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Graphic Novel Friday: Jeffrey Brown's "Sulk: Volume 3"

Although I'm unsure when I began reading him, I've amassed a small library of Jeffrey Brown's work. He was a natural fit to my collecting habit, but still just under-the-radar enough where the release of a new title will often surprise me.

Case in point: Sulk: Volume 3--The Kind of Strength that Comes from Madness. Sulk is Brown's anthological series from Top Shelf Productions--a microcosm of graphic storytelling where he is given what appears to be free reign to produce at will. The installments are compact comics with French flaps and black and white interiors. And they are always curious.

Volume 1--Bighead & Friends chronicled the further adventures of Brown's praised but underappreciated superhero parody, Bighead. Given that Bighead originally appeared over five years ago and hasn't been seen since, the character made for an odd launch of the new series. Readers did not have to wait long for Brown's attention to shift, as Volume 2--Deadly Awesome touted itself as "an 80-page fight scene," celebrating mixed martial arts and grimaces.

The recent Volume 3 is a collection of brief, but no less bizarre, stories involving giant robots and lizards, time-traveling babies, lonely pirates, and more. Readers familiar with Brown's straight-faced sense of humor will appreciate the front flap copy:

"In the world of Fantasy and Science Fiction, there's no telling what can be possible! Except when it's told to you in these stories."

I read the fantasy parody chapter, "Of Wind and Magic," one morning while out to breakfast. The characters all have goofily-placed apostrophes in their names, as in "Aj'otha," "Ka'tor," and "T'lia," poking fun at the often impossible-to-pronounce names in the genre. My server eventually had to ask what was causing me to grin. How best to explain the elvish battle cry of "Prepare to re-die!" as the shirtless hero strikes an undead "vampyre"? At least she liked the cover art, which depicts "Mighty Malcum," one of the longer stories in this volume--involving a young boy who has a not-so-imaginary robot friend. Together, the two manage to terrorize a college with absurd aloofness.

The beauty in this volume is in the brevity of its stories. The jokes are rapid-fire, with Brown showcasing his usual pointedly awkward pencils but allowing himself enough room to stretch, especially in the "Being Awesome Is Its Own Reward" chapter. In it, a Godzilla-like behemoth rampages across a small suburb, and Brown relishes in using shadows and close-ups to heighten the drama and comedy. In one panel, the artwork switches styles entirely, shifting from Brown's trademark sketchiness to a broad, anime-inspired panic.

Fans of Brown's more intimate work (Clumsy, Unlikely, Little Things), might be bewildered by this barrage of parody and outright bawdy humor (upon discovering time-traveling babies aboard their ship in one story, a pirate exclaims, "If only our cannons were as loaded as these diaparrrrs!"). But for fans of The Incredible Change-Bots and his deadpan delivery, Sulk Volume 3 strikes a sure chord. There is plenty to love in the entire series, and it's more than enough to satisfy until Top Shelf's collection of Brown miscellany, Undeleted Scenes, publishes this summer. --Alex

P.S. Regular Brown readers are familiar with how often cats play into his stories, and Brown surprised Amazon editor, and fellow feline enthusiast, Brad Thomas Parsons by immortalizing Brad's stately cat, Louis, in a portrait below:

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