Image: Allie Brosh
Perhaps you know Allie Brosh from the most famous panel of her webcomic Hyperbole and Half, where a manic cartoon character holds a broom in the air and shouts “CLEAN ALL THE THINGS!” Or perhaps you’ve read her comics about going to a children’s birthday party while heavily sedated and attempting to move with her two insane dogs on a cross-country road trip. Brosh is a seemingly inexhaustible resource of fantastic stories, which manage to find hilarity in the mundane, the absurd, and the tragic.
This week, Simon and Schuster publishes Brosh’s first print collection of her work, Hyperbole and a Half: Unfortunate Situations, Flawed Coping Mechanisms, Mayhem, and Other Things That Happened. The book includes fan-favorite tales like “The God of Cake,” as well as all-new comics written for the book, like the story of why she has spent her entire life lying about hot sauce. Brosh talked with WIRED about all the things — or at least alot of them.
WIRED: Hyperbole and a Half uses a hybrid storytelling format that falls somewhere between prose and comic. Did you start out thinking of your work as a webcomic or as illustrated prose?
Allie Brosh: I started out just writing. I get a lot of my inspiration from watching stand-up comedy. I’ve been a huge stand-up fan for a long time, and I think that starting to put pictures in there was a result of subconsciously trying to mimic the pacing and feel of stand-up. When you’re watching someone perform stand-up comedy, you can see their reactions and facial expressions and body language, and a lot of unspoken context that comes with it. I think that my timing and use of pictures in my work is an effort to replicate that, and it gives me a lot to play around with as far as timing goes.
WIRED: A lot of your best stories come from your childhood, including your most recent comic about a dinosaur costume that turned you into a monster. How many amazing childhood experiences did you have, anyway? Do you worry about running out?
Brosh: I think that’s something that pretty much everyone who works in a creative capacity worries about all the time. I felt like I was out of material probably three months into blogging, after I picked all the low-hanging fruit. But over time I’ve learned that as I evolve as a writer and a storyteller I find better ways to frame a story in a way that makes it more interesting, rather than a you-had-to-be-there kind of story. I’m sure at some point I’ll run out, but for the time being I feel a bit more secure after seeing myself go through that so often and come out on the other side with a new idea.
WIRED: One of your comics, “This Is Why I’ll Never Be an Adult,” inspired a meme sometimes called “All the Things.” How do you feel about having your work repurposed outside your comic in a way that isn’t credited and that you can’t control?
Brosh: I think it’s fine when it’s just the internet playing around with it and having fun with it. I sort of get sick of seeing it sometimes. [laughs] But occasionally someone will come up with a creative new way to use it that really makes me laugh. I don’t enjoy when, say, some cause I don’t agree with uses it to support their agenda. That rankles me a little bit, but there’s not much I can do to prevent that. But for the most part I like that people are having fun with it. It’s not OK to use it to sell things, or anything that would be copyright infringement, but I enjoy its nature as a meme.
Image: Allie Brosh
WIRED: Two of your more recent comics were about depression, something you experienced personally during a hiatus from the comic. What kind of feedback did you get about those comics?
Brosh: I got great feedback. It’s strange. People said they identified with it and related to it, and it helped them feel less alone. Depression can be an extremely isolating experience. But after I posted it and people said, “Hey, I related to this,” it did the same thing for me. [Depression] was isolating for me, but to have people saying they went through something similar was reassuring to me too… It was liberating to be able to take this thing, the worst thing that had ever happened to me, and really look at it. And look at all the absurdities of it. It just felt so freeing to really own it.
WIRED: There’s another story in the book where you really delve into your own irrational thoughts, like feeling resentful when someone takes a chair you weren’t even using, or feeling oddly cheated when you find out the wind wasn’t blowing as hard as you thought it was. They really captured the sort of feelings that I think a lot of people have but never articulate.
Brosh: I’m so glad. I’m so glad you mentioned that one. It was probably my favorite one in the book and I was really worried it wasn’t going to be something that other people liked. So I’m really happy you mentioned that one. A lot of the stuff I write is a result of me observing myself. Catching myself doing these things that are inconsistent with the way that I think am, being sneaky or lying to myself. It’s funny to me, so it translates pretty naturally into a post. They say you write what you know, so that’s something I think a lot about. It’s fun being able to make fun of it. It helps me cope with the fact that I’m like that.
WIRED: What’s been your most popular comic, or the one that people have responded the most to?
Brosh: It’s between the one where I’m moving with my dogs, and the depression comics. They had a much bigger response that I was expected.
Image: Allie Brosh
WIRED: Is there one comic that you feel the happiest or most proud of?
Brosh: Definitely “Depression Part 2.” I worked on that for over a year. It was very difficult for me to find the right balance between levity and treating the subject with respect. And so because it was the most difficult for me to write, I feel the best about it, because I did what I set out to do. Which is a nice feeling.
WIRED: What was it like writing or drawing for the book as opposed to the web?
Brosh: The process was essentially the same, but there were some differences. I really enjoyed being able to work on everything at once. One thing I noticed is that every time I write something new I learn a little bit more about how to write and draw better. Having to turn in the whole book at once allowed me to – once I learned something new, I would see if I could apply that to the other posts I’d been working on. So I think the whole thing might be more consistent in terms of quality. I did add some revised art, but I was careful to do it in a way that felt consistent with the original post. People might not even notice that I changed anything, because it reads the same and feel the same but to me it was important to me that I tweak it a bit and update the art.
WIRED: When you were making the new comics for the print edition, how different was it to write for page breaks instead of a scrolling webpage?
Brosh: It obviously wasn’t possible to add a page break every single time I thought one needed to be there, but that was something that I got to play around with. There were some times when I had to say, hey, let’s put this on the next page. It does allow me to conceal a little bit more information from the reader, which is fun as far as timing goes.
WIRED: Are there any webcomics that you’d recommend?
Brosh: Matt Inman of The Oatmeal is a friend of mine, and he’s very funny. I laugh really hard at Nedroid, and I really like Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal. Oh gosh, there’s one I discovered and I thought it was genius – Romantically Apocalyptic.
WIRED: Finally, have you ever figured out how to put on a coat?
Brosh: Nope. I’m still wandering around coatless.