After Vanishing From The Internet For 7 Years, Allie Brosh Of Hyperbole And A Half Is Back With A New Book
Brosh chatted with BuzzFeed News to answer all of our burning questions about the new book, her fans, her hiatus from the internet, and the place she feels she has in internet history.
If you've been on the internet at all over the past decade, you have seen Allie Brosh's work. After starting her blog, Hyperbole and a Half, on a whim in the late 2000s, Brosh soon made a name for herself through her whimsical yet poignant webcomics, accompanied by her signature, simple yet brilliant drawings.
Her self-portrait, in which she portrays herself in a pink dress with wide googly eyes and a triangular "ponytail," is probably her most recognizable. Countless of her blog posts, like "The God of Cake" and "The Alot Is Better Than You at Everything," are still quoted all over the internet. Mixed in with her hilarious stories about her childhood and awkward moments, though, Brosh also became well known for her posts about mental health, like "Adventures in Depression." "I’ve seen a lot of people, including clinical psychologists, say that this comic presents the best explanation of clinical depression of anything they’ve ever seen," wrote one magazine writer in 2014.
When Brosh released her book based on her blog, also titled Hyperbole and a Half, in 2013, it became a No. 1 New York Times bestseller. Her ability to mix comical and serious topics led to her being called "an unlikely poster girl for depression." Bill Gates called her book "a funny, brutally honest memoir."
That was seven years ago. Since October 2013, apart from a few small interviews, Brosh has been silent online. Her blog has laid dormant, and a planned second book never appeared. Fans posted on Reddit expressing concern for her mental health and wondering what she was up to.
It turns out, a lot (not alot). Brosh writes about it all in her second book, Solutions and Other Problems, which comes out on Tuesday. When Brosh announced in a new blog post, her first in seven years, that her new book was coming, her fans were overjoyed. She got on Instagram and gained nearly 30,000 followers in a few weeks.
The book is filled both with the laugh-out-loud stories she is known for, but also discusses the trauma she has been dealing with in private. Soon after her first book came out, Brosh's younger sister, Kaitlin, died at age 25. Brosh split from her husband, Duncan — once a fixture in her comics. Her parents divorced. Brosh dealt with health problems, moved to Colorado, and learned to live alone. She met a man named Kevin, moved in with him, and got remarried.
In Solutions and Other Problems, Brosh deftly blends her personal tragedies in with essays about herself as a kid and strange adventures she has, in her signature make-you-cry-one-minute, laugh-out-loud-the-next style.
Brosh chatted with BuzzFeed News via email to answer all of our burning questions about the new book, her fans, her hiatus from the internet, and the place she feels she has in internet history.
Congrats on the new book! How would you describe it to both fans of yours and people new to you?
Allie Brosh: Like a wildlife documentary about one specific animal. It was written and directed by the animal. And instead of watching, you have to read and look at pictures. The animal drew the pictures. There are 1600 of them. One time, the animal became trapped in a bucket.
I think that basically describes it.
Your last book, Hyperbole and a Half, was a New York Times bestseller. Did you expect that level of success? How did it feel?
AB: I did not expect it, and it felt wild. It still feels wild. I almost never leave my house, and when I do, it's the middle of the night. On some level, I am aware that I'm modestly famous, but I don't relate to it. I don't know how to relate to it. So I ignore it for the most part. I put it in the "who knows" pile. Then, every seven years or so, I need to be rehabilitated so I can interact with people again.
It's been seven years since your last book. Why did you decide now to write the new one?
AB: It was less a deciding-to-write-this-now situation and more of a seven-years-literally-how-long-it-took-me-to-write-this situation. There were times where I was doing other things as well, but I was working on the book for pretty much the whole seven years. If I can say one thing in the book's favor, it would be that I worked VERY hard on it.
You detail in the new book that you have had many life changes over the past seven years, including moving to different states, getting divorced, and getting remarried. How has your perspective changed since writing Hyperbole and a Half?
AB: That's a bit like asking what the difference between a cactus and a tomato is. We could probably answer it, but the explanation would be very long. In my case, it took 518 pages, and that was a HUGE compromise. If I was in charge of everything, it would have been closer to 700.
Hmmm… maybe I'm cooler now? I feel cooler. Not, like, sunglasses cool…but definitely cooler. I'm learning things. I'm improving my strategy.
Why did you decide to take such a long break from your blog and the internet?
AB: I don't think taking a long break was ever my plan, it's just what ended up happening. And, if I'm being honest, I'm probably never going to be somebody who feels comfortable with full-time visibility.
I start to feel weird when I'm saying things all the time. I need periods where I don't have to think about myself at all — where I almost start to forget I exist.
But I want to practice being a little more active as far as sharing goes. I could probably learn to be comfortable with more than once every five to seven years, you know? I think we can find a nice compromise somewhere in there. It could take some experimenting, but I think I can get there.
Your writing has always been a balance of silly and fun stories, and tackling harder issues in life. In your last book, you discussed depression and mental health. In this book, you discuss the death of your sister, health issues you experienced, and divorces in your family. How do you strike this balance so well? Is it challenging to be so vulnerable in your writing?
AB: I don't know how hard it is for me compared to how hard it'd be for anybody else, but it's hard for me. Striking the balance, that is. It's easier to be vulnerable because it's more of a decision. With balance, the challenge is in detecting whether you're doing it correctly. And it can be hard to locate the line between levity and flippancy. I spend a lot of time holed up by myself with only my own behavior as a reference, so sometimes it's hard to tell how far I am from sounding human. I need my agent and my editor for that (Hi, Monika! Hi, Lauren!). They spend more time around people, so they can tell me whether I sound alienating or not. My husband, Kevin, also helps with this, but he's just as reclusive as me, so it's like two possums in a trench coat. They're gonna do better together, but it still probably doesn't sound like a person.
You were one of the first bloggers I personally ever followed and had a huge impact on early blogging culture. How do you think blogs and bloggers shaped the internet landscape today?
AB: Oh gosh, I don't know… I feel like memes were sort of a blog thing at first, maybe? But I'm not sure. I think blogs probably gave us a crude model for how to talk about our lives in smaller pieces. Before that, it was like, "write an autobiography, or get the hell out."
But blogs were a little less comprehensive. Maybe they helped pave the way for even less comprehensive forms of autobiography, like Instagram and Twitter? Maybe blogs helped give a platform to people who wanted to say things, but didn't have anywhere to say them? It always felt like you had to get somebody to notice you before you could say things. But blogging was the opposite. You'd say things, and that's how people would decide whether they wanted to keep reading.
Was it hard to go off the grid for so long? Did you ever consider returning to blogging and writing before this?
AB: I think it would have been harder to not go off the grid, but there were also hard things about it, yeah. I felt lonely a lot. But I think I needed that. I think I needed to learn how to be a better space probe. I don't know if that makes sense, but thinking of things in those terms (learning how to be a better space probe) has been helpful for me. It feels like that's what I am. I'm the thing that goes really far away for a really long time, and comes back with pictures of what it's like out there.
You have loyal fans who have stuck by you for years, even when you take long breaks from the internet. What do you think it is about your blog and writing that keeps people coming back?
AB: I've been trying to figure that out for almost a decade now. But maybe it's better to not be sure, you know? It keeps me honest. As long as I don't know what it is, I'm gonna need to keep trying hard.
Maybe that's what they like? I try hard. And trying hard means you care.
Were you afraid to reenter the internet landscape? How is it different being a blogger in 2020?
AB: It feels like being reintroduced to Earth. And not gently, either. I try not to spend too much time feeling afraid of the future, so, up until about two weeks ago, I was under the impression that none of this was real. Then, exactly when I least expected it, I drove myself to Instagram and pushed myself out of the van while it was still moving.
It's been a bit of a shock to the system, but I'll be fine. I'm adapting. I'm more durable now than ever before. If I've learned anything from the last seven years, it's that. I'm capable of withstanding WAY more than I would have expected.
You are now on Instagram. What's it like? Do you enjoy it?
AB: I do enjoy it. I'm not sure if it's for the reasons I'm supposed to...if I made the app of my dreams, I'm not sure it would work the same as Instagram. But you know what? I don't know how to make the app of my dreams. So I take pictures of my tomato snowman, and I post the pictures to Instagram, and I feel relatively content with the experience.
The community seems friendly. I wish there was a better way to have deeper conversation outside of direct messages, but there are other places for that. I don't expect Instagram to conform to my way of doing things.
Do you plan to write a third book? Will you reactivate the blog?
AB: I do (unofficially) plan to write a third book, but who knows how long it'll take. Hopefully not as long. I have a lot of material for it already.
As far as reactivating the blog full-time, definitely not. Writing books feels much more natural to me. This is the format I was meant for. It fits me, and it fits how I want to live. There's so much more I can do in terms of storytelling, and I naturally have more healthy expectations for myself while writing a book.
With blogging, it felt like every single thing I put out there needed to be strong enough to stand on its own. And when I feel like that, I'm less willing to take risks. I'm less willing to explore and find new ways of saying things. When I have more time to detach from my expectations and more space to say what I'm trying to say, I can be more honest.
People on the internet have been rejoicing over your return and the new book. Did you expect so much support when returning to the internet?
AB: No, but that's because I didn't want to be disappointed. I know people care about me, so I wasn't expecting them to be mad or something. But it's always a bit of a surprise that people I've never met care about me so much.
I almost wanted to say yes, though. Just to see what would happen if I was like, "Yup! I felt certain they would celebrate my return with this level of enthusiasm, and I would have been outraged to receive less support than this!"
I always get the impulse to tell outrageous lies in interviews. I want to know what it would feel like to do that. Just once, probably. But who knows. That's why I want to try it so badly!
What is the most important message you want to relay to your longtime fans?
AB: Hey there, weirdos (<—they like when I call them that, I promise). You are more dear to me than you could possibly know. You can't always see me, but I see you. I see what you say to me, and what you say to each other, and it makes me want to know you. To study you, even.
I creep your Facebooks and Instagrams to learn more about who you are in a completely recreational capacity. I tag you on Reddit with labels like "gets my cactus jokes," and "seems like good person," and I check in on you from time to time to see how you're doing. I have long conversations with you in the furthest reaches of the comments section, and you make me laugh and think and sometimes even change my mind. If you play Hearthstone or Magic: the Gathering, I have probably been your opponent. I don't know where you all live or what you all look like, but I've seen pieces of who you are, and it's good to know you're out there.
Anyway, I know it's hard to feel confident about the future right now, but I've been keeping an eye on things, and I think we're gonna make it. I really do. It might be weird for a while, or even get weirder, but do you want to know who can make it through weirdness better than anybody, probably?
That's right, weirdos — we've got this. Maybe we're good at it, even. We're figuring it out. We're discovering new methods. And I feel honored to be in this with you.
The new book came out on Tuesday. A previous version of this story misstated the date.