Thursday, January 23, 2014

Book-A-Day 2014 #23: Hyperbole and a Half by Allie Brosh

You've seen Allie Brosh's work, since you're on the Internet. That little MS Paint "clean all the things" image came from the middle of her essay "This Is Why I'll Never Be an Adult." You know the one. A few other Brosh images have achieved escape velocity from her blog, Hyperbole and a Half, and propagated around the wider 'net. Mostly without attribution and without context, because that's what the Internet does: strips things of their context and source and purpose, just like Bruce Sterling warned us "the street" would do thirty years ago.

A few of her essays -- I'm calling them "essays" here, because that's a big, baggy word, and I think it covers Brosh's mash-ups of deliberately crude pseudo-comics images and narrative prose, but she might prefer to call them "blog posts" -- have jumped out, whole or nearly so: Adventures in Depression, for example, I remember seeing linked to a lot soon after she made it. She's honest about herself -- unrelentingly so, as a great artist must be -- and is good at mining her own odd life for farce and pathos. (She grew up in small towns in California and Idaho, and wanted to become a scientist before ADHD and clinical depression turned her into a recluse. But she tells that story much better than my sketch would indicate.)

So: here's an artist, doing something very well, in public, and getting a good audience doing it. A book inevitably follows, and so many of Brosh's best piece have been collected as Hyperbole and a Half. (Not all of them, of course -- you will not find any uses for a brick here, or details of the monster Alot. With any luck, this will only be the first of many books from Brosh.) The words seem to be basically the same, but Brosh has redrawn at least some of the pictures: "Never Be an Adult" seems to have been redrawn, but her most recent work -- the two essays here titled "Depression Part One" and "Depression Part Two," which apparently bookended a very dark time in her life -- seems to be identical from blog to book.

But Brosh isn't Neal Adams; you go to her for insights and stories from her life, not for precisely wrought pen-lines. (I'm sure there are people who can't stand Brosh's drawings of herself -- for all the world like a large fish upright in a shapeless pink dress, with spindly limbs and a yellow triangle stuck into her head -- and those people are missing the point. But I expect they do that a lot.)

This book collects a bunch of great stories from a great storyteller, in a format that lets you benefit her directly. I have to think that, if you've ever posted a "clean all the things" meme, you're pretty much required to buy it. You don't have to read it -- no one can force you to read -- but that's what you should do. Brosh might not be normal, but who is? And she at least has names to put on her non-normalness, defined coping mechanisms to keep herself going forward, and a great viewpoint to turn her experiences into art.

Book-A-Day 2014 Introduction and Index

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