The Little Man

The Little ManSummary: The Little Man: Short Strips, 1980-1995 is a collection of short-story works by the celebrated and bestselling Louis Riel cartoonist Chester Brown. From his early experimental comedic surrealism to his later autobiographical and essay strips, we see not a major talent in development but a fully realized storytelling virtuoso. Included are his early autobiographical stories “Helder” (a story about a young man’s tentativeness when pursuing a woman), “Showing Helder” (a blow-by-blow account of the construction of the previous story), and “Danny” (a strangely compelling moment-by-moment account of Brown waking up and trying to avoid contact with a fellow rooming-house tenant). Other standouts are Brown’s controversial essay on schizophrenia (specifically his own mother’s) and various medical views on this baffling disease, and the title story, “The Little Man,” a Freudian classroom romp fantasy by a adolescent Brown that ties into the schizophrenia essay in a surprising way. The acclaimed compendium, culled mostly from his groundbreaking comic book series Yummy Fur, provides a fascinating insight into Brown’s psyche; he rounds out the collection with exacting notes on each story.

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The Little Man, by Chester Brown 7.25

‘The Little Man’ is a collection of comic strips that Chester Brown produced over the course of over fifteen years, after leaving home at the age of 19. Some of these were published in various publications, including an initially self-published zine that he called ‘Yummy Fur’.

The strips run the gamut from non-sensical, stream-of-consciousness type fare to autobiographical shorts, to juvenile fodder. The quality of the works varies a great deal, which is hardly surprising since Brown was only just getting started and was developing his craft.

One has to get beyond the first few strips before it starts to be half-decent; the early ones aren’t especially good, and Brown only published them for posterity’s sake. Personally, I started to enjoy the book about 1/3 of the way in – before which I felt it was far too disparate.

Some of my favourites are “Danny’s Story”, in which Chet is harangued by a talkative neighbour before breakfast, the ‘Helder’ stories, which had him in conflict with a former flatmate of his, and the titular story which is a ridiculous juvenile and absurd piece that really made me laugh.

I also quite liked “Anti-Censorship Propaganda”, which shows two dwarf-like government officials discussing their policy about pornography. Both the Prime Minister and his advisor are naked, with grotesque genitalia and breasts flapping about, as they are discussing the issue. Too funny!

In the most recent editions, Brown made a point of annotating the collection extensively, providing insight on the creative process, his impressions of some of his work and also contextualizing some of the more personal works. I found it an invaluable tool, as it shed light on many of them.

All in all, I’d recommend this collection to anyone interested in Chester Brown, as it helps to fill the gaps in one’s understanding of the critically acclaimed graphic novelist’s oeuvre. DYI comic strip readers would also appreciate it, because it shows a more gritty, unconventional approach.

But, for non-fans of Brown or of the genre, I’d recommend starting elsewhere. The quality of the works inside is far too erratic to engage the casual reader and it might even put them off of Brown altogether. I’d suggest starting with some of his later works first. By then he’d mastered his craft.

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