In internet time, a decade ago may as well be the Jurassic, buried under layers of verbal history and sometimes impenetrable memes. For fans of Allie Brosh’s diary webcomic and subsequent book Hyperbole And A Half, they’ve waited nearly that long to see a second installment. Though she published a lot of her life on the internet for several years, Brosh was and is fairly private, and Hyperbole And A Half benefited from the internet etiquette and resources of the time. She was able to publish her comic on a standalone site without much social media presence, and fans came to her directly for updates.
Solutions and Other Problems is a follow up to Brosh’s earlier work, but it is also a departure. Hyperbole And A Half was heartfelt and full of real life struggles but the driving force behind Brosh’s popularity was her sense of humor. Surreal, hyperbolic, and deadpan as jokes required, the rhythm of Brosh’s prose interspersed with deceptively simple art straight out of Microsoft Paint was hilarious and built up a community of eager fans. But in 2020 Brosh is different, her readers are different. The whole world is different, and Solutions And Other Problems respects and embraces that.
Brosh gives readers glimpses into the reasons why the book, originally planned for years ago, was so delayed. Stories of personal tragedy and profound change are scattered through the chapters, sometimes masked by the main focus of the installment. Brosh doesn’t shy away from tough subjects—she never did—but it’s clear that a lot has happened to her in the years between and she doesn’t try to minimize or hide it, nor does she lay bare all the painful details on demand. The pressure in online spaces to expose one’s pain is immense, and Solutions And Other Problems gracefully and masterfully rejects that.
Brosh’s art style has always been distinctive, and some might say childish, but it holds far more depth and detail than a quick glance reveals. Hyperbole And A Half was always bright and dynamic, telling just as much visually as it might verbally, with tons of kinetic energy. Solutions and Other Problems shows that Brosh has refined and tightened the skill it takes to create something that looks so simple but still tells a complicated story. Minute changes in body language and expression are used to great effect along with wild poses and repetition, each vital and needed. As anxiety and tension ratchet up over the course of some chapters, the art becomes like compressed springs, ready to explode.
The slightly more serious tone of this book isn’t to say it’s not as funny as Hyperbole And A Half. Brosh has retained her sense of humor and talent for storytelling, but in the context of 2020 the result is different. Stories of the bizarre, like the panicked and irrational fear a 2-year-old feels at the sight of a specific type of flower, are still there to prompt laughter. But in 2020, many readers can understand the instinct to screech and run away from something at top speed when it panics us, and there’s something very sympathetic as well as funny about it.
Beyond just the bizarre pressure cooker of this year, Brosh and her readers have grown and aged, experienced new losses and triumphs both. Her work has always been funny and full of empathy, but the depth of emotion is different, and the compassion and appreciation are more mature. Solutions and Other Problems is a remarkable chance to see the growth of a beloved creator, as well as to feel united again with a blessedly weird corner of the internet full of sympathy and care.