Lynda Barry’s comic strips light little, brilliant fires. Whether her character is a caveman talking about love (”You are the best woman I have ever dragged”) or an adolescent trying to figure it out (”He called me for around nine straight nights and I was wondering: does it equal he is my boyfriend?”), Barry, 35, conjures the essence of life’s experiences in her drawings with oddball insight and a perfect ear for the way people talk. Her comics were first published in 1977 by friend Matt Groening (The Simpsons) in the Evergreen State College paper; her strip, Ernie Pook’s Comeek, now appears in more than 55 newspapers. The self-proclaimed Love Doctor has published six comics collections about childhood, young adulthood, romance, and loss, and has just adapted her 1988 novel for the stage. The Good Times Are Killing Me opened to admiring reviews Off Broadway this month.
Q: Does it take you long to create your characters?
A: No, they just show up. Edna (the novel’s protagonist) will say ”my friend” and I have to name her. All the characters in Good Times are named out of the phone book in Eunice, Louisiana. I always read phone books in little towns to see if there are some really good names. Eunice is full of them.
Q: Your play deals with the years ofchildhood and impending adolescence…
A: I think about Adam and Eve a lot, and I realized something last week. We knew they were in paradise, right? They didn’t. They did not know. They only knew it after they took a bite. That’s childhood to me. It kills me that they didn’t even know. They didn’t even know the word ”good.” And what happens in adolescence is like the Garden of Eden in a way, too, because that’s when you’re first cast out.
Q: You’ve dealt a lot with romance. What’s your idea of the perfect guy?
A: Really funny, really smart, really sexy.
Q: What’s sexy?
A: It’s not about looks, it’s about that thing when they’re talking you sorta can’t concentrate. While they’re talking you just look at their lips and you can’t tell what they’re saying. It’s like fish in an aquarium and you just have to figure out the part when they stop so you can go, ”Uh-huh.” But really funny, that’s the main thing. It’s also good if they like women. That’s handy.
Q: Did you ever wish you were a guy?
A: Yeah, didn’t you? I knew boys had it a lot easier. I think girls get lied to or we’re missing a vowel or something. We got some very wrong information or something early on, and the information led us to kind of hang in the back. You know how people always talk about guys having trouble with their feelings? It’s a trade-off. Sometimes I wish I had more trouble with my feelings.
Q: What’s with all the weenies in your comics?
A: There are two kinds of foods that are perfect, that whenever you bring them up, you’ll get people laughing. One is hot dogs and the other is doughnuts. There’s a pathetic quality to a hot dog and also a glory in it.
Q: I’ve read that you have some interesting ideas about God.
A: I used to pray to light bulbs because of that thing, ”In the beginning there was light.” And everybody knows that God, if he’s going to do anything at all, he’s going to glow. I still find that in times of stress, I put my eyes on a light bulb. Yesterday I was thinking about how, if I had a kid, I’d name her Sylvania.