Heart and Brain: Body Language by Nick Seluk
Making Comics by Lynda Barry
Buried treasure can pop up in all sorts of places–on a tropical island, in an attic trunk, at a garage sale, or in this case, on a bookshelf. I found these delights while looking for something else. Isn’t that the case with a lot of things in life?
If you haven’t seen cartoonist Nick Seluk’s popular webcomic “The Awkward Yeti”, find it now. Seluk’s humorous take on the relationship between human anatomy and human nature guarantees a chuckle. He explores life through the eyes of Lars, a socially awkward, blue-furred, and bespectacled Yeti, who is the unwitting host to a community of cheekily entertaining internal organs. Lungs wear sweatbands and jogging gear and are ready for anything other than exercise. Gallbladder pleadingly offers its handmade “gifts” to everyone. Spleen resembles a glowering ninja. Bowel is an irritable conspiracy theorist who communicates in brown speech bubbles. It’s the back-and-forth between charmingly optimistic, emotional Heart and pragmatic, rational Brain though that fuels the fun.
In Heart and Brain: Body Language, Seluk fills the pages with relatable inner struggles (budget vs pizza, anxiety vs relaxation, planning ahead vs living in the moment) and amusing dialogue that leave readers laughing. Heart and Brain are the engines driving Lars and the book. One of my favorite strips shows Heart filling Brain from a jar labeled “New Experiences” then shaking Brain vigorously; Heart then turns a tap attached to Brain and fills a bucket labeled “New Ideas”. The magic lies in seeing Heart and Brain: Body Language for yourself because trying to capture the comic’s essence is like trying to parse comedy–dissection distracts from enjoyment. Give this title to adults and teens who like “The Far Side” or “Calvin and Hobbes” or quirky humor in general.
Although I love to read comics, I never thought I’d be able to draw them–I know my limits. That is, until I found Making Comics by Lynda Barry. Barry, a nationally-known comic artist, educator, and MacArthur Fellow, is on a mission to enable everyone to discover their own creative spark.
Making Comics looks like a composition book full of doodles that’s been carried around in a backpack for half of the school year. Each page, whatever its content, is covered in drawings and border designs and lettering in dusky watercolors lending a feel of sepia-tone except in blues and reds and yellows. Drawings–some from Barry, some from her students who range in age from preschoolers to adults–are spontaneous and raw like those found in a sketchbook.
Barry believes that everyone is capable of art, of drawing, only that some folks have lost fluency in the language of image. According to her, children “speak image”, “this language [that] moves up through your hand and into your head”. She notes, “we draw before we are taught. We also sing, dance, build things, act, and make up stories…Everything we have come to call the arts seems to be in almost every 3-year-old”. For a lot of us, something happens along the way that separates us from creativity, especially drawing, and Lynda Barry aims to rectify that.
Following the content of Making Comics in sequence is similar to Barry’s comics class, but taking the activities out of context or in a different order is just as useful. After an introduction designed to inspire, Barry opens concepts in “Lessons” then offers lots of exploration prompts in “Exercises”. “Assignments” are longer, more involved activities that build on previously introduced ideas, and “Homework” takes those concepts to the next level through more intricate designs. Thoughtful passages, hints, and tips are packed into each page; read everything!
Whether you want to reclaim that innate, easy creativity or know someone who does, this title is a great choice. It’s also a fantastic way for teens and adults to explore particularities of the comic format. Making Comics is a rich resource for students of all ages learning at home. Give it a try–it’s fun and freeing.
You never know what gems you might find when you’re not looking for them. Stop by the library and discover the treasures waiting for you!