In 2012, Jeffrey Brown's career underwent a radical change. The cartoonist, once known quiet, small press memoirs like Clumsy and Funny Misshapen Body, was suddenly writing Star Wars books. As far as subject matter goes, things couldn't be more different, moving from intimate and deeply personal stories about lost virginity to tales of Jedi and Sith in a galaxy far, far away.
But while the past few years of the cartoonist's career have centered around of the most iconic and most popular franchises in movie history, there's little question that Brown did so entirely on his own terms.
Darth Vader and Son became an instant hit, retelling the tale of the Empire through his own child rearing experience. In the book, the cold and calculating Sith Lord becomes the slightly annoyed father of an adorable blonde Jedi toddler. The book gave rise to three sequels and ultimately begat Jedi Academy, in which a Skywalker-esque youth makes his way through the awkwardness of a Jedi middleschool.
"It's surreal coming from this indie world where you have to scrap out your space to put out your minicomic," says Brown. "But [on the other] hand, I feel like the Star Wars stuff was a seamless transition. The Jedi Academy books are my middleschool experiences set in a different universe and Darth Vader and Son is my experiences as a dad. It does seem very connected, but the Star Wars characters do have a very different world and there's such a different audience."
Brown believes that it was the series' tonal differences that helped make them such a success among a generation of Star Wars fans beginning to have children of their own. "It's pushing against that traditional idea of Vader," the cartoonist says. "That's where the humor comes from - everyone has this idea of who the characters are, and this moves against that. It uses that vast background material.
"When I was setting out to do the books, I didn't want it to be parody. I wanted to use the actual scenes from the actual movie. And that's what makes it work so well, using that actual raw material. Maybe it's because everyone who is a fan knows those things so well."
But for all of the differences in tone and aesthetics, Brown believes that there's something fundamental that connects his work to the original trilogy. "I was approaching it from the perspective of being not just a fan, but someone who was making those comics from the same place that Lucas was coming from making Star Wars," he says."The idea of making something that is fun and there's a certain kind of hopeful and sweet feeling behind it. Because I was hitting those same notes in a different way, it was easier for them to give me some leeway."
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