DataViz in Education: Lynda Berry’s Creative Syllabus & Homework Assignments


Cartoonist, Lynda Barry, aka Professor Chewbacca, aka The Near Sighted Monkey is no secret. I hope to one day to be able to attend one of her classes or at least a lecture or presentation by her. Until that time, I follow her Tumblr page, follow her homework assignments, writing exercises and lesson plans intended for students who take her class, “The Unthinkable Mind,” at the University of Wisconsin.


Barry’s paradigm requires information for the students to always be executed on paper, even when they have been retrieved on smartphones, tablets, and a variety of other devices.

They are the antithesis of dry. A less accidental professor might have dispensed with the doodle encrusted, lined yellow legal paper, after privately outlining her game plan. Barry’s choice to preserve and share the method behind her madness is a gift to students, and to herself. [1]


As Hillary L. Chute notes in Graphic Women: Life Narrative and Contemporary Comics:

 The decontextualization of cheap, common, or utilitarian paper (which also harkens back to the historical avant-garde) may be understood as a transvaluation of the idea of working on “waste” –a knowing, ironic acknowledgment on Barry’s part that her life narrative, itself perhaps considered insignificant, is visualized in an accessible popular medium, comics, that is still largely viewed as “garbage.”


Working on “garbage” must come as a relief for someone like Barry, who has talked about growing up under a hostile mother who saw her daughter’s creative impulses as a “waste” of paper:


I got screamed at a lot for using up paper. The only blank paper in the house was hers, and if she found out I touched it she’d go crazy. I sometimes stole paper from school and even that made her mad. I think it’s why I hoard paper to this day. I have so much blank paper everywhere, in every drawer, on every shelf, and still when I need a sheet I look in the garbage first. I agonize over using a “good” sheet of paper for anything. I have good drawing paper I’ve been dragging around for twenty years because I’m not good enough to use it yet. Yes, I know this is insane.


Sample assignments from “The Unthinkable Mind” are above and below, and you will find many more in Syllabus: Notes from an Accidental Professor. Let us know if Professor Chewbacca’s neurological assumptions are correct. Does drawing and writing by hand release the monsters from the id and squelch the internal editor who is the enemy of art? [1]



And now, all of these course materials have been collected as Syllabus: Notes from an Accidental Professor, an old fashioned, tangible book.



[1] Ayun Halliday, Lynda Barry’s Wonderfully Illustrated Syllabus & Homework Assignments from Her UW-Madison Class, “The Unthinkable Mind”,, Art, Comics/Cartoons, Creativity, Life, Writing, November 28th, 2014,

[2] Lynda Barry, The Near-Sighted Monkey, Tumblr Page,




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