It’s ‘A Matter of Life’ For Jeffrey Brown [Interview]

Some cartoonists stick to a particular area, but others, like Jeffrey Brown, like to branch out. In addition to getting personal with graphic memoirs, Brown lightens the mood with his “Star Wars” books. In his most recent release, “A Matter of Life,” Brown talks about growing up the son of a minister and losing his faith. However, instead of being a book all about doubt and belief, he also examines the power and influence of family. MTV Geek spoke to Brown about “A Matter of Life,” what inspired him to turn Darth Vader into a doting dad in “Darth Vader and Son” and “Vader’s Little Princess,” and what we can expect from his soon-to-be-released “Jedi Academy.”

MTV Geek: Why did you decide to talk about faith and fatherhood in “A Matter of Life”? Why did those two things come together for a subject?

Jeffrey Brown: The easiest answer is that my father was a minister. The story was originally going to be more about religion. I planned to talk about growing up in the church and my own journey of Christian belief to atheism. But, because my dad’s a minister, all those stories kept turning back toward my relationship with him. I found that one of the main reasons I was interested in these subjects was in the context of becoming a father myself. So instead of being a book about religion, it became a book about fatherhood through the context of religion.

Geek: What’s it like writing such personal graphic novels?

Brown: I guess I’ve been doing it for long enough now that I have a mental system for it. Even though I’m using real people and real events, and trying to be as true to my memory as I can possibly be, there’s something about telling these stories through comics that provides a layer of distance from them. I don’t think I could ever be an entirely objective observer of these stories. I think there is a different way I’m looking at these stories where even the most personal bits I’m kind of refiltering, so by the time I’m drawing them they’re not really just my story anymore.

Geek: Why do you think graphic novels are such a good medium for memoirs?

Brown: One thing I think is that comics are really good at expressing emotion. I think there’s a way that comics characters can be drawn not-realistically, but the emotional reality is still very sincere. So you can have these exaggerations that express inner emotion through physical appearance. I think it’s just something that with memoir you can show a lot of that inner life through the individuals without really having to make it explicit.

Geek: What do you want readers to take away from “A Matter of Life”?

Brown: I guess one of the things I had with the book was that . . .it’s more about the questions than the answers . . . I think one aspect of art for me is always about coming to a better understanding of the world both for myself as an artist and then for whatever audience my work finds. I just wanted to write a book that talks about the things I think about, and the questions I ask myself and hopefully has the reader examine their own life more closely, and then also just maybe recontextualize their own experiences.

Geek: Why do you do both “Stars Wars” and autobiographical books, and what do each mean to you?

Brown: I’ve always gone back and forth between the more serious autobiographical work and more fun, humorous books. I think ultimately the autobiographical books will probably always be more meaningful to me, but I try to put a lot of that same personal perspective into the other books, like the “Star Wars” books, even when they’re not strictly autobiographical.

Geek: With “Darth Vader and Son” and “Vader’s Little Princess,” how did you come up with the idea of stories with Darth Vader acting as a father?

Brown: It actually started out when I got a call from Google about possibly doing a doodle drawing for their homepage, changing the logo image for different holidays. They called and asked if I’d do some sketches for a possible Father’s Day doodle based on the idea of an everyday moment between Luke and Vader. I think one of the reasons they asked me was because of my autobiographical books, which are about these personal, everyday moments. At the time my son was four, and I immediately made the connection of having Luke depicted as a four-year-old and having Luke and Vader have these parenting situations that I was in. Fortunately, Google decided to use a different concept for their doodle that year, so I was able to take the idea and turn it into a whole book.

Geek: Can you give us a little teaser about “Jedi Academy”?

Brown: “Jedi Academy” follows the story of a boy named Roan and he’s always wanted to be a pilot and instead ends up having to go to Jedi Academy where he’s kind of finding his own way. All the other students have done training to be Jedi for a little while and he’s the new kid. It follows his story of making friends and figuring his way in this new environment. It’s a lot of fun. It’s extremely visually oriented, so it’s not 100% comics, but almost half the book is comics. The other half has a lot of drawings and little cartoons in the margins. It was a very different way of constructing a book where the narrative goes through lots of different elements.