Lynda Barry’s Wonderfully Illustrated Syllabus & Homework Assignments from Her UW-Madison Class, “The Unthinkable Mind”

Lynda Barry Syllabus

Our rev­er­ence for car­toon­ist Lyn­da Bar­ry, aka Pro­fes­sor Chew­bac­ca, aka The Near Sight­ed Mon­key is no secret. We hope some­day to expe­ri­ence the plea­sure of her live teach­ings. ’Til then, we creep on her Tum­blr page, fol­low­ing with home­work assign­ments, writ­ing exer­cis­es and les­son plans intend­ed for stu­dents who take her class, “The Unthink­able Mind,” at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Wis­con­sin.

And now, those course mate­ri­als have been col­lect­ed as Syl­labus: Notes from an Acci­den­tal Pro­fes­sor, an old fash­ioned, tan­gi­ble book. It’s like a paper MOOC!

(Yes, we know, MOOCs are free. This will be too, if you add it to your hol­i­day wish list, or insist that your local library orders a copy.)

Barry 2

Barry’s march­ing orders are always to be exe­cut­ed on paper, even when they have been retrieved on smart­phones, tablets, and a vari­ety of oth­er screens. They are the antithe­sis of dry. A less acci­den­tal pro­fes­sor might have dis­pensed with the doo­dle encrust­ed, lined yel­low legal paper, after pri­vate­ly out­lin­ing her game plan. Barry’s choice to pre­serve and share the method behind her mad­ness is a gift to stu­dents, and to her­self.

barry homework

As Hillary L. Chute notes in Graph­ic Women: Life Nar­ra­tive and Con­tem­po­rary Comics:

 The decon­tex­tu­al­iza­tion of cheap, com­mon, or util­i­tar­i­an paper (which also harkens back to the his­tor­i­cal avant-garde) may be under­stood as a trans­val­u­a­tion of the idea of work­ing on “waste” –a know­ing, iron­ic acknowl­edg­ment on Barry’s part that her life nar­ra­tive, itself per­haps con­sid­ered insignif­i­cant, is visu­al­ized in an acces­si­ble pop­u­lar medi­um, comics, that is still large­ly viewed as “garbage.”

Work­ing on “garbage” must come as a relief for some­one like Bar­ry, who has talked about grow­ing up under a hos­tile moth­er who saw her daughter’s cre­ative impuls­es as a “waste” of paper:

I got screamed at a lot for using up paper. The only blank paper in the house was hers, and if she found out I touched it she’d go crazy. I some­times stole paper from school and even that made her mad. I think it’s why I hoard paper to this day. I have so much blank paper every­where, in every draw­er, on every shelf, and still when I need a sheet I look in the garbage first. I ago­nize over using a “good” sheet of paper for any­thing. I have good draw­ing paper I’ve been drag­ging around for twen­ty years because I’m not good enough to use it yet. Yes, I know this is insane.

Sam­ple assign­ments from “The Unthink­able Mind” are above and below, and you will find many more in Syl­labus: Notes from an Acci­den­tal Pro­fes­sor. Let us know if Pro­fes­sor Chew­bac­ca’s neu­ro­log­i­cal assump­tions are cor­rect. Does draw­ing and writ­ing by hand release the mon­sters from the id and squelch the inter­nal edi­tor who is the ene­my of art?

Barry 1

Barry 3

Barry 4

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Join Car­toon­ist Lyn­da Bar­ry for a Uni­ver­si­ty-Lev­el Course on Doo­dling and Neu­ro­science

Car­toon­ist Lyn­da Bar­ry Reveals the Best Way to Mem­o­rize Poet­ry

Lyn­da Bar­ry, Car­toon­ist Turned Pro­fes­sor, Gives Her Old Fash­ioned Take on the Future of Edu­ca­tion

1,700 Free Online Cours­es from Top Uni­ver­si­ties

Ayun Hal­l­i­day is an author, home­school­er, and Chief Pri­ma­tol­o­gist of the East Vil­lage Inky zine. Fol­low her @AyunHalliday

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