Interview: Jeffrey Brown Pt. 2 (of 2)

Categories:  Interviews

Jeffrey BrownThe best thing about interviewing an autobiographer like Jeffery Brown is that, unlike many of his more-veiled contemporaries, the Michigan-born artist knows the subject matter in his own life fairly well, and isn’t afraid to discuss most any aspect of it, as evidenced by his ongoing fascination with that seemingly endless supply of comic fodder and personal chagrin, ex-girlfriends. Though as Brown suggested in part one, he’ll—at least temporarily—be moving on from that well-traveled subject matter, in favor of delving even deeper into his own life, with topics ranging from trips to the hospital, to school, to smashed up windshields.

In part two, we speak to Brown about the long journey from artschool to comic book celebrity. Read the full story, after the jump.

You got your MFA at artschool? What was your focus?

It was painting and drawing. The department was mostly focused on painting, but the way the school was arranged, you could do a lot of work with people from other departments, so I did a lot of work with people from the writing department and film and video. They were actually a little more helpful than the people who were specifically painters.

Did you ever turn in comics as a project?

Yeah. It’s a two year program, and after my first year, I started drawing comics. My thesis was basically comedy.

It seems like, since the days that Daniel Clowes drew the Artschool Confidential strip, academia has really accepted comics in way they never had before. It’s almost as if they’ve reached the level of fine art.

Yeah. Columbia College here in Chicago actually has comic classes taught by Ivan Brunetti. But the school I went, as far as I know, still doesn’t have any kind of comics classes. When I was there, they still didn’t really know what to do with that. Anders Nilsen was going there at the same time as me, and he went through an experience where they didn’t really know how to provide a useful critique, because they really didn’t know enough about it.

Do you still paint?

I’ve recently started doing painting, for covers of books. But it’s been about five years since I’ve done any painting on canvas.

Have you been doing autobiographical stuff since the beginning?

Yeah. Clumsy is pretty much the full comic that I’ve done, so it’s been pretty autobiographical since the beginning.

Did you think that it would appeal to people beyond your immediate circle of friends?

Not really. Clumsy was drawn in a sketch book, because my original idea was that, instead of a mass-produced comic book, it would be one copy. My friends liked it, so I made Xeroxed versions that I gave them to friends and family, and then I started making mini comics. They sold really fast. That’s when I thought people might be interested in them.

How did you end up at Top Shelf?

I originally sent Clumsy to them in a Xeroxed version. They passed on it for publication, as did Fantagraphics and everybody else. So I self-published. Top Shelf started offering me distribution through Diamond. The pre-orders of Diamond were for enough copies that Top Shelf just decided to take over publishing it.

How did the Death Cab project come about?

I have a friend who’s friend with Aaron Stewart, who was one of the directors. Aaron’s actually good friends with Nick [Harmer], who’s the bassist, and a big comic book fan. It was a combination of Nick having seen my books at Giant Robot, and a friend introduced me to Aaron at Comic Con. After that, I ended up meeting them when they played Chicago. So when they were inviting people to submit proposals, they pick mine as one of the ones to commission.

You appeared on This American Life, too. What did you do on the show?

It was a short segment. The producer, Jonathan Goldstein had found a copy of Clumsy at Quimby’s [a Chicago area comic store], when it was still just Xeroxed. He had an idea, since they were all short stories, that they’d be really easy to translate for the show, so he worked with me, and we took the stories and turned them into dialogue versions, and some into panel-by-panel descriptions. And then it was mixed with a little bit of an interview with Ira Glass.

So it was literally comics on the radio?

Yeah, it kind of is. We actually spent several months working on it to where we thought it translated well.

–Brian Heater