Appreciation Art Books Cartoons Illustrations Perspective Reviews

An open letter to artist and writer Lynda Barry

The cover of Lynda Barry's book, One! Hundred! Demons!

January 28, 2021

Dear Lynda Barry,

My name is Erin Kim, and I am a 16-year-old who has been inspired by your book, One! Hundred! Demons! Thank you for writing and illustrating such a funny, relatable, and witty story filled with childhood memories and sometimes vain, but happy, dreams. I love your book, a collection of your stories with comics and mixed media art, because it is relatable for everyone: from a moody Gen Z teenager to my English teacher who recommended your book to me. The emotions you felt in your childhood, funny anecdotes, and encounters with valued friends and adults were sentimental, inspiring, and brought me back to my embarrassing, tedious, exhilarating, and sometimes depressing memories.

I know the saying, “don’t judge a book by its cover,” but in the case of One! Hundred! Demons!, it was the cover that piqued my interest and enticed me to start reading. The collage of drawings on yellow legal paper, a cut-out photo of a girl whimsically altered with paint, lace flowers, and an origami cicada drew me into your book. Not only did I love your representations of your demons, portrayed metaphorically as obstacles of life in your writings and literally as four-eyed monsters in your illustrations, but I was also mesmerized by the colors you used. I noticed that in scenes of the book in which you were expressing melancholy feelings, you used cold and somber colors like dark blue, green, and brown to emphasize your sadness. Brighter and warmer colors like orange, red, and pink were used in scenes of your happy, hopeful memories. 

A chapter to which I could specifically relate to was “Lost Worlds,” which explored the idea that the world of your childhood no longer exists. The sadness of being unable to revisit cherished memories and emotions with your loved ones struck me as very relatable. Reading the dialogue young Lynda has with her friends and experiencing the delight present in those late-night kickball games in dark alleys, I looked back to myself when I was that age. Walking back home after chatting with my best friends along the streets of Gangnam-gu, Seoul, South Korea, munching on tteokbokki, spicy rice cake snacks sold by affable street vendors, was the daily, happy elementary school life for me. 

In the comic you state, as your adult self, that you believed as a child that “the people in the airplanes passing over could see [you] and [think] [you] looked cool.”  I was amused by the similarities between young Lynda and myself. Your present self looks back to your “lost” childhood as you sit on an airplane, looking melancholy, ruminating over the past, and harboring regret over not fully appreciating the moments during kickball games. “Big things, yes, but the little things are lost.” As you correctly say, small and joyful memories often go unnoticed and unappreciated because people tend to forget them quickly. This idea closely resembles the phrase, “you only live once,” since there is one opportunity in which we can appreciate the beauty of the moment: the present. Late-night kickball games with your friends might not have been the most important thing that occurred during your childhood years, but those fun moments created a nostalgia that engulfs you, even as an adult. In every chapter, you teach the reader a meaningful lesson, such as this one, that we must live and learn to appreciate the present moment, knowing that we will never be able to restore the happiness felt in the moment. 

Now, as a high schooler, I know that I can never experience those carefree moments as a kid in elementary school again. Both my old friends and I are busy as high schoolers. Moreover, since my move to Massachusetts in the sixth grade, I have lost contact with many of them. Whenever I travel to Gangnam-gu during the summer and walk down that same dark alley, it strikes me as bitter and regretful that I never fully appreciated those joyful nights with my valued friends. I can never go back to those moments. As the details of those exciting memories grow fainter over the years I’ve lived in the U.S., I now realize that only when we live in the present will we not be regretful about the inability to recall these little moments in the future. Only then will we not spend time dwelling on the loss of youth and happiness. 

After finishing One! Hundred! Demons!, I also came to have huge respect for your character. As you overcome the demons, or barriers, you encounter in life, ranging from your worst boyfriend to bad decisions as a teenager, I marveled at what a brave and kind person you are. You describe your childhood as quite tragic: parental divorce, conflicts with your mother, difficult economic circumstances, and bullying. While many say that a happy childhood is ideal for creating successful and kind people, you overcome those obstacles and bad memories. Despite being scolded by your mother for desiring the girly accessories touted by other girls in the neighborhood, you continue to show empathy and kindness. As an adult, you generously bought accessories for Norabelle, a girl who comes to stay with you. This really touched my heart. That you bought things you wanted as a young girl for someone who isn’t biologically related to you shows your extremely considerate and empathetic nature. Overcoming your sadness, you didn’t want Norabelle to experience what you remember as a painful childhood. 

I have so much respect for you as an author and illustrator and admire your dedication to your job. You broke barriers in both literature and art in many ways throughout One! Hundred! Demons!. I think your description of the book as an “autobifictionalography” is accurate. Having both the elements of fiction and non-fiction, comic and novel, zen-style drawings and vignettes, One! Hundred! Demons! was the first work I’ve read that has so many different interesting subjects and categories combined into one amazing book. I can only imagine how long you spent working on each page, filling them with detailed writing and exquisite illustration, planning what materials to collage together. 

Thank you again for writing this beautiful, profound, unique, and witty book. I learned so much from the valuable lessons you teach through emotional and relatable scenes, as well as your dedication as a writer and cartoonist. As someone who both loves to write and draw as a hobby, you are someone I really look up to. I will always remember your resilience and positivity, even in times of difficulty. I have learned and connected so much with you, and I have the utmost gratitude for your funny and heartwarming masterpiece! 

All the best, 


Erin Kim is a Senior Reporter and Senior Illustrator with Youth Journalism International.

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