Sulk Vol. 1: Bighead & Friends
Jeffrey Brown, writer/artist
Top Shelf, September 2008
For all its lo-fi provenance, Jeffrey Brown’s art has always felt rounded and tactile and full to me. His figures may have the disproportionately large heads and bendy arms of doodled cartoons, but they move around in environments you feel like you could swing through the panel into and explore; seeing one of his gridlike pages is like being presented with an array of tiny windows that way. Meanwhile there’s an emphasis on shading that reinforces the palpability of what he’s drawing. There really isn’t anything else, including (or perhaps especially) all the young cartoonists you see upon whom Brown is an obvious influence, that looks like it. It works a lot differently than, say, David Heatley’s stuff, despite the surface similarities you’d find between two guys who do lo-fi autobio comics with lots of little panels.
Bighead isn’t autobio, there aren’t a lot of little panels, and it’s only barely lo-fi, but all of the above still stands. In the past, this kind of parody work is the closest Brown has come to really showing off his chops, and that trend continues. All those penstroke shading lines frequently accrue into something rather lovely–the robotic arms of the Claw’s deathtrap, the darkness of “one of Chicago’s famous ‘indie rock’ shows,” the vortext that swallows the Author when he messes with reality a little too much.
Meanwhile the superhero parody gags made me laugh repeatedly, particularly the dialogue. Brown really nails overwrought, superhero house-style banter that makes it seem like its author doesn’t quite understand how to write. “This time you’ve gone too far, The Claw!” “I’m crazy? I’m crazy?! Don’t you know who you’re talking to? You’re talking to me!” There are equally effective sight gags, from the Superboy-like Little Bighead getting so emotional about the Pacifier’s rampage that he finally just breaks down and starts sucking on the vigilante’s rubber-nipple headgear to the opening splash page of Bighead crashing through a window with a caption reading “HOLY SHIT!” And then there’s the tragic tale of Beefy Hipster, driven to supercrime by his inability to fit into his favorite band’s American Peril t-shirts.
It’s a funny, intelligently drawn superhero humor comic, and usually you can only get one or the other, if anything, so if you want to laugh at superhero comics that actually are intriguing to look at, by all means check this out.