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Jeffrey Brown specializes in
writing graphic novels about his tortuous relationships with messed up women.
He is notorious for his crude drawings and occasionally indecipherable
lettering. This will be enough to put off some potential readers, which will
be a shame, because Unlikely is really touching. One reason for this is
that at the time of Jeff's relationship with Allisyn he is twenty-four years
old, making him one of the oldest virgins in North America. It turns out that Allisyn
has had seventeen previous lovers, and most of them cheated on her. Both
Jeffrey and Allisyn take medication for their emotional troubles, and she has
had previous substance abuse problems in the past. Once the two of them start
having sex, it turns out that he takes longer to reach a climax than she does,
and strangely she sees this as a problem. (They never consider that his delay
may be related to his medication.) While the two young people love each other
and try to work through their issues, it is no great surprise that it all goes
wrong and ends in tears.
There are several reasons to like
this sad tale. First, it is unusual. It deals with a young man who has not
rushed into having sex, and while never very visually explicit, it still sets
out the sexual problems between him and his girlfriend in more detail than one
normally finds in a memoir. Jeffrey as a graphic artist is an unusual sort of
person, not often depicted in memoirs, and he and his friends are slightly
alternative and bohemian. Allisyn has short hair and dresses androgynously.
The couple is sweet together as they fall in love, but they both seem a little
emotionally immature for people in their mid-twenties.
Second, the story is told well. As
with his other books, Brown has a knack of showing small events that reflect
emotions and portend the future. When Jeffrey and Allisyn are getting to know
each other and are becoming comfortable with each other, they sleep together
without having sex. One night they are on a bed together and she directs him
to rest his hand on her, saying "I like to have a hand on my butt while I
fall asleep." He does this, and he has a small smile on his face in the
dark. It's silly but captures a moment in his getting used to being physical
with her. While Brown's drawing is undeniably crude, he is pretty good at
facial expressions, and you can tell a lot about what is going on from looking
carefully at Jeff or Allisyn's faces. Early on in their relationship, he has a
sense of wonderment and trepidation as he gets closer to her, and he always
seems to be accepting and warm towards her even when she is very weird or
Third, few books of any kind show
as well as Unlikely the difficulties of a couple learning about each
other sexually and trying to get used to each other. Ultimately, it seems that
Allisyn never feels comfortable with Jeff, and he is never quite sure what the
problem was. He even wonders if he is too small for her, and she wonders
whether she has become too stretched out for him, because of all the lovers she
had before him. It is wonderful for a book to capture this uncertainty and
exploration, and Brown manages to do this superbly.
Of course, as with Brown's other
books, you wonder how different the story would be if it were told by his
girlfriend. Allisyn comes across as deeply self-destructive and unhappy, and
unwilling to help herself through the opportunity of this relationship. Her
take is undoubtedly very different, and she probably would have some comments
on Jeffrey's problems that Brown himself says little or nothing about. But
that one-sided-ness is in the nature of memoir writing, and there's no reason
to think that Brown is any more biased a narrator than anyone else.
So Unlikely is a unique
graphic novel with a great deal of charm. Highly recommended.
Top Shelf Comix
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© 2005 Christian Perring. All
Christian Perring, Ph.D., is
Chair of the Philosophy Department at Dowling College, Long Island, and editor
of Metapsychology Online Review. His main research is on
philosophical issues in medicine, psychiatry and psychology.