Jeffrey Brown is a full-time comic book artist and all-around sweet guy. Beginning with his MFA thesis, Clumsy, which Brown initially self-published, Brown has a released a string of successful graphic novels and short comics collections, including Unlikely, Every Girl is the End of the World For Me, An Easy Intimacy, Cat Getting Out of A Bag, and Undeleted Scenes. His next book, Darth Vader and Son, comes out on Chronicle Books in May. He also co-wrote the film Save the Date, which was well-received at Sundance this year.
I recently read Brown’s novel-length book from 2009, Funny Misshapen Body, about his journey to become a full-time artist, and wanted to ask him a few questions about it. So I did.
When did you quit your day-job to draw comics full-time?
It was 2007 – so five years ago. It was a two year long process though, I went from full time to part time and by the end I was working a single four hour shift each week, which I realized was ridiculous.
How did it feel and did you think it was permanent? Do you still think so?
It did feel pretty permanent, and it felt great. Of course, it was shortly after I quit that the economy tanked, so now I feel like I’m just one step away from having to go back to it.
In your book, Funny Misshapen Body the decision to pursue comics as your primary art/career seemed to evolved pretty naturally while you were in art school. At what point did you, say, start telling people who asked “I’m trying to be comic book artist”?
It was probably after I finished my MFA, and self-published Clumsy. Although I was still working at Barnes & Noble, so actually I was probably still describing myself as a music department manager.
And what point did you start just saying “I am a comic book artist”?
When Top Shelf took over publishing Clumsy and offered to publish my second book Unlikely is when I finally started saying I was a cartoonist, and that was how I really identified myself.
If you weren’t involved in comics/art, do you have any idea what you would do?
I have absolutely no idea. Maybe acting or something – I did have aspirations to be in sketch comedy growing up. Art has always seemed like the only real option, though.
When people tell you they’d like to be comic book artists, or just have a career doing creative things, what’s the advice you give them?
Absorb as much as you can – read every comic possible, and then draw as much as you can, just work, work, work. Also, don’t do it for the money.
So much of your work feels like it’s about coming of age and/or facing adulthood. Why does that fascinate you?
I started making work when I was going through that period, so that’s probably the primary reason. I was also a late bloomer, so it’s been a pretty extended period of time for me.
Do you have any favorite coming-of-age cultural works that you come back to, be they books or music or comics or movies?
Hmm, that’s a tough one.. off the top of my head, I’d say both Dune(the film) and X-Men (the comic book), both in a more metaphorical sense, I guess. There’s been plenty of books…Catcher In The Rye, of course, and in graphic novels both Ghost World and Black Hole…
Do you feel like an adult?
You’d think I would, being a father with a young son, married and all grown up like I am. It’s had the opposite effect though. It turns out my son likes all these things I liked as a child and now I just play with him and end up being a bit of a kid myself. And it wasn’t that much of a stretch already.
Jeffrey Brown’s next book, Darth Vader and son, comes out in May on Chronicle Books.
Henry Goldman is founder of yr an adult. He wishes he could draw better.