Academic journal article MELUS

Liminality and Mestiza Consciousness in Lynda Barry's One Hundred Demons

Academic journal article MELUS

Liminality and Mestiza Consciousness in Lynda Barry's One Hundred Demons

Article excerpt

While most Filipino American artists have yet to register on American culture's radar screen, one Pinay (1) has single-handedly redefined and influenced American popular culture for over twenty years. Hailed by The Village Voice as "one of the greatest cartoonists in the world," Lynda K. Barry, born in 1956, is best known for the syndicated alternative newspaper comic strip, "Ernie Pook's Comeek" and its high-spirited "gifted child" Marlys Mullen (qtd. in Hempel 1). (2) She is heralded for her contributions to alternative comics and "wimmen's comix," and recently garnered critical acclaim for her disturbing first novel, Cruddy. What many of her fans may not know, however, is that Barry's earliest work includes stories of her growing up a working-class, mixed-race Filipina in Seattle in the 1960s. "One Hundred Demons," a series of twenty-panel full-color strips, published semi-monthly online from April 7, 2000, to January 15, 2001, signals her return to this more autobiographical, self-reflexive mode. (3) Barry recently published these comics in book form under the same title. This essay will outline Barry's important but overlooked contributions to the growing body of Filipina American feminist (peminist) writings and to contemporary Filipino American cultural production in general. (4)

One Hundred Demons is an exploration of events and memories that deeply affected the artist, namely, her childhood and its manifold tragedies, large and small. It deftly exhibits the hallmarks of Barry's powerful storytelling aesthetic: her deliberately "naive" graphic style complements the brutally honest musings of its young narrator and the often harsh subjects of the strips themselves. Issues of identity and liminality emerge from this collection of comics, themes which have particular resonance for Filipino Americans. Most significant is the fact that these themes are explored from the standpoint of a mixed-race Filipina narrator, "Lynda." With her freckles, bright red hair, and white skin, Lynda is blessed with a "a funny way of being Filipina" (E-mail to author, 14 December 2001). Caught between her physical appearance and her racial identity as a mixed-race Pinay, Lynda must negotiate the double-edged sword of her whiteness and its significance within US racial formations. Below I delineate how Barry's cartoon explorations of Filipina American mestizaness juxtapose the binaries of liminality and mestiza consciousness in order to proffer alternative conceptions of being that contribute greatly to Filipina American visibility, agency, and decolonization. Before discussing these aspects in detail, however, I will contextualize Barry's work within contemporary cartoon history and criticism as well as within Filipino American theorizing about identity formation and mestizaness.

"New" and "Wimmin's" Comix

Barry, one of the very few syndicated American female cartoonists, is known for her signature storytelling and bold graphic style, what critic Bob Callahan deems her "brilliant narrative skills" (12-13). Her work is said to embody the spirit of "New Comics" as well as "wimmen's" or feminist comics. "New Comics," comic art oppositional to the corporate produced and syndicated comic strips like "Spiderman," the "X-men," and "Garfield," and created by independent artists like Art Spiegelman, Los Bros Hernandez ("Love and Rockets"), and Roberta Gregory ("Naughty Bits"), have been described as antiheroic, nihilist, subversive, political, autobiographical, and postmodern (Callahan 6-14). Art Spiegelman insists on the term "comix" to emphasize the "co-mixture" of text and graphics in this art form and maintains that comix are twenty-first century art, "graphic literature," rather than just amusing cartoons about "funny animals." Callahan, in his introduction to The New Comics Anthology (which includes work by Barry), maintains that New Comics signal the shift from "entertainment to new pop art form"; furthermore, he identifies the contributions of women artists like Barry to the genre as strong storytelling via autobiography and an overtly feminist stance (12-13). …

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