Saturday, May 16, 2015

Happy 55th Birthday Chester Brown!

Happy 55th Birthday 
Chester Brown 
born on May 16th, 1960

Chester Brown was one of the 80's greatest Alternative Comics creators.
He started off with his mini comic Yummy Fur which was a series of short cartoons that were usually a bit surreal, strange and funny.

It quickly got picked up by Vortex Comics. The first 3 issues were reprints of the mini comics with all of their strange unrelated stories like Ed the Happy Clown...

The Man Who Couldn't Stop...

and a president Reagan from an alternate universe.

But by the fourth issue all the strange and varied story lines would twist into each other in outlandish ways, coalescing into one weird and wild story with Ed taking center stage. Brown would push the boundaries of what was deemed acceptable in comics and society, showing gore, nudity and sex though never for the sake of titillation or to appeal to popular demands.

Yummy Fur was one of the weirdest, wildest and most original comics ever made. It had all the craziness, sex and profanity of the 70's Underground Comix though it came out more regular and had a longer story line than anything the Undergrounds ever did.

As a back up feature, Brown illustrated parts of the New Testament. One would think that Brown would take lots of liberties with the material but Brown was pretty conservative and faithful with his depiction.
In Mark, Chester stays accurate to the source material, keeping the narration and dialog, only adding illustrations to the captions. 
Brown said that he grew up in a very religious household so that it was natural for him to have an interest in the Bible. It's interesting that he took such a conservative approach to the work rather than the wild and sarcastic approach of all of his other work. It shows the really thoughtful side of Brown, one that can quietly contemplate things without adding any extraneous material.

He would later take more liberties with the material as time went on. He would stick to what was written but he would add a lot a extraneous material to create mood, atmosphere or humor.

Mathew is much looser interpretation of the original material, The words are accurate but he adds a lot of things with the pictures, like the angels and Jesus walking on the beach which adds a lot of atmosphere though they were not ever mentioned in the original text. 
Brown's New Testament stories are surprisingly interesting. We see this old material in new ways. sometimes we see the raw power behind a lot of the words, and at other times Chester will interpret the work in quite surprising ways, producing something quite different from what either the source material or anything Brown himself would have done alone.
Most of the material in Yummy Fur has been collected in Graphic Novels but unfortunately the New Testament material was never collected, perhaps because the publisher was afraid of a potential lash back from the Christian community.

After Brown ended his ED stories with issue #18 he would work on various new stories like the autobiographical the Playboy.

In issue #20 Chester shares the process he goes through to create his comics with us.

Oddly, it seems that Chester doesn't work in the traditional fashion where you draw your work on a big sheet of Bristol Board. In stead he draws each panel separately, cuts it out and pastes it onto a board with the other panels. 

In this issue Chester plays with the page layout by foregoing the boarders which traditionally frame each panel. 
What's really interesting about Brown's work is that he takes a cartoonists approach to comics, not just making a lot of pretty pictures for their own sake but rather using the comics medium to express his ideas. You won't see a lot of double page spreads and large panels with tones of extraneous details for their own sake. His is a pure expression of comics. he uses the medium in ways that only a cartoonist would even think to. His aim is to communicate ideas, setting, pacing, ambient, characterization.  I imagine he puts down his ideas in thumb nails first rather than prose the way a writer might. He is of the generation that was raised on comics and thinks in those terms and makes comics for comics sake.

Chester Brown interview with the Comics Journal

1 comment:

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