Mr. Brown Will Come to Town
Comic-book creator Jeffrey Brown is a featured guest at this year's Staple! The Independent Media Expo
There's a comic-book and small-press exposition in Austin once a year; did you know? It's called Staple!, it's attended by creators and producers from all over the nation, and it's been happening for half a decade now. This year's iteration brightens the practical innards of the Monarch Event Center and features Stan Sakai (of Usagi Yojimbo fame) as guest of honor. Sakai's presence alone is sufficient, we reckon, to send many a fanboy into what Erica Jong – not a comic-book writer, more's the pity – snarkily (and in another context entirely) called paroxysms of passion. And news that Chris "Achewood" Onstad will also attend the scene is being greeted with fierce interest among the differently geekled hipster horde. We're not going to do more than mention either of those worthies here, however; we're going to focus our energies on Jeffrey Brown.
Has anyone else in the history of the world suffered as long and minutely the agonies of young love as this good man Brown has? Well, yes: We all have, pretty much, and that (as President Obama, a former comics geek himself, might put it) is the point. But. Has anyone else in the history of the world captured those modern heartbreak travails on paper, with ink, quite the way Jeffrey Brown has? Well, actually, you maybe could point to the works of Adrian Tomine or Jessica Abel or Seth or that other Brown – Chester – by way of comparison. But then you'd have to acknowledge that this Brown, Jeffrey Brown, author of Clumsy: A Novel and Unlikely and Incredible Change-Bots and Bighead ... you'd have to agree that this Brown is right at home in such a company of (dare we call it emo?) glory.
The man rocks, basically, is our point. And further justification this brief interview needeth not.
Austin Chronicle: You seem to be best known for your autobiographical works, but you also do those excellent superhero parodies. How do you go about choosing which sort of story to do next?
Jeffrey Brown: Mostly I just go with what I feel like writing next. And I try to go back and forth between the autobiographical and the parody stuff. Like the humorous books are maybe, generally speaking, more fun but less ... meaningful? And then the autobio stuff is more meaningful but maybe it takes a little more work. So alternating balances out, so I don't get bogged down too much one way or the other and start to lose interest. The method of working ahead, with the autobiographical works, I usually have a pretty detailed script planned out before I start drawing. And with the nonautobiographical stuff, I just have a general outline and write the details down as I'm going page by page, so it's a little less planned out and looser, and I can let myself go a little more.
AC: Do you create stuff in other mediums – or would you say "formats" – too?
JB: Not so much anymore. I was always most interested in drawing – most of my childhood drawings are black-and-white line work. And when I kind of abandoned comics, through college and art school, I was doing a lot of painting. But once I started doing comics again, everything else just fell by the wayside. I used to do a lot of collages, too, for a few years, but now it's all pretty much just drawing my comics. Once in a while I'll do a painting – the cover to the Change-Bots book is painted. But even that is more like creating an image that's drawn but just happens to use paint instead of pens.
AC: What do you have coming out next?
JB: The next project is the next autobiographical book, called Funny Misshapen Body. It doesn't come out until April, but I'll have a couple [of] galley copies with me for people to see. And that book is kind of the story of how I became a cartoonist. Collectively, the stories in it tell how I ended up turning away from fine art and back to comics – stories from high school, through college and art school.
AC: Will this one be filled with heartbreak, too?
JB: There's some funny teenage nonsense about crushes and that kind of silliness, but no real heartbreak. It's more about finding your way as an artist.
AC: And that's out from your main publisher, Top Shelf?
JB: That's actually coming from Touchstone, which is part of Simon and Schuster. They published Little Things last spring, which is the last autobiographical book I put out.
AC: What comic artists do you read and admire, of the ones working these days?
JB: Chris Ware and Dan Clowes, of course, are probably the top two. I guess a lot of the guys that have had stuff in Kramers Ergot and the Mome anthologies lately. Just about everything put out by Top Shelf and Drawn & Quarterly and Fantagraphics is what I keep up with. And once in a while, I'll read the more mainstream comics – I like Grant Morrison's writing and some of Warren Ellis' stuff, although maybe they're more on the fringe of the mainstream.
AC: Do you read online comics at all?
JB: I don't. Not for any particular bias other than there's just something I don't like about looking at a computer screen. I keep up with James Kochalka's online strip, and if I see a link somewhere or someone tells me about something, I'll look at it, but I don't usually keep up with any sites other than the American Elf. I always have this feeling that there's not enough space in the screen, like everything's always getting cut off. Even if I can see the whole comic on the screen, there's still this feeling that the screen's not big enough to encompass the whole thing, and you're just scrolling all over the place. I'm much more comfortable with being able to hold a book and have it have, you know, definite edges, definite beginnings and endings.
Staple! takes place on Saturday, March 7, at the Monarch Event Center in Lincoln Village, 6406 N. I-35. Doors open at 11am. See www.staple-austin.org for details.