Comics Time: Funny Misshapen Body

Funny Misshapen Body

Jeffrey Brown, writer/artist

Touchstone, 2009

320 pages

$16

Buy it from Amazon.com

It’s a simple but effective tactic: Jeffrey Brown almost never draws his action straight-on. We see his autobiographical adventures at a three-quarter angle, or from slightly above and behind him, or with cuts to close-ups. When you factor in the seeming rapidity with which his tiny panels flash by, the effect, rather than one of sitting there watching actors, is like peering into a world, the space described with POV shifts and glimpses of corners and floors and rear walls and “extras.” I know I’m sounding like a broken record here–I’ve reviewed a lot of Jeffrey Brown comics and said this sort of thing in most of those reviews–but it just feels necessary to point out as often as possible that there’s a lot more going on, visually, than what’s let on by even the back-cover blurbs of his own books, let alone by people who’ve got a special monogrammed hatchet they break out in his honor.

As is usually the case with Brown’s nonfiction and memoir work, Funny Misshapen Body‘s carefully curated selection of topics and anecdotes belies the surface-level meandering and structurelessness of its narrative. Brown’s basically telling two stories here: the stories of his physical and artistic/intellectual development. That in itself is a revelation, because it’s not like the two intertwine or inform one another in any real way in the segments we see here. But to Brown, clearly his lifelong love of comics, his long and losing struggle to find a fulfilling artistic outlet, and the eureka moment(s) that bridged the two are just as fundamental to his physical existence as his Crohn’s disease, his physical fitness or lack thereof, even going through puberty. (I get the feeling the sex stuff in here would be much more fleshed out if he hadn’t already done several books on the topic.)

Maybe it’s this focus on the basics that enables him to depict the events of his life with such a winning blend of dispassion and good humor. Brown tackles a lot of material here–middle-school bullying, romantic obsessions, creative triumphs and rejections, the onset of sex as a going concern, inebriated and intoxicated collegiate shenanigans–that quite frankly loom on my own personal mental landscape like fucking Stonehenge. It’s almost bizarre to read a memoir that tackles these things from a seemingly undamaged place. But the two parallel narratives complement each other in such a way that it’s quite convincing. Brown’s story is one of seeking a compromise with the demands of his body and seeking no compromise with the demands of his art. He got to the finish line in both cases, and I guess I’d be pretty settled too, then. That it makes for perhaps his best book to date is just gravy.

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