Q&A: Jeffrey Brown

Jeffrey Brown inhabits that corner of comics that goes straight for the life tales, eschewing spandex for flannel, and never settling into the overwrought. In books like “Unlikely” and “Clumsy,” he showed a warts-and-all sentimentality about relationships. His writing and art have matured over the years since he started, and it’s obvious in seeing his newer works. It’s gone from relationship-focused to life-encompassing, and even campy and ridiculous, as seen in certain backup stories in “Feeble Attempts.”

This summer, he’s got a new book on the horizon, and is enjoying being “past” the days when all his stories were about love or lack there-of. I started my request by telling Jeffrey my secret identity, and then my codename, which I referred to as “dorky.” I thought I was in good hands when he said, “Thanks! I don’t think ‘Doominator’ is all that dorky …”

I’m glad I’m not that dorky. Big weight off my shoulders.

Not that dorky compared to me, anyway. Weight’s back on those shoulders!

Can you spill the beans yet on what “Funny Misshapen Body” will be?

Basically, it’s stories from high school, college and art school that taken together tell how I ended up drawing comics instead of making paintings to show in New York art galleries. There’s stories about comics and art, but also drinking, roommate problems and visits to the hospital.

Your early work is all about girls. You even have a book called “Every Girl is the End of the World to Me,” but in recent years, you’ve branched out more. Did you feel the stories told in “Clumsy” and “Unlikely” were just that one part of your whole story?

I’ve always felt those books were just investigations into part of me, as well as being investigations into aspects of love or relationship. With the new book especially I feel like a reader will get a more rounded sense of – well, my life specifically, but hopefully will give the other books a greater context to sit within. So reading each book lone works, but reading them all will add meaning to each one.
It’s my way of having a big crossover event, you’ve got to collect them all to get the whole story.

What is it with you and girls, anyway? Do you still think every one is the end of the world?

No, I think I’ve learned my lesson… I also have a son now, and nothing reorganizes your perspective on life more than having children. So I’m a bit settled down now.

What inspired you to start recording your life in comic form?

Mostly it was a reaction to the art I saw at art school, which I felt was distant and removed from real life and emotional resonance. I wanted to make something reacting against that, so I tried to make art that was as honest and human as possible.

There’s a reference to X-Men at the beginning of “Feeble Attempts,” so we’ve got to get to the dorky for just a second: Batman vs. Wolverine. Who wins?

In that fight? No one wins. Batman and Wolverine are two of our most beloved yet misunderstood heroes. We must help them work together, so they can become the greatest superhero tandem ever.

What inspired you to create Cycloptopus and Quantum Mechanic? I know those were the first time I picked up your work, and that’s what hooked me, and “My Jesus is an Awesome Jesus” just sealed it.

They just came out of brainstorming superhero ideas for my submission to the Project: Superior anthology. I’m not sure where they came from exactly, other than my interest in nature and physics.

You wrote “Be a Man” to parody both yourself and the responses to “Unlikely.” How does the real life you compare to the one in the book?

It’s a weird duality with all my autobiographical books… they’re all absolutely true, but at the same time they never tell the whole story. Which is why I think even books like the second volume of Sulk, which is all about mixed martial arts, also have a lot to say about who I am. After reading ‘Clumsy’ I wouldn’t be the first person people think of when they think about cartoonists interested in ultimate fighting. But I am also really sensitive. Sometimes at the same time.

What kind of responses have you had to the you portrayed in the books?

There seem to be some people who want to be me, and others who want to be with me. And then there’s the people who want to beat me up, which seems rather silly. Maybe they’re just internet-drunk when they say those things. Overall, I’m still surprised at the variety of responses, people really bring their own experiences and lives into how they read the books and feel about the characters, which makes me think I’ve done a good job as an author in that I’m not telling readers how they should feel. I just want to write about these ideas and feelings and moments, and make people think about them a little, and hopefully help them understand life a little better.

What is your creative process? What parts of your life get put into your work, and what gets left out? Are you recording it as you go, or only highlighting certain events?

I used to write closer to events that happened, though I’ve never kept a diary or wrote things down right as theyw ere happening. As time has gone on I’ve felt the need for more and more perspective and distance from events that I’m writing about, and I’ve definitely become a little less open or careful about what I’m writing about. I’m really wary of writing about my son, for example, I feel the need to shelter him from exposure in comics. Pretty soon here I’ll make the jump to writing almost all fiction, or at least writing semi-autobiographical stories.

Your life is your art, in a way, but have you found in cartooning that it sort of dictates the way you behave in real life?

When I was writing the first couple books there were a couple times where I started to feel like I was too aware of my life at the moment in the context of what comics I might write later on, and after that I made a conscious effort to not have my life in the moment be influenced by the idea of translating it into comics. So the new book coming out is all about school days, rather than current events. I’m still writing about things that have happened more recently, but it’s not with the same kind of focus.

Is there anything we can expect in the future, the to-be-released book aside?

I’m still working on more issues of Sulk, and Chronicle Books will be releasing a book of postcards based on my ‘Cat Getting Out Of A Bag’ book sometime soon. Tim Seeley (Hack/Slash) happens to live around the corner from me, and we’re talking about collaborating on a miniseries sometime. And I’ve been doing a lot of odd jobs lately, album art and book covers, some of which I’ve been posting about on my new blog: www.jeffreybrowncomics.blogspot.com … I’m [also] working on an 8 page story for Popgun Volume 4 which is way different from anything I’ve done before.