Know 'all the things' about Hyperbole and a Half creator Allie Brosh

Story highlights

  • "Hyperbole and a Half" creator Allie Brosh recently published a book based on her comic
  • Brosh has written and drawn about her struggles with anxiety and depression
  • Her illustrations reflect who she is, more than how she looks: "I'm this absurd, weird thing"

Allie Brosh's comics examine the mundane and the irrational -- crazy dogs, the danger of a kid's dinosaur costume, a shriveled kernel of corn that can break through deep depression.

Through her unusual sense of humor and characteristically spazzy illustrations, Brosh's Hyperbole and a Half finds common ground with her many fans. For example, take her post entitled "This is Why I'll Never be an Adult," in which Brosh drew about the desire to do adult things such as go to the bank and "CLEAN ALL THE THINGS!" -- a phrase that spawned an Internet meme -- and the desire to play on the Internet till 3:17 a.m.

Brosh's blog is so popular it has spawned a book that released last week, "Hyperbole and a Half: Unfortunate Situations, Flawed Coping Mechanisms, Mayhem, and Other Things That Happened." The book mixes her most popular blog posts with new stories that explore her childhood and struggles with anxiety.

Thousands visit her website for her comedic excavation of what she sees as her deepest flaws. In 2011, she posted a comic called "Adventures in Depression," detailing the sadness, apathy and self-loathing that came along with the disease. It was her last post in more than a year.

Just a few months ago, she returned with a new post, "Depression Part Two." In the comic, Brosh's illustrated version of herself struggles with detachment from her feelings and the exasperation of trying to explain the predicament to others.

"No, see, I don't necessarily want to KILL myself ..." the comic version of Brosh tells her horrified mother. "I just want to become dead somehow."

The post drew 5,000 comments.

It's the comic for which she respects herself most, Brosh wrote in an e-mail to CNN.

"When writing a post, I start out with a highly specific but also highly intangible sense of what I want to communicate, and figuring out how to put it together is like trying to solve a puzzle with 8,000 pieces, and there are 600,000 extra pieces that don't fit but look sort of promising, and you don't even know what the puzzle is supposed to look like until you get most of it assembled," said Brosh, 28. "I often walk away feeling like I got close to saying it right, but missed a few spots. With 'Depression Part 2,' I actually feel like I got there."

Brosh says she's inspired by the physicality and humor of stand-up comedy and animated films -- "The Emperor's New Groove" is her favorite -- and other comic creators such as Matthew Inman of The Oatmeal, Nicholas Gurewitch of The Perry Bible Fellowship and Calvin & Hobbes creator Bill Watterson.

But who is she? She describes herself on her blog as "heroic, caring, alert and flammable." Here's an edited version of her answers to CNN:

CNN: Writing your blog has not been an easy process for you. How did you decide to undertake a book?

Brosh: I was really excited that someone was willing to let me write a book. I wrote several "books" between the ages of 8 and 12, but most of them were about some guy walking around and fighting different things and then walking around again until he found more things to fight, so I unfortunately had to wait a couple extra decades before anyone would let me publish things, but it didn't matter because someone was finally going to let me publish something.

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So I've always wanted to have written a book, but the process of actually writing one did seem a little daunting. There were many times where I was like, "I'm pretty sure I'm going to accidentally end up squandering this whole opportunity somehow."

Perhaps it was that fear -- the fear of realizing a childhood dream and then watching myself slowly choke the life out of it -- that propelled me to keep going.

CNN: How do you come up with stories or subjects for the comics? Do you try things out and never publish them?

Brosh: Ideas often spring up while I'm just sitting around, letting my mind wander, but sometimes I purposefully start a sort of "idea trail" where I pick a thing -- anything, really -- and use it as a jumping off point.

I branch off from the starting point in as many directions as I can think of, and just scan around until I find something. Sometimes I don't find anything, but maybe there are a couple things that look vaguely promising or interesting, and even though I have no idea what to do with them yet, I write them down.

I have a huge collection of these "I don't know what to do with this, but maybe someday I will" ideas, and periodically, I'll go through all of them and spend a little time thinking about each one, to see if maybe I have a new perspective on anything. Maybe I've seen or heard something recently that will combine with one of my old ideas to jog a memory or send the idea in an unexpected direction.

There are so many ways to present the exact same topic or story, and the hard part is finding the most beneficial tone and narrative structure. For example, my most recent post is a story about how 4-year-old me was corrupted by the power of a dinosaur costume, and it took me three years to figure out how to write that one. I knew that there was potentially a funny story about the costume and what it made me do, but finding the right angle (in this case, examining the role that power played in the story) was a long process of trying out different things to see if they fit.

CNN: How did you come up with the look for the drawing that depicts you?

Brosh: The character I draw to represent myself in my stories is simplistic and almost animal-like, and that gives me some important comedic freedoms, like maintaining a certain detachment between the story and the storyteller, even though I'm writing about myself, and it allows me to be much sillier.

It's an impression of myself -- not of how I look, but of how I am. Deep down, I'm this absurd, weird thing. So drawing myself as an absurd, weird thing is a pretty accurate representation of the ideas I'm trying to communicate.

CNN: You've said that stand-up comedy played a part in inspiring your comics -- how does the style you draw in echo the feel of stand-up comedy?

Brosh: The funniest moments in stand-up are so much more than just the words the comedian is saying -- there's also timing, posture, facial expressions, vocal inflection, gestures and important cues about what the comedian's intended tone is. There are a lot of tools there to help the comedian take the ideas in his or her head and put them into other people's heads relatively intact.

When I started writing, I was a bit frustrated to not have access to any of these comedic tools. Adding drawings fixed everything. Suddenly, I had access to facial expressions, body postures, gestures, even implied tone. What's more, none of it was limited by my actual physical appearance. I could make my face do whatever I wanted it to do! I could exaggerate my eyes and limbs and make them impossibly buggy and squiggly.

My character started out very generic, but as I drew more, I experimented with different shapes. And over time, I found certain characteristics that really made me laugh as I was drawing (making the eyes all buggy and far apart, simplifying my body into a vaguely tube-like shape, using tiny, squiggly lines to represent my arms and legs etc.) So the end product is the distillation of my own sense of humor. And because of that, it's the perfect tool to help me translate the intangible things that make me laugh.

CNN: Recently, your personal experience with depression has become a part of your comics -- was that a difficult decision? Did it feel weird at all to make it into something people could laugh at?

Brosh: I've always used humor as a coping mechanism, so it was probably the most natural way I could have expressed myself. Some people who are depressed express themselves with poetry or music, some paint deep, evocative pictures. I express my depression by flipping it over and laughing at it. There really is a lot of comedy in tragedy.

CNN: Your comics highlight your intense level of self-reflection and often self-criticism -- especially the chapters on identity in the book -- where you talk about processing anxiety and shame. Has writing the blog, and seeing the response from readers, changed at all how you view these things in yourself?

Brosh: My identity loves to take all those supportive comments and be like, "See? It's OK. Maybe you aren't even the worst one!"

I've become comfortable with the fact that I'm horrible. I'm always going to try to not be horrible because there's a part of me that still thinks that's possible, but in the meantime, my view on these parts of myself has become one of good-natured annoyance.

It's like watching a toddler who is trying to lie. You know what they're trying to do, but you can't really be mad because they're so bad at it and you're pretty sure they aren't even emotionally evolved enough to understand what they're doing. They're just doing it and failing miserably. And they don't even know they're failing. They think they are being sneaky.

That's how I feel watching myself try to trick myself. It's like, "So, wait.... you're trying to tell me that I am physically unable to take the trash outside? I see. That's an interesting take on things. What if I told you that I don't believe you?" .... "Oh, and now I'm supposed to believe that I don't have legs. This feels a little desperate, like maybe I DO have legs and I am perfectly capable of taking the trash outside, but you don't want me to because you want to keep sitting here."

CNN: Where did the blog name "Hyperbole and a Half" come from?

Brosh: Haha, I'd love to say I have a clever story, but what really happened was Blogger required me to think of a name for my blog before it would let me start writing things, and I was impatient to get to the writing part, so I named it the first semi-original thing I could think of. I'm just lucky I didn't call it "No" or "Shut Up and Let Me Do What I Want."