The euphemism use serves as an in-universe Parental Bonus, as she's getting the message to Maybonne via her little sister Marlys, who doesn't know what those things are.