Home > Comics, Hilarity, Internet, Literature, Reviews > Allie Brosh’s “Hyperbole and a Half”: Meticulously Analyze All The Things!

Allie Brosh’s “Hyperbole and a Half”: Meticulously Analyze All The Things!

Skepticism really must be the prevailing sentiment when faced with print releases of Internet cultural phenomena. Though there is no quantifiable reason to understand book-form versions of popular Twitter humour accounts like The Tweet of God or Shit My Dad Says or popular blogs like Stuff White People Like as somehow inferior to the online originals, it’s tempting to make that precise judgment. It’s also entirely reasonable to question why anyone would pay for something in bulky codex form when they can get the same precise content for free on the web.

But as fundamentally outdated as literary publications might seem to net-savvy millenials, the book still boasts a cultural capital, a recognized currency with a wide spectrum of the population, that a website does not. To publish a book is still, for whatever it might be worth, widely considered to be the greater accomplishment than publishing a website. Even if many more millions of readers can casually surf to a site for free than will ever pay money to read the same precise content in a book, some thousands likely still will buy the book. And for any creative individual, the promise of renumeration is hard to resist and tends to overcome more ephemeral principles about new vs. old media (if these principles are even held). The promise of profit is a key consideration, always to be kept in mind when consideration the motivation behind any initiative in consumer capitalism.

Book Cover Final threeAllie Brosh recently compiled selections from her loopily brilliant comics/text blog Hyperbole and a Half into book form, and its bright construction-paper colours and purposely crudely-drawn figures do have a way of standing out on bookstore shelves. The book contains only the highlight stories from Brosh’s still-updated blog and those stories are readily available as easily-skimmed posts rather than on more tactile pages (albeit with fewer of her delightful drawings, in many cases). Still, the collection and binding of them offers a prime opportunity to consider Hyperbole and a Half in traditional critical terms as a work of literary artistic expression.

It may seem incongruous to even rhetorically place Brosh’s cartoonish drawings and neurotic prose on par with, say, Wuthering Heights, but at least Hyperbole and a Half boasts a healthy awareness of the ridiculousness of its narratives. The stories chosen for inclusion in the book are nearly evenly split between recollections of Brosh’s childhood, tales of the vagaries of dog ownership, and startlingly open examinations of her own psychological quirks and history of depression.

Brosh herself generally appears in the stories, drawn with pipecleaner limbs of hard black lines, a polygonal pink dress, pointy blond ponytail, and a white bug-eyed head bisected by a wide mouth. The lack of vanity apparent from this cartoon depiction of herself proceeds from the surprisingly unflinching honesty of the stories themselves. This frankness, in its turn, proceeds from the share-heavy nature of autobiographical (or autobio-graphic, to rehash a term I once coined in academic work for comics self-portraits) millenial cultural discourse, especially on the internet.

Yet Brosh’s meticulous analysis of the decisions of dogs, of the psychology that underlies behaviours and social conventions of people, and of her own emotional and mental processes is never uncomfortable in any soul-baring way. Lathering these examinations with thick, sweet humour certainly helps; it is very hard to read this book in public without laughing inappropriately, a situation which I can imagine Brosh writing/drawing about. The cartoonish amplification by simplification of the visual elements of her storytelling contrasts and effectively emphasizes the rational puzzling tone of her prose while also distancing the author herself from the embarrassing undercurrent of what is essentially a series of personal confessions of eccentricity, over-reaction, and weakness. So much constant, pitiless self-deprecation should be unsettling to experience. But instead it’s endearing, poignant, and cathartically hilarious.

Everyone who reads Hyperbole and a Half will have their favourite stories. Certainly those focused on Brosh’s depression have a moving gravitas that comes out of nowhere, and her descriptions of her reactions to unexpected events are complex psychological readings that Freud might even find worthy. The bizarre tales from her childhood (in particular “The God of Cake” and “The Party”) are laugh riots, as are the stories about her simpleton dog and her over-aggressive, over-emotional rescue dog. The most kookily inspired for me, though, has to be “Dinosaur”, an odd, serendipitous satire of horror-movie convention that involves a goose invading Brosh’s house and causing unimaginable terror. “Dinosaur” in particular makes a solid argument for Hyperbole and a Half in book form, as Brosh produces new art to illustrate the narrative in imagetext rather than the more spartan blog form of her original post of the tale.

While it’s certainly possible to consider and produce informed readings of the blog form of Brosh’s work, its adaptation to literature focuses and strengthens its effects and pleasures. Far from constituting mere amateurish drawings and neurotic outpourings, Hyperbole and a Half has been embraced and adored by a larger audience because its brazen, warts-and-all honesty pulls the reader closer even while its suffusion of humour disguises this encroaching intimacy. It’s so much more than silly pictures and funny words; it’s personal, entertaining, meaningful art.

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  1. June 8, 2015 at 9:09 am

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