My Brain Hurts

By Liz Baillie
128 pages, black and white
Published by Microcosm Publishing

One of the things I like about mini-comics is that, by their self-published (and often low-tech) nature, it lets creators jump right into creating comics on an open stage. This may sound a little strange, but by providing a print option for people to be creative, it often means that they’ll keep creating and refining their craft. I can’t think of a better example for this than Liz Baillie’s first collection of her mini-comic My Brain Hurts, compiling the first five issues of the mini-comic by the same name. Because while I liked the very first chapter of this book, the leap in skill between it and the fifth? It’s almost hard to believe it’s the same person.

Kate and Joey are two gay punks in high school. Kate’s still trying to figure out the ups and downs of dating women while trying to keep it a secret from her mother; Joey is forcefully throwing his sexuality into his father’s face and getting into fights. Is it too much to hope that either one of them will eventually find happiness?

Looking at Baillie’s art progress from one issue to the next of My Brain Hurts is a real eye-opening experience. In her first issue, Baillie’s art focuses on a lot of thin lines to provide detail on pieces of hair, the grain on the floor, shading on the walls. There’s a lot of small, cramped items in each panel, making me think that Baillie was really trying to bring every person and location in her mind to life. It has its strengths, reminding me a bit of some of Ariel Schrag’s art, and while I think I’d have liked to see this art a little larger (to let some more of the detail in) it’s perfectly fine. But with each issue, Baillie tweaks and changes her style a bit more. Their faces and figures open up more, Baillie learning how to keep that same realistic sense about them while using less and less lines to do so. The end result is really attractive and pleasing; I like where her art ends up much more, here. She’s still putting a lot of detail into her art (I love how every single room looks different and distinct, but not distracting with the amount of things she puts into them) but she’s found a way to do so that feels less cluttered and more relaxed.

One of the things that instantly struck me about the writing in My Brain Hurts is how Baillie doesn’t pull back on her punches. Kate and Joey sometimes make wrong decisions and it’s to Baillie’s credit that she follows through on these mistakes. There’s no such thing as a perfect character in My Brain Hurts, with everyone doing stupid things from time to time. It would have been easy to make Joey’s father a complete villain, but instead you can see him struggle to do the right thing even as he often goes down the wrong path. Likewise, characters like Kate and Joey sometimes do things where you just want to stop and shake them by the shoulders—but it’s very much in character for two punk queer kids who feel like the entire world is stacked against them and they’re struggling to carve their own little spot. In the end, I really found myself wanting to see them succeed, and that’s the best you can ask for as a writer.

My Brain Hurts Volume 1 is Baillie’s first collection of her mini-comic, and hopefully it won’t be her last. It’s great to watch her grow as a creator within these pages, but of course even more important is that My Brain Hurts is a solid, good comic. I think everyone at some point in their teen years has felt a little out of place with the rest of the world; it’s easy to empathize with this well written comic, even if your own personal situation might not be the same. I’ll definitely read more of My Brain Hurts.

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