Junior High: Sulk #3

Posted by on December 12th, 2009 at 5:20 AM

Rob reviews the third issue of Jeffrey Brown’s one-man genre parody anthology, SULK (Top Shelf).

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Jeffrey Brown’s comics have always had a studied ease about them, creating a sense of immediacy as though the comic was torn out of someone’s spiral notebook.  For his autobiographical comics, that approach creates an instant (and sometimes uncomfortable) sense of intimacy with the reader.  For his genre comics (of which there are a growing number), the result is a comic that feels like it was scrawled straight from the imagination of a seventh-grader.  When Brown writes about pirates, monsters, elves or robots, one can feel a genuine enthusiasm on his part for these genre subjects even as he’s spoofing them all in turn.  That spoof also has the energy of a junior high school student, allowing Brown to wallow in silliness and absurdity.  At the same time, there’s a skilled hand on each page that seeks to entertain the reader in a way that’s quite different than his more revealing autobio stories.

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Brown certainly doesn’t spare his own tendencies when it comes to parody, especially his own tendency to navel-gaze and focus on personal details.  For example, in what’s a sort-of parody of Cloverfield, Brown spends a full two pages having his protagonist obsess on his beard, noting that he could “write an entire zine about what this beard means” and demanding that the reader look at it (especially since the word “sexy” was shaved into it).  In Brown’s genre stories, stuff happens but not much ever gets done.  In the monster story, our protagonists realize that the Godzilla-like monster was dying when they finally saw it, with one of them embracing it just so he could say that it died in his arms.  In the fantasy story, our typical D&D party accidentally kills friendly creatures and gets blown up in a cave far short of their eventual goal.  A pirate loses a leg to a kraken but is sad because he can’t find the right pegleg to get a girl.  A scientist comes up with a discovery that gives him enormous strength, but he accidentally tears open an airlock and dies.

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Brown’s at his funniest when he also parodies 80s movie tropes, like in “Mighty Malcum”.  This story of a boy genius going to college with his ass-kicking robot creation is a high-concept cross between Revenge of the Nerds and a lesson-teaching sitcom.  When the boy is taunted and picked upon, Mighty Malcum bursts through a wall and beats everyone up–only to have his tormentors reveal to him that they really liked him.  The boy ruminates each time that he has a lot to learn about college life, and the story concludes with Malcum being flummoxed by the boy’s awakening sexuality.

What makes these stories funny is that Brown doesn’t deviate from his usual line.  He draws robots, monsters and elves as though he was drawing his latest girlfriend or waitress at the coffee shop where he does his drawing.  It’s that matter-of-factness about these situations that allows the reader to stroll into each story with such ease; instead of using funny drawings to generate shtick, Brown frequently went in the opposite direction, drawing as naturalistically as possible in some cases (with close-ups) to create a certain awkwardness and discomfort.  Brown is wise to keep these stories short, giving the issue as a whole a certain manic energy that’s sometimes missing from his longer genre parodies.  This is a comic with a self-selecting audience: fans of Brown and/or alt-comics takes on genre will want to snap it up, but its unapologetically narrow focus won’t attract a more general set of readers.

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