Friday, August 23, 2013

Charles Forsman's World Ending Comic-Noir

The End of the Fucking World by Charles Forsman
Fantagraphics, 2013
A few weeks ago, DC released a hardcover album of Jack Kirby's lost pulp-crime magazine from his second Marvel interregnum in the early 1970s, In The Days of the Mob. A weird throwback to EC-style crime comics and published by DC as a (quickly canceled) magazine to bypass the comics code, Kirby's art is, of course, stunning, where his writing, of course, leaves much to be desired. Anyway, Kirby scholar and archivist/fan-publisher John Morrow (of Two Morrows fame) wrote the forward to the collection, giving some much needed background to the oddness to come. But the thing that stood out to me about his introduction was his stunningly stupid claim that crime comics are a thing of the past and that the only recent practitioner of this supposedly lost art was one Frank Miller. In just a couple of sentences, Morrow reveals himself to be out of touch to a frankly astonishing degree. Anyone not with their heads in the sand of suffocating nostalgia knows that there has been a glorious renaissance of crime and comic-noir storytelling in mainstream comics in the last decade or so. From the popular noirs of Brubaker & Phillips, to European imports like Blacksad or the more avant-garde recent works by Jason, back around to Cooke's Parker adaptations and true masterpieces like Aaron & Guera's Scalped and so much more, there has never been a better time for quality, accessible crime comics in the medium's history. (Hell, I noted this four years ago, adding, "if anything, the continuing rise of the crime comic may hold more fascinating, deeper, long-term parallels with the state of the world.")

From The End of the Fucking World
Philosophizing aside, in this wave of challenging character dramas that delve into the darkest aspects of the American experience comes Charles Forsman in The End of the Fucking World. Originally serialized by Forsman in self-published mini-comics, TEOTFW (as it has been bowdlerized) was released this week as a stunning full graphic novel from Fantagraphics. TEOTFW tells the story of teenager James as he mutilates himself and kills animals and pretends to fall in love, all just to feel something, anything, the roots of his madness running deep in childhood tragedy. He runs off with a girl, Alyssa, across featureless desolation, squatting in peoples houses in dull small towns while they are away on vacation. In one of the houses, the owner returns home. James asks Alyssa if she trusts him. And as the owner stumbles across Alyssa, naked in his bed, James comes up from behind him and slits his throat. But there is a deeper darkness bubbling under the surface of the apparent domestic tranquility that James has slashed, and the young couple find themselves on the run from the authorities and forces beyond their imagining. What is disguised as a rote teen disillusionment melodrama about two kids acting out their Bonnie & Clyde moment is in reality a powerful story about sociopaths, abandonment, cults, crime both petty and murderous, and unquenchable emotional hollowness.

Forsman's minimalist, spare art in TEOTFW is very simple but expressive, in dimension and detail owing more to the bare, cartoony style of newspaper comic strips rather than the flashy, stylistic comic-noir of Risso or Phillips or Cooke. But the simplicity of his art plays a dual role: disarming the reader, increasing the shock of the thematic darkness; and playing very much like a spare, low-budget but emotionally and narratively arresting indy film. The deaths that occur in the story are more impactful specifically because of the movement away from graphic detail and literalism. The story meanders through aimless ennui and first-person psychosis, only to hurtle forward, spiraling down in betrayal, violence and tragedy, ending in loss and pain in a way that sticks to your guts when you put the book down. Charles Forsman has been self-publishing his work for several years now, but this marks his first full, completed work, an auspicious and accomplished debut. The End of the Fucking World is a superb graphic novel, poetic and gripping, a pure crime-noir page-turner that will stop you dead in your tracks and leave its mark on you like a hot needle burned into the skin in the mourning light.

The End of the Fucking World (and, sure, In The Days of the Mob) are in stores now. Charles Forsman's mini-comics can be found in finer comic shops and at

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