Halftime Leisure

Ivan Brunetti’s memoir draws on depression

March 23, 2014

I’m going to ease myself into this book column with a picture book—a grown-up picture book that hints at all the disillusionment and exhaustion characteristic of actual adult life. (As you can tell, I’m really looking forward to graduation.) Aesthetics: A Memoir by the renowned Ivan Brunetti uses eclectic Brunetti original artworks and brief descriptions mixed with nostalgia to give us a comprehensive glimpse of his evolution. This expertly designed memoir rids itself of any pretension by being a worthy representation of the writer and artist himself. Brunetti’s subtly famous dark humor emanates throughout this short coffee table read, and it appeals to the reader surprisingly well.

An award-winning cartoonist and illustrator, Brunetti has published his work in The New Yorker, The New York Times Magazine, and McSweeney’s, among others. Brunetti’s contradictory life as a chronically depressed yet highly accomplished cartoonist might be what has propelled his success. “Typically, I loathe my strips nearly as much as I loathe myself. If I’m not under a tight deadline, I will completely rethink, redraw, and reassemble a story multiple times.” He alludes to his depression often, but not in a way that panders, it’s almost as if he also realizes that it has somehow fueled his work.

I should make it clear that I’m no cartoon enthusiast. Mini-me skimmed the Sunday cartoons in The New York Times years ago but didn’t actually think they were funny. Nevertheless, I really enjoyed reading Brunetti’s memoir, an ode to his life that attractively utilizes the very art that has influenced his outlook ever since he was just a small boy living on a farm in Italy. Images from his earliest drawings at the tender age of 4 look more elaborate and perfunctory than his recent professional drawings but exhibit an obvious talent. His more recent illustrations exude certain simplicity and finesse that only the very talented (and usually very troubled) can bring to life on paper.

“Ones drawing simply reflects the true nature of ones life at any given moment, despite delusion, despite subterfuge, despite skill. No mark is meaningless, and every line is an ideology.” Brunetti surprises the reader with his elegant sentences. He’s an incredible cartoonist, but also a perceptive creative writer. He designed his memoir in such a way that his prose and story flow lightly and embody his own writing style. Descriptions of his life run from his sunny childhood in Italy, into his ‘moving to another planet,’ or Chicago, and finally through his trials as an art professor by day and a cartoonist by night. Engagingly raw artworks that include many unpublished Brunetti pieces match the exposed recounts of his life.

This is the kind of book you read on a lazy Sunday morning in bed while sipping a cup of coffee. In fact, that’s exactly how I read it, and it was delightful. It’s understated but engaging; short and bitter sweet. Brunetti adds bursts of his own insight throughout the memoir: “Another version of my quasi-concocted perspective. My credo: if you know you can’t do something right, then do it as wrong as possible.” The less chartered perspective of a true cartoonist allows for observations on life that are surprising and worth discovering on your next lazy Sunday.

Photo: Micaela Beltran / The Georgetown Voice

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