Syllabus by Lynda Barry, Drawn & Quarterly, 200 pages, $24.95
In recent years, Lynda Barry – half cartoonist, half guru, and entirely irrepressible – has created her own genre, handcrafting inspirational guidebooks about how and why to be creative. What It Is and Picture This helped convince even self-doubting readers that the power to construct stories and images lies dormant within them. Barry's latest, Syllabus, expands upon those how-to manuals by drawing (quite literally) on the lesson plans for her popular seminars on creativity, compiled in a mock composition book. At once free-form and methodical in the tasks they lay out ("Let's draw a car and then let's draw Batman"), Barry's exercises come adorned with the unaffected drawings of many of her students, as well as meditations from the inquisitive professor herself. Scrawled out and doodled all over the page, collaged together with snippets of schoolwork, snatches of poetry, and drawings of weird-looking monsters, Barry's notes double as dispatches from a fertile unconscious, and testify once more to the unfathomable depths of human invention.
Wendy by Walter Scott, Koyama Press, 216 pages, $18
Montreal cartoonist Walter Scott's affectionately bilious debut introduces the twenty-something Wendy, a spaghetti-limbed, rubber-faced, art-scene aspirant. Scott knows the post-BFA world that Wendy's afloat in so well that every detail reads like a pointed sub-tweet. "They're not quilts," contends one ingénue at a gallery, "they're textile hypersigils"; Wendy's own practice consists of, well, "bringing forth new possibilities within an alter-modern framework." Still, when she's not parroting art-speak or getting sloppily hammered and chatting up scuzzbags, Wendy is smart enough to see through the pretensions of her peers. After she wins a spot in an artists' retreat, we suspect that somewhere behind her aimless naiveté, Wendy has the potential to find real direction in life. Though she begins as a cartoon character in the classic mold – lovably unchanging, completely abject – as this book ends, it becomes more poignant than funny to watch Wendy fall on her face. Scott takes a snarky scene report, and subtly shades it into an affecting character study – how's that for art?
Doctors by Dash Shaw, Fantagraphics, 96 pages, $16.99
Dash Shaw's slim, exhilarating piece of speculative fiction begins in simple but bewildering fashion. Late in life, the wealthy Miss Bell sparks a romance with a young stranger, only to have her daughter and heir show up and insist that her mother has died, and nothing that's happening is real. Each panel proceeds to the next with an off-putting, staccato pacing, while the colour of each page shifts abruptly, unnaturally – taupe, leaf green, steel blue. Miss Bell has indeed passed away, we learn, and Shaw's off-kilter cartooning replicates the distressing process of being brought back to life – the deceased awakens, surrounded by a medical team who've invented a way to cheat death, for a price. As the patient yearns to return to the grave, and the titular doctors debate the morality of their actions, they continue to line up other one-per-centers to resurrect. Throughout these blackly comic proceedings, Shaw maintains the surrealism of his book's early stretches with philosophical curiosity and virtuosic ease.