Greg Hunter

Late to the Rack: Funny Misshapen Body

In Comics on September 12, 2009 at 1:33 AM

jb!

For the past decade, Jeffrey Brown has been producing funny, often poignant memoirs in comics form.  (He has also stepped into more absurd territory with books like Bighead and Incredible Change Bots, but that’s another post.)  I started reading Brown’s comics around the time I started looking at alternative comics generally, but I hadn’t checked out his latest release Funny Misshapen Body (out back in April) till now. Two of his earliest works, Clumsy and Unlikely, recalled failed relationships through out-of-order vignettes.  Later works followed suit, and also featured elliptical statements on topics like friendship and maturity.  Funny Misshapen Body traces Brown’s growth as an illustrator; it’s not necessarily his best work, but it is similarly goofy and honest, and a reminder of what comics are good for.

Brown works in scratchy, simplistic line drawings, sometimes with limited attention to things like perspective and proportion. It’s a very deliberate brand of amatuerism—as a School of the Art Institute of Chicago alum, Brown’s not exactly an outsider talent—but it’s perfectly suited for the stories of disappointment, prolonged adolescence, and sexual awkwardness he tells—in each one, there’s a kind of gentle acceptance of past mistakes, and implicit hope that now he’s old enough to know better.

The graphic memoir can be (and often is) a venue for artistic navel-gazing, where artists dwell on the kind of minutiae that a decent editor would cut out of a prose autobiography.  But in the hands of a talented storyteller, comics is also the perfect medium for making daily mundanity meaningful, and showing how little things come to form a person’s life.  (Along with Brown’s work, Michel Rabagliati’s Paul books and Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home are good examples.) In FMB, Brown’s depictions of not approaching girls at parties, taking crates of beer bottles to the deposit station, and getting to know the names of the employees at his local coffee show, form more of a mosaic than a narrative proper. The book is linearly told, something it doesn’t have in common with several of Brown’s other works. Still, Brown takes full use of the freedom the medium gives him to hop from moment to moment in time, and gives readers the freedom to connect them. If life is what happens when you’re making other plans, then Jeffrey Brown has a talent for showing how it happens.

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