(Just like anyone else who is a lover of great books, we at CCLaP find ourselves sometimes with a desire to become a "completist" of certain authors; that is, to have read every book that author has ever written. This series of essays chronicles that attempt. Don't forget, a list of all the other books reviewed as part of this series can be found on CCLaP's main book review page.)
By Jeffrey Brown
Reviewed by Jason Pettus
The Chicago Public Library recently entered a partnership with online content provider Hoopla, which among other things means I suddenly have access to thousands of old comic books I've never read before, including most of the back catalog of Top Shelf, Dark Horse and Boom! Studios. And this also includes the first three published books by adored indie artist Jeffrey Brown, his so-called "Ex-Girlfriend Trilogy," so I've decided to take them on once a month from now until Christmas.
Now, admittedly, I've already read Brown's charming series of recent books exploring the adventures of new dad Darth Vader and his precocious children Luke and Leia, so I know already that he eventually learns as a comics artist to write actual coherent gags and to develop a professional drawing style; because otherwise, I probably would've been just as offended by the sloppy amateurism of his first book, 2003's Clumsy, as so many other angry, angry reviewers at Goodreads are. And they have every right to be that angry, because it seems almost a crime against humanity that a cartoonist this bad should have racked up such a huge amount of accolades and fans at the beginning of his career; because to be clear, not only are the vignettes in Clumsy (all of them concerning a long-distance girlfriend he seems to have had in...college?) these non-narrative little pointless slice-of-life pieces, but they're not even particularly interesting slices of that life, in many cases seeming to be just literally some random afternoon that Brown happened to pluck out of his memory where absolutely nothing happened and there's no interesting story to relate.
I have to admit, it makes for a maddening reading experience, and will inspire many to angrily shake their iPad and scream, "Jesus fucking Christ, Brown, won't you just write at least one goddamn story that I was actually glad I took the 60 seconds to read, for God's sake??!!" Thankfully, though, he seems to have finally gotten that message by here in the 2010s; so that will make it an interesting experience over the next few months to get caught up with all his books between then and now, and to see how this progression into actual readable comics displays itself over the course of fifteen years. I'll keep you apprised of the latest; but for now, I most decidedly do not recommend starting with this first book of his, which runs the risk of ruining your tolerance for him before you ever get even close to the good stuff.