The Little Man
Drawn and Quarterly:2006
You know how Chekov wrote several less-famous one-acts that scholars and other people who care cherish as masterpieces? Imagine if Chekov was Canadian and instead of a playwright, he was a graphic novelist. That person would be called Chester Brown, and his new book, Little Man would be the collection of masterpieces his fans, and the world, even if they don’t know it, have been waiting for.
The Little Man self-consciously takes you through the artistic and emotional development of a frame-sequence story-teller that doesn’t only make you Chester Brown’s most intimate friend but also floods you with a sudden familiarity with the world of graphic novels and maybe a peek into the future of literary arts.
For an American reader, thinking about toilet paper taking over the world, walrus sandwiches, and naked MP’s discussing how to suppress pornography is as odd as seeing what it’s like for a poor artist in Montreal whose biggest dream is to draw super heroes. These are Chester Brown’s “short strips;” they inspire guffaws, WTF’s, and raised eyebrows as often as a-hah’s, ZOMG’s and the occasional wet tear duct. And just like Chekov’s one-acts, they all go together, playing off one another, achieving a symphonic effect that only the best books of poetry can. And while the whole world seems to have gone Batman crazy, you’re presented with the charm and embarrassment of childhood, adolescence, and poverty, and the tragedy of Bunny and Gerbil, which manages to ferry you to a place much more real than Gotham city or anything Hollywood is asking us to buy lately. It might be why Hollywood’s doing so badly right now, and it might be why graphic novels are doing so well.
The new edition of The Little Man contains several pages of notes that include apologies, explanations, and the first strip Brown was ever paid for. You don’t have to read the notes to enjoy the book, but they are refreshing reminders of our humanity and the plight of an artist working in a marginalized genre. Luckily that genre has grown up with the people who were on the fringes with it. The Little Man is a testament to the graphic novel’s keen ability to tackle and introduce themes that any person with half a soul can relate to while being entertained. Hopefully, if people like Chester Brown stick around, graphic novels will change mainstream media more than mainstream media changes graphic novels. That would be nice.