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Miniature Sulk
Review by Sean Maher

Miniature Sulk Review Cover Image
Miniature Sulk

Jeffry Brown
Jeffrey Brown

Top Shelf Productions
Softcover Original
Publish Date
April 2005
Cover Price
All I knew about Jeffrey Brown going in was that he’d written a book or two about his relationships with girls, and that my impression from the reviews was that those books were mopey, pitiful affairs, showing off the most socially awkward, angst-ridden aspects of comics culture. So my interest was pretty much zero; I don’t like those kinds of stories, because it seems to me that most of the time they’re essentially dishonest – their writers wish to appear earnest and vulnerable in their self-doubt, and instead reveal themselves to be defiant and arrogant, secretly believing that the reason for their alienation is really their latent superiority; I end up frustrated by the combination of egotism and cowardice, and ultimately want nothing to do with it. As I said, my impression of Jeffrey Brown before reading this book was that he was one such writer.

If Miniature Sulk is any indication, I was clearly very wrong. There isn’t a trace of insincerity in these comics, which mostly take the form of one-page strips, and Brown shows equal willingness to make fun of himself and his family with no malice whatsoever. This is good-humored, and sweet, and a lot of it is funny as hell. I laughed out loud several times, and smiled many more. I finished the book thinking that Brown is probably a pretty fun guy to be around, because his sense of humor seems assured and confident at the same time it seems self-deprecating and insulting. The combination is reassuring and puts me in just the right mood to laugh.

The bulk of the strips are “moment” stories: no plot, all scene. And most of those moments are from his childhood and early adult years. In one of my favorites, his brothers tackle and tickle him until he farts, and laugh as he runs away crying. What can I say?

The strips get a little more intricate in places throughout the book, and Brown takes moments here and there to show an emotional, sensitive moment. I found myself much more receptive to these moments than I was expecting, and it’s probably because he was making me laugh so much theretofore. For me, laughing is a deceptively emotional experience. It makes me comfortable and affectionate; Brown seems to recognize the effect, and tastefully takes advantage of the mood to bring me to moments of gentle, sometimes melancholy thoughtfulness. It doesn’t work every time – the book pretty much closes with a several-page-long interaction between a drunken loser and a plucky young blind man, and while the scene is touching and sweet, it goes on far too long and it’s a little too obviously saccharine. But for the most part, the book is surprisingly crafted for a collection of one-page comic strips, and I’m looking forward to the next Jeffrey Brown book I read.

There’s not a lot to say about the art, here, because this is one of those crudely drawn indie comics where the art mostly serves to visualize the writing. Brown isn’t a terribly talented artist, but that doesn’t get in the way here; if anything, the gimpy limbs and silly visual exaggerations make the humor a little more vulnerable without being self-pitying. Brown won’t win any awards for these doodles, but they fit the material perfectly and help enrich the humor.
Final Words

Miniature Sulk surprised me by not only avoiding self-pity and pretentious “comics nerd” alienation, but also making me laugh out loud several times and using that humor to draw me in, very subtly, to more sensitive and human moments that I might not otherwise have been ready to accept. This display of craft was impressive to me and I’m looking forward to more.


Other Jeffrey Brown reviews:
Any Easy Intimacy (AEIOU)

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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