|Photo by Jill Liebhaber|
Jeffrey Brown was born in 1975 in Grand Rapids, Michigan. While earning his studio MFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Brown abandoned painting and began drawing comics with his first autobiographical book Clumsy in 2001. Since then, he’s drawn nearly two dozen books for publishers including TopShelf, Chronicle Books, Simon & Schuster, and Scholastic. Brown has also directed an animated video for the band Death Cab For Cutie, had his work featured on NPR’s ‘This American Life,’ and co-wrote the screenplay of the film Save The Date. His book Darth Vader and Son was a NYTimes #1 bestseller, and its sequels Vader’s Little Princess, Goodnight Darth Vader, and Darth Vader and Friends, along with his middle grade series Jedi Academy, were also NYTimes bestsellers. His art has been shown at galleries in New York, Los Angeles, Paris, and the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago. Now teaching comics at SAIC, he lives in Chicago with his wife Jennifer and two sons.
AESTHETICS FOR BIRDS: A rather significant portion of what many would consider to be the best comics of the last 25 years have been (broadly construed) autobiographical.
- Chester Brown, Paying For It
- Harvey Pekar, Joyce Brabner, & Frank Stack, Our Cancer Year
- Eddie Campbell, Grafitti Kitchen
- Marjane Satrapi, Persepolis
- David B., Epileptic
- Art Spiegelman, Maus
- Alison Bechdel, Fun Home
- Craig Thompson, Blankets
- Jeffrey Brown, Clumsy
AFB: Finally, in the last 10 years or so, comics have received increasing amounts of philosophical attention, most recently in the Roy T. Cook & Aaron Meskin volume The Art of Comics: A Philosophical Approach (Wiley-Blackwell, 2012). There is of course a sense in which being a target of philosophical enquiry validates the artistic merit of the medium. However, some might see this validation as coming with price, signaling the end of the medium, artists, and the practices therein being driven by an organically developed and fully internalized theory of comics and the beginning of the medium, artists, and their practices instead being shaped by a synthetic, externalized, and fine-art modeled theory of comics imported by philosophers (analogous to having the significance of your city-state validated by its being sacked by the Visigoths). How do you, and how do you think other comic artists, view increased scrutiny by Philosophers of Art?
Personally, I’m not worried at all, although I do feel like some cartoonists may be a little bothered, as if removal of low-brow status and DIY ethos will somehow dilute and ultimately negate the potential of comics to be truly expressive. At the same time, I don’t think most artists, myself included, feel that our work needs any kind of validation to be considered successful. I certainly have never felt that I needed mainstream culture to accept geekdom to justify my love of Star Wars, and the fact that Star Wars can be co-opted by such a wide range of people, companies, and products doesn’t adversely affect my love for the movies. So as a cartoonist, I don’t feel that increased philosophical attention to the medium should necessarily have any negative effect on the creation, as my focus will remain pointed at the ideas I want to express and finding the best way to communicate those ideas. Even if I feel like, at this point in time, the framework for the criticism of comics is something that is maybe being applied to the work rather than becoming a structure upon which new comics work can be built in interesting or different ways, I think overall that the more people looking at comics, and the wider variety of viewpoints, experiences, and agendas people are bringing to their readings of comics, the better off comics will be. Ultimately, if comics are going to continue to move past their basic origin as fluff entertainment (or, if not origin, the common perception for the majority of the medium’s existence), they will need people like philosophers taking a closer look at their mechanics and nature.