Monday, November 1, 2010

Undeleted Scenes: A Graphically Speaking Review

Words by Jared Gniewek 

Jeffrey Brown is the type of artist I respond to. A study in contrasts, he draws with a seemingly crude and raw style of  art; a style of art which belies a sophistication and confidence. His rendering is pen heavy with thick black ink. Taken out of context, an individual panel may seem primitive but when juxtaposed within a narrative it becomes apparent that his choices serve the work and represent a distinct style which, while not for everyone, is as vital and unique as the best voices in comics.

His writing is sharp and poignant. He’s a sensitive guy. Almost comically so. Fuck that... definitely comically so. Many of his gags and quiet punchlines revolve around his failings to read people and his often naive hopes . He gets into his own head in exciting and simple ways. I really get into his one page stories. I like the anti-punchlines and offbeat  notes that close them. He is sly and self aware.

His recent collection, Undeleted Scenes,  contains a medley of short form autobiographical stories. Many of them refer to his other works and his life as a cartoonist. They range in length from single pagers up to more extended narratives.  I found the longer pieces to drag a bit and were perhaps a touch too “naval gaze” for me. Which sucks because there are many pieces of his which are conventionally naval gazers that kept me riveted.
My interest as a reader of autobiographical comics is linked closely to my feelings of shared territory. I loved the pieces from his childhood and even though lovesick girl obsessed hipster angst is like a bad nightmare, he makes it work where lesser writers make me cringe. I did find the last hundred or so pages, after he seems to have settled on a woman to make a baby with, to not hold my attention the way the earlier stories in the book did. I guess watching a dude with health insurance getting his life together just isn’t as interesting as watching him get his wage slave heart walked all over.  Sort of like how the parts of A Clockwork Orange where the droogs are fucking shit up is infinitely more interesting than the end where Alex is a budding businessman and a model citizen. Or how My Troubles with Women is more engaging for me than Dirty Laundry.

Although some of his stories chart darker human territory: the continents of need, fickleness, despair, and loneliness, make no mistake that he is funny. Some of his other books (Incredible Change Bots in particular) are downright gut busting. He’s not afraid to be corny or lame in the name of a joke. His absolute lack of fear in the face of showing his insecurities strengthens him as a joke teller.
In one story, he isn’t afraid to show that he’s breast obsessed. He doesn’t fixate like a Tex Avery wolf or anything but his compositional choices in his panels reveal his ogling one of his lady friends. His smile as his hand brushes her waist as they hug goodbye had me laughing. I also relished the final strip in the book, where he’s just trashing everything. I love seeing things broken and a simple expulsion of comedic rage is catharsis plain and simple.

All in all the book is a great introduction to a critically important cartoonist. I highly recommend it with the caveat that it’s best in small doses lest you become sucked into his naval and choke on his lint.

Reviewer Jared Gniewek joined Graphic NYC with the site's relaunch in September, 2009. Jared has worked in the music industry as a back line technician, performer, and promoter. He has also been a freelance writer whose work can be seen in the recent re-launch of Tales from the Crypt and heard on The Dark Sense, an audio anthology of the macabre. His cartooning can be found on his blog Scary-Oke, a monster indy cartoon karaoke game stemming from his own twisted mind.