Written and Drawn by Liz Baillie
Published by
Microcosm Publishing

Kate has wandered through her adolescence like most kids, flailing around to find her identity and generally feeling disaffected by the society around her. But things begin to clarify for her one night at a party when, in a game of spin the bottle, she has to kiss Verona, another girl in her class. Suddenly, her confusion begins to erode. Aided by her already out younger friend Joey, she begins the tentative steps of exploring her sexuality and what it means to her. But it’s going to be a bumpy ride; teenagers behave like teenagers, gay or straight, and Joey’s brash attitude about his own life is going to lead him to horrific trouble that will shake Kate to her core.

MY BRAIN HURTS is a terrific portrait of gay youth on a journey of self-discovery, and makes for a really terrific read. Kate is an instantly compelling and sympathetic character, even when she’s using poor judgment; you know this girl, you invest in her. That’s no mean feat for any creator, and Baillie pulls it off perfectly.

Her balancing act with the character of Joey is even tougher for Baillie, but for the most part she pulls it off. There are moments in Joey’s behavior that make you wonder why on Earth a character with any sense in his head would do the things he does, but it eventually becomes clear that his anger and grief over his relationship with his father is pure fuel for his own self-destruction. It’s powerful stuff; you just have to hang with it until the story ultimately pays it off.

Baillie’s art is a bit on the rough side, but she puts her focus on the characters and they look strong on the page. You can see her grow and refine her talent as the pages pass; if I had to make a guess, I’d say that this material appeared in smaller bits over time, say at least two years, because that’s really just how much better she becomes along the way.

Ultimately, the themes of kids trying to figure out who they are and what their place in the world is are universal to everyone. MY BRAIN HURTS must read like a Fodor’s Guide for gay teenagers on their personal journeys, but rest assured: this is a book for anybody who simply likes good stories. I look forward to volume two.

Marc Mason