Brainfag Forever: Comics by Nate Beaty from 1999-2007
Submitted by Xaviar Xerexes on March 15, 2010 - 01:01
I got a package of books from Microcosm Publishing this month and I was reading through all of them trying to decide if which if any of them I thought I could give a full review. Microcosm publishes a pretty strong line-up of comics so definitely worth checking out, particularly for non-fiction, journal-style works.
Nate Beaty has been making comics for about a decade (at least) and collected 8 years of journal webcomics into Brainfag Forever (or BFF as it appears on the cover). I was introduced to journal comics through the online publication of work from Drew Weing and then James Kochalka. There's a certain boundary to journal comics within which some artists are more or less concerned with narrative, consistency, honesty... You have someone like Kochalka who artistically has had a consistency that makes American Elf feel like one huge story and is certainly deeply honest in its self-examination but who remains fairly unconcerned with narrative closure. Contrast with that something like Jennie Breeden's Devils Panties which while certainly autobiographical is more shaped towards delivering a joke or a beat with every installment and has more concern for informing reader's of the narrative of Breeden's life. I've never asked her, but my sense as a reader is that Breeden mixes her desire to self-reveal with a desire to entertain her readership.
Beaty is different from these examples in that most of his work was initially published in issues with a longer form than the typical journal webcomic. It's very self-revealing with a great deal of painful honesty in it. Artistically it's all over the place and in that sense it's an overview of Beaty's life as a comic artist as much as the comic itself is an overview of his life in general. It's no wonder this book collected a number of strong reviews last year.
I think my favorite part of the book is the first chapter "Brainfag 5" (Beaty explains that he didn't include all of the earliest work in the book) where there's examples of more ambitious realism in certain splash panels mixed with more cartoony artwork laid out in a consistent panel grid. This chapter mines a relationship with Beaty's girlfriend past the break-up and into the land of mixed signals. It's actually one of the best pieces of the book in terms of its "comic-ness" and I'll admit to some frustration at the turn to other styles by Beaty for the rest of the book. Although the pages immediately following this chapter are a great collection of more realistic artwork and a short wordless montage of a mermaid rescuing Beaty.
Portions of the book that frustrated me include Chapter 8 where Beaty's artwork is so small and sketchy with the text presented below the artwork that he tended to rely on very static scenes. By Chapter 9 he's back to a more fluid full-comic approach. It's often interesting, but Beaty largely abandons panel structure throughout this section of the book leading to a "doodled on a notebook" feeling that for me at least almost always feels like a rough draft. Over the rest of the book, however, I think he started to reach an interesting hybrid that while still very fluid in presentation on the page is less crowded and at least, feels more intentional.
A couple of my favorite parts from later in the book include the short "It's Math-Time!" which deals with the evergreen topic of dealing with roommates and money and the longer "BFX" story where Nate presents a fictionalized story based on a non-fiction story within a non-fiction story.
Overall, it's a good book and worth checking out, particularly if you're a fan of journal comics.
Microcosm Publishing provided a free copy of this book to ComixTalk for review purposes.