I just want to start off by saying that I love my job. Not only do I get to talk about nerdy stuff with tons of kindred spirits, but I’ve also been fortunate enough to speak with a few of my favorite film and literary heroes. It’s such a nerdy dream come true and my latest installment of Behind the Pages has only furthered the dream. Jeffrey Brown, author of Clumsy, Funny Misshapen Body and Unlikely, is probably one of the most sincere and intelligent authors that I’ve run across in my lifetime. His autobiographical books delve deep into the inner workings of love, relationships and life in general, and he does so by using his own experiences.
There’s also something quite beautiful about the marriage between his writing and art. The simplicity of his drawings help the reader feel more involved in the stories. That’s what I find so enthralling about his work.
Now in a few weeks, Jeffrey will follow up his hilariously heartfelt and nerdy Vader and Son with Vader’s Little Princess. This time around Jeffrey will delve into the father/daughter between Vader and his little princess. Well, enough of my blabbering on. I think I’ll let a much better spoken individual talk for a while.
NSW: Have you always wanted to be a comic book creator? If not, what did you originally want to do?
JB: As long as I can remember, I’ve wanted to draw comics. There have been a few times where I’ve dreamt about being something else – storyboard artist for film, sketch comedy actor, painter – but I’ve always come back to comics
NSW: Are there any writers that inspired you more than others? What was it about their work that inspired you?
JB: One of my earliest – and still strong – inspirations is Mark Alan Stamaty, whose book Small in the Saddle was something that inspired me to draw, and specifically made me want to draw books. His work is hyper detailed, filled with a ton of hidden jokes and have a particular kind of humor that is fun without needing to be too obvious.
NSW: What I think is so great about your books is the honesty and sincerity that pours from each page. Have you ever felt nervous about doing autobiographical stories and putting your trials and tribulations out there?
JB: Not really – the times when I should’ve been most nervous, I wasn’t thinking about the possibility that these stories would be seen by anyone but a few friends. I also think there’s something about being as honest as possible that trusts the audience with a kind of intimacy that they either will return, or they’re the kind of people who you shouldn’t worry about what they think anyway.
NSW: Since you’ve written such personal stories, what has the reaction from family and friends been like to your books?
JB: They’ve been very supportive. Granted, my family doesn’t always read or respond to some of the more personal relationship stories, and I don’t mind that at all. I’ve been very fortunate to be surrounded by people that have encouraged and supported my art.
NSW: Have any of your ex-girlfriends been less than thrilled about being the subject of your books?
JB: Not that I know of – I think they all understand that it’s not really about them or me, it’s ideas about relationships and love and life that use those real events as a starting point. I also think anyone reading the books will probably get that it’s clearly just one side of the story, and an incomplete version at that. I’ve tried to be fair in my portrayals without compromising what I want to say, and I’ve never set out to make someone look bad or show myself to be anywhere near perfect in comparison.
NSW: Out of all of your books, was there one that you found you had the hardest time writing?
JB: The autobiographical book coming out this summer – A Matter Of Life – is the one that’s been the most difficult so far. Two of the subjects it takes on are fatherhood and religion, with stories about my dad, who’s a minister, and much about my childhood in the church. As much as some of my other books have such intimate details of my life, this is probably my most personal book.
NSW: Which of your books did you have the most fun writing?
JB: That’s hard to say… another way I’ve been very fortunate in my career is that I’ve pretty much only had to work on projects I’ve enjoyed. Certainly, Darth Vader and son and its sequel Vader’s little princess were a ton of fun just to draw. Another book I have coming out this year is Jedi Academy, which is for younger readers and will be out in September from Scholastic. It was a rewarding challenge both to create a book that isn’t entirely comics, as well as working with a more involved editorial process.
NSW: What’s your process for writing one of your books? Do you usually script everything out first and then sketch away or do you just open a fresh sketchbook and let your pen do the talking?
JB: I almost always have a pretty detailed script – at the very least I have a plan covering what each page will contain, even if that changes when I get down to drawing the final art. I try to leave some room for accidents and change up to the last possible minute, but I always like to have a pretty clear vision from beginning to end for any given project.
NSW: Considering you’re the whole creative team for your books, which aspect would you say you prefer most, writing or drawing? Why?
JB: It depends – sometimes the drawing is a little more fun, and sometimes it’s a little more work. I guess I’d give the drawing a slight edge, just because the act of drawing is such an enjoyable experience, but with comics the drawing and writing are so interdependent that you can’t really separate them, you’re often doing both at the same time.
NSW: I’d love to talk about last year’s hit Vader and Son. How did this project come about?
JB: I got a phone call from Ryan Germick, who heads up the Google doodle team, about doing the drawings for their Father’s Day homepage doodle a few years ago. Their idea was to have a design that played on Luke and Vader’s relationship, and how awkward real-life father and son situations would be. I’d done a sketch of Luke as a four year old not too long before getting that call, and with my own son being four at the time I immediately had the idea of putting Vader in my shoes and dealing with a four-year-old child. I drew up a bunch of sketches, but Google decided to use a different concept – at which point I realized I could turn this idea into a whole book.
NSW: What was it about this project that pulled you in?
JB: I grew up with Star Wars, so just to work on something for Star Wars was an immediate draw, but as a parent it was also a way to start tackling that subject matter in my art. Mostly it was just an immediately fun project.
NSW: I think one of my favorite pages has to be when Luke and Vader are lying on the couch and Vader says “My arm is asleep.” Do you have a panel that stands above the rest?
JB: I still love the page with Vader trying to talk to the bounty hunters while Luke is crying – a fun joke, but also drawing any of those bounty hunters is great. And even though Leia only shows up on one page, I’m pretty happy with how that page captures the whole relationship.
NSW: I know you have Vader’s Little Princess coming out this month. What goodies are we in store for with the new book?
JB: There just wasn’t room to split the first book between Luke and Leia – Leia obviously deserved her own book. At the same time, I didn’t want to just repeat the whole Vader with a four-year-old dynamic, so for most of the book Leia is a rebellious teenager. This of course allows for a lot of Vader dealing with Leia’s boyfriend Han Solo.
NSW: Did you find it harder to write the father/daughter relationship or the father/son relationship?
JB: It was a little difficult – I wanted to avoid having it end up being a lot of clichés. Fortunately, I have a few friends with teenage daughters, and added my own observations of girls I knew when I was in high school. Of course, some of the situations are also universal – they’re parent/child, even if the example in the book is father/daughter.
NSW: What’s been your process for writing Vader and Son and Vader’s Little Princess?
JB: The first step was to fill a sketchbook with a little over a hundred ideas for each book. My editors at Chronicle and Lucasfilm then went through and picked out their favorites, as did I, and we all talked about which ones we would use. From our final choices, I penciled out the whole book, which Lucasfilm would give feedback and suggestions for until finally approving that stage. After that I would ink and color all the pages, and Lucasfilm would give one last look to make sure everything was right.
NSW: How big of a spot does Star Wars hold in your nerdy heart?
JB: It’s pretty big – not only a huge part of my childhood, but part of me being an artist at all. One book I had growing up was The Empire Strikes Back Notebook, which contained tons of concept art and storyboards. Seeing the art that went into creating the movies made me believe there was a place for me to do that someday, even if it wasn’t for Star Wars.
NSW: After two books, have you had enough of the Star Wars universe or would you like to take another whack at it?
JB: I’m not sick of it yet, so I’m definitely going to keep taking whacks at it until I am. It’s still a little early to discuss, but it looks like I’ll be working on at least a few more Star Wars book the next couple years. So stay tuned…
NSW: Where do you see yourself five years from now?
JB: I’d like to work on another screenplay, so maybe I’ll take a break from Star Wars around then. I’ve got enough project ideas to last me at least ten years or more, so it’s hard to say. I feel like unexpected opportunities always pop up – four years ago, I wouldn’t have even thought I’d be drawing any Star Wars, and right now it’s what I’m spending the most time on.
NSW: Do you have any advice you want to instill for aspiring comic book creators?
JB: I have four pieces of advice I give to aspiring comics creators. First, read everything you can – absorb from comics you love as well as comics you don’t like or don’t understand. Second, go meet and talk with other comics creators – go to book signings and conventions. Third, get feedback. Send your work to publishers, creators, writers, artists; ask specific questions and ask for honest feedback, and then don’t take it personally when it’s not all positive. Fourth, and most importantly, is to make the work! Go write and draw as much as you can. Develop good work ethic and consistent working habits… comics take a lot of time and energy if you’re going to really stick with them.
NSW: What comics are you reading now?
JB: I’m still re-reading Chris Ware’s newest book Building Stories. I’ve been enjoying a lot of what UK publisher Nobrow has been putting out, especially Luke Pearson and John McNaught. Charles Burns’ latest books (X’ed Out and The Hive) are both great. For more regular mainstream comics, I’ve been enjoying the Chris Burnham/Grant Morrison Batman issues, anything Hellboy or B.P.R.D., and have been keeping up with Walking Dead, waiting for everyone to get killed off in that series…
NSW: If you could only pick one book, one movie and one person to take with you on a deserted island who and what would they be and why?
JB: I’ll ignore the obvious answers here (I’d take a blank book to draw in, and I can’t possibly choose to take one person, because I’ve got a wife and two kids!). For a book, I would take Chris Ware’s Jimmy Corrigan, because I find something new every time I read it. For a movie, I would take The Empire Strikes Back, because it covers a ton of different emotional territories. And for a person, I would take a boat guy who had a boat so he could take me home when the movie is over.
NSW: What other projects do you have in the works?
JB: Right now I’m working on a book called Kids Are Weird, which will be a collection of comics about goofy stuff my son has said, mostly from the time he started talking until he was five. After finishing that, it’s back to Star Wars!
Thank you to all of my readers for taking a peek at the interview. Jeffrey Brown does good…no, excellent work and I would recommend his books to anyone in a heartbeat. Also check out his website www.jeffreybrowncomics.com for many more goodies and/or to drop him a line to tell him how much you love his work. And as always, may the nerd be with you all!