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getting down with jeffrey brown

August 17, 2011

Interview by Chris Auman

Jeffrey Brown, comics artist

Jeffrey Brown is a very busy man. Not only is a film that he co-wrote currently in production, he's also held the titles of music video director, NPR contributor, children's book author, comics creator, diarist, husband, father and probably a cousin to someone somewhere as well. Mr. Brown is living proof that you can make a career out of drawing pictures of robots shooting lasers. Ok, maybe he doesn't draw pictures of robots shooting lasers exclusively, but still, that's pretty cool. So, if you are someone who draws pictures of robots shooting lasers, DON"T STOP NOW!

When did you start drawing comics?

I think I was drawing comics when I was five or six, so pretty much from the time I could draw anything identifiable (commence jokes about that time being last year). Some of my earliest drawings had little cartoon word bubbles, and comics—both superhero and newspaper—were both things I was copying early on.

What was the first comic that you drew?

I know I drew Transformers and G.I.Joe comics amongst my first work, but there might have been some made-up superhero comics before that. The earliest story was a bunch of stick figure knights attacking a castle, but that was more of a picture book than a comic.

The Transformer cartoon series is the obvious influence for your Incredible Change-bots comics, what other stuff influenced you early on?

The Star Wars films were big for me, and J.R.R. Tolkien. In comics, the Marvel Universe was my main interest, especially X-Men. Saturday morning cartoons in general, also. Garfield was also an early influence, and I drew him enough that I can still draw him from memory, pretty much.

What do you think about the Transformer movies? Have you seen the new one?

I think they spend too much time on special effects and trying too hard to be funny. They don't really capture the emotional connection the cartoons had for kids, but then, I guess that's not their purpose. I think they could be a lot better, but maybe they wouldn't make as much money. Haven't seen the newest yet, but I will sometime, I'm sure.

Was Clumsy (later published by Top Shelf) your first self-published comic?

I had published a thing called "A Tiny Piece Of Myself" before that, which was a sixty page collection of comics, drawings and text from my sketchbooks all jumbled together. Or, going back further, in sixth grade my friend and I made several issues of a zine called "Sci-Fi" which had comics and drawings in it.

Clumsy is very personal, autobiographical, journal-type stuff—were you nervous or apprehensive about doing that?

I wasn't when I was writing it, because initially I hadn't planned on publishing, and even when I first self-published I didn't anticipate the kind of response I got. By the time Top Shelf took over publishing, I had a kind of psychological distance between what was in the books and my awareness of it. I just don't think about it too much, or it would drive me crazy. Now, of course, I'm much more careful or considerate about what I write, though I try not to make it compromise what the stories are trying to express.

Did you get an OK from Theresa, your co-star in that book?

She had seen it while I was drawing it, and was okay with it. I think I was pretty fair and honest. I've never written anything intentionally hurtful or embarrassing, and I think she understood the book was less about me and her in the end, and more about a relationship.

Have you ever had any negative reactions from real-life people that you’ve portrayed in your comics?

Just a couple minor reactions that were more misunderstandings than anything. I've never used the comics for revenge or to try and hurt someone, it's more that I just happen to be using my own life and real events to get at ideas about life, so I hope the people in the books all understand that. I certainly could've made a lot of people look a lot worse, I guess. Maybe they're just waiting until I'm really rich and then they'll come after me...

So, you can now add Screenwriter to your resume. Save the Date, the film that you co-wrote has just started filming, can you talk a little about the project?

It's pretty surreal. I started working on it five years ago, when producer Jordan Horowitz asked me if I'd ever thought about writing something for film. I hadn't seriously thought about it, but I came up with a semi-autobiographical story idea and started developing it with him, until we got to the point where I didn't know how to make the story work for film. So Egan Reich, a playwright Jordan knew, came on and made it into a proper screenplay. It almost got made a couple years ago but fell apart at the last minute, but somehow it all came together this time. The cast is amazing. I also ended up doing a ton of artwork for it, as the lead character makes little comic drawings about her life. It's definitely different working for film, where it's very collaborative, compared to when I draw comics and it's just me doing everything.

Are you going to visit the set and hobnob with the actors?

I am going to visit the set, but I'm mostly just going to try and stay out of the way. We'll see if I make the cut to hang out with them a bit, but I'll be happy just for a chance to observe and soak it all in. I thought about it, but I don't think I'm going to bring my fanny pack with camera and autograph book.

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