Jeffrey Brown: Reflections on a 'Funny Misshapen Body'

Jeffrey Brown on Funny Misshapen Body

Jeffrey Brown works in many comics genres, but he’s best known for his hilarious, touching tales of autobiographical awkwardness, such as Clumsy and Unlikely. His latest graphic novel, Funny Misshapen Body, is his most closely autobiographical book yet. Recently released by Simon and Schuster, FMB chronicles various stories from Brown’s life, ranging from strange jobs to his diagnosis with Crohn’s Disease to his big break into comics. We took the opportunity to ask Brown a few questions about bringing his life to life on the comics page.

Newsarama: Jeff, FMB is basically "The Life and Times of Jeffrey Brown," taking a broader look at your life than your previous works. What was different about working on this book from your previous titles?

Jeffrey Brown: For one thing, it was heading further back in the past than any of my other books have, so I think there's maybe a greater sense of perspective on the events. Also, I think a lot of what I've written in the past has been examining certain situations and events, while this book is more about the process or journey that happens because of those events and moments. And rather than examine a very short period, the book ends up spanning something like 15 years.

NRAMA: What memory was particularly difficult to recall or relive?

JB: I'm too lazy to write about the difficult things! No, actually, I think I really try not to use art as therapy - or at least not my autobiographical comics as therapy - so everything I'm writing about I've come to terms with already.

I don't think I have any really deep, dark times to relive or confront. Mostly, it's just odd to see how I was and how differently I'd handle things now. That said, I guess there were lots of things in high school that were difficult, but only in the sense that once I started writing about them, they didn't make sense... all these things that were so powerful and had such an impact me didn't mean the same thing to me anymore, and some of it seemed downright silly.

NRAMA: This sort of represents the wrap-around material for Clumsy and Unlikely, occurring before and after the events of those books. Why did you want to structure about your previous works?

JB: I think I wanted to write something about becoming and being an artist, and when I drew Clumsy is the moment where everything clicked for me, and I felt like I was finally making art that expressed something meaningful and was working in a way that made aesthetic sense for me.

Also, because I'm running out of steam with autobiography and turning my interest toward fiction more, it kind of brings things full circle a little bit.

NRAMA: You also employ narration more extensively in this book. Why did you make that creative choice?

JB: When I wrote Clumsy, I intentionally took out all of the narration, wanting the story to stand on its own, and let the readers make their own judgments, rather than lead them with narration and risk becoming too involved in giving some interpretation or commentary on what's going on as it happens.

For this book, I just felt the narration helped change things up a bit for my process, and helped frame it a little better, since the book is more expansive in subject matter, but still has an essential focus that I tried to have show throughout.

NRAMA: There’s a page that’s literally nothing but you making faces. I’m curious as to what it was like putting that together. (laughs)

JB: That's something I've been aware of a long time – people will look at me while I'm drawing, and think something's wrong or angry and I'll finish a page and suddenly realize my face is all scrunched up. I feel like Sylar after he shapeshifts on the TV show Heroes.

NRAMA: Having read David Carr’s The Night of the Gun, I'm curious as to whether you had to talk to any old friends about what you did in the drinking/drug scenes...that's some of the funniest stuff in the book.

JB: I didn't, but maybe I should have. There's probably a lot I didn't remember. And considering the state of inebriation, my memories of those events are likely more than a little suspect...

NRAMA: Did reliving these incidents through this book show you anything new about them, or about yourself?

JB: I think I always learn something new about myself, although I think the books are more about showing what I learned about myself rather than teaching me after I've written them. I know I've acted extremely silly at times, and that's part of why it's not embarrassing to show.

For me, art is always about understanding life better, and part of that for me as an author comes in readers' responses to the work, and that's where I end up learning the most.

NRAMA: You've worked on several books outside of long-form autobiography -- do you see yourself moving away from that material with future works?

JB: There's just a couple autobiographical books that I'd still like to do - one about pregnancy and one about religion - but I like to take some time in between working on the autobiographical projects. And there's still short stories, one or two pagers that I'll probably keep doing from time to time.

NRAMA: Tell us about some of your upcoming projects.

JB: Right now I've been working on lots of small projects, including some album art and book covers, as well as the Sulk series with Top Shelf. I'm also starting work on a more mainstream limited comic book series, collaborating with Tim Seeley, and it should be much different from anything I've done before. A couple days ago I actually just finished a four-page short story for Tim's Hack/Slash series.

Other than that, I've got a long list of projects I'd like to do, but am just kind of figuring out what to work on next.

NRAMA: Anything else you'd like to talk about that we haven't discussed yet?

JB: I've started a blog where I'm trying to post pretty regularly, so I guess that's where I'll talk more about things if I think of them:

Funny Misshapen Body is in stores now.

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