Sulk Vol. 3: The Kind of Strength That Comes from Madness
Jeffrey Brown, writer/artist
Top Shelf, September 2009
I still don’t get where this whole “Jeffrey Brown can’t draw” thing comes from. I mean sure, if your standard for artistic excellence is Neal Adams or something, you’re gonna be like WTF, but as always I’m ignoring those people and talking about altcomix fans who should know better. I’ve said this before, but compare the work of Brown (full disclosure: I like him a lot personally) to that of any of the ultra-lo-fi slice-of-life humor/pathos diarists who’ve emerged in his wake and he’s just doing so much more–with how he arranges space in his panels; with how he adds line upon line for shading, depth, and detail; with the expressiveness of his characters; with how even his action pastiches are genuinely dynamic and fun to follow; with how he bounces from genre to genre with the same “here’s something I thought was funny about this topic” good humor. Especially in the outright humor stuff, he’s like your funny friend bullshitting.
That’s not necessarily to say that everything he does is for everyone. As in previous genre-parody works like Incredible Change-Bots, the sci-fi/action/fantasy hodgepodge of Sulk #3 presupposes simultaneous knowledge of, affection for, and skepticism of the kinds of stuff he’s swiping from/at, plus (obviously) an appreciation of Brown’s visual approach to the material. It’s an acquired taste: The ribbing might be too gentle for people who wanna see an indie stalwart get some yuks at the expense of elves and unicorns, while the irony might be tough to stomach for po-faced “new action” fans. Indeed I think the reason why Brown’s Bighead books (including Sulk #1) are the strongest of his work in this area is because this kind of parody is more familiar with superheroes than with any other subgenre; you can “get it” easier than you can when you’re dealing with pirates or D&D or Godzilla or boy geniuses as you are here. Meanwhile the MMA-based Sulk #2’s 80-page fight scene was easy to grok as an exercise in ways drawing combat and writing the combatants’ interior monologues. The anchor point in The Kind of Strength That Comes from Madness is much harder to locate.
I suppose it just comes down to what you think you might want to see in a comic. Do you want to see an adorable, realistically depicted stag smack his antlers against a tree and then stare at the reader, demanding to know “DO YOU STILL WANT TO TANGLE WITH ME?” in giant capital letters? Do you want a ground-eye-view parallel to Brown’s memorably poetic giant-monster rampage comic from Mome in which a couple of moron brothers take the opportunity to make a “looting list” out of their weekly grocery list and then smack the dying reptile around with a baseball bat? Do you want to read lines like “A vampyre! It’s exactly like a vampire, but far more dangerous,” or hear small-city residents thank goodness that the giant monster is attacking their town instead of big important places like New York or L.A.? Do you want the occasional visual digression about boobs or beards or babies? I know my answers at least.