Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Jeffrey Brown

One of my favorite comic book artists and writers is Jeffrey Brown, a Chicagoan, most of whose autobiographical work is set in Wicker Park. As part of my final project he agreed to an online interview. Here is some of what we discussed:

Heather: You have written about your early interest in superhero comics. How and when did you discover indie publications? Where there any Chicago writers/artists you were drawn to early on?

Jeffrey Brown: While I was in middle school/high school, the manager at my local comics shop started giving me some of the alternative comics like Hate, Eightball and Dirty Plotte. Eightball was one of my favorites, so Dan Clowes was the one Chicago cartoonist I liked a lot.

H: What was your sense of Chicago growing up? Did it feature in your imagination? Did you always imagine moving here, or was it just because of the School of the Art Institute?

JB: I have a lot of family in Illinois, and living in West Michigan I was only a three hour drive from Chicago, so out of any city outside of my hometown, I probably knew Chicago best. We went to the museums a lot, so the Field Museum and Museum of Science & Industry are probably my strongest associations. In college, my roommate was also from Chicago, so I spent time visiting him as well. When I started feeling like I needed to move away from West Michigan after college, I was actually leaning toward moving to Ann Arbor, Michigan. So really, going to The School Of The Art Institute was the biggest factor in coming here.

H: Your personal work has a strong sense of place: not just Chicago but Wicker Park as well. How would you characterize the importance of place in your work?

JB: Since my work deals with personal narrative and the nature of our memories, things like objects, songs, events, etc. all play important roles, so of course place does as well. For example, the idea of where you were when you first kissed someone, or the last time you saw someone, are closely tied to certain memories. So in my work I think that sense comes through, the importance of place in our lives.

H: If you were to describe Chicago as a character in your work, how would you describe it? What mood does Chicago imbue? What do you think are Chicago's most marked characteristics?

JB: In my work, I think the sense of Chicago is down to earth - maybe tied to that Midwestern sense of work ethic - and also, because of my interests I guess, a sense of DIY culture. Chicago to me has a mood of melancholy mixed with opportunity. Lately I think one of Chicago's marked characteristics is political corruption. Or at least that's one thing I think of when I think of Chicago.

H: We have been reading a number of Chicago authors for my class beginning with the turn of the century and working our way up through Saul Bellow and Sara Peretsky who is a part of "The Syndicate", a group of Chicago mystery writers. Do you feel like there is an intact community of graphic novelists/artists working in Chicago now? Howwould you describe the local community?

JB: I think there's a bit of community, but it's hard to gauge how closely knit it is. I think a lot of cartoonists know each other, and various groups see each other, but by its nature cartooning is a bit of a solitary pursuit. Judging from attendance at comics-related events and the work being created by Chicago cartoonists, I'd say the community is pretty vibrant.

H: How and why was The Holy Consumption ( formed? How did you and the other artists meet? Do you see The Holy Consumption as having a role/effect in Chicago beyond yourselves?

JB: I met Paul Hornschemeier through Chris Ware, while Paul was working for Westcan, the company that printed my first self-published book Clumsy. Paul already knew Anders and John, and I met them later on. The Holy Consumption was Paul's idea; it was a way to give the four of us a more solid online presence as well as a venue to sell some of our work, since we were all self-publishing. I don't know how much effect the group has had as a group - for the most part, we worked alone and everything, just got together socially - but I think the idea of it, as well as how our careers have all evolved, has had an impact on inspiring the next generation of cartoonists.

H: What do you see as Quimby's (or other independent sellers) role in the development of Chicago talent? What are some of your favorite alternative/independent booksellers?

JB: Quimby's plays an important role, they're the leader in stores that are carrying self published work and a great place to discover the newest and most innovative work being made. For myself, going to Quimby's was a revelation, and definitely inspired me to not only make comics but the kind of work I make as well. Besides Quimby's, I like Chicago Comics and Comix Revolution. I like Myopic for used books, and I think the Book Cellar does a good job as a small independent book cellar.

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