[28 January 2009]
Nate Beaty’s Brainfag Forever is one of those paradoxical indie comics that one sometimes stumbles across—paradoxical because while it can be compared to countless other indie bio-comics that permeate the small publishers section of Previews, it manages to be thoroughly original. As anyone who has walked down the small press section of a convention or been to the Alternative Press Expo can tell you, there are literally hundreds of biographical comics out there. BFF stands out amidst the myriad of contenders for your limited amount of money not just because it is true, but because it is genuinely good; not just because Beaty creates with an original voice, but because it is a voice you are interested in hearing.
BFF is a collection of issues that comprise eight years of Beaty’s life. During this period you watch as he struggles to find love, make ends meet, find his creative voice, and escape from the pressures of society. While at times the series might be easily categorized as the neurotic musings of a fractured personality (a common trope in many of the indie bio-comics I’ve read), the topics and issues that Beaty discusses are both thoughtful and easily relatable. I found myself empathizing with Beaty and even if the circumstances aren’t the same, I was at least able to understand what he was going through. Put another way, this book isn’t like Crumb or Pekar, it’s more like Thompson or Bechdel.
Beaty’s art tends to run the stylistic gauntlet in a way I have rarely seen before. Most cartoonists develop their own style that allows their work to be easily recognizable and memorable. However, Beaty does not follow such artistic conventions. The art changes issue by issue, ranging from cartoons and stick figures all the way to expertly realized landscapes and beautifully rendered people. Moreover, this is not done in any discernible order. The art doesn’t evolve or devolve so much as it fluctuates and varies—expanding and contracting on the whims, abilities, and available tools of its creator. This doesn’t distract from the overall work, rather it serves to keep the reader engaged and interested.
There is very little that can be said about the plot. The narrative isn’t driven by events so much as it is propelled by Beaty’s internal contemplations of his life and world. Consequently the subject matter, as mentioned above, is varied and covers myriad subjects. While this review is not long enough to discuss them all, there is one subject in particular that I find fascinating and think really plays to the story’s strengths: Beaty’s consistent search for an authentic voice as manifested through his art. Beaty’s story is filled with the self-deprecating recriminations of an artist who is secretly asking himself in the voice of his reader, “Who fucking cares what you think?” He often finds himself asking what the point of his comic is and what exactly he is trying to accomplish. This concern will resonate with any other person who has let self-doubt and fear slow or completely halt an artistic project.
Reading BFF is like reading someone’s diary and for those that are interested in personal stories about personal things, this is a book you should check out. For those not attracted to those types of comics, this may not be money well spent. I for one will give Beaty the best compliment I can: once this review is over, I shall continue to look for his work and will happily spend my money on it.