Jeffrey Brown has been one of the illustrators I’ve grown to love since reading his graphic novel debut, Clumsy. He’s written numerous bittersweet autobiographical comics about his personal life that involve love, girls, deadpan humor, simplistic style, and thoughtfulness in a very expressive manner. And since his debut in 2002, he’s ventured down some other creative paths, creating stories revolving around a superhero named Bighead, writing about a team of shape-shifting robots with the Incredible Change-Bots, written a couple of books about cats, co-wrote a feature film called Save the Date in 2012, and he also created some successful mainstream books about Darth Vader being a father titled Star Wars: Darth Vader & Son and Star Wars: Vader’s Little Princess.
With those last couple of bits, you would imagine Jeffrey Brown is in a pretty great state of mind right now. He’s got a significant other, a son, recognition inside the comics realm, and thanks to the Vader series, recognition outside the comics community as well. That’s great, but it also changes the style of what most find his autobiographies to be. With Clumsy and Unlikely, we see Brown sometimes fail miserably, connecting emotionally with him and relating to his stories of love and triumph. With A Matter of Life, we see that reflection of happiness through his autobiographical documentation of three generations — he depicts his father’s life, his own life, and his son Oscar’s life, as well as Brown‘s own views on faith.
It’s not necessarily a bad thing, though it is very different than the Brown most are used to.
The story beings with a question of faith, with Brown exclaiming: “I believed in God. At least, I think I did. At some point I realized I didn’t believe. And I hadn’t in a long time. If ever. It doesn’t mean I don’t believe in something bigger than myself.” Those words are spread across six black pages, with the sixth page ending with a partial close-up of the sun’s surface. The idea here is held throughout A Matter of Life, linking Brown‘s personal faith with, well, a matter of life itself. The book immediately shows a scene where Brown is carrying his son Oscar on his shoulders, who curiously stares at the sun and tells his father that it reminds him of a bug.
Instantly, the thought of how vast the universe is to Jeffrey Brown and how small it may look to his son Oscar kind of hit me. It’s a great comparison, detailing the curiosity and unawareness a child has of the universe, while Oscar’s dad is writing a book on the mysteries of faith and fatherhood.
In terms of past autobiographies by Brown, this is probably as real as it gets. It’s raw and personal, with no embarrassing details being put out there like previous efforts, but rather hard truths about being a father, whether it be depicted through Jeffrey Brown himself, or his own dad. For that reason alone, it’s harder to relate to Brown with this comic over previous books.
But that’s also not saying A Matter of Life isn’t a damn fine book, because it definitely is. The bits of memories Brown illustrates of his childhood growing up with a minister father is relatable, as the more you read about Brown’s youth, the more you see him losing faith in God. That personal struggle is a crisis for Jeffrey‘s dad at the time, though further along the book, the blood relation between the two is still evident, as he’s compared to his dad numerous times and shares similar traits his father has.
There’s several bits where Oscar shows his innocence throughout A Matter of Life, as well. We see Jeffrey and his partner Jennifer cope with Oscar’s obsession with the Smurfs. We see Oscar ask his mother if dad ever hit her, to which his father wonders if his son will ever mention the conversation in in school. We also see Jeffrey telling his son about the same faith he grew up and lost, and leaving the choice entirely up to Oscar to believe in something or not.
And that really sums up A Matter of Life overall — a tremendously kind graphic novel about fathers and faith. Jeffrey Brown may have written his most personal account to date, and though some may not find the fatherhood aspects relatable, it doesn’t disregard the solid warmheartedness factor of the book. It’s touching and simple, yet somewhat complicated with its easy ideas of questioning faith and analyzing fatherhood. It’s sweet. Very sweet.