This charming man
Do you develop crushes on your favorite authors? I suppose it’s hard not to, especially if they write the kind of intimate memoirs of graphic novelist Jeffrey Brown. I’ve been a fan of Brown’s stories since I picked up his first novel, Clumsy, a few years ago. In a series of seemingly simple, yet expressive vignettes, Brown illustrates the highs, lows, and funny moments of his first love. What’s so impressive about this, his first book, and subsequent relationship-themed novels like Unlikely, AEIOU, and Every Girl is the End of the World for Me, is his ability to convey these private relationship moments with such candor, self-deprecation, and charming humor. His raw, almost shaky, drawing style lends to the feeling of reading someone’s quickly scribbled diary. It’s hard not to fall in love.
I was so delighted to see a new Jeffrey Brown book in our “Don’t Miss Lists” recently. Funny Misshapen Body largely departs from the girlfriend chronicles to focus on Brown’s career development as an artist and his struggle with Crohn’s disease. As a kid, Brown loved to draw but didn’t know comics would be the outlet for his art. The journey to write Clumsy involved painting thousands of wooden shoes in college, enduring critiques as an MFA student at the Art Institute of Chicago, befriending legendary graphic novelist Chris Ware, and stumbling upon Quimby’s bookstore in Chicago. For the best context to the story, it’s worth reading Clumsy or any of his other books first before picking up this one.
Perhaps most impressive in Funny Misshapen Body is Brown’s detailing of his life with Crohn’s disease. The hospital scenes are quite personal, but he portrays these experiences with honesty, sensitivity, and an endearing wide-eyed curiosity. This was refreshing after I recently struggled through Charlotte Roche’s Wetlands--see Dennis' smart review here-- which tackles similar medical descriptions with far less heart and poignancy. Jeffrey was certainly an unlucky kid to have to endure these procedures, but such experiences clearly made him a more empathetic writer.
Despite this being his 8th graphic novel, Jeffrey Brown seems to be overlooked by many graphic novel readers. If you’re a fan of Craig Thompson, Adrian Tomine, Dan Clowes, or Harvey Pekar, and haven’t read any Jeffrey Brown, do yourself a favor and pick up his books. But I’ll warn you ahead of time: his most recent author bio says he’s already taken.