Tuesday, December 24, 2019

31 Days Of CCS #24: Charles Forsman

A lot of Chuck Forsman's early work dealt with uncomfortable family dynamics. Later, he added supernatural elements to these sorts of concerns in his old Snake Oil series, but he's often written about families that had holes in them. Missing parents, toxic parents and other disruptions to a normal life were familiar elements. When he was at CCS, he met fellow Max de Radigues, a Belgian cartoonist who was especially proficient in comics about teens. It was de Radigues' micro-miniseries Rough Age and later Moose that inspired Forsman to create The End Of The Fucking World and Oily Comics, which were obviously two of the most important events of Forsman's career. (Season Two of TEOTFW debuts soon on Netflix!). The two collaborated on an excellent broadsheet anthology called Caboose, but their first real collaboration is a graphic novella called Hobo Mom.

Originally published in Italy and then in France, Fantagraphics released an English translation in 2019. Overall, it's more of an interesting curiosity than a major work for either artist, partly because of its short length and the novelty of its construction. This is a true collaboration, as both artists wrote and drew it remotely. Despite that distance, it feels both like a smooth final product as well as a merger of tone with regard to their storytelling interests. The story follows a single father and his tween daughter as their lives are disrupted by the sudden appearance of his ex-wife. It's a story about how the same situation can feel completely different to different people. For Tom and his daughter Sissy, their home represents safety, security, and love. For Tasha, it represents imprisonment. Forsman and De Radigues don't go into detail as to why she feels the need to constantly stay on the move, and it's not essential. Suffice it to say that the book is about her feeling constantly torn.

The overall tone of the story is more like De Radigues' work than Forsman's. There are more quiet panels, long and lingering shots of characters in an emotional state, and in general, the tone is less anxious than a Forsman comic. The tone of the comic is harsh and visceral at times, like when Tasha is riding the rails and a guy tries to sexually assault her. When Tom and Tasha have sex, there's a tenderness to it, but it's also raw and intense. Sissy catches her mom dressing and it's clear that it's not only the first time that she's seen a naked woman, she also has an understanding that this is what she will look like in the future. Though Sissy was never directly told that Tasha was her mom, it was obvious to her.

For a moment, there's a whiff of a happy ending. Tasha missed her family and spent a few idyllic days with them. When Tom asked her to stay, she imagined what that life would be like. There was a page with a 12-panel grid containing seemingly pleasant images of what daily life would be like: the rooms she'd be in, the edge of the property, doing laundry, etc. Taken as a whole, it resembles a cage or a prison door. Even trying to imagine picnics in wide-open spaces with her kid didn't diminish that sense of anxiety. Her aversion to routine is so intense that she had to leave for her sake and the sake of everyone else. The love of her daughter required something of her that she couldn't give. So many of the visuals in the book are either about wide-open spaces and freedom or restrictive spaces, like a bunny cage. Tom is a locksmith who could force or finesse his way through any barrier except his wife's heart. Though the story is a spare one, both cartoonists put a lot of thought into its emotional narrative, and the result is surprisingly resonant.

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