The ‘Hyperbole And A Half’ Book Is Here And We Will Guilt You Into Buying It
Let’s get the obvious part out of the way first: Yes, a lot (or perhaps Alot) of what’s in this book is already available free for nothing at Allie Brosh’s words-and-drawings blog Hyperbople and a Half. So why would you want to buy a book where maybe a third of it is new material that you can’t read online? Well, for one thing, there’s the fact that the new material is as funny as the blog. Plus, books on paper are good. But mainly, you need to buy this book because Allie Brosh has earned your money from all those times you laughed until snot was running down your face and you were having trouble breathing, and you didn’t pay a dime for those laughs. Seriously, the internet owes Allie Brosh, and this book is a way to monetize one of the funniest blogs ever. So shut up and buy it already. This is like public radio. We are going to give you a huge guilt trip until you do the right thing and give Allie your money. Do not be a free rider, OK?
Since there is the possibility that you aren’t familiar with Hyperbole and a Half (what is wrong with you?), we’ll crib the description Brosh used in her Fresh Air interview: It’s like “stand-up comedy in book form,” only with pictures. Brosh tells little autobiographical stories, with deliberately simple/crude drawings and brilliantly captures the absurdity / surrealism / heartbreak of everyday life — especially in her stories from childhood, which are especially realistic and un-sugarcoated. None of that innocence of childhood crap here; Little Allie is willful and maybe a little obsessive, and driven to do stuff because she is a kid you can’t explain it. These childhood stories really capture the sense of being tiny and not especially in control of your little world, so it’s not all that surprising that tantrums and disobedience erupt: eating ALL THE CAKE is one way of having a kind of control over things, even if you spend the rest of the day puking frosting. Two of her best Kid Stories, “The God of Cake” and “The Party” are collected in the book; I was surprised that my favorite, “How a Fish Almost Destroyed My Childhood,” didn’t make the cut, but I guess you can’t really print an entire blog, now can you?
Brosh scared the hell out of her readers two years ago when she did a post about depression and then pretty much vanished for 18 months; that post and its sequel are collected here, and they’re some of the most painfully true things I’ve ever seen written/drawn on the subject. If it’s possible to explain depression to the lucky people who’ve never experienced it, this is the text I’d maybe give them. And even here, Brosh manages to be hilarious, in the way that the best bleak comedy is hilarious — her cartoon avatar explains to her mother,
Allie: “No, see, I don’t necessarily want to KILL myself… I just want to become dead somehow.”
(Mom, in shock, sits with her eyes filling with tears, saying nothing)
Allie: “Sssssssssssh… It’s okay. Life is meaningless anyway…”
(a panel later) Allie: “…If I go to a doctor, will you stop making that sound?”
Mom (in tiniest lettering possible): Yes.
And it’s pretty damned nice to have her back. Like the best comics, Brosh is a genius at creating the sense that we know her, even though to readers, she’s a squiggly fish-like drawing with bulging eyes, a tube for a body, and a triangle/shark fin on top of her head that you eventually remember is supposed to be a blond ponytail. As with cartoons, though, there’s something universalizing in that simple drawing style — Brosh’s self portrait is an Everysquiggle that we can easily identify with.
And then, of course, there’s the dogs. Allie Brosh has a gift for understanding how dog brains work that rivals that of Dave Barry or Carl Hiaasen. In any honest accounting, Brosh’s “simple dog” has to be acknowledged as one of the Great Literary Dogs, a furry bundle of dumb and eagerness that every dog owner will recognize. She can’t make sense of stairs, and fails every task in the online Dog IQ Test that Brosh finds. And like every dopey dog in history, she looks at you and insists, “I can be a good dog! I can be a good dog…a good dog like you wanted!” And then she goes off and eats bees. It’s a mark of integrity that Brosh hasn’t just dropped all other subjects and written/drawn exclusively about her dogs — she could probably get away with it, but has the good sense to leave us wanting more.
The one quibble I have with Hyperbole and a Half in book form is that Brosh has revised a number of the drawings to regularize the look of the characters — they’re small changes, nothing nearly as radical as the evolution of, say, Opus the Penguin over the first two years of Bloom County, but some of the changes are not for the better — consider the blog and book versions of (spoiler alert!) the last drawing from “This is Why I’ll Never be an Adult”:
The second version definitely fits better with the version of Brosh as she draws herself in 2013, but the 2010 version has a manic energy that the revision doesn’t, quite — there’s something in the side view and the kicky legs of the original that just screams “irresponsible all-night internet surfing!” far more effectively than the revised version.
But this really is a quibble, and this one drawing may well be the one that departs most from the original. Brosh’s real talent is for storytelling, supplemented by knowingly simple drawings, and that’s as strong as ever in the book, and in the blog posts that she’s done since her return — her most recent post is another childhood story, and it’s easily on a par with the earlier ones. Allie Brosh is one of the funniest, most personal artists out there, and it’s pretty terrific to have her back. On a scale of Applejack to Princess Luna, this book is Princess Luna wearing socks and riding a surfboard handing out cookies.
Now go buy her book, before we have to go all Ira Glass on you.
Hyperbole and a Half: Unfortunate Situations, Flawed Coping Mechanisms, Mayhem, and Other Things That Happened Touchstone, 2013. 384 pages. $17.91