The Strange Drawings of Brian Brooks 

The artist behind Emily the Strange attempts to exorcise his creation from his art.

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He had relied so much on the computer that he'd even lost his ability to draw by hand.

Brooks knew that Reger was working on a film and from time to time he even reviewed his scripts. But he had no interest in participating in the movie. What he wanted was to fulfill his own creative vision.

"To come home and read and write and think about Emily was too much," Brooks said. "I was already working ten hours per day. I needed to come home, get loaded, and make strange drawings."

In the fall of 2005, Brooks began to take back some of his life. One of his first steps was to turn the foyer of his flat into a private art gallery. On the weekends, he and his girlfriend, 29-year-old Emily Wick of Oakland, would get together to make art. Each Sunday at 6 p.m., they would sit down and talk about what they had done. Those private shows gave Brooks an incentive to produce.

Two of his earliest pieces were photomontages that revealed his angst over how much he worked. In one piece, he crouches on his hands and knees, bearing the weight of five more versions of himself on his back. Each version of himself stands for one year spent at Cosmic. Each year, he stands a little taller and straighter. The final Brooks holds a light bulb just under the socket of a light fixture in his kitchen. The bulb flashes brilliant and Brian's eyes and mouth widen in Eureka, as he discovers that he must leave Cosmic.

In the other photomontage, there also are multiple versions of Brooks — one for each day of the week. Today's Brooks is at the head of the pack, being shoved into work in his pajamas by the other four Brooks who are saying, "Go on!" "You can do it." "Get in there." And "We're behind you." Today's Brooks looks dazed.

That fall, Brooks told Reger that he wanted to quit. Reger knew he was burned out, but asked him to stay a while longer to give the company time to prepare for his absence. "I became probably a little dependent on him," Reger said. "His reliability and work ethic really dug into what he wanted to do." After a five- or six-month delay, Brooks' last day of work finally came in February 2006. In his first months as a free man, Brooks did not have a clearly articulated plan for how he would use his sabbatical or what he hoped to produce. All he knew was that he needed to work feverishly before his money ran out to turn the thousands of drawings and nearly a hundred books he had made before going to Cosmic into a source of income. And he planned to make that many more. If he failed, he would simply resume work on Oopsy Daisy, which he and Cosmic now co-own.

Brooks uses the living room of his dark three-bedroom flat as his art studio. The room is a dim cell cramped with desks, shelves, and dressers and festooned overhead with a web of wires rigged to pipe music from the studio into the rest of the flat.

Nearly every day, Brooks would start drawing after his 10 a.m. breakfast, skip lunch, avoid friends, eat dinner, chug coffee, and keep working until 5 a.m. Eventually, he became a hermit. He documented and analyzed his productivity in a massive spreadsheet. According to that, he has completed two art projects per week and created hundreds of 8-1/2 x 11-inch drawings in the past year and a half.

Twenty of them have been graphic novels. And he's spent hundreds of hours developing thirteen separate web sites to showcase or archive his work, much of which can be seen at But most of what he has produced in the past year and a half are sketches that he knows will never become a finished product. He also has a lot of finished products that are not commercially viable. For example, last year, he made a coloring book that shows how Paul McCartney would have intruded upon John Lennon and Yoko Ono if he had happened upon them during their infamous bed-in. The title of the book is One & One & One/is three. This summer, he made a coloring book called Jeff Lynne in Space, in which the 1970s rock singer's gigantic Afro disrupts his fantasy space voyages.

Those books are part of a series Brooks calls Rock n' Droll that he's been working on for twelve years. But he doesn't want to sell any of them because they use trademarked names and images and would be a lightning rod for litigation. He knows this because Paul McCartney's attorney sent him a cease and desist letter in 1995, asking him to stop publishing the books Paul McCartney's Hair, Paul McCartney's Right Eye, and Paul McCartney's Songs, and to pay them any money he had received. Brooks never sold any of those, so there was nothing to repay. "I lost money on the printing costs and I didn't think it would be appropriate to bill them for that so I just dropped it," Brooks said.

Brooks' drawings of Emily also drew a few cease and desist letters — one from the rock 'n' roll poster artist Peter Max and one from the rock band Van Halen, who heavily influenced some of Brooks' drawings. Cosmic pulled the offending merchandise from the shelves and paid whatever they owed in both cases. "You don't want to fool around with that," Brooks says.

Many of Brooks' graphic novels are original and could become big sellers. But some don't meet the standard of excellence that he set in his earlier, pre-Cosmic work. The narrative may begin with promise but falter quickly, or fails to ever stir interest. For example, the book My God tries to parody religious conviction by illustrating the blind adherence of believers to the requests and commands of a cry-baby deity named My God. But only one of the drawings in the narrative actually succeeds in depicting the folly of faith. In that one, a woman who is boiling her cat in a pot on the stove tells her husband that My God told her to do it. In most of the rest of the drawings, no one is following My God's commands.

But several of his recent projects have been commercially successful, or just plain brilliant. Last year, he and Reger created a short pilot for an animated cartoon series called Boyz on da Run, which is about the fugitive life of a Backstreet Boys-like group that got caught lip-synching. Reger and Brooks created three episodes, all of which aired on the Disney Channel. Disney paid them a total of about $10,000 for the pilot, but did not turn the episodes into a series.


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