My Brain Hurts: Volume One by Liz Baillie

Categories:  Reviews

My Brain Hurts: Volume One
By Liz Baillie
Microcosm Publishing

Liz BaillieSeveral days after finishing My Brain Hurts, I’m still on the fence about the name. To be perfectly honest, it was a touch off-putting at first. Borrowed from the third LP by Chicago-based pop-punk act—and bastions of immaturity—Screeching Weasel, the name more readily invokes angsty teenage journal scribblings, rather than the thoughtfulness which Liz Baillie  generously approaches her subject matter.

By the same token, there’s something wholly appropriate in the use of the phrase as something of an anthem for the young queer punks growing up in New York City, who form the core of the story—it’s a constent remind that, even as they deal with issues that, many of us, even at more than twice their age have yet to confront head on, it is, at its heart, the story of kids struggling to survive the birth pangs of their journey into early adulthood.

It’s also a fair indication of the tightrope that Baillie walks for the entirety of her story. Given the subject matter she tackles—sexuality, child abuse, runaways—it would have been quite easy to yield to the temptation to become some comic book equivalent to an afterschool special, an urge that Baillie resists, as she refuses to judge any of her characters too harshly, unfolding the story in a straightforward, objective manner, in which even the abusive father of a young, gay son is given a fair shake.

However, Baillie’s objectivity should never be mistaken for punkier-than-thou indifference. She clearly has a good deal invested in her characters across the board, tempering apathetic posturing with moments of candid emotional release—a fair representation of the rollercoaster than nearly universally comes with the territory of life’s early double digits.

At its best, My Brain Hurts serves as a graphic counterpart to some of the best punk fiction, exploring the emotional depth of ‘zines like Cometbus and Burn Collector. However, like its cast, the storytelling does occasionally show its age, investing, perhaps a touch too much in the desire toward youthful angst.

Still, taken as a whole, My Brain Hurts is as a powerful and largely universal examination of what it means to be thrust, kicking and screaming, into the world of adulthood, and perhaps, most importantly of all, it’s a lesson to those in the throes of adolescence, that, no matter bad it gets, if you stick out, you’ll make it out alive.

–Brian Heater

9 Comments to “My Brain Hurts: Volume One by Liz Baillie”

  1. DerikB | November 9th, 2007 at 9:10 am

    Comparing it to Cometbus!? Is it really that good?

  2. Liz | November 9th, 2007 at 11:14 am

    Yeah I hate the name too. I actually cringe a little whenever I have to say it. Alas, I had to choose a name for it when I finished the first issue as my senior thesis back in aught-two and it stuck. Sigh.

    Thanks for the review though!

  3. bheater | November 9th, 2007 at 3:14 pm

    liz: if it makes you feel any better, it’s inspired me to dig out all of my old screeching weasel records. next stop, squirtgun.

    derik: it’s a great book, but nothing in the world will ever touch ‘cometbus.’

  4. Jeremy D | November 12th, 2007 at 9:27 am

    I think it’s a great title. For one thing, I can’t help but hear the song in my head when I read the book, so it makes for an instant soundtrack. But it also sets the stage for the characters’ turbulent inner lives – a theme that’s also echoed in the off-kilter, yet tightly-controlled intimacy of Liz’ drawing.

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