Historically Lynda Barry has been obsessed with romance, but that doesn’t mean she treats it seriously. Take her wedding last September. The scene was a Las Vegas chapel. The dress: a secondhand froufrou that, she says, resembled “a Mexican confirmation outfit.” The music: Here Comes the Bride, played on a ghetto blaster. The minister: a guy in an oversize hairpiece “that should have been in a science fiction movie.” Lynda had a sensible rationale for it all. “My side of the family loves to gamble, and I knew that if I went to Las Vegas they would all come to my wedding,” she explains. “They would have come anyway, but not with such gusto.”
Such devotion, such concern for the proper forms, is touching—touching, some might say, on the absurd. It’s also an attitude that has helped make Barry, 31, a cartoonist to be reckoned with. Her jarring, big-mouthed characters appear in 30 newspapers, a monthly Esquire column and four successful books: Girls and Boys, Big Ideas, Naked Ladies, Naked Ladies, Naked Ladies and her latest, Everything in the World (Harper & Row, $7.95). Barry’s slightly skewed dramatis personae range from an S&M pooch who stars in an imaginary movie called Poodle With a Mohawk (“He’s small. He’s black. He’s mad as hell…you’ll never call him FiFi again!”)to the romantic archetypes described in a strip labeled 9 Time Bombs of Love(Bomb #1516, “Squeaky,” is looking for a man “who understands the value of a good lint brush”; she can be recognized by the telltale phrases “Let’s make a list!” “Did you wash?” and “Not now, dear, I’m flossing.”) “You can learn more about male-female relationships from Lynda’s funnies than from any psychology book ever written,” declares novelist Tom Robbins, a fan and fellow resident of the Pacific Northwest. “She’s also proof that all truly smart people are hilarious.”
To hear Barry tell it, satirizing Everything in the World isn’t easy. There’s the endless research, which, among other things, means reading Cosmopolitan (“Cosmo talks about things educated women would not dare to admit they even think about”) and eavesdropping, often in singles bars. “I do love to eavesdrop,” she admits. “It’s inspirational, not only for subject matter but for actual dialogue, the way people talk.” Next comes the agony of creation. Barry has never learned to draw quickly, “like those guys who used to do the weather forecasts on TV.” She works six days a week in the cluttered studio of her Seattle home and labors over every frame. On slow days, she says, “I feel time passing—like I’m on a rotisserie in hell.”
Which is not to say that she doesn’t like her job. Drawing has been a passion ever since she was a grade-schooler in Seattle’s lower-middle-class pocket, South End. Her sense of humor, she suspects, began at home; her father, she says, “is very funny,” and her mother, conveniently, “will laugh at anything.” She published her first cartoons in a campus newspaper while attending the Evergreen State College in Washington, and her work was soon picked up by the Sun, a now-defunct Seattle weekly. By 1980 she was earning a living with her pen.
Until recently Barry’s cartoons have focused on the pleasures and pitfalls of singles romance. Her growing interest in broader topics—including childhood, families, commitment—may have something to do with Gregory Lee Lester, 32, the carpenter who joined Lynda at the altar on that fateful day in Las Vegas. The two first met at one of her book-signing parties in 1983. “He bought a lot of copies,” remembers Lynda. “From the minute I saw him, I felt I had been hit with a cattle prod, and apparently he had the same tingling sensation.”
After a three-week honeymoon—an “exotic tour” of the Midwest in Lynda’s ’67 Valiant—the couple settled into a two-story frame house in the staid, blue-collar Seattle neighborhood of Ballard. They have a front porch, two cats and a dog and a sign near the door that reads, “The Lesters: Greg & Lynda.” Many of their neighbors are retirees. “I love it here,” says Lynda. “The only bad thing is the driving—everything moves a little slower. A turn signal can mean ‘I am going to turn’ or ‘I have turned in the last half hour.’ ”
Will stability spoil the erstwhile bard of bachelorette angst? “It’s one thing to have a relationship, to lay your hands on it, and another to make it continue and last,” says Barry. “That’s something I haven’t talked about much in my comic strips, and it’s certainly something I’m interested in.”
A nation—or at least a scattered legion of wacko fans—awaits the answer.