My second long-form comic book (and first graphic novel, My War With Brian is my semi-autographical memoir of being bullied, particularly by one student, during junior high school. (Everything happened, just not in the order in the book.) Set in suburban Ohio during the 1970s, “My War with Brian” personalizes the experience of being bullied, as teachers look on and parents are clueless to help – and what happens to your soul if and when you finally fight back.
I drew this book entirely on scratchboard, in black and white, similar to what I was doing with political art at the time.
It was nominated for an Eisner award, but lost. Oh well.
“This morbidly fascinating memoir-in-comics is one of the more frightening recollections of childhood bullying you’re likely ever ever read. Rall grew up in the 1970s in Kettering, Ohio (“suburb of the damned”), a town of stunning homogeneity that concealed an undercurrent of absurd intolerance. An intelligent, “brown-haired, brown-eyed freak” with divorced parents and a French mother, Rall was routinely vilified by his unambitious, intellectual-hating classmates and relentlessly beaten and harassed by Brian, a strange and brutal kid he first encountered in junior high. Brian made Rall’s life miserable for no discernible reason other than Rall’s superficial social difference. Smaller than Brian and fearful of him, Rall was nevertheless equally cruel, devising indirect but gruesomely violent counterattacks. Rall’s mother was powerless to stop these daily clashes, school officials were weirdly indifferent and the strange, primal conflict continued into high school. Puberty miraculously added eight inches and 12 pounds to Rall’s frame, and he finally beat Brian into a bloody, senseless heap in the school hallway. Presented in Rall’s angularly comic b&w drawings, the story alternates between a quirky poignancy and a thoughtful but bleak humor. With irony and introspection, Rall examines the effects of this bizarre experience on his development. He still often dreams of killing Brian but admits that “Brian made me stronger, but he also made me meaner, less trusting, hateful of hypermasculine men…. without him I might never have drawn cartoons, escaped Ohio or gotten laid.” —Publishers Weekly
“Known for his acerbic political cartoons, Rall turns his caustic gaze inward in an autobiographical graphic novel about his misery in junior high in suburban Ohio. He was an alienated nerd, tormented by a loutish, psychotic bully who, for no apparent reason, chose Rall as his personalvictim. Teachers and other adults refused to help Rall, leaving him to deal with Brian through violence that started out defensive but gradually turned sadistically vengeful. The escalating battle forced Rall into an ultimate assault that he then saw as the only way to prevent being marked as a victim for the rest of his life. Two decades later, a more introspective Rall ponders the lasting effect of Brian’s harassment on his personality. To this day, Rall’s behavior remains confrontational and defensive; he wonders whether his superior attitude prompted the bully’s abuse. Rall’s memoir is fueled by the bitterness and anger that inform his editorial cartoons and sports their vaguely cubist figures and distinctive scratchboard technique that makes them look like punk woodcuts.” —Booklist