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Any Easy Intimacy (AEIOU)
Review by Sean Maher

Story
Any Easy Intamacy cover
Any Easy Intimacy

Story
Jeffrey Brown
 
art
Jeffrey Brown

Publisher
Top Shelf Productions
 
Format
Softcover Original
 
Publish Date
June 2005
 
Cover Price
$12.00
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
I was pleasantly surprised by Miniature Sulk, my first exposure to Brown’s body of work: I’d expected a whiny alienated comic nerd’s hard luck love life, and instead I got a really charming series of short pieces, mostly one-page vignettes, that made me laugh out loud. Brown jumped from scene to scene, character to character, largely focusing on his childhood fun with his brothers, with a breezy humor that was both sarcastic and affectionate. I later picked up Be A Man, a mini-comic with more funny scenes, this time between himself and his girlfriend, and I laughed even more at Brown’s self-deprecating portrayal himself as a Dumb Macho Clod. I began to relax – surely I’d been thinking of someone else when I imagined Brown to be one of “those” autobiographers.

The book I was waiting for was this one. Any Easy Intimacy (which for some reason features only the letters “a e i o u” on the spine – are we meant to ask, “Sometimes why?”) is, if I’m understanding this right, the third and final book in Brown’s “Girlfriend Trilogy,” preceded by Unlikely and Clumsy, neither of which I’ve read.

The book takes the same format as Brown’s other work – pocket-sized, with only a couple panels on each page, jumping from smartly distilled scene to scene with little connection between them – but this time focuses on a single element of his life: the girl, Sophia.

Many of these scenes are touching, or interesting, or discreet. On an early date, Brown and Sophia stop outside a store and look into the window – Brown exclaims, “Look at all the cool spatulas!” and the two share a smiling moment after the girl laughs. It’s odd, and quiet, and affecting. One of the things that makes romance really believable is when two folks who normally feel a bit strange suddenly find themselves comfortable when in each other’s company – this scene convincingly conveys that experience in two pages, a fine example of combining efficiency with subtlety.

Then there are scenes that, honestly, make me annoyed with both our struggling lovers and with the book itself. As they lie in bed, Sophia asks, “If you could only touch one part of my body for the rest of your life, what would it be?” Without blinking, Brown responds, “Your heart,” and throws up a big shit-eating grin when she giggles her reply. Later, she asks him if he remembers who her favorite philosopher is, and hugs him with joy when he names Pascal.

It may well be that this kind of exchange will appeal to folks with a different sensibility than mine; to me, few people are more conversationally intolerable than philosophy majors. It may also be that Brown is including these scenes with an awareness of how irritating and awkward the behavior is – he’s certainly shown an admirable willingness to portray his less attractive traits in other projects. But the context makes those scenes read more like an attempt at inviting the reader into Brown’s and Sophia’s more joyful, intimate moments. It starts becoming difficult for me to sympathize with the characters, and I don’t think that was the goal.

These scenes do, on the other hand, convey that both of these characters are fairly damaged, and even the connection they share isn’t quite enough to get them to both drop the coffee house affectation. Perhaps there’s a lesson here; the story isn’t structured enough to really know for sure, and Brown himself seems confused and troubled by it all. If that’s the sort of thing that appeals to you, the odds are good you’ll enjoy this. Me, I get impatient quickly when I think folks are wallowing, and while there are some genuinely affecting moments here (when Sophia compares her sex life with Brown to “self laceration,” his response is powerful and difficult), a lot of it seems to be moody for the sake of moodiness.

The book certainly deserves credit for breaking the traditional mold of autobiographical romance, but it doesn’t focus on characters that really grab me; Sophia, we learn early on, is a cutter. I cringed: could this book possibly handle such a tough subject with any insight? Everything that we’re shown here is on the surface; brief moments of dialogue, scenes no longer than a minute or two. Ultimately – and Brown confesses to this in the afterword – it falls a bit flat because we don’t finish the book understanding anything important about Sophia. We know she’s screwed up, but we have no idea why. Neither does Brown, I imagine, and it’s noble of him not to pretend that he does, but that doesn’t make the book itself any better.

Art
I began to appreciate Brown’s artwork on a different level here. Where in his humorous work I saw the crudity of his figures as a bonus element to the self-deprecation, dumb and silly drawings reinforcing dumb and silly characters and scenes, in this volume I was impressed with his ability to draw such a variety of facial expressions from such a simplistic style. The characters’ tones of voice, their body language, the subtlety of their mouths and eyes are all remarkably clear, and the fact that this clarity shines through such a muddy, sketchy style is commendable. There are a lot of silent moments in the book, which really put the art in the spotlight, and many of those moments were my favorites.
Bonus Features
Brown includes a "Soundtrack" at the end of the story, presumably an overview to what he was listening to at the time. The selections – Elliott Smith, Radiohead, Aimee Mann’s Magnolia soundtrack – reflect fairly well the anxiety and angst of the story.
Final Words

I was disappointed by Any Easy Intimacy, as I felt it spent a lot of time on what seemed ultimately to be an unremarkable relationship. We’re not given a lot of reason to like the lady-half of the relationship, and the apology for that at the end of the tale doesn’t really fix anything. I thought Brown showed a lot of stylistic chops, impressing me with a number of subtly drawn and written moments that packed a lot of punch, but the content often felt empty or pretentious. So, disappointed though I am, I remain intrigued. I’ll be on the lookout for his next project – I love his “funny stuff” (just take a look at my Miniature Sulk review) and it seems likely he can do some great dramatic work in the future if he can narrow his focus a bit and deal with his subjects with a little more perspective and maturity.

Mildly Recommended

Other Jeffrey Brown reviews:
Miniature Sulk


Sean Maher (email) lives in San Francisco, balancing his love for comics with a full-time job and a full-time course load studying journalism at SFSU. He keeps a regular blog at The Zealot's Lore, where he's been nominated for a Squiddy Award, and is a regular presence on MillarWorld, the Brian K. Vaughan Cabal, and the Isotope Virtual Lounge.
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