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Whitney McFerron/Medill News Service

Local comic book author Jeffrey Brown will sign autographs on Saturday at Chicago Comics.


Local author illustrates life in comics

by Whitney McFerron
May 01, 2008


Free Comic Book Day

What is it? A national event on May 3 in which stores hand out free comic books.

Where can I go? A number of stores in Chicago are participating, including Chicago Comics at 3244 N. Clark St.

Who will be there? Jeffrey Brown will sign autographs from 2 to 4 p.m. and Christian Slade will sign from 12 to 2 p.m.


Jeffrey Brown looks like his cartoon character.

It’s true that his beard is a little more full-grown now than that of his stubble-faced caricature, but the shaggy brown hair is spot on. And he has the type of quiet, deliberative voice you would expect to hear from the sad-eyed character that appears and reappears in Brown's autobiographical comic books.

But the 32-year-old Chicago-based graphic novelist has a lot to be happy about these days.

His newest book, “Little Things,” came out last month, produced by New York publishing giant Simon & Schuster Inc. It’s a big step for Brown, who self-published his first book in 2002 by making 100 photocopies of it at Kinko’s and handing it out to small comic book stores that mostly sold it on consignment.

Brown attributes much of his current success to the grassroots fan base he was able to develop in the beginning through friends, the Internet and a little bit of luck.

“It started out just kind of word of mouth,” he said. “It’s a lot of just the right people seeing the book and liking it.”

One of those “right people” was a producer for the Chicago Public Radio show “This American Life” who saw a Xerox copy of Brown’s first book, “Clumsy,” at Quimby’s, an independent bookstore in Wicker Park. The show booked Brown for a short segment in April 2003, in which he read some of the stories from “Clumsy” and described his illustrations.

“In the next couple days there were something like 80 to 100 orders a day,” Brown said of the 230-page book. “Because they have all their shows archived, people still find me through that show.”

Brown eventually signed on with comic book publisher Top Shelf Productions and created several other autobiographical books and spoof superhero comics for he Georgia-based company.

Brown's work has given him a reputation as an up-and-comer in Chicago, which has an important comic-book scene nationally. The city is home to artist Chris Ware, who won the National Book Award in 2000 for "Jimmy Corrigan -- the Smartest Kid on Earth." Brown also contributes to The Holy Consumption of Chicago, an online collection of comic art.

“Little Things” is Brown’s first graphic novel with Simon & Schuster, but the book represents other changes as well. Brown said he’s shifted his focus, depicting himself as more grown up and settled down. In real life, he has a 17-month-old son.

“Most of my earlier autobiographical stuff was about relationships, and this is kind of more about a wider variety of stuff,” Brown said. “The work is dealing with maybe bigger issues now, or a wider range of issues, thinking about how friendships change over time or what it means to be a father. It’s kind of about how little coincidences and little moments in your life add up to mean something else or something more.”

Creating comic books is also beginning to pay off for Brown. In September, he quit his day job at Barnes and Noble, where he’d worked for the past seven years. Now he writes and draws full-time.

Still, Brown said he has worked hard to maintain the same honesty and artfulness seen in his earlier graphic novels.

“Drawing comics, making art, is something that I’ve always wanted to do, so everything I’ve done has started from that point,” Brown said. “Making a living came because I was writing these stories for their sake.”

Brown is working on a new book, “Funny Misshapen Body,” about how he became a cartoonist. He’s also recently co-written a screenplay, he said, which a local independent film director has signed on to help create. The movie should begin filming in August or September, Brown said.

Brown will sign autographs May 3 at Chicago Comics in Lake View for Free Comic Book Day, an event celebrated at stores nationwide. Eric Thornton, store manager, said Brown is an important member of Chicago’s growing comic book community.

“Jeffrey Brown is a really big independent artist here in Chicago who is kind of like one of probably two or three of the leading superstars in independent comics in the last decade,” Thornton said. “Chicago has really got one of the strongest comic scenes in the country.”