Crust punx in love
Double volume packs twice the fun
My Brain Hurts details the personal struggles of protagonists Joey and Kate.
As the old adage goes, being a teenager sucks. Your parents harass you, school’s terrible, your friends are constantly going through their own subtle (or not so subtle) changes and you feel that no one understands. It’s even worse when you align yourself with a subgenre that most people aren’t too fond of—in this case, safety-pin lovin’ punk—and you realize your sexuality isn’t like others.
The two volumes of graphic novel My Brain Hurts are punk-encrusted, gender-questioning explorations into complex relationships, designed with such a degree of realism that one wonders if they are perhaps autobiographical.
Author Liz Baillie’s characters—notably protagonist Kate Callahan and her gay cohort Joey Kaiser—are fleshed-out archetypes whose trials, tribulations and final fates are well-mapped and logical.
Their ultra-personal struggles are touching, and the twists and turns the story takes are poignant and well-handled. The verbal exchange between Kate and Joey doesn’t feel forced or stilted, but rather seem to come from a place of deep understanding about the underlying issues.
In the grand style of D.I.Y. zines, My Brain Hurts’ panels are all lovingly decorated with home-made care, crammed to the nines with detail. The art is clean, though cartoony, and Baillie’s are detailed tableaus so that one gets a proper sense of place.
Protagonist Kate is a closeted lesbian who debates whether or not she can come out to her mother without negative repercussions. In her confusing teen world there are untold desires and potential heartbreaks. Such is the case with her first girlfriend, who ends up momentarily crushing her. Best friend Joey has already surmounted the initial out-of-the-closet situation and has a black eye to show for it, courtesy of his dad.
Joey and Kate’s journeys intersect as they both try to get a handle on how to define their identities, but it’s how they handle themselves and the decisions they make that set the tone for the rest of the narrative, as well as the rest of their relationship. Joey’s downward spiral is an intense journey, and it’s Kate’s ability to circumvent the easy path that makes her a memorable character.
Baillie’s strength is her ability to foresee what traps stereotypical teen stories could engage in and avoid them by taking the harder, less-obvious and infinitely more realistic route. Baillie shows and doesn’t tell. She doesn’t talk down to the reader, allowing them to form their own ideas and opinions about the book’s various “big picture” themes. Gender discourse is a prevalent theme throughout.
Baillie understands her audience well. The title of her comic series is taken from a classic Screeching Weasel album, and her panels are filled with nods to many punk classics (check out the various show posters adorning walls and buttons adorning jackets of many of the characters). She also understands gender politics and displays a subtle wit and resolve in her dialogue and in the way the story unfolds. A truly interesting read.
My Brain Hurts
Volumes 1 and 2
254 pp (combined)