It’s So Magic by Lynda Barry from Drawn+Quarterly continues the catalogue of Barry’s long-running strip in Ernie Pook’s Comeek from the 1990s. Previous collections have shown the strip following the life of Maybonne Mullin as she journeys through her early teen years in the 1970s. This latest collection continues the epistolary nature, often written in letters to her friend Brenda whom she left behind when moving to live with her grandmother, as well as incorporating more from Maybonne’s younger siblings for a riotous perspective on the world from stuntmen to philosophy and Vietnam politics to weird dreams involving cleaning up the Creature from the Black Lagoon so he can find a girlfriend.
New readers can jump in readily to It’s So Magic without needing to catch up on previous adventures. In fact, nearly any of the strips would make a good jumping-in place thanks to their publication in periodicals, so each character is described with relationship and characterization that is as informative to new readers as it is reinforcing to those who have been following Maybonne for years. The first pages of It’s So Magic makes an excellent introduction by having Maybonne describe her family members in a Health class psychology test where she must draw them.
The narrative in It’s So Magic picks up readily with storylines that fold into each other. First Maybonne watches as her younger sister Marlys falls in love and then struggle with the complexity of young relationships where they can be girlfriend-boyfriend, but they cannot tell anyone, and she has to let him say the awesome Daddy Roth race cars she draws are his. Family shapes the course of Maybonne’s life as she learns of her cool uncle’s homosexuality and then her mother decides that she wants Maybonne, Marlys, and their brother Freddie to all move back with her.
As Freddie is brought more fully into Maybonne’s life, the comics in It’s So Magic begin to appear more from Marlys and Freddie’s works. These asides from the narrative present Marlys’s suggestions for New Years resolutions like not to feed a dog a whole pack of baloney or put milk in Donny Baver’s trumpet, many of which were learned the hard way. Freddie gives an informative book report on bats. Marlys and Freddie team up to work on a comprehensive instruction manual for stuntmen with 679 planned pages, though only four are completed thus far.
The asides are enjoyable and adorable peeks into young creative minds while furthering characterization with Marlys’s unceasing optimism and Freddie’s wonder of nature, but it is Maybonne’s introspective musing that carries the depth of It’s So Magic. She works to reconcile her religious beliefs in a time of change and struggles with encouraging soldiers at the front while still decrying the war. Most of all is the issue of forgiveness, whether a mother who has routinely disappointed, a friend who lied about her, or herself as experiments with adulthood prove unfulfilling just as she was warned. Through it all, the comics present a graphic narrative as well as words in extensive captions that work alongside one another while not always directly interacting, leading the reader to reflect already in what is said and said again in periphery.