Thursday, March 5, 2015

Happy Will Eisner Week, Day 5: A Matter of Life

Will Eisner Week Day 5 brings us to a book by an established graphic novelist. In part I chose this book because it shares at least one theme with Eisner's first graphic novel, A Contract with God, in that the main character struggles with his religious faith. Eisner's book was not so much a novel as a collection of stories, but this one here is one continuous narrative.
Even though he is not so old one could call Jeffrey Brown an elder statesman of autobiographical comics. He has written and drawn a slew of them, including Clumsy, AEIOU, Unlikely, and Every Girl is the End of the World for Me. He also has created a number of fiction works, including his Sulk series, the Incredible Change-Bot books, and his forays into the universe of Star Wars. Many of his highly confessional autobiographies deal with his romantic relationships, but this one here, A Matter of Life, is about his family, fatherhood, and his religious faith.

Much of this book revolves around his childhood and teen years, as he grows up a minister's son and has many different takes on the ideas of Christianity and organized religion. Below is a page showing one particular night in his life as a college student:
But this book does not just focus on his growing up, it also bounces around to other points in Brown's life and we see him as an adult and as a father to his own son. It has comic scenes, like the one with a literal tiny Jesus raging in a heart, and sweet scenes, like the one where his young son pays his mom an unexpected compliment at the dinner table. Perhaps the most impressive thing about this book is how well it balances and juxtaposes these various tones and emotions.

Although the book works organically as a whole, I also admired how it is both episodic and non-sequential. There are so many great tidbits and glimpses into Brown's life, but they are not necessarily told in chronological order. I appreciated the way he tells his tales thematically in a relatively novel way.

The narrative is not the only place where this book shines, because I also loved the way it was rendered and colored in a painterly fashion. Brown's linework is cartoony and bold, and it is very much enhanced by an excellent use of colors that make many pages and scenes even more engaging. Just look at these beautiful panels:

All of the reviews I have read about this book have been full of praise. Jody Arlington wrote that "you'll be inspired by the Brown family's goodness and gentle relationship with each other and the world." Publishers Weekly commented that the book was full of "subtle and quiet insights into the realities of family life." Bill Sherman called it "challenging and sweet" and also "a wonderful testament of the ways that comic art can look beyond the trappings of genre storytelling." And for those interested, Brown speaks more extensively and specifically about his work on A Matter of Life in this interview.

A Matter of Life was published by Top Shelf, and they have a preview and much more information available here.

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