Hyperbole and a Half
By Allie Brosh
Is it a blog? Is it a comic? Is it a webcomic? Is it something else?
I mean I don’t think I really care about that. You know – taxonomy is only really useful when you’re trying to work out where to shelve a book in a Library.
The thing that’s important is this: Allie Brosh and Hyperbole and a Half is really really really good.
I’ve bitched here and there about the dearth of any comic books that feel like they’ve actually been made in the 21st Century. And yeah of course I’m mostly attuned to the mainstream and there’s probably loads of crazy underground comic books pushing the limits of what can be communicated with pen and paper (or wait – maybe that should be a mouse and computer?). But you know I also want something that’s actually fun and enjoyable to read. Not just abstract craziness that leaves me wondering what the point was.
Nowadays of course the mainstream is mostly superhero comics trumpeting the magical power of representation on the one hand and what I like to call “Guardian Graphic Novels” on the other (badly drawn autobiographical comics mostly it seems dealing with some sort of mental health issue).
What’s funny about that is that of course if you were looking for a one sentence description of Hyperbole and a Half “a badly drawn autobiographical comic dealing with mental health issues” would hit the nail squarely on the head. Plus of course it’s made by a woman so it gets even more points for that.
Except while the vast majority of most Guardian Graphic Novels end up slowly sending me to sleep due to their total boring boringness Allie Brosh makes things that are so good that I end up sending them to people just so they can bask in their lovely sunshine glory (this isn’t included in the Hyperbole and a Half but oh my god I wish it was because it’s basically one of the best things I’ve ever read ever).
Of course it’s still coming from the same place. And one that I mostly don’t really have all that much time for. I find something very suspicious about someone who wants to write comic books and then when presented with the limitless option to write about anything ever ends up telling a story about themselves (dare I ask – is this a gender thing? Or something else?).
But at the risk of saying something insensitive – while the experience of most Guardian Graphic Novels makes me feel like I’m trapped in the room while someone is talking to their therapist Hyperbole and a Half makes me feel like I’m watching stand up comedy. (And not just any stand up – but like: one of the masters of the form: because just to say it again – Allie Brosh is really really really good).
Obviously the secret ingredient here is humour. Which is obviously a whole secret in itself. Because you know – how exactly do you just make something funny? I have no idea. It’s a mystery. But when it works it works.
And well yeah there’s a part of me that kinda just wants to cut and paste all of the best jokes in an attempt to show you what I mean (“Please write back”) but that’s like taking a photo of a band playing a gig. The only way you’d really understand is just to experience it yourself you know?
I’ve gotta say: It is really really really good tho.
Nice find, Joel.
I’ve read the “Richard” story on the front page of the blog, and it’s very impressive. The naivete of the style is striking:- images and words cut and pasted together like a word document- no styling: words and pictures not lined up properly, default helvetica-type font
The art style is deliberately naive too – it looks like a scribble done in MS Paint with the single-thickness black lines, stick arms and legs and whatever the heck her anatomy is meant to be. Is she meant to look insectoid? What’s that yellow thing on her back or head? It suits the memoirs of a of a 3-year old perfectly. But the even-ness of the fence, the shading in the sandpit, highlights on the doorknob and a few other details give the game away – this is someone who knows how to draw.
There’s a lot of craft in the whole thing. The storytelling is also superbly accomplished. I like the several wordless sequences. The looks on her face here communicate the struggle between fear and curiosity really eloquently.
The use of repeated panels too – the picture above of Richard the neighbour is a close-up of a panel half a page earlier, and the section where she sneaks into the living room does the same sort of zoom in 3 or 4 times, to very good storytelling effect. And there’s a lot of repetition in the conversation between Richard and her parents, she’s just zooming slowly in and changing the mouths, as far as I can see, while communicating such a subtle blend of politeness, wariness and mistrust.
The scrappy notes they keep to explain their theories about what’s going on, the interplay between the typed narrative and the hand drawn words on top of the images, all original devices playing with the comics form.
I love it!
And such an engaging, sweet story too – really captures the irrational world-view of a child. I’m reminded of the time when I stole a carrot from the grocery van that used to stop at the houses on our street, just because my brother had done so the week before, and I thought it was the right thing to do.
I’ll be adding these books to my wish list, for sure.
I’m pretty sure that the yellow thing on the back of her head is supposed to be her hair. (I did think it was a party hat or something at first but that would just be silly right?)
I must confess that I do like Dave’s smart little detective work to reach the conclusion that “this is someone who knows how to draw.” I think up until now I quite liked the idea that everything was just a glorious accident. MS Paint in the hands of a child. Allie Brosh spending a few hours writing down some random stuff that appears in her head and through somesort of lucky divine spark it just turns out that it’s total genius. I feel like it’s interesting comparing her to the likes of Alan Moore where it’s always very obvious that he’s spent lots of serious time contemplating seriously the biology of serious Swamp Monsters and then lying it all out in front of you in a way that leaves you no choice but to go “Oh wow – look at how smart he is” (good alternative title for Watchmen there). Allie Brosh on the other hand uses her art to do almost the exact opposite. If you were going to condense Hyperbole and a Half into a single sentence it would probably be something more along the lines of “Oh wow – look at how much of a mess she is.” And please don’t get me wrong and think that by saying that I’m looking down my nose at her or anything – I’m just going by the types of stories she tells and how she depicts them. Like it’s still actual glorious art. Vibrating on it’s own strange unique frequency.
I’ve already gestured to how fucking funny how stuff is (I actually think that Hyperbole and a Half is probably the funniest comic I’ve ever read and I can’t really think of any other book that comes close – like it’s actually a book that actually makes me laugh out loud when I read it). But then there’s also points where it gets really deep too.
For those of you unlucky enough not to have physical copies of the book there’s two strips where she goes into depression which hits harder than anything else I’ve ever read. (Part 1 is here. Part 2 is here. Do yourself a favour and give them a read)Mostly just because it’s so raw and direct and honest. My usual tastes (as I’m sure most of you have worked out by now) is for various forms of escapism – science-fictional crazy stuff set on distant worlds with unhuman characters etc. Because you know real life is tough enough without wanting to read about it too. The prospect of reading about someone’s sad and shitty existence doesn’t really seem like that much fun to me.
But then – I don’t know – Allie Brosh is basically a wizard in the way that she transmutes her struggles into something that is compelling and revelatory in a way that I just didn’t know was possible. Or you know – to sum it up simply: how the hell can she make depression sound so funny?
I mean also of course it’s unflinching and real and hits me in the gut in a way that nothing else really gets close to.
Are there any other comics out there that work like this or is Allie Brosh basically in a field of one? (Although seeing how trailblazing stuff like The Dark Knight Returns and Watchmen gave birth to a whole host of malnourished and deformed imitators maybe I should just be thankful for what we’ve got).
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