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review:

A small matter perhaps

Chris Auman


A Matter of Life
Jeffrey Brown
[Top Shelf Productions]

Jeffrey Brown is known for two things: his playful and silly comics that goof on childhood heroes from Transformers cartoons and Star Wars movies, and his autobiographical comics that depict his trials and tribulations in love and life. A Matter of Life is the latter.

Jeffrey Brown moved to Chicago from Grand Rapids, Michigan in 2000 to study painting at the School of the Art Institute. It wasn’t long before his attention turned back to his first love of comics (although he did receive his MFA from SAIC and now teaches comics at the school). As a kid, Brown was inspired to draw by Transformers and GI Joe cartoons, Marvel Comics super heroes and all things Star Wars. As an adult artist, Brown has created animation for the indie rock band, Death Cab for Cutie, he co-wrote the screenplay for the romantic comedy Save the Date and his autobiographical comic, Clumsy, was acclaimed about as highly as a debut self-published book can be. Recently, Brown has found fans for his comics aimed at young readers. Darth Vader and Son portrays the most evil entity in the universe as an old softy as he raises young Luke and Leia (providing further proof that the Star Wars universe will expand to infinity and beyond).

Speaking of the family dynamic, A Matter of Life is Brown’s latest offering for grown-up kids. As he notes in the back of the book, A Matter of Life is an “autobiographical meditation on fatherhood and faith.” The book chronicles three generations of Brown men, father, son and grandfather. Brown observes his father in his advancing years as he watches his son grow up. This triggers Brown’s own childhood memories. He cycles through various recollections of youth camp and his early introduction to religion (his own father was a minister) and his ultimate rejection of it. His father’s continued health problems resurface throughout and it’s all seen through the lens of Brown’s current role as husband and father.

A Matter of Life is not droids and lasers and giant transforming bots that’s for sure, but Brown’s drawings are as bright and playful. His hair is usually mussed with perpetual behead and there’s still his recognizable style with the felt-tip marker that gives his work a rough hewn, yet soft and fuzzy look and feel. There are panels of mountain and nature scenes that are gorgeous, and panels of city buildings that are detailed and dazzling. It all leads up to a cosmic ending of the stars as dust in the Milky Way and most of life’s questions still unanswered. It’s good that Brown is also a great writer who can put some deep thoughts down succinctly. His writing is the perfect accompaniment to his panels. It supports his artwork without being wordy. It’s a light touch and very effective.

Brown’s autobiographical work appeals to some pretty basic human interests no matter what stage of life you’re in. We’ve all been at least a son or a daughter, many of us are parents and grandparents, so there’s a universal appeal to A Matter of Life. I’m sure we’ll get updates from Jeff as he moves through the different stages of his own life. Consider this just another chapter.

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