There’s something immediately captivating about the crude, vibrant Microsoft Paint drawings that Allie Brosh uses to illustrate the personal anecdotes on her blog, Hyperbole and a Half, and her new book Hyperbole and a Half: Unfortunate Situations, Flawed Coping Mechanisms, Mayhem, and Other Things that Happened, which incorporates blog highlights with new material. Her self-portrait is a tube-like body with stick limbs, topped with a cone of yellow hair and an intense (but noseless) expression. “I enjoy the simplistic style of it,” Brosh says. “My writing and drawing style is sort of my attempt to make my work read like standup comedy. I find writing frustrating without a visual component.”
Her drawings of people also incorporate “all of these qualities in animals I find funny,” which “lends itself well to the stories I tell. I’m examining myself the way I would an animal.” And Brosh is one ruthless examiner, mining the most embarrassing moments of her childhood as well as the wackiest and the most troubling moments of her adulthood for her stories, from her determined quest as a small child to locate and consume her grandfather’s birthday cake, to her encounter with a home-invading goose, dealing with her two very dysfunctional dogs, and the very relatable experience of being overwhelmed by grown-up responsibilities (an anecdote which sparked an Internet meme, “CLEAN ALL THE THINGS!”).
Many of the stories involve Brosh attempting (and often failing) to master strong but irrational impulses. “I’ve learned to be self-observant but I don’t know quite what to do with what I’m seeing,” she says. “I do find a lot of humor in being sneaky and dishonest with myself. I’m trying to pull one over on myself.”
In contrast, her vivid depiction of her struggle with depression is extraordinarily frank, describing a deadening descent into apathy, the frustration engendered by torrents of unhelpful advice and a bout of hysterical laughter inspired by discovering a piece of dried-up corn underneath her refrigerator. It was very important to Brosh to communicate what being clinically depressed really feels like. “I was really pushing myself,” she says. “I had a two-part motivation: to shine a light on the serious thing that’s really scary and bring out the more absurd aspects of it.” Her intention was to “walk the line between levity and respect for the subject,” she says. “I wanted to make it easier to talk about.”
Her willingness to expose herself in this way made me wonder where she draws the line in sharing personal information with her audience. “I don’t really think I have a line,” she responds. “I was raised very open; my mom is very open. I’ve never been really embarrassed.” Her family, who naturally plays a key role in her essays, apparently doesn’t have a problem with Brosh’s brutal (and often hysterically funny) honesty. “My mom gets a real kick out of it,” Brosh says. “It’s nice for her to see that I have a retrospective awareness that I was a monster as a child.”
Brosh enjoyed the process of turning her blog into a book. “I took a lot of care to break up the pages in the right places to preserve the comedic timing,” she says. “I can conceal info on the next page, but I can’t control scroll speed [on the blog].” In addition, she believes that “everything I write on the blog is analyzed as its own standalone thing; it has to be the best thing I’ve ever written. Because the book is taken as a whole, everything can be appreciated more. It gives the material room to breathe.”
But fans of her blog needn’t worry that she’s abandoned them; she recently added a post about the incredible power that a four-year-old can gain from (and the trouble she can cause by) wearing a dinosaur costume. New entries may come a bit more slowly these days, because “when I started, I was sort of going for the low-hanging fruit,” she admits. “Now I really want to have a lot of quality control.” But they will appear: “I will always write stuff on the Internet, because that’s sort of my home.”
Amy Goldschlager is an editor and book/audiobook reviewer who lives in New York City. She has worked for several major publishers, and has also contributed to the Los Angeles Review of Books, Locus, ComicMix and AudioFile magazine.