Quick, think of the most embarrassing thing that’s ever happened to you. Now imagine yourself writing and drawing a comic story about it. That right there should make you cringe, which means you’re in luck, as that’s what this anthology is all about! This book has right around 30 small press artists, some new and some who have been around for awhile, who are willing to share some shameful incident from their past. I don’t think anything in here will get anybody put in jail, but it’s hard not to cringe while reading some of these. I’m not going to review every story because there are so damned many of them (and for a measly $8!), but the highlights include Shaenon K. Garrity wetting herself while out with a group of other cartoonists (including a big name guy, but I won’t spoil the surprise; I particularly loved the way she ended her strip), Sam Spina’s unfortunate method for drinking a rum shot when he met the Bacardi girls, Adam Pasion’s particularly gruesome retelling of an incident involving a finger in the eye, Geoff Vasile dodging a bullet (not literally), Chad Essley and his series of embarrassing moments (hard to top the one where he volunteered to breakdance at school on stage), Fred Noland’s theories on some crayons he used to own, Chad Woody and his racist former roommate, Box Brown and his former habit of eating light bulbs (it’s not quite as life-threatening as it sounds), Stephen Notley and his experience of being “that guy” at a comic convention (you know the one, the guy who gets up to ask a rambling and pointless question and has no idea how to get out of it once he gets started), and Sam Henderson’s experiences with having seizures while surrounded by strangers. It’s a damned fine mix of stories, and at a ridiculously cheap price. Save yourself the embarrassment of not owing this anthology of embarrassment! Ugh, I feel dirty for saying that. I’ll let myself out… $8
I’ll confess, I was a little worried about this one. “An autobiographical meditation on fatherhood and faith”? Blech. Most of the comics I’ve seen about fatherhood seem to come from the perspective that these people have recently discovered parenting and small children, so the slightest details about each will be fascinating to the reader. Or you may recognize it from its real world equivalent: friends who have recently had children thinking that you want to hear every single “cute” thing that their child has said and done, no matter how mundane. Why yes, I am remarkably cynical about such things, why do you ask? But hey, this is still Jeffrey Brown, so there’s plenty of entertaining stuff in here. This is mostly about Jeffrey growing up, his early days dealing with faith (his father was a minister), and how he gradually just stopped buying into it. This always seems to happen after comparative religions classes, which makes me wonder why those obnoxious fundie groups haven’t tried to stamp them out yet. After all, it doesn’t help their case when kids can learn that whole sections of the bible were copied from various creation myths and stories from older religions. Anyway, this book wanders all over the place, as it also deals with Jeffrey’s relationship to his parents and brothers growing up, how he dealt with being stuck in church on a weekly basis, and his own confusion in how to raise his old kid. After all, he might not want to deal with religion any more, but there’s still the rest of the world to think about. I was a little hazy on his final conclusion on the religion angle, as he did call himself a Christian later in the story, but it seemed like that was only to be friendly to a lady he was chatting with on the street. Who hasn’t been stuck in one of those conversations, where your only options are to lie about your religious affiliation or be doomed to a lecture by a stranger about your choices in life? While this one did seem a bit more scattered than some of his past work, there are still plenty of laughs to be had and truths to be pondered. Not necessarily agreed with, depending on what you believe, but pondered. And if your heart isn’t as hardened to such things as mine is, all kinds of cute moments with his son. This is also in full color, which is such a lovely change of pace that I can pretty much recommend it on that alone. Check it out, think deep thoughts about your own religious choices and parenting decisions! $14.95
I wasn’t expecting much of a “theme” out of this.Â After all, it is “undeleted scenes,” meaning mostly odds and ends from anthologies, notebooks, and whatnot.Â Still, by the end of it I had more of an impression of his overall life than I’ve gotten from any one of this graphic novels, and that’s saying something.Â The material ranges from his early days to his having a baby (well, not him, but you get the idea), to the actual raising of the child.Â Granted, it often came in more of a “drive-by” format, as there wasn’t space to delve into everything in minute detail, but it painted an impressively revealing whole.Â For all you fans of his work out there (and why else would you be reading this?) , if you own the following comics you already possess the bulk of this collection: “Be a Man,” “Feeble Attempts,” and” Minisulk.”Â If you just buy the graphic novels and don’t get the individual comics there will be plenty of new material in here for you, although I guess “MiniSulk” was more of a “graphic novel lite,” what with the size and all.Â Even if you have all of that, you’re still looking at roughly 100 pages of material that’s new to you, and there is some fantastic stuff in here.Â “Be A Man,” for those of you who don’t know, was Jeffrey’s answer to criticism that he was too wimpy in “Clumsy.” It is a thing of sheer beauty to see him turn all faux-macho for 30+ pages, so that’s worth the price of admission right there.Â His story about being unable to eat ramen noodles should resonate with anybody who was ever a poor college student, or possibly is still poor now (hey, I bought some just last month!) Then you have his grandma’s reaction to the nudity in his comics (always wondered about that), a lengthy story about bum avoidance and conversations, another weird pseudo-relationship, him almost getting into a drunken brawl (well, the other guy was drunk anyway), fun with medical insurance, and listening too literally to the word of god.Â And that’s just the stuff that is pretty much guaranteed to be new to you! “Feeble Attempts” was just a regular old comic, so maybe you missed it, but there’s plenty of good stuff in there that now has a home here.Â Really, at the end of the day your only questions should be “Is this good enough for me to buy” and “Is there enough new material to make it worth my while”?Â The answer to both of those is an emphatic “yes.” If you’ve never heard of Jeffrey Brown, welcome to the land of the living and maybe check out “Clumsy,” “Funny Misshapen Body” or “Bighead.” You’ll come back to this soon enough, although I guess it may be just a little confusing for new readers (the “Be A Man” stuff in particular would make people think Jeffrey is an a-hole if they weren’t in on the joke), but for everybody else, yeah, I’d say this is required reading.Â And it is over 350 pages for $15, so it’s a bargain too…
Conversation #1 (with Jeffrey Brown)
This review is going to be a bit of a cop-out, as these sometimes are, but there’s a fairly simple reason for that. People are either going to be interested in seeing James and Jeffrey talk about life, work, art, creating and punching each other or they’re not. I wish they would put this in a format that wasn’t so expensive (and sorry, nice cover or not, $5 to read these two rambling makes little sense to me) but, as I like pretty much everything that both of them have done, it’s not like I was going to pass it up. Did that sentence make any sense? Oh well, let’s move on… I don’t know if these two settled anything, but it is fascinating watching them go over having a job (which Jeffrey does) and not having a job (which James doesn’t), the point of making art, if there is a point at all, and whether or not they should have a gratuitous fight scene. So the bottom line here is the same as the point I made right away. If you like the work that these two do, this is an insight into their minds that you rarely see, or at least you rarely see them playing off each other. If you don’t care about one or both of them, there are many other comics out there you should probably be checking out first. $4.95
Ghost Comics (edited by Ed Choy Moorman)
Sometimes I make these reviews overly complicated, and I probably will with this one too, so I wanted to sum it up simply: this is a collection of different takes on ghost stories from some of the best small press cartoonists around.Â Ta-da!Â What more do you need to know?Â There are all kinds of highlights to choose from, and somehow there’s not a stinker in the bunch.Â That’s a rare thing with anthologies, but Ed has put together quite a cast here.Â Things start off strong with Hob’s tale of a dinosaur ghost witnessing everything that follows its death and the eventual destruction of the earth.Â From there Jeffrey Brown talks about making a fool of himself to a member of a band he likes, Corinne Mucha implies that the “ghosts” in her dorm were really just an excuse to get people to sleep together for protection, Maris Wicks goes into detail about the creepy and non-creepy aspects of living with a ghost as a kid, Madleine Queripel relates the reality of trying to scatter ashes, Toby Jones (professional boyfriend) goes into how useless he is when confronted with death, Lucy Knisley visits an old school she attended briefly and is shocked by the sheer number of ghosts still around, Allison Cole finds a practical way to rid herself of ghosts, Evan Palmer tells the tale of a knight misguidedly trying to win love, and Jessica McLeod warns of the dangers of ghost tomatoes.Â Then there’s my favorite (among many “favorite”) story: Kevin Cannon’s tale of all the major landmarks of the world joining together into a Voltron-like creation to fight evil, how one member of that band is destroyedÂ and, as a ghost, sees a plot to destroy the world.Â Any more detail than that would ruin it, but trust me, it’s a purely awesome thing.Â If that still hasn’t convinced you, here’s everybody else involved: Ed Choy Moorman (duh), Aidan Koch, Mike Lowery, Sean Lynch, Sarah Morean, Jillian Schroeder, Zak Sally, Abby Mullen, Eileen Shaughnessy, Tuesday Bassen, Sarah Louise Wahrhaftig, Jenny Tondera, John Hankiewicz, Will Dinski, Mark Scott, Monica Anderson, Warren Craghead III and John Porcellino.Â Topping off that pile of talent is the fact that this is a benefit anthology, with proceeds going to the RS Eden, which started off as a chemical dependency center and evolved into helping community members at need in all sorts of areas.Â So it’s for a good cause, it’s packed with talent and it’s only $10.Â Sounds like a no-brainer to me.Â $10
This page should be called the “Hey look, a Jeffrey Brown book you may not have seen!” page. Of course, most people who like his work follow it pretty closely, and I try to keep an eye on things, but this collection of assorted odds and ends flew right by me when it came out a year ago. At this point, chances are you have your minds made up about Jeffrey. Either you like his work or you don’t, and you’ll check out this book based on that knowledge. If you do like his stuff this is a solid collection of odds and ends, something more people should do on a regular basis because there are a lot of anthologies out there that vanish quickly, leaving some great work basically unseen. Stories in here include an apparently rejected (and awesome) super hero story, Jeffrey as a boy, the life of a gnat, 9/11, wandering around Maryland, war as reality tv, being a jerk at work, a 2004 year in review, Star Wars Episode III, Jesus, a dog peeing on the newspapers, and, of course, a woman or two. If your measurement for buying one of his books is judged by how many times you laugh out loud, I believe my total was 6, but there’s also some non-funny pieces in here, so that’s a damned good total. Well worth checking out, even as a good introduction to his work just in case you’re the last comics fan in the world who hasn’t seen his stuff. Oh, and you can get this through comic stores, or Top Shelf. $5
One of these days when I have a spare year or so I should go through all the pages on this website and list all these book in chronological order. This one came out in April 2005, but I’ve almost certainly reviewed stuff before and after this one before reading Miniature Sulk, or Mini Sulk as Amazon adorably calls it. This doesn’t have a defining, large story like most of his recent stuff, which of course means that I love it. In here we get to see plenty of Jeffrey as a child (including dealing with bullies and his early problems with women, and I sampled possibly his formative moment below), as well as a wide variety of other short pieces. Jeffrey gets punched by his Kung Fu brother, has a crappy birthday, loses control while being tickled, shows some bullies “what for”, gets extremely bored in church, wrestles a fatty, bites his nails, accidentally lets his salamander die… and that’s just the first third of the book. As most of the fun in these things is reading it for yourself, there’s not much point in describing every little thing in here. That’s the thing about Jeffrey: at this point, you know damned well whether or not you like his stuff. And, if so, what kind of books of his you prefer. This one has a bit of everything, including some short fiction in the back, so it’s hard to have much bad to say about it. One thing I did love was how he occasionally showed his younger self with his current stubble to differentiate himself from the other characters. It’s $8 but there’s more than enough in here to justify that price…
Be A Man
Has everybody out there read Clumsy? If you have, you’ll think this is the funniest book on the planet. If you haven’t, you’ll probably still think it’s a funny, but you won’t get a lot of the jokes. So, go read Clumsy and then come back to this, otherwise you’ll ruin it. OK? All done? Well, in this one Jeffrey says that he realized that he was too sensitive and pathetic in Clumsy so he did this book to fix himself. In this book he treats his girlfriend like shit, hits on other women, goes to bars and constantly thinks about sex. If you don’t think that’s funny, I’m not sure why you lied to yourself and me and refused to read Clumsy, but there you have it. It’s $4, check out the website up there for ordering information and plenty of samples from Jeffrey and three other fantastic Chicago artists. Paul Hornschemeier, John Hankiewicz and Anders Nillsen, in case you were wondering, and I know you just wanted me to type them all to see if I could spell them correctly. By the way, once I get all my comics out of storage I’m going to re-scan all these images so you can read them. Seriously!
This is the kind of book you read and then immediately wonder why everybody in the world hasn’t already read it. People should be passing this out at street corners. At the very least this should be handed out to couples as they go into group therapy sessions. Clumsy is the story of a relationship of Jeff’s that lasted about a year. The art is minimalistic and looks rushed at first glance, but it’s perfect for the pace of the book. He tells everything about his relationship, no matter how embarrassing. The sex, his doubts and fears (and neuroses), even the break-up conversation. I don’t know why you need my to tell you about this book, as everybody loves it as far as I can tell. James Kochalka and Chris Ware are both quoted on the back and neither of them can find enough good things to say about the guy. This is $10 and you’re not going to find a better book about relationships anywhere. What makes it so great is that it’s not meant as anything other than a recollection of the time he spent with his girlfriend. It never gets preachy or obnoxious, he’s just telling the story of what happened to him in that particular relationship. Buy it and feel blessed to be reading it, also don’t mind the doubts that it’ll probably bring up in your relationships, past and present…
It’s official: I love Jeffrey Brown’s comics. Sure, I liked the last book that I read quite a bit, but I wanted to hold off on calling this guy a genius or something until I had more to work with. Well, I’ve seen more, and I’m jumping in with both feet. This guy is a genius. In this comic is the best three page summation of a relationship that I’ve ever seen, and I can’t wait for his novel Clumsy to make it to my mailbox (I ordered it a while ago and believe me, you’ll know when it gets here). Also included are Bighead, Sex Ghosts Attack, a 9/11 comic that’s more human than almost anything else I’ve seen about that day without being pretentious, and all kinds of short strips. Everything in here is golden and your life will be better for having seen it. I can see from looking at the back page that he’s going to be a busy man in the next couple of years, so if you haven’t tried him out yet, do it now so you can say that you were the first! Then when he’s big and “famous” you can say that you knew about him before he was famous but now he sucks because everybody is reading his stuff. Hurry! Contact info is above, and he has all kinds of strips at that website so you can see for yourself.
I Am Going To Be Small
If I thought it would be OK I would scan about 80% of the pages in here for you to see. Why? Because I’ve laughed at a lot of comics lately, sure, but I haven’t laughed this much at something in quite a while. He has almost exactly my sense of humor, and that’s something that’s hard to believe. It’s all gag strips, anywhere from one panel to four, and some are funny precisely because there’s nothing funny about them. No, I’m not going to explain that. As you can see from the cover, it’s only $5 for 96 pages. Here’s what I’m talking about.
If you don’t think that’s funny (or if you can’t read it because of my crappy scanner, go to the website and check it out), then you have 95 more pages of the same thing. If you don’t think it’s funny, that’s $5 you can save, I guess, you weirdo.
It’s easy enough to forget at times, in the midst of my gradually increasing “meh”-itude to Jeffrey’s relationship comics (“meh” being somewhere in the middle of the range of possible opinions, obviously), that his non-relationship stuff is constantly the shit. Seriously, if you can find I Am Going To Be Small or any of his non-personal stuff, it’s enough to restore your faith in the concept of comics as being capable of making you laugh out loud, sometimes to the point of tears. Bighead is a collection of all the Bighead minis and various places the character has appeared over the years, and it’s a wonderful, wonderful thing. Here’s the origin of Bighead: repeatedly taunted by schoolmates, Bighead became emotionally scarred, causing his head to swell with power. If that’s not something you can get behind, move along please and leave the funny to the rest of us. Every part of this book is some degree of awesome, from the usually boring page with all the legalese to the last page of Bighead fan art. In between Bighead battles all sorts of villains, ranging from ninjas, a group of his most powerful villains, The Brit (who marries the love of Bighead’s life), Crabby, and The Puncher, among many others. There’s also the unpublished and incomplete Bighead graphic novel, and from the looks of it it’s a damned shame that one never got finished. I’ll leave it there, as it’s no fun to analyze humor to death, but this is just about required reading to any fans left of this genre. $12.95
I think Jeffrey sums it up best in his afterward: “Although based on actual events, this book leaves so much unsaid that you may as well consider it to be fiction”. This is the story of his third significant romance, so if there are any continuity nuts who wondered why I didn’t get to his second girlfriend first on the site… nah, never mind, nobody is that obsessive. As in Clumsy, this starts at the beginning, when a friend tells him about his girlfriend’s new roommate and how they would be good together all the way to the inevitable end of the relationship. At least, I think that’s what happened. Look, if you hate spoilers I’m going to let loose here, so avert your dainty eyes. The book ends with his girlfriend (no idea if they were still dating at that point though) coming for what seems to be a happy visit, then it ends, and in the afterward it seems pretty clear that it all blew up, as they’re not on speaking terms. This sort of thing always mystifies me, because why dig into all the gory details about a relationship and then leave so many things so nebulous? Don’t get me wrong here, this is Jeffrey Brown we’re talking about and about 95% of the book is his typical wonderfulness, dealing with the quiet moments in a relationship that fly right by most people. It’s invaluable that all this stuff is catalogued here. The thing is, it’s hard to feel a ton of sympathy for the guy. When he starts dating someone he gets insanely jealous by the littlest things and can’t seem to go more than a few hours without talking to his girlfriend. This, naturally, smothers the girl, who slowly leaves, as even the great guy that Jeffrey mostly seems to be can’t make up for the complete lack of independence. I have no idea if this is still going on with the guy (this was a story about 2002, published in 2005), but if it is, well, back off a bit. This is, of course, coming from somebody who has no business in the world giving relationship advice to another human being, so please take that with the appropriate bucket of salt. All in all, if you like his other stuff (and who doesn’t?) then you’ll probably love this too. It’s just when I get that voyeuristic peek in the window of his life, I want to see all that happened and not be left wondering about some of the most crucial bits. $12
My opinion about Jeffrey’s relationship books seem to vary across this page, but let me make one thing perfectly clear: they’re always good comics. Even if I’m annoyed about bits that are left out or Jeffrey’s seeming inability to deal with women he’s dating, his ability to catch that perfect quiet moment or that perfect line said to a loved one in the middle of the night is unmatched. No ambivalence here though, this ended up being possibly my favorite “relationship” comic of his, although I haven’t read Clumsy in years so don’t quote me on that. It’s the story of Jeffrey’s life from 12/26/03 to 1/15/04 and that title sums it up beautifully. It’s all about the women in his life, sometimes just friends, sometimes exes and sometimes people that he would like to date. Things seem clear enough when Allisyn, Jeffrey’s girlfriend in Unlikely (the one that somehow got away as far as this page is concerned), contacts him after years apart. Things seem to be building up to them getting back together, but it turns out that she’s just a horrible human being and “cheats” on him before things really even get going. There are all sorts of other women in here who may or may not be interested in him, and a few that try to set him up with friends, but what sets this apart from his other work is that it’s not a relationship comic, it’s more about the time in between relationships, and that’s something that’s been sorely lacking to his work. It’s also probably a great epilogue to the events in Unlikely, something that I’m going to have to pick up soon. Really great stuff here, I can’t recommend it enough. $8
It’s odd to be saying this after the guy has already put out a half dozen or so graphic novels (and there wasn’t a terrible one in the bunch), but I think he’s finally made his masterpiece.Â This shouldn’t be taken in any way as a slam on any of his other projects, as they all have various things to recommend them, but this thing just stands out.Â This is, essentially, Jeffrey’s origin story.Â It details his growing up, how drawing has been with him every step of the way, and just about everything else you ever wanted to know about the man.Â He even has a brief FAQ at the end, answering the only real question I had (why does everything happen out of order?).Â The book is divided into chunks, and by the end of it I appreciated the fact that it wasn’t in exact chronological order because I knew that if there was something major left unsaid from a story, he was going to get to it further down the line.Â Chunks include (hey, I’d call them chapters if he did) a brief introduction into why he draws, his time as a fat kid (and what got him to start exercising), his introduction to comics (what appeared to be an issue of the X-men, around #190, and how a helpful comic store clerk steered him in the right direction), a devastatingly honest depiction of a major art critique of work (luckily he seemed to have taken away the important thing from this – critics aren’t always right), his stomach pain and learning that it was Crohn’s disease (and his painfully embarrassing depiction of everything involved with surgery and a protracted hospital stay), slowly learning to see the value in art history, his early adventures in serious intoxication, his first stab at self publishing, all his years spent working on wooden shoes, his brief journey with pot, poetry readings and hosting drunken parties, getting some direct (and necessary) advice from Chris Ware, stories about an old and crappy apartment, and how he eventually managed to self publish Clumsy.Â Whew!Â And that’s only scratching the surface of this book, as he paints an absolutely captivating picture of learning through mistakes as he’s growing up and being nudged in the right directions at (more or less) the right times.Â It’s a hefty book at 300 pagesish, and if you only pick one of his books to read, I’d start here.Â Sure, some are funnier, and some of the books about heartbreak are maybe more universally relatable (unless you’re the one person who’s still with your high school sweetheart), but this is really his masterpiece.Â So far, anyway, if we’re lucky he’ll be making these things for years to come.Â $16