Department of Injustice: Lynda Barry, The Gifted Cartoonist, Doesn't Have Money To Fix Her Teeth

What Women Really Think
Oct. 28 2011 10:25 AM

How the Hell Did Lynda Barry Get Forgotten?

Portrait of cartoonistLynda Barry at theAlternative Press Expo 2010.

Photograph of Lynda Berry by Guillaume Paumier/Wikimedia Commons.

Whatever happened to Lynda Barry? The ugly, eccentric, and misunderstood figures in her cartoons formed the backdrop to my adolescence; they made it okay to be all of the above. Her sensibility was dark -- much darker, I think, than the work of her contemporary Matt Groening, who was writing Life in Hell while she was writing Ernie Pook’s Comeek. Barry’s settings were domestic and her plots filled with mundane details, but those qualities only made her cartoons more relatable. She wrote about sadness, about regret, about missed chances, about being less of a good human being than you wanted to be. She wrote about big issues in little ways. There was little redemption, little nobility in Barry’s drawn world.

The New York Times Magazine has a story about what happened to Lynda Barry, which is only a little weird because the newspaper carried a rather similar story in 2008. But anyway, it sounds like times are tough for her. The money for her alt-weekly strip dried up, and she stopped drawing it in 2008, after nearly 30 years. She’s written some books, and she sells her art on eBay. (By contrast, her buddy Groening, of course, became the hugely successful creator of The Simpsons.) Barry also teaches an unorthodox class on creativity and writing at Miami Dade College, pushing her students to let go of narrative conventions; to write and think simply and with attention to detail, like children. It sounds like pre-school for adults. It sounds wonderful.


At one point in Dan Kois’ profile, Barry tells her class about why she loves creative work so much. “I mean, I don’t have health insurance,” she says, “and dental work is really an issue, but the feeling that life is worth living? Being in this class gives me that in spades.”

When you’re a child you just assume that people are rewarded for their talents; that those who contribute beautiful, poignant things to the world are valued in such a way that allows them to, say, get their teeth fixed. But man, if the ruthlessness of becoming an adult doesn’t knock that naivete straight out of you.

Libby Copeland is a writer in New York and a regular Slate contributor. She was previously a Washington Post reporter and editor for 11 years. She can be reached at



Blacks Don’t Have a Corporal Punishment Problem

Americans do. But when blacks exhibit the same behaviors as others, it becomes part of a greater black pathology. 

I Bought the Huge iPhone. I’m Already Thinking of Returning It.

Scotland Is Just the Beginning. Expect More Political Earthquakes in Europe.

Lifetime Didn’t Think the Steubenville Rape Case Was Dramatic Enough

So they added a little self-immolation.

Two Damn Good, Very Different Movies About Soldiers Returning From War

Medical Examiner

The Most Terrifying Thing About Ebola 

The disease threatens humanity by preying on humanity.

Students Aren’t Going to College Football Games as Much Anymore, and Schools Are Getting Worried

The Good Wife Is Cynical, Thrilling, and Grown-Up. It’s Also TV’s Best Drama.

  News & Politics
Sept. 19 2014 9:15 PM Chris Christie, Better Than Ever
Business Insider
Sept. 20 2014 6:30 AM The Man Making Bill Gates Richer
Sept. 20 2014 7:27 AM How Do Plants Grow Aboard the International Space Station?
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 19 2014 4:58 PM Steubenville Gets the Lifetime Treatment (And a Cheerleader Erupts Into Flames)
  Slate Plus
Slate Picks
Sept. 19 2014 12:00 PM What Happened at Slate This Week? The Slatest editor tells us to read well-informed skepticism, media criticism, and more.
Brow Beat
Sept. 19 2014 4:48 PM You Should Be Listening to Sbtrkt
Future Tense
Sept. 19 2014 6:31 PM The One Big Problem With the Enormous New iPhone
  Health & Science
Bad Astronomy
Sept. 20 2014 7:00 AM The Shaggy Sun
Sports Nut
Sept. 18 2014 11:42 AM Grandmaster Clash One of the most amazing feats in chess history just happened, and no one noticed.