By Terri Schlichenmeyer
‘Brush Cat’, By Jack McEnany
Audience narrow, but author has knack for storytelling
Have you used your fair share of wood products today? If that sounds like a personal question, well, it is. Even if you live in a high-tech steel-and-glass house, if your furniture is made of aluminum, your rug is made of wool, and you sleep on a cotton mat, you will still use your share of wood products today.
Don’t believe me? Take a look in your bathroom. That TP had to come from somewhere. In the new book “Brush Cat” by Jack McEnany, you’ll learn more about that paper, the New England logging industry and the men who make their livings sawing logs, literally.
In 1984, Jack McEnany rented a cabin in the New Hampshire woods and called a local “wood guy” to order some winter fuel. When the logs turned out to be too long, McEnany bought his first saw and was captivated, hook, chain and sinker.
In the ensuing 20-plus years, McEnany has had other chain saws and cut many a woodpile with them. He also hung out with Brush Cats, men who log independently and without million-dollar equipment.
Without much effort, you can probably give your surroundings a quick glance and spot a dozen products made of wood. We take for granted that we’ll always find paper at the store: one study shows that we use an average of 700 pounds of paper products per person, per year. Wood chips run electricity plants. That nondairy shake you slurped after lunch was partially made of bleached wood flour.
To get the wood you consume, a logger signs on for what the U.S. Department of Labor says is a job more dangerous than that of a commercial fisherman or a pilot. And although most loggers are careful and work as safely as possible, McEnany notes a fair number of fists without fingers. Sticks and stones do more than break bones.
Most Brush Cats, not surprisingly, are good stewards of the forest. They’re as concerned about the health and sustainability of woodlands as any ecologist. Because their livelihood depends on it, they’re careful to note decades-long changes in the forest. They know how things used to be, and they mourn the way things have become.
Laws and trusts can save woodlands, but they may not be able to save the Brush Cat way of life.
Although “Brush Cat” is a good book, I don’t think I’m going out on a limb by saying the audience for this book is narrow. Still, I liked it. McEnany has a knack for storytelling and can make his readers chuckle in one sentence and feel outrage two paragraphs later. This book highlights the romance, hardship and history of logging, but it’s not balsa-wood-light. McEnany weaves in danger (both to man and to tree) and hard data about legalities, conservation and ecology.
If you’re up for a rare look at an essential industry, if you’re “going green” or if you’re a logger yourself, get a copy of “Brush Cat.” This may be the most unique book you ever saw.
Panel To Panel
By Nathan Patton
‘Funny Misshappen Body: A Memoir’, By Jeffrey Brown
Some people immediately gravitate towards something in their lives, a hobby perhaps, that later becomes their career. Jeffrey Brown had a bit tougher time making his final decision.
In his second Touchstone-released graphic memoir (I only mention the publisher because it seems to mark a turning point in his career, like a band signing to a major label), Brown recounts his long journey to become the cartoonist he is today. And no creative beat in Brown’s life is left unexplored.
We see Brown’s love of comics blossom as a child and then fade as he grows older. We see him start out drawing superheroes and then turn to something more autobiographical. And we see him try every style of art he can get his hands on, from painting to illustrated poetry, just to see which one fits him. When he finally accepts something he seems to have known all along, that his heart belongs in comics, it’s at the perfect moment in the story. To use a music metaphor, it comes at the end of a long crescendo and resolves the notes fantastically.
But along the way to Brown’s realization there were many distractions. Brown was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease at a young age and has had chronic stomach problems since then, as anyone familiar with his books will know. He recounts, for the first time, his diagnosis and learning to deal with the disease. It is not told in a somber, self-pitying way, but almost matter-of-fact. He also had an affair with binge drinking and a brief flirtation with substance abuse. Neither lasted very long but they serve to demonstrate how easy it is to get off course.
Brown also takes the time and space to address the two people in his life who seem to have given him the most encouragement, coincidentally, both guys named Chris. One was the manager of the comic book shop Brown frequented that turned him on to alternative comics and showed him that there were more than just men in tights lurking on those pages. And the other is a name that I’m sure will be familiar to most fans of alternative comics: Chris Ware (“Acme Novelty Library”). As Brown recalls it, Ware gave him encouragement to keep going when he felt unsure.
“Funny Misshapen Boy” is Brown’s most focused book and it delivers heart and humor in a way that only he can. Fans of Brown’s earlier work will absolutely love the ending. It’s so well done that, if he chooses, this would be the perfect ending for his entire career as a graphic memoirist.