Little Things by Jeffrey Brown

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Little Things
By Jeffrey Brown
Touchstone

Jeffrey Brown’s stories tend to defy convention. He’s a fantastic storyteller, and much of his strength lies in the way he foregoes the need for set ups and finite endings. In his world, life is constantly moving, making it all one big middle.

Brown achieved fast fame with his debut graphic novel, Clumsy, in 2003. That book and its follow up, Unlikely, garnered him a reputation for writing about women and relationships in extremely honest—some would say painfully so—detail. His latest release, Little Things, maintains a similar level of honesty but examines many different aspects of life—relationships and much more.

As the title suggests, the book is largely about life’s minutiae: music, coffee shops, stomach aches. But Brown throws in plenty of big stuff, too—death and surgery, for instance—and what’s remarkable is the democracy of the book. He approaches all of his subjects with equal energy, so that the story of visiting a friend follows that of a car accident his father was in, and the transition feels natural.

The ease with which Brown moves from one story to the next reflects the book’s overarching theme: the interconnectedness of the different parts of life. As a far from eloquent cartoon Brown attempts to summarize in the book’s intro, “But I guess it’s a collection of stories about…well…it’s about how things interconnect in life, you know, how these different things mean something to us?” Awkwardly stated, but true.

The first story, “These Things These Things,” exemplifies this, as Brown weaves together scattered moments, people, and places through their connection with the music of Andrew Bird. We’ve probably all thought at some point about how a certain song or musician conjures up a specific memory for us, but it’s wonderful to think about how one person’s music can actually carry us through so many different parts of our lives. And, going one step further, how music can therefore connect parts of our lives that we never thought to place side by side.

Little Things may spur philosophical musings, but Brown keeps it light. He conveys the profundity of ordinary moments, but without hitting you over the head. The beauty of a majestic mountain view is communicated simply, without feeling forced or affected. He also makes us laugh—sometimes at jokes and other times because it’s funny how well the book captures certain aspects of life (mine, at least)—which prevents drama and seriousness from taking over.

His artistic style matches the relaxed tone of the book. The art is rough—not in a way that suggests lack of skill, but in a quirky, distinctive way that suggests he enjoys drawing his experiences as much as he appreciates having them. The book is all black-and-white and looks like a cleaned up, well-laid out version of how I imagine his sketchbooks appear. There are mostly six panels to a page, with occasional larger breakout panels that stay within the order of the page but allow the bigness and importance of certain moments to shine through.

Brown has a knack for finding value in both good and bad experiences and seeing how they all fit together. I came away from Little Things thinking largely about how no one has just one, simple life story; also, how I really want to hang out with Jeffrey Brown.

–Jillian Steinhauer

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3 Comments to “Little Things by Jeffrey Brown”

  1. Derek Neuland | August 13th, 2008 at 3:40 pm

    A few people I talked to about Little Things said they didn’t like how the book was so mismatched and just a collection of different stories.

    But I am with you. I totally embrace this book. While I have loved his other graphic novels that were one continuous story, this collection style is equally, if not more effective. I’d rather Jeffrey Brown release something like this each year rather than wait to collect one big story and release it every couple of years.

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