September 5, 2014

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SPX Spotlight 2014: Charles Forsman, TEOTFW, and Oily Comics

Welcome to another entry in the 2014 SPX Spotlight series!  For the next month, Panel Patter will be highlighting creators and publishers who will be at one of the best conventions, the Small Press Expo.  You can check out all of Panel Patter's spotlights for SPX from both this year and prior years here.

It's not easy to explore frustrated, burnt out and/or disturbed teenagers without falling into wells of contrived anger, forced angst, or absolute condemnation. It's so easy to cross those lines, leaving the reader either forced to care or worse, forced to not care about the protagonists of the story.

That's why Charles Forsman really interests me as a creator--unlike so many, he can take an incredibly unlikable character, like James, the "star" of The End of the Fucking World, originally serialized in Forsman's Oily Comics and republished as a whole by Fantagraphics. Working in short, 8-page bursts, he's able to compress a ton of storytelling into these chapters. We see very quickly that the narrator (James) is capable of incredible, unthinking cruelty, and that this is going to be a comic about how he convinces a girl to run away with him, leading to further crimes, emotional issues, and the inevitable downfall of the main character.

That's all done in 8 pages, with a bit of narration, and stark visuals that make up the nature of Forsman's line work. There are no times where he goes into intricate detail. His characters do not have extreme details. They are drawn to look as normal as possible, but their actions (whether it's getting into a brutal fight, stealing, or worse) complete the picture. Similarly, there are no intricate backgrounds. When James and Alyssa have sex in a stranger's bed, we see only the bed, because that is the focus. Those two characters, in an act of intimacy, even though it's unlikely that there is true love going on between them. James is just too disturbed for it to be anything but an act, even if he doesn't mean it to be.

There's very much a sense of inevitability in The End of the Fucking World, as Forsman takes the pair across the logical narrative arc. Once they're out on their own, the do increasingly wrong things, as James pulls Alyssa deeper and deeper into his madness. When he moves to the ultimate act of killing someone, even though he tries to justify it, we know that there can be no ending for the pair which does not result in further death. It's staved off, as things get steadily worse for the pair, but by the time we reach the climax, that's when Charles really sticks the knife in.

I don't want to ruin the ending if you haven't read the book yet, but let's just say that not only was James' life wasted, he definitely took Alyssa with him (and how much of it was her own choice is left to the reader to decide) and the one decent thing he thinks he's done turns out to be yet another mistake.

It's that point that I think really makes The End of the Fucking World shine as a story. Forsman doesn't try to redeem his broken protagonist so much as show that when you are fundamentally broken, sometimes there's no fixing it. The fact that he can do so much in small, 8-page chunks makes it especially impressive.

You'll definitely be able to get a copy of The End of the Fucking World, either from Charles directly or at the Fantagraphics table. While you're visiting with Forsman, be sure to look at his offerings via his Oily Comics publishing line.

While Oily is no longer doing monthly subscriptions (instead offering periodic bundles roughly quarterly), there's still back issues to be had, along with new work from Noah Van Sciver, Forsman, and many others. Some of the stories that weren't complete yet are continuing as well, like Dumpling King. There should be a new mini by Josh Simmons and James Romberger, and I expect a print or two as well.

Though Oily is not as much about telling stories in 8-page increments, it's still a source of quality mini-comics and experimental form. Given the high standards set by the publisher's solo work, that's to be expected. Definitely make sure you stop by at SPX this year!

Can't make SPX? Here's the Oily website.