Solutions and Others Problems is the newest book by Allie Brosh, the long-awaited follow-up to her 2013 book Hyperbole and a Half, which was based on her blog of the same name. Contained within is an all-new collection of illustrated essays about her childhood, the misadventures of her quirky animals, observations on life, dissection of her flaws, explorations of grief, and so much more.
I struggled a little with putting this book under the heading of “comic book review”, (though I did do this with its predecessor) because its format is not what you’d typically expect from a comic book. It’s a unique marriage of illustrations and text that makes the label “illustrated essays” feel most accurate as a classification. Illustrated essays can of course be considered comic books, we should not consider them too narrowly, I only wish to emphasize how unique this book is as a comic. Images (with speech bubbles) and blocks of text complement each other in a way that appreciably conveys complex ideas and/or feelings to the reader both precisely and quickly.
Brosh’s art continues to be fantastically evocative, with a more refined quality to it this time around. It has been a while since I read her first book, but it appeared to me that her drawing ability has improved since then. Many characters and settings are drawn with more shape and detail than I remember in the last book. It is still brilliantly abstract and deliberately crude looking, though, as she is known for, so don’t worry. I love that she still portrays herself as what looks to me like a two-foot-tall, vaguely human piece of macaroni, in contrast to the people drawn around her.
One of the essays that most comes to mind when I think about the expressiveness of her art is “The Kangaroo Pig Gets Drunk”, which considers how bewildered the animals in our lives must be by the things we subject them to. The way she so precisely analyzes what we subject pets to was hilarious in how it deconstructed these behaviours, which I could instantly relate to as a pet owner myself. I have a lizard that I’ve stuffed into a small Jack-o-Lantern poncho on Halloween for the past few years and Brosh made me very self-conscious of how strange this must be for her (the lizard). Most impactful from this story, however, was the distressed bewilderment on the animals’ faces throughout, capturing the feeling more than just words could have, to hilarious effect.
The combination of writing and art has made this book one of the funniest reading experiences I’ve had in a long time. Her observations and idiosyncrasies are so weirdly specific a lot of the time, yet I found many of them wholly relatable. I laughed out loud numerous times while reading, and all I have to do sometimes is recall a certain chapter or moment and it will get me laughing all over again. Some deal with lighter subjects like her antics during childhood or the misadventures with her animals, while others tackle heavier subjects like grief, facing your own mortality, and/or the seeming meaninglessness of life. A common thread throughout them all is a frank depiction of the absurdity of life, almost always funny in its presentation, if a little darkly so due to some of the subject matter.
The only thing I really struggled with while reading were these darker elements. The ways she expressed her anxieties, grief, and general feelings of existential dread were always creative and engaging, but they did have some negative effects on the reading experience for me. While in one case she does a good job of sign-posting when a “Serious Part” is about to start, I started to feel a bit of tonal whiplash as I made my way through the book, things occasionally moving a little too jarringly between funny absurdity and existential anxiety. I also found the hammering on these points a little exhausting and repetitive. Alone, each instance is well expressed, but when reading it all over a relatively short amount of time as I did, it became a little too much.
Minor issues notwithstanding, I loved this book and I highly recommend it to anybody who enjoys a quirky, if a little frantic, writing style with deliberately crude yet wonderfully evocative art. It’s one of the funniest books I’ve read in a long time, full of heart and frank humanity that makes it so much more than a good laugh.
My Rating: 4.5 out of 5