Come Over Come Over by Lynda Barry, from Drawn+Quarterly, refuses to be nestled into a defined genre. It carries an ongoing narrative like a graphic novel, but it has quirky asides in a handful of panels fitting to a comic strip. Its art leans toward the style of zines at their peak in the late 1980s and early ‘90s as Barry was first creating the comics for Ernie Pook’s Comeek, yet the organization fits with regular publication. The art is rich enough to carry the story itself, which is fleshed out with sarcasm and wordplay in the captioning. Or is it the written words that carry the story and the art that illustrates it? Perhaps it can only be summed up as, in the words of the main character’s sister, “the greatest!”
Come Over Come Over is told through the diary entries and letters of Maybonne, a 14-year-old trying to navigate the world. While Barry has stated that the stories from her comics are not biographical, they carry a wealth of cultural and personal depth that captures the era of flower-print everything and the universal truths all of us who have lived through difficult tween years can recognize.
Marybonne struggles to maintain friendships, find or resist romantic relationships, succeed in school despite teachers who think they are cool but whom she hates, and decipher how the world can be so magical and so sucky at the same time.
Much of the story follows one year as Maybonne finishes school and then moves to live with her grandmother for the summer and fall. Her recounting of events is packed with editorialization that leaves the reader laughing or humming with deeper thought. Maybonne gives biting critiques of her teachers, such as Miss Rayburn who “thinks she is so mod but she isn’t” and “keeps talking about how she had to pick between fashion model or Home Ec teacher. In her dreams!! As if you would ever pick Home Ec teacher!”
Her friends and family face such judgment, too, though they often receive more praise. When her cousin draws a portrait of the Virgin Mary that received a bad grade for making her “a beauty queen,” Maybonne empathizes, writing that “he is an incredible artist” and “I never knew looking at a picture could make you feel so sad.”
Maybonne’s commentary in Come Over Come Over is its icing, but the cake is the narrative with its real-world events that range from all-out hilarity to gut-wrenching drama. Reading through is a journey that moves from friends laughing so hard they drop their lunch trays to having a first coffee with a recovering alcoholic father, who has already left once, as he confesses he is leaving again. No matter the situation, Barry is able to find the profoundness in how real reality is. Perhaps it is best summed up in the simple reflection, “In a way her barfing turned out to be a good thing because it made my grandma come running out and it took her mind off my dad.”