In 2009, Allie Brosh started the blog/webcomic hybrid Hyperbole and a Half. Here, she told humorously melodramatic stories from her childhood and recent life and explored random funny ideas. She filled the posts with bright, simplistic cartoons done in an intentionally crude style using the MS-Paint-like software Paintbrush.
Hyperbole and a Half gained a huge following and critical attention. Some of Brosh’s creations became popular memes, like the cartoon of herself boldly declaring that she will “CLEAN ALL THE THINGS!” She also invented the “alot,” a furry creature inspired by the way people sometimes write “a lot” as one word. More meaningful to some fans are Brosh’s emotional—yet still funny—posts about her experiences with depression and ADHD.
Brosh stopped updating Hyperbole and a Half in 2013. That same year, this book came out. It compiles some of the author’s favorite posts from her blog, plus roughly ten new stories. The stories vary in tone: some are snarky glimpses of life with mental illness, while others are purely silly romps. Brosh’s much-lauded comics about depression appear alongside the antics of her misbehaving dogs. Brosh maintains her absurd, over-the-top humor whether she’s talking about having suicidal thoughts or about that wacky time a goose got into the house.
What the book doesn’t have is any of the “random stuff” stories that appeared on the blog, like the “alot” or Brosh’s noodle character Spaghetta Nadle. All of the stories included in the book describe events, physical or emotional, from the author’s life. This makes it read like a humorous, non-linear memoir.
The book is well-made, with glossy pages and considerable heft for a paperback. The color of the page background changes with each story, so flipping through the book (or just looking at the page edge) is a colorful experience. This also makes it clear when you’re finishing one story and starting the next.
Each story begins with an introduction in plain text, followed by a mix of full-color artwork and more text. The art appears in rectangular panels that span the width of the page, and features a cast of quirky, distinctive characters: Allie Brosh, her parents and sister, her boyfriend, and their dogs. Despite the simple drawing style, these characters are all easy to recognize and tell apart, and their faces and postures are remarkably expressive.
As far as content, these comics contain no violence, unless you count one goose attack and what happens to that poor cake at the hands of four-year-old Allie. No sexual content, either. There is frank, detailed discussion of the emotional experience of having ADHD and depression, including Brosh’s difficulty motivating herself, struggle with shame and self-hate, and suicidal thoughts. These eventually lead her to seek treatment and reach a place of hope.
There are also a lot of F-bombs. A lot. (Not to be mistaken for “alot of F-bombs,” which Brosh would illustrate very differently.) Brosh also uses the R-word a few times in one story in which she decides to test her dog’s intelligence. For what it’s worth, she uses the word not as an insult but when speculating that her dog has a mental handicap.
This book stands on its own and no knowledge of the Hyperbole and a Half blog required. But readers who are already fans are especially in for a treat. Those who identify with Brosh’s descriptions of mental illness will enjoy new stories about her coping mechanisms and motivational techniques. Readers who prefer the author’s purely funny stories will like the new ones about her childhood and her badly-behaved dogs. Hand it to readers who don’t mind some heavy stuff mixed in with their humor and to anyone interested in an unconventional memoir by someone living with mental illness.
Hyperbole and a Half: Unfortunate Situations, Flawed Coping Mechanisms, and Other Things that Happened
by Allie Brosh