Monday, February 15, 2010

Review - One! Hundred! Demons!

One! Hundred! Demons!
by Lynda Barry
2003 Eisner Winner Best New Graphic Album

Here's three quick facts about Lynda Barry and the kind of book One! Hundred! Demons! is for you:

1. It's a book where the author felt the need to include three exclamation points in the title. It's obviously there but it's the kind of thing that might come across as just an oddity outside of context.

2. She coins the word "autobifictionalography", possibly without irony. The word itself is bad enough but splitting a root as part of her portmanteau makes my eye twitch.

3. She randomly switches between cursive and block lettering. And I mean randomly. It's not for emphasis, structure, or clarity. At some points she switches midword. And one time switches back and forth twice in the same word.

These are microscopic nitpicks but they speak a lot to the tone of the book. It's all about the author trying to be cute and clever and coming across as annoying. One! Hundred! Demons! is a collection of strips about Barry's early life where she imparts trite life lessons into the anecdotes and tells us things like, "What's infinity minus all the songs in the world? The ones you listened to, the ones she listened to, the ones you sang together that day. Do you believe in magic? Yes or no?" Each image contains a caption that long and often that incoherent. It took me almost a week to get through the book because my eyes kept glazing over.

One! Hundred! Demons! is a collection of webcomics originally published at so there isn't any storyline. There are just about twenty strips (not One! Hundred!) that run around eight pages each. And each page is a simple two square panels where most of that is taken up by the caption. The closest thing to a theme is that most of them deal with Barry's childhood and teenage years.

As you might guess from that sample above Barry's writing is painful. The stories she chooses to tell about herself aren't any better. There's the time she took LSD in order to impress a guy she had a crush on. Or the time she left a friend behind to hang out with the cool crowd. These are the exact same stories that everyone tells about their youth and Barry tells these stories poorly.

Adding a final insult the art is essentially doodles. Don't expect any storytelling in the art since there isn't a single instance of panels flowing together. There are interstitial blocks that look like someone practiced pressing craft stores into their scrapbook. This is an ugly book on a design level and with the drawings.

Needless to say I hated One! Hundred! Demons! with a passion. It's an unreadable, hideous mess. It was painful to read and no matter what I looked at it didn't make things better. I cannot find a single positive thing to say about it.