The Handwriting On The Wall.

It’s hard for people to understand the importance of a cartoonist’s handwriting. In the same way melody transforms lyrics, handwriting transforms words and can have a profound impact on how the story is received and understood.

That’s from Lynda Barry’s review of BRAZEN: Rebel Ladies Who Rocked the World by Pénélope Bagieu, a book of cartoon portraits of historic women, in the March 20, 2018 New York Times Book Review. Barry adds that, since this is a translation from a French book, Bagieu’s original handwriting has been almost entirely removed “even when completely unnecessary”.

That’s a shame and it also got me thinking about the intimacy of handwriting, of written language itself. Letters evolved from pictures and we’re kind of getting back to that with emojs becoming a language of their own.

Lynda Barry is a cartoonist herself and I remember seeing some of her comics when I was in college, in various alternative newspapers that got passed around the dorms. Something I remember from the same time one of my professors told me, “I always recognize your handwriting because I can’t read it,” but that’s another story. I loved Barry’s excruciatingly weird and funny portraits and I never thought about it but there was something special about the way she lettered her comics too.

At the same time I was reading Lynda Barry’s comics I was also reading Arthur Rimbaud for the first time so, as a final send-off to National Poetry Month, here’s a poem of his, translated by George J. Dance.


Black A, white E, red I, green U, blue O: you vowels,

Some day I’ll tell the tale of where your mystery lies:

Black A, a jacket formed of hairy, shiny flies

That buzz among harsh stinks in the abyss’s bowels;


White E, the white of kings, of moon-washed fogs and tents,

Of fields of shivering chervil, glaciers’ gleaming tips;

Red I, magenta, spat-up blood, the curl of lips

In laughter, hatred, or besotted penitence;


Green U, vibrating waves in viridescent seas,

Or peaceful pastures flecked with beasts – furrows of peace

Imprinted on our brows as if by alchemies;


Blue O, great Trumpet blaring strange and piercing cries

Through Silences where Worlds and Angels pass crosswise;

Omega, O, the violet brilliance of Those Eyes!

That’s pretty good but I think Lynda Barry deserves the last word.

Source: Lambiek Comiclopedia




Facebook Comments


  1. Donna

    LOVE Barry and Rimbaud.

    I’ve thought of making a font of my handwriting. I could then type versus pen my thoughts AND still be illegible.

    1. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

      A font of your handwriting would be brilliant. It would be illegible and intimate at the same time.

  2. Amy

    That poem is describing Rimbaud’s synaesthesia, I’m willing to venture. I have letter-number colors but also dominant and recessive ones, textures, shades, attached emotions, and shapes and motions. Words take on life. This poem is a first for me – someone *gets* it. Off to read more of him … and enjoying reading a fellow Adams fan (you)!

    1. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

      I never thought about Rimbaud’s poem as synaesthesia, but I think you’re absolutely right–thank you so much for giving me a whole new way to read that poem. And thank you for dropping by!

  3. Ann Koplow

    I love Lynda Barry and everything else about this post.

    If I had handwritten this comment, it would read “A vive Lynder Benny und eurythmia eval obit thus port” which is quite different.

    1. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

      It sounds as though you and I have similar handwriting, which isn’t surprising. Birds of a feather write together.


Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

CommentLuv badge