Loads of Learned Lumber

Friday, January 1, 2016

Allie Brosh, _Hyperbole and a Half_

IT'S HEARTENING WHEN something as peculiar as this becomes popular and successful--Napoleon Dynamite, say, or the first Violent Femmes album, or Weetzie Bat. Heartening to me, in any case. I am happy to have evidence that the population of those hearing different drummers is large and widely dispersed.

These hybrid comics-essays first appeared on the internet and were created with a rudimentary drawing program the very limitations of which Brosh manages to make expressive. The Brosh character looks the same whether child or adult--a face that's a bit like a frog's, wide mouth and widely separated eyes; a yellow triangle that possibly stands for hair, but might be a conical hat; a magenta rectangle for a body, four bent wires for limbs. The other characters look a bit more like ordinary cartoons and less like the drawings of five-year-olds, but only a bit more. (Oddly enough, Brosh achieves a kind of uncanny fidelity when drawing dogs.)

The brutally simple drawing style accompanies accounts of episodes from Brosh's life that are certainly often funny, but also often painful--"unfortunate situations, flawed coping mechanisms, mayhem, and other things that happened" in the words of the subtitle--which she relates with an honesty and directness that startle and an an insight that convinces. Her account of her depression is one of the very few things I have read that gives me a graspable idea of how depression feels, and parts one and  two of "Identity," which closes the volume, could serve as useful elucidations of Paul's and Augustine's accounts of their own bewilderment at their inability to do what they knew perfectly well to be the right thing to do.

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