Books

On Lynda Barry's Exercise in Autobiofictionalography, 'One! Hundred! Demons!'

“Is it autobiography if parts of it are not true? Is it fiction if parts of it are?”


One! Hundred! Demons!

Publisher: Drawn & Quarterly
Publication date: 2005-08
Amazon

Lynda Barry originally published her first memoir, One! Hundred! Demons! (Drawn & Quarterly 2017), as 18, serialized web comics on Salon.com from 2000-2001 and then as a collected book in 2002. Barry’s idiosyncratic treatment of fact, what she terms “autobiofictionalography”, was surprisingly prescient. James Frey’s notorious A Million Little Pieces appeared the following year, first as a memoir and then, after an Oprah-televised scandal, as a semi-autobiographical novel.

Barry had previously produced only fiction, including weekly comic strips and illustrated novels. The content of One! Hundred! Demons! appears to be memoir --

chronicles of her late childhood and early adolescent traumas -- and yet her introduction suggests something more complicated when her cartoon self asks, “Is it autobiography if parts of it are not true? Is it fiction if parts of it are?”

While “true” is often an ambiguous term, its meaning is even more complex in graphic nonfiction. Words refer to people and events without having to provide any details about them. But a picture refers to things only through its details. In Barry’s memoir, her words - such as the statement “My mom was on the front porch screaming” --

seem unremarkably true. But the accompanying drawings, especially their cartoonish details, are impossible and so necessarily untrue. Or at least their exaggerated version of the truth is inherently fictionalized.

The beads of sweat that arc from her screaming mother’s forehead are not literal. They’re a cartooning norm -- what Beetle Bailey artist Mort Walker terms “plewds”. Her mother’s actual mouth presumably cannot open to the hinge of her jaw -- what Walker terms a “physiocomica” effect in which body parts transform to emphasize action. Barry employs all of the rights of Walker’s “Cartoonist License”, which allows an artist “to take as many liberties with the human anatomy, inanimate objects … necessary to produce the desired effect and even invent stuff that isn’t there yet.” Since her subject matter is memoir, that also includes inventing stuff that wasn’t there then, either.

Rather than obscuring the fictionalizing of her art, Barry highlights it. When recounting her failure as a friend to her neighbor Ev, Barry reproduces a black and white photograph: “This is Ev and me in a photo booth in a Woolworth’s a thousand years ago.” The effect is jarring since Ev and Lynda as they appear in the preceding panels bear no resemblance to the two faces in the photo. While Barry’s words create the illusion of direct access to her childhood world, her drawings communicate the opposite: the vivid universe of the images are not from her childhood, but an intentionally warped interpretation in which no single detail is literal.

The warping extends beyond the cartoon style. Even if rendered photorealistically, the content itself is warped. The miniature scenes are conglomerate memories, assembling a range of disparate details for instantaneous effect -- as when Barry draws the simultaneous shouts and spoken asides of her group of friends as they play kickball in the street. This is not a single event, but an evocation of multiple, similar moments.

The warping also reveals that the words in Barry’s speech bubbles are different from the words in the caption boxes drawn above them because the exact, in-scene dialogue is necessarily invented. Again, Barry draws attention to the fact, labeling a speech bubble spoken by one of her ex-boyfriends with a free-floating arrow and parenthetical aside: “(actual dialog)”, implying that all other dialogue is not “actual”. She similarly glosses one of her mother’s earlier speech bubbles: “Sounds better in Tagalog,” her mother’s Philippine dialect, meaning that her mother was not speaking English despite the content of her speech bubble being in English.

Barry’s textual narration literally dominates, with the black words always positioned above the images in white captions boxes that typically take half or more of each panel. The narrative flow is also controlled by the text, with each drawing serving as a fictionalized illustration of the words directly above it. While the text would form coherent narratives if read in isolation, the sequence of drawings would often breakdown with sometimes inexplicable content and unintelligible leaps between panels. The narrating words, however, are also hand-drawn, often in an idiosyncratic cursive style that emphasizes their physicality on the page and so contrasts their remotely objective tone. Like all memories, nothing in the memoir is entirely reliable, either.

When originally published online, Barry composed in units of four square panels arranged in a larger square over a continuous white background. In book form, each set of four panels form a single row, with two panels per each atypically wide page. The backgrounds change with each chapter, fluctuating in color and implied texture, including yellow legal paper. Barry also adds two-page spreads between chapters that not only introduce each chapter but further emphasize the physicality of the images with clusters of collage effects including photographs of actual, multi-medium collages. The illusion is that of a unique physical object as if each copy of the book is its single original.

Barry also adds introductory and concluding pages that frame the memoir with descriptions of its creative process -- including how-to instructions for readers to create their own demons based on a 16th century Japanese painting exercise that inspired Barry. Barry’s “I had so much fun!” invitation contradicts the emotionally dark tone of the chapters since each is more a painful exorcism than a playful exercise. The demons embody the difficult recollections and recognitions of the adult author looking back at the most traumatic periods of her early life. Her self-parodic cartoon self both places the events at a soothingly fictionalized distance and inflates them with brutally exaggerated intensity.

While the cartoon norms and four-panel form in Barry's work suggest the escapist silliness of newspaper funnies like Mort Walker’s Beetle Bailey, they also reveal the emotional power those norms and form can unexpectedly wield.

7

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.


60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

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Music

The Best Dance Tracks of 2017

Photo: Murielle Victorine Scherre (Courtesy of Big Beat Press)

From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

In June of 2016, prolific producer Diplo lambasted the world of DJ's in an interview with Billboard, stating that EDM was dying. Coincidentally enough, the article's contents went viral and made their way into Vice Media's electronic music and culture channel Thump, which closed its doors after four years this summer amid company-wide layoffs. Months earlier, electronic music giant SFX Entertainment filed bankruptcy and reemerged as Lifestyle, Inc., shunning the term "EDM".

So here we are at the end of 2017, and the internet is still a flurry with articles declaring that Electronic Dance Music is rotting from the inside out and DJ culture is dying on the vine, devoured by corporate greed. That might all well be the case, but electronic music isn't disappearing into the night without a fight as witnessed by the endless parade of emerging artists on the scene, the rise of North America's first Electro Parade in Montréal, and the inaugural Electronic Music Awards in Los Angeles this past September.

For every insipid, automaton disc jockey-producer, there are innovative minds like Anna Lunoe, Four Tet, and the Black Madonna, whose eclectic, infectious sets display impeccable taste, a wealth of knowledge, and boundless creativity. Over the past few years, many underground artists have been thrust into the mainstream spotlight and lost the je ne sais quoi that made them unique. Regardless, there will always be new musicians, producers, singers, and visionaries to replace them, those who bring something novel to the table or tip a hat to their predecessors in a way that steps beyond homage and exhilarates as it did decades before.

As electronic music continues to evolve and its endless sub-genres continue to expand, so do fickle tastes, and preferences become more and more subjective with a seemingly endless list of artists to sift through. With so much music to digest, its no wonder that many artists remain under the radar. This list hopes to remedy that injustice and celebrate tracks both indie and mainstream. From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

10. Moullinex - “Work It Out (feat. Fritz Helder)”

Taken from Portuguese producer, DJ, and multi-instrumentalist Luis Clara Gomes' third album Hypersex, "Work It Out" like all of its surrounding companions is a self-proclaimed, "collective love letter to club culture, and a celebration of love, inclusion and difference." Dance music has always seemingly been a safe haven for "misfits" standing on the edge of the mainstream, and while EDM manufactured sheen might have taken the piss out of the scene, Hypersex still revels in that defiant, yet warm and inviting attitude.

Like a cheeky homage to Rick James and the late, great High Priest of Pop, Prince, this delectably filthy, sexually charged track with its nasty, funk-drenched bass line, couldn't have found a more flawless messenger than former Azari & III member Fritz Helder. As the radiant, gender-fluid artist sings, "you better work your shit out", this album highlight becomes an anthem for all those who refuse to bow down to BS. Without any accompanying visuals, the track is electro-funk perfection, but the video, with its ruby-red, penile glitter canon, kicks the whole thing up a notch.

9. Touch Sensitive - “Veronica”

The neon-streaked days of roller rinks and turtlenecks, leg warmers and popped polo collars have come and gone, but you wouldn't think so listening to Michael "Touch Sensitive" Di Francesco's dazzling debut Visions. The Sydney-based DJ/producer's long-awaited LP and its lead single "Lay Down", which shot to the top of the Hype Machine charts, are as retro-gazing as they are distinctly modern, with nods to everything from nu disco to slo-mo house.

Featuring a sample lifted from 90s DJ and producer Paul Johnson's "So Much (So Much Mix)," the New Jack-kissed "Veronica" owns the dance floor. While the conversational interplay between the sexed-up couple is anything but profound, there is no denying its charms, however laughably awkward. While not everything on Visions is as instantly arresting, it is a testament to Di Francesco's talents that everything old sounds so damn fresh again.

8. Gourmet - “Delicious”

Neither Gourmet's defiantly eccentric, nine-track debut Cashmere, nor its subsequent singles, "There You Go" or "Yellow" gave any indication that the South African purveyor of "spaghetti pop" would drop one of the year's sassiest club tracks, but there you have it. The Cape Town-based artist, part of oil-slick, independent label 1991's diminutive roster, flagrantly disregards expectation on his latest outing, channeling the Scissor Sisters at their most gloriously bitchy best, Ratchet-era Shamir, and the shimmering dance-pop of UK singer-producer Joe Flory, aka Amateur Best.

With an amusingly detached delivery that rivals Ben Stein's droning roll call in Ferris Bueller's Day Off , he sings "I just want to dance, and fuck, and fly, and try, and fail, and try again…hold up," against a squelchy bass line and stabbing synths. When the percussive noise of what sounds like a triangle dinner bell appears within the mix, one can't help but think that Gourmet is simply winking at his audience, as if to say, "dinner is served."

7. Pouvoir Magique - “Chalawan”

Like a psychoactive ayahuasca brew, the intoxicating "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique's LP Disparition, is an exhilarating trip into unfamiliar territory. Formed in November of 2011, "Magic Power" is the musical project of Clément Vincent and Bertrand Cerruti, who over the years, have cleverly merged several millennia of songs from around the world with 21st-century beats and widescreen electro textures. Lest ye be worried, this is anything but Deep Forest.

In the spring of 2013, Pouvoir Magique co-founded the "Mawimbi" collective, a project designed to unite African musical heritage with contemporary soundscapes, and released two EPs. Within days of launching their label Musiques de Sphères, the duo's studio was burglarized and a hard drive with six years of painstakingly curated material had vanished. After tracking down demos they shared with friends before their final stages of completion, Clément and Bertrand reconstructed an album of 12 tracks.

Unfinished though they might be, each song is a marvelous thing to behold. Their stunning 2016 single "Eclipse," with its cinematic video, might have been one of the most immediate songs on the record, but it's the pulsing "Chalawan," with its guttural howls, fluttering flute-like passages, and driving, hypnotic beats that truly mesmerizes.

6. Purple Disco Machine - “Body Funk” & “Devil In Me” (TIE)

Whenever a bevy of guest artists appears on a debut record, it's often best to approach the project with caution. 85% of the time, the collaborative partners either overshadow the proceedings or detract from the vision of the musician whose name is emblazoned across the top of the LP. There are, however, pleasant exceptions to the rule and Tino Piontek's Soulmatic is one of the year's most delightfully cohesive offerings. The Dresden-born Deep Funk innovator, aka Purple Disco Machine, has risen to international status since 2009, releasing one spectacular track and remix after another. It should go without saying that this long-awaited collection, featuring everyone from Kool Keith to Faithless and Boris D'lugosch, is ripe with memorable highlights.

The saucy, soaring "Mistress" shines a spotlight on the stellar pipes of "UK soul hurricane" Hannah Williams. While it might be a crowning moment within the set, its the strutting discofied "Body Funk", and the album's first single, "Devil In Me", that linger long after the record has stopped spinning. The former track with its camptastic fusion of '80s Sylvester gone 1940s military march, and the latter anthem, a soulful stunner that samples the 1968 Stax hit "Private Number", and features the vocal talents of Duane Harden and Joe Killington, feels like an unearthed classic. Without a doubt, the German DJ's debut is one of the best dance records of the year.

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