Book Review: Setting the Table

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Setting the Table

Picture This: The Near-Sighted Monkey Book

by Lynda Barry
Drawn & Quarterly, 226 pp., $29.95

When Lynda Barry's previous volume on art-making, the Eisner-winning What It Is, came out, we commented, "Because you're alive, we recommend this book to you." We're reckoning that's still the case, you being alive – zombies don't much go for reading – and so we're pleased to repeat the recommendation for Picture This, a sequel of sorts.

This new volume from Canada's superlative purveyor of graphic novels, Drawn & Quarterly, asks, "Do you wish you could draw?" and proceeds, via the author's inspirational, whimsical suggestions and proddings, to show you just how anyone can draw. Barry's been drawing for decades – Ernie Pook's Comeek, anyone? – and here she's brought along her most beloved character, Marlys, and a strangely familiar creature called the Near-Sighted Monkey to help her get the instruction across, to assist in wrangling examples of creative problems and solutions from her own life, to reveal, as if for the first time, what gangs of fun await in just unleashing a wild scribble or splotches of paint or found objects onto a sheet of paper.

Of course, the author being who she is, the book can be appreciated for its graphic impact alone, for the hundreds of quirky, gorgeous renditions of people and creatures and objects – sequentially or otherwise, in watercolor, in pen and ink, in the deftly wielded strokes of sumi-e and calligraphy, in collages as simple as a kindergartner's or as complex as the math framing the Large Hadron Collider. This is a hardcover book of excellent quality; it's in full color, a kind of coffeetable version of Barry's highly sought-after live workshop "Writing the Unthinkable," and it will provide you with hours of fascinating information and ideas.

Hell, just the full-page illustration of a rabbit on page 5 – looking even spookier than what Donnie Darko had to deal with – is worth the price of admission all by itself.

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coffeetable books, Lynda Barry, Marlys, Near-Sighted Monkey, What It Is, Drawn & Quarterly

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