Effing Brutal is “the epic saga of losers fighting evil”–or at least that’s the tagline from the cover of this odd, complex, and rather perplexing graphic novel. It’s true that the characters in this book are losers and that they fight a sort of evil, but what those claims really mean is very much open for interpretation.
Within the story, Seattle is home to several different cults. There’s the Strict Nine and the VOTS (short for “Victims of the System”)–and, in the middle of a battle between those two groups, we have our heroes: Team Brutal.
That sounds pretty straightforward, doesn’t it?
Yet, straightforward storytelling isn’t Brian LeBrecque’s goal here. Instead he’s aiming to create something more surreal and disturbing in Effing Brutal–a kind of alternate view of reality where self-obsessed bizarre losers find themselves in pointless battles with other self-obsessed bizarre losers whilst living life completely outside society.
This book is confusing and strange, but that’s kind of the point of the whole thing. There’s narrative, but the pose of the book is kind of anti-narrative.
LaBrecque isn’t satirizing the idea of narrative here as much as he simply sets it at arm’s length in his story. There is a storyline in the book, but it seems designed to feel disjointed and pointless to the reader while simultaneously providing forward momentum.
In a very strange way, LaBrecque isn’t telling a fictional story as much as he’s telling the story of himself telling a story. As much as it’s about the adventures the heroes take on, there’s also an odd sense that LaBrecque wants to have his readers see the events in this story as sort of unreal–as a strange sort of meta-commentary on adventure heroes. The writer seems to be alternately laughing at his readers for trying to follow his plot while also being obsessed with creating a compelling plot.
These apparent cross-purposes give the book an odd sort of tension. There’s a feeling of satire and sincerity that are kind of at war with each other.
The leader of Team Brutal, Josh, is introduced as a “visually stunning sociopathic transvestite-in-denial” with a “general disregard for reality” that “give[s] him the ability to become a pillar of justice.” Oh, and despite not having the slightest bit of evidence that supports his claim, Josh believes himself to be Tori Amos–which is the key conceit in the book. It’s also a big part of the story’s humor that so many people actually believe that a rough-shaven, red-haired madman is the celebrated female singer-songwriter. Crazily, that plot point actually makes sense in context as all the characters are far too self-obsessed to have it even occur to them that Josh is not whom he claims to be.
All of these odd layers add up to a book that baffles, perplexes, and stimulates at different points. There’s a sense that because everything on the surface of the book is so odd, that there’s a deeper connotative meaning under it all.
Occasionally, characters act semi-rationally when seeking love, showing affection for each other, or fighting to save their friends. However, we also get a lot of odd scenes that involve blowing up 7-Eleven stores with hand grenades or attacking yuppies at sushi bars. Is LaBrecque trying to be satirical? Are his characters crazy? Or, are there really deeper themes running throughout the book?
Part of the intriguing enigma of this work is that all three things may be true.
This graphic novel isn’t very easy to read. The art is a bit rough, and the story rumbles and rambles from one bizarre event to the next. Yet, there’s a definite sense of an animating intelligence behind the story. Brian LaBrecque is clearly playing with ideas that really intrigue him, and he presents them in ways that deliberately create strong reactions in readers.
In the end, Effing Brutal has a deeper level below its bizarre and seemingly arbitrary surface, and that level of complexity makes it worth reading.