Book: Syllabus by Lynda Barry
Genre: Creativity
Publisher: Drawn & Quarterly
Publication date: 2014
Pages: 200

Source: Library

Syllabus by Lynda Barry

The physical book feels just like a composition notebook.

Summary: Syllabus looks and feels just like a composition book, the space that Professor Lynda encourages her students to use for awareness and creativity  — expecting them to fill three or four volumes in a semester with drawings and writings. One of the things they do is fill out a formatted daily diary page, a process that takes less than 10 minutes.

The pages of Syllabus are filled with drawings, text (mostly hand-written), and color–inspiring the reader to want to make marks of her own on a page. Although there’s not much of a plot, the look and feel of the classes shine through and between the pages.

Thoughts: More than anything, this book made me want to take one of Lynda Barry’s classes. Barring that, I bought a composition notebook of my own. I wanted one with the traditional marbled cover, but Target didn’t have one of those, so I opted for a bright pink one  instead.

Composition notebook

My composition notebook. Extra credit if you recognize the type of label — I needed a label because the cover proved to be impossible to write on without smearing.

I also wanted to build some of the environment for myself that Professor Lynda creates for her classes — quiet, meditative, listening, drawing for discovery. It’s much harder to do that on my own, but this quote captures why I want it:

On my mind is the question raised by some of my students about what things are worth drawing and writing about — I don’t believe thinking can give you the answer to this though it feels like it can long enough to stop us from trying. We know that athletes, musicians, and actors all have to practice, rehearse, repeat things until it gets into the body, the ‘muscle memory,’ but for some reason, writers and visual artists think they have to be inspired before they make something. Not suspecting the physical act of writing or drawing is what brings that inspiration about. Worrying about its worth and value to others before it exists can keep us immobilized forever. Any story we write or picture we make cannot demonstrate its worth until we write it or draw it. The answer can’t come to us any other way. pp. 162, 163

Of course, given the nature of this book, that quote is even more meaningful with its accompanying comic strip.

One of the techniques Professor Lynda teaches is 4-panel comic strips. She explains Aristotle’s 3-act structure and Freytag’s 5-part dramatic pyramid…

…but comics somehow fit comfortably in 4 panels. There seems to be a need for an extra beat — maybe something like a no-action action — a pause. Practicing drawing things in fours is a good way to understand how this works. p. 124.

So, I drew my first-ever 4-panel comic. But, before I show you that, I want to explain something else that was inspired by Syllabus. Reading about college classes reminded me what many colleges are doing right now — offering 3-week intensive courses to fill the gap between the end of the spring semester and the beginning of the summer session. I had a project that required some short-term intense work, so I adopted that structure.

Unexpectedly, I found myself exploring the concept of intensity in my life. I like it. And, yet, I apparently also fear it. I’m trying to work past the fear to see what’s on the other side. Here’s how that played out in my imagination one day last week.

Intensity -- a 4-panel comic strip

Appeal: Syllabus will appeal to anyone looking for a more creative and visual way of being in the world.

logo for The Sunday SalonChallenges: Syllabus is my 8th book for the Nonfiction Reading Challenge. I’m doing great on that one since I’m half-way to my goal of 16 books and we’re not yet half-way through the year.

I’m also sharing this post with the Sunday Salon crowd since they appreciate the creative and personal sorts of thoughts that Syllabus brought out on me.

Have you read this book? What did you think?

Signature of Joy Weese Moll


Syllabus by Lynda Barry #BookReview — 13 Comments

  1. Why are you still hanging on to floppy disk labels? I guess you find uses, they’re big enough for a name tag also.
    This book sounds like an amazing inspiration for creative people. Are you going to decorate the outside, maybe a little decoupage?

    • I have zero floppy disks — just the labels! So I try to find ways to use them up. Decoupage might work well on that cover!

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  3. I like the idea of three weeks of intensive training or focusing on something. I might have to try this. Last week, I checked out Syllabus, but haven’t started it yet. It wasn’t until recently that the book was out of print.

    Are you finished with your project? Or are you still going strong?

    • I’m one week in! I’m taking a bit of a break today to write book reviews while watching auto races, but I’ll be back at it tomorrow!

  4. I love your cartoon and that you actually were inspired to try it through this book. I’m going to check it out – I love the cover and have always had a thing for notebooks.

  5. I ordered , received, and read this book a while back. Such a good read. Zap, zap, zap to my tired old thinking brain.

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  7. I just started reading this and am so inspired! I also bought a composition book… actually THREE composition books, as they are on sale for 1.00 at Staples right now. I am only a few pages in and already wishing intently that I could be in LB’s class!

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