Saturday, 27 June 2015

A Matter of Life by Jeffrey Brown Review


Though he does a lot of Darth Vader and Change Bot comics these days, Jeffrey Brown started his comics career doing autobiographical, introspective stories, a genre which he returns to in A Matter of Life. 

That said, the Jeffrey Brown of books like Clumsy and Unlikely, about being an awkward single guy muddling through relationships is gone. He’s now married and has a little boy, Oscar, and the perspective of being a father makes him revisit memories of his now-deceased father. 

While the book is a hodge-podge of stories featuring Brown as a kid, his dad, and becoming a dad with a toddler, it’s also about faith, spirituality, science and mortality. Brown was raised Christian but as he grew up, he began moving away from the religion. 

As a teen, he started reading physics books by Carl Sagan and Stephen Hawking, began thinking about the wider universe and how small humanity is in the face of everything, and the limitations and contradictions within Christianity. However if you’ve read one book about someone struggling with their faith, you’ve read them all, and Brown’s story is no different from most. Also while he is no longer a Christian, he treats the religion and other Christians with enormous respect in this book. This isn’t someone mocking the faith for yuks or looking down at anyone in the church (though he does gently needle some folk!).

The memories of his father are sweet but not saccharine and have the ruggedness of reality to them. Through them we see glimpses of Brown’s own development from an art student to a cartoonist and the man he is today, still having awkward moments, and determined to be as good a father to his son as his father was to him. It’s a good mix of light and heavy. 

Unlike a lot of Brown’s work, the art is much more confident with stronger lines, ambitious splash pages, and lots and lots of colour. The landscape panels are especially pretty as are the cosmic shots. 

A Matter of Life is a very soft read in that Brown’s adopted a loose approach to talk about personal stories and also touch on larger issues that affect us all. It doesn’t leave a deep impression, nor does it say anything particularly fresh or profound, but some of the memories are touching. 

Brown’s adulthood stories are more interesting than his kidulthood ones and because there’s a balance between the two, I liked half the book better than the other. It’s a pleasant read though not one of Brown’s best (also describing itself as a “meditation” makes me want to punch its cover!).

A Matter of Life

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