The night post!

*It’s not like Tom Spurgeon needs me to bolster his opinions or anything, but I do feel the need to point out that, yes, the new (deep breath) Nick Mag Presents The Best of Nickelodeon Magazine All-Comics Special! is pretty awesome. The contributors list is simply amazing, touching on virtually every corner of the alternative comics scene - going at complete random, there’s Souther Salazar, Brian Ralph, Johnny Ryan, Michael Kupperman, Sam Henderson, Mark Martin, Terry LaBan, Ellen Forney, Gahan Wilson (!), Justin Green (!!), Evan Dorkin & Sarah Dyer, Craig Thompson, Jason Lutes, Steve Weissman, Jordan Crane, Sara Varon, Jason Shiga… this is one seriously stocked lineup of major talents, past and present, hailing from Kramers Ergot to newspaper strips to Fort Thunder to magazine gags to vintage underground comics to alternative weeklies to pamphlets and graphic novels of all stripes and visibilities.

And it’s probably available at just about any grocery store, supermarket or book dealer you can think of, for $4.95. And it’s funny, and very attractive, and appropriate for every age, and quite shockingly light on the big Nick franchises (and even those are perfectly fine). Buy it.

Feeble Attempts

Also out now for five bucks (but probably not at the supermarket) is this new 48-page book from Top Shelf, collecting a handful of Jeffrey Brown’s miscellaneous anthology contributions, quick gags and false starts. It’s just the sort of book that’s only ever going to get published after you’ve established your name in the market, and accordingly will be unlikely to appeal to those who don’t already appreciate that name a great deal already. In other words, do not make this your first Jeffrey Brown book (that should probably be his one of his early ‘relationship’ books, specifically Clumsy or Unlikely).

But as far as odds ‘n sods go, it’s a pretty good distraction. I’m sure a lot of my readers will recognize the pieces from Brown’s higher-profile anthology appearances, like McSweeney’s #13 and Project: Superior, but there’s also a bunch of obscure material, including some experimental, pre-Clumsy pages apparently culled from the artist’s sketchbooks. For me, that was far and away the most interesting stuff, if only because it emphasizes how vital Brown’s basic narrative decisions -- sequences jumping from one to another, tiny like points, with no narration or setting, all attention paid to physical space and conversation -- are to the effect of his work. These early pages are hopelessly choked with caption-based narration, crudely drafted in some misconceived approximation of ‘stylized’ oval character art, and ham-fisted in their attempts at formalist effect. And they are the work of a young artist, yes, but one is left with the impression that Brown was probably correct to abandon this type of approach for a less adorned style that more cozily fit his themes and technical limits.

That bit of education aside, the book is mostly filled with short autobiographical pieces, some of them observational, others overtly comedic (no Andrew Bird strip, Chris, in case you haven’t read this yet). A modest effort is made toward page-by-page thematic cohesion (a silly strip concerning Jesus directly follows an encounter with a religious older woman, for example), but mostly it all seems just as random as… well, it is. I don’t think Brown’s autobiographical strengths lay in the short form -- he absolutely needs some form of time-spanning build for his autobiographical work to manage the patterns of emotional beats that makes it truly unique -- so not a lot of this work stayed with me long. There’s some chuckles here and there, but nothing that’ll keep your eyes trapped on the page.

But, it probably accomplishes its modest goals, serving up bits and pieces of stuff, a little bit of it revealing in the way that private art detritus can be. Exactly as expected, then. No more, no less.

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