by Jeffrey Brown

(Top Shelf Productions, 128 pages, $12.95)

The first impression you're likely to have looking at the work of cartoonist Jeffrey Brown is, "What the hell is this? I can draw better than this!" Reminiscent of Lynda Barry's, Brown's work can often appear crudely drawn, with sloppy lettering. But like a tenacious punk band that only knows two or three chords, Brown manages to come up with some catchy riffs to balance out his raw renderings.

Brown's latest is Bighead, a collection that reprints the mini-comics he's put out over the past several years. Blending dry humor with sly satire of the superhero genre, Bighead chronicles the adventures of a cranium-enhanced crimefighter as he battles to rid the world of evildoers like the Puncher, who enjoys punching things; the Temptationress, who uses her female charms to commit crimes; and Girlhair, a lazy hippie who sits in his van and gets stoned.

Told in quick-hit short stories, the adventures of Bighead are an amusing mix of ludicrous tales more entertaining than Brown's earlier, autobiographical work. (Last year's Clumsy and Unlikely both make solid reading, but page after page of Brown recounting his failed relationships soon sounds a lot like the prattlings of someone who forgot to take his antidepressants.) And while some of the lovelorn angst that fuels his other work is still present, Brown has left most the poetry-chapbook sensibility out of Bighead. The result is an entertaining read not weighed down by pretension or personal emotional baggage. David Walker

seconds of pleasure

by Neil LaBute

(Grove Press, 223 pages, $22)

Neil LaBute doesn't smoke or drink coffee. He's the father of two, and a self-defined Mormon. The writer, director and playwright's work has received the highest critical acclaim. It has also been called "loathsome, manipulative, woman-beating, man-bashing [and] bile-spewing."

LaBute's work--including films such as In the Company of Men and Your Friends and Neighbors--often centers on brutal acts of manipulation and betrayal and the uses and abuses of power, especially sexual power. Seconds of Pleasure, his debut collection of short stories, covers much of the same territory. We witness a young woman seducing her unsuspecting father at a bar (successfully), a middle-aged man falling prey to his obsession with the scab on a girl's calf, and a porn film turning into a snuff film.

Most of the 20 stories in Seconds of Pleasure are written in a conversational tone, or else as extended interior monologues. Sometimes this works to establish a heightened sense of intimacy--the book is not without its poignant moments. In "Los Feliz," we watch as "Her face drops in sections, like snow falling from my parents' roof."

LaBute's stories, like his films, can be thrilling--a kind of porn of the unconscious. But too often they fail to cross the line from psychology to emotion, and so become brainy, insistent and flat. His writing seems to contain an ambivalent stance toward human power, a simultaneous lust for and moral condemnation of the two opposing forces creating the friction at the center of his work. When this works, the conflict can be enlivening. When it doesn't, it's merely irritating. Sometimes you beg him not to stop; sometimes you wish he hadn't started. Dominic Luxford

Brown reads from


on Wednesday, Dec. 1, at CounterMedia, 927 SW Oak St., 226-8141. 6:30 pm.