Page 45 Review by Stephen
Jeffrey has made a career out of writing beautifully observed, sensitive and entertainingly self-deprecating works most of us can instinctively relate to. They're drawn in miniature with a minimum of fuss for maximum empathy, an astonishing clarity for complete recognition, and printed in pocketbooks which makes the experience an unusually intimate one. Speaking of empathy, the disintegration of his relationship with a flatmate is one that made me guffaw with recognition: "Please note that leaving notes is never a good way to communicate with people you're living with." In the end his flatmate moves out without notice, Jeffrey arriving home one day to find Ryan's belongings gone!
This is Jeffrey's most substantial work to date, encompassing as it does so many of the diverse threads in his life that lead him to become the endearingly candid comicbook creator we first experienced in the autobiographical CLUMSY whose creation, rejection, then design by Paul Hornschemeier and arrival as a self-published 2,000-copy printing we follow towards the end of this book. It stops before its triumph when Jeffrey discovers exactly what 2,000 copies look like and how much the boxes weigh, but stares at them in his attic room with a certain degree of cheerful optimism: "I guess now I just need to sell them." Any self-publisher can tell you exactly how funny that sentence is, but many won't be laughing as they do so.
"In Retrospect," reads the introduction's title, "It All Makes Perfect Sense'". But only in retrospect.
That's where the likes of Brown and Porcellino excel: at conveying just how baffling adolescence and early adulthood can be. It's only in retrospect that we can chart a course backwards and see how we got here from there; when we're young, not only does it look impossible to get here from there, we don't even know where 'here' will be. It's like being entirely surrounded by an opaque fog, it's like... oh, it's like Anders Nielsen's DOGS AND WATER. As the progress of CLUMSY itself makes plain, with its daily hours of hard graft, success far from guaranteed, it could all have gone very differently. Then there are all the other crossroads which could have led Brown down a very different route. And apart from an early fixation with drawing, it doesn't start off too promisingly in the first place, an early lack of confidence in himself and his body compounded by his timidity with girls and the embarrassing and debilitating effects of Crohn's Disease before surgery leads to stability. But, confesses Jeffrey, "Being made fun of didn't make me any more sensitive to others." Another tick in the recognition box, eh?
Jeffrey's binge drinking at college was a complete revelation to me, and we must all thank God that he gave up the weed which only served to exacerbate his natural paranoia, otherwise he might never have been brave enough to publish his 'girlfriend trilogy' at all.
There are those, however, who do help steer him in the right direction with their positive encouragement and practical support: his parents, the manager at his local comic shop, and later on Chris Ware and Paul Hornschemeier. Even the five faculty members of his Art Institute whose blundering critiques initially cause further bewilderment can be said to have given him a push - away from everything they taught! Brown also pays tribute to a young fellow student who happened to sit in on that session, and who sees from the outside what Jeffrey cannot when one teacher asks, "What are these paintings missing that these drawings do have, though?" It's a moment of insight which may have made all the difference: "The humour."
In retrospect, it all makes sense.