Jeffrey Brown epitomizes all that is good and bad about a certain kind of indie comic. If you ever hear people criticizing the black-and-white navel-gazing autobiographical emo-indie comic about boys who can’t get girlfriends, then they’re talking about Jeffrey Brown. If you hear people praising the insightful, witty, emotionally-open alternative to spandex and testosterone-filled mainstream comics, then they’re also talking about Jeffrey Brown. You may even already known which side of the fence you fall on, so let me warn you — if it’s the former, move along now. You’re not going to find anything you like here.
If, on the other hand, you’re a Jeffrey Brown fan, well good news! You’re going to be pleased! “Little Things” is simply more of the same, though I mean that in a wholly positive way. While packaged in a format much closer to Brown’s autobiographical Girlfriend Trilogy books, “Little Things” also shares much in common with his minicomic collections, like 2005’s “Minisulk” — the contents are occasionally lifted from existing self-published works, though given the limited print run they will have received, it might as well be all-new.
The book sees Brown dispensing with the comedy/parody interludes that permeated his more recent publications — presumably, these things are being saved for the release of his new quarterly anthology, “Sulk”, later this year — and concentrating again on autobiographical short stories. Given that this is the first time Brown has taken his autobiography to a mass-market publisher, it makes sense to present a more straight-up work. After all, a mass-market publisher will hopefully translate to mass-market readers, who will have different expectations to his regular comics audience.
As such, the story ploughs through various events in Brown’s life as experienced over the course of the last few years. They are presented in Brown’s now-traditional non-chronological order in a way that invites the reader to draw parallels between the stories themselves. Recurrent motifs include car crashes and medical problems, and very specific references to the music accompanying certain events or frames of mind. That said, one of the longer chapters, “Missing the Mountains” is atypical of Brown’s work, if only because it occasionally pauses to capture the visual moments in the relative vista of a single-panel splash page — it represents a welcome departure from the norm, to see Brown’s artistic side being unveiled.
As ever, Brown’s main talent is in insightfully capturing the emotional essence of a moment, be it funny or sad, or angry, or calm, and then using his superficially crude drawings to evoke it on the page. The expressive art style Brown uses makes his world both relatable and accessible to all readers. That’s always been the case, of course, but it never hurts to explain his charm.
It’s not for everyone, admittedly. Some people simply won’t get the appeal, which is a fair enough matter of taste. Fans will, not unexpectedly, get exactly what they wanted. If you’ve never read Brown’s work and are anxious to go for something a little less graphic and emotionally brutal than his Girlfriend Trilogy, then you’re in luck — this is as good a place to start as any.