I am not an impartial fan of Jeffrey Brown. I’ve been reading the slow saga of his life for years now, and I have a signed and sketched copy of his Incredible Change-Bots (a lovingly crafted homage to the Transformers in ink and marker) that I scored at SPX. I had to restrain my odd compulsion to talk to him like an old friend, which is probably the most accurate way to describe the effect of his work.
Undeleted Scenes is a collection of work that has appeared in Brown’s other comic collections and in magazines, as well as a bunch of pages that have never been published before. Even as someone who has read large amounts of Brown’s work, I didn’t recognize most of it. Since Undeleted collects such a broad range of his work, it’s also an exceptional place to introduce yourself to Jeffrey Brown and the entire “autobiographical indie comics” genre, love it or hate it.
The question most commonly asked about this genre of comics is Why should I care about what some dude does every day?
The answer is that you honestly don’t have to. Brown doesn’t seem to want to give his life any particular importance above anyone else’s life. This is just his way of keeping score, and he happens to share it with an audience this way, in the same way that other people have discovered Twitter or Facebook status updates. These comics are not full of action and adventure, even when there’s blood and car accidents involved. Instead, they observe things much closer to the human condition: what it means to be alive, and the small things that unify us or keep us apart. I don’t think we usually read autobiographical comics to learn about the actual subject of the comic itself, but rather to see where our lives converge or diverge from those of others. This might not be your thing, but think of it as a much more visceral answer to Jersey Shore, with a lot more hope for humanity.
Brown’s style has been described as sketchy, crude, or awkward, but it reads more like a quick, heated attempt to capture the truth of an experience or a memory before the hand and mind can overanalyze it, resulting in a very raw, loose style of drawing. It’s rough and scratchy, and it suits the narrative well.
If there’s a theme that unifies Brown’s oeuvre aside from the insistence that he exists, it’s that he seems to create a timeline of his life based entirely around female landmarks. While he’s equally honest about his romantic conquests as he is his withering failures, this means that there’s a whole lot of sex going on, and as another blogger put it, “crudely drawn naked people” and some mature language—but absolutely nothing gratuitous or outright vulgar.
There’s a lot to relate to, as a creative nerd nearing 30, though the themes are universal : love, sex, failure, success, illness, friends, loneliness. Older audiences may sympathize, or hurriedly reach for the newest Captain America.
Reviewed by Collin David on June 29, 2010