Those old indy standards.

*But first, a little spillover from yesterday's movie post: it seems filmmaker David Lynch recently whipped up a short film for inclusion in some sort of educational dvd on the topic of digital filmmaking, and you can view it here. It's very slow, quite odd (which is to be expected), and I have no idea what it's meant to demonstrate regarding the possibilities of digital filmmaking, yet I liked it anyway, particularly the ending. All that grinning really got under my skin for some reason...

Every Girl is the End of the World for Me

Huh. A little proof that scaling your ambitions back might be good for the artistic soul - this is handily the strongest work writer/artist Jeffrey Brown has produced in a good while. It’s funnier, shorter (104 pages), and more focused than the scattershot diminishing returns on display in his last ’major’ release, AEIOU or Any Easy Intimacy, while remaining far more affecting than the intermittently amusing superhero hi-jinx of Bighead or the jumbled miscellany of Minisulk. Yes, Brown is still essentially hitting those ‘girlfriend trilogy’ beats here, but he suddenly seems more energetic, more feisty in his observations, and that might be due to confining his focus not to the sprawl of an entire relationship, but the little narratives that can leap out from the span of a few weeks.

Covering the day-to-day period of December 26, 2003 to January 15, 2004, with a brief prologue set sometime in the past and an epilogue bringing us up to January of 2005, the book’s structure all but demands that Brown keep his vignette-based narrative style running tight, and it does wonders for the story’s sense of build and progression. Unlike the usual juxtaposition of temporally diverse events Brown might indulge in to raise some sort of resonance, a style that both afforded supple effect to the likes of Clumsy and saddled AEIOU with disconnected, emotionally superficial feel, here Brown relates events in a straightforward style, largely in the service of gentle humor and romantic befuddlement. And self-reference too: it’s perhaps inevitable that a successful autobiographical cartoonist will eventually start making comics that reference their own earlier comics, particularly in the way prior successes have affected their ways of living. It’s only natural, and maybe irresistible, though the risk of tiring narcissism is high.

Brown manages to turn this instinct to good comedic effect, however, with the plot being set in motion by his book Unlikely, the saga of his having lost his virginity. It seems Allisyn, the female lead of that tome, has caught wind of the book; her and Brown have begun communicating again, and Brown is rather excited about meeting up with her again. But she’s far from the only girl in this book, as Our Hero also deals with pen-pals, co-workers, ex-girlfriends that have not had books devoted to them, comics fans that really want him to date their roommates, and the requisite coffee-slinging crush at the joint in which Brown draws his stories. As the title suggests, Brown remains endlessly perplexed and decidedly ineffective with the opposite sex, though the pathos are subsumed into a sweetly bemused ‘such is life!’ tone, almost as if Brown the author is affectionately chuckling at Brown the character and patting him on the head.

It's a good road to take at this point, if Brown is going to continue creating books about his relationships with women; maybe it's just my experience with the rest of the Brown oeuvre coloring my reactions, but I was utterly grateful to be treated to a page as winkingly vulgar as the bit with Brown and an ex sitting down for coffee, the girl's face obscured by word balloons whilst her ample cleavage is positioned to attract the reader's eye in every panel, Brown himself longlingly staring from off to the side. And there's some good bits of running comic business, like the cough Brown catches in Allisyn's apartment that sticks with him for most of the book, every "cough" dutifully rendered, interrupting sentences, hanging out of word balloons, etc.

It's not that all of this adds up to an awful lot; at best it's a cozy sweater of a slice-of-life comic, all warmth and cuteness. But it doesn't fall apart or anything, and it does well what it sets out to do, with a measure of sturdy craft involved. I don't know if I can call it a 'return to form' for Brown, as it's not all that much like anything he's done before in terms of form itself, but the feel of the piece is pleasing in a way that's been missing from some of the author's recent books. Worth noting from that angle.