The Good Times Are Killing Me

Born in Wisconsin, to a Filipino mother and a Norwegian-Irish father, artist and author Lynda Barry had an early awareness of race and cultural differences. Since her mother felt out of place in the Midwest, her family moved to Seattle, where her father felt out of place among her mother's family. She told the San Jose Mercury News, "I never felt completely Filipino and I never felt completely white . . . I felt completely different. I didn't even feel like a girl; I didn't feel like a boy, either. I could not find a peer." Her parents eventually broke up.

Lynda Barry was the first in her family to attend college, and first in her multi-racial Seattle neighborhood. At Evergreen State College, she began drawing cartoons for the college newspaper, and she has since become more widely known for her comics than her other works. However, it was a series of portraits she painted that led to The Good Times Are Killing Me. When asked to write an introduction for the exhibition catalog, Barry read up on the lives of the 18 American musicians she had chosen to portray. What she discovered was that most of her favorite musicians, from blues singer Gertude "Ma" Rainey to Otis Redding, were African Americans who had had to overcome poverty and racial discrimination to pursue thier musical careers. Hence, our protagonists's upbeat account that "the book I read on him [Louis Armstrong] said that getting put in the Colored Waif's Home was the luckiest thing that ever happened to him because if you want to get professional on an instrument you really do have to concentrate, and it turns out that jail is one of the best places to do it."

Barry told the New York Times, "I really wanted to show how the problem of racism affects people for their entire lives. Edna and Bonna are a couple of kids who became friends at a time when they each really needed a friend. And that need isn't about to stop. I wanted to make them the first casualties. Because it is a war. To me, [The Good Times Are Killing Me] is a tragedy - or perhaps a feel-bad comedy."

Page last updated: Wednesday, September 13, 2006