Jeffrey Brown’s autbiographical work is some of the most popular in the industry – indeed, it’s actually influenced many an imitator with its deceptively simplistic artwork and its introverted subject matter. The trend for navel-gazing indie comics sparked by Clumsy, Brown’s debut graphic novel, has eroded his originality somewhat, there’s no doubt about that – but even so, a book like this reminds you that there’s still no-one around who does it quite like he does.
Amusingly, Funny Misshapen Body takes “navel-gazing” indie to its literal extreme. In a section covering Brown’s health problems (the diagnosis and treatment of his Crohn’s Disease) readers find themselves looking, quite literally, at the author’s navel. The book takes the form of Brown’s trademark non-linear vignettes, covering vast swathes of history. More familiar fans will enjoy filling in the gaps and placing the events in context, but it’s not necessary to enjoy the work – readers can get just as much out of the stories in isolation.
The most interesting moments, for me, dealt with Brown’s struggle to find his identity as an artist. The search for a voice – artistic or otherwise – a universal experience, and even though it’s framed around Brown’s attempt to make art school work for him, the situations he experiences are all recognisable and relatable, and the emotions he articulates can be easily comprehended.
While critically, Funny Misshapen Body is as good as any of his previous books, speaking purely as a fan, it feels like a return to form. Brown’s last few books have been mostly tangental to his autobiographical work, and his previous instalment of autobio, Little Things, felt as though it lacked a cohesive theme. Funny Misshapen Body is immediately comparable to his best work, and for the first time feels as though it carries with it a definite message to the reader, rather than inviting them to divine their own. Fans of Brown’s earlier work should consider it a must-read, and those who have yet to discover him can safely start here.
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