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Matt Groening and Lynda Barry Come to BAM Thursday

February 11, 2015 By Benjamin Preston Special to the Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Lynda Barry, a celebrated cartoonist, will speak at BAM on Feb. 12. Courtesy of Steven Barclay Agency
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The Brooklyn Academy of Music on Thursday will present two well-known cartoonists —  Matt Groening and Lynda Barry — to talk about cartooning, creativity and their long friendship.

Groening, the creator of “The Simpsons” and “Futurama,” may be the better-known of the two. But despite lives that have developed along very different lines since they met at The Evergreen State College in Olympia, Wash., in the mid-’70s, both have said at various times that the other has been a major influence.

Groening said in an interview with “Mother Jones” in 2007 that Barry showed him back then that anything was possible in the world of comic art. Barry, the author of Ernie Pook’s Comeek, a comic strip that ran in newspapers around the country for three decades, said she couldn’t imagine doing a lot of what she’s done without Groening’s influence.

“Back in the old, pre-Internet days, calling Matt on the phone was one of my major expenses,” Barry said last week in a telephone interview. 

In recent years, Barry has been teaching a class at the University of Wisconsin with a message and purpose that dip back into the inspiration she provided Groening back in the ’70s.

“Everyone can make comics,” she said. “I like working with people who have given up on drawing and showing them that they can draw.”

She said that within the medium of comics, a cartoonist doesn’t have to mimic the artistic grandeur of 19th century romantic painters to get a point across. What can they say, and how? That all depends upon who’s doing the saying.

“When you’re sitting at a table with five people, there’s always someone who talks more than everyone else,” she said. “I’m kinda talkative, so I tend to use a lot of words in my comics.”

Barry, who has also written a number of illustrated novels — such as “The Good Times are Killing Me,” “Cruddy” and “One! Hundred! Demons!” — said that comics can convey a message unlike other media. Comics are portable, she said, and are a good way to say pretty much anything.

“There’s something very different about having words sung to you, as opposed to when they’re spoken,” she said. “You can think of those words in a fresh way. Comics are like that.”

Barry, who was Queen Mermaid of the 1991 Mermaid Parade in Coney Island, noted that Brooklyn has become the go-to place for comic artists; a cultural hub where people interested in the genre can exchange ideas. If Comic Arts Brooklyn, an annual cartoon and comics festival that’s been running for the past several years, is any indication, the community is growing and gaining notoriety. This year’s event, held in November, featured Al Jaffee, creator of “Mad” magazine’s fold-ins and “Snappy Answers to Stupid Questions” segment.

In the old days, said Barry, the West Coast seemed to be more of a hotbed of comic creativity. But other facets of the genre are on the move, too.

“When I was starting out in the late ’70s, there a few women involved, but it definitely wasn’t equal,” she said. “Now, it’s getting there, and that adds a new way of looking at things.”

Considering the shifts in place and demographics that have changed the framework of comic art, Brooklyn seems a good place to discuss its past and present as its current practitioners look toward the future.

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