Thursday, May 24, 2018

Interview Time: Charles Forsman

Some Info About Charles Forsman
I have spoken a number of times about how I am a big fan of Charles Forsman and his works. "The End of the Fucking World," was a stellar comic, "Revenger," is pulpy fun, and, "Slasher," was one of my favorite mini-series of 2017 (with Forsman himself being a favorite writer-artist of last year as well). I reached-out to him back at the start of the year to inquire about doing an interview and over the months we engaged in a big back-and-forth I greatly enjoyed discussing comics, music, and life in general. You can check out the interview below!

The Interview
First off, thanks for agreeing to do an interview with me, Chuck. Would you mind telling my readers a little bit about yourself--who you are, what comics you've made?

Thanks for having me. I’m a 35 year old cartoonist from the North Eastern US. My comics include Celebrated Summer, TEOTFW, I am Not Okay With This, Revenger, Slasher and my current project AUTOMA.

At one time you had your own micro-comics publisher known as Oily Comics. You distributed some of your earliest works via that as well as other titles, correct? What made you want to be your own micro-publisher at the time?

Oily wasn’t all that thought out. I never expected it to become a thing. Oily began soon after I started releasing TEOTFW as mini comics. I was enjoying the experience of serializing and the lowered stakes of making such cheap little books so I asked some friends to join me. I soon found myself printing 5 mini comics a month for about 2 years. I burned out pretty quick. It was a lot of stapling. But really, I found myself with a choice. I really enjoy publishing, and production and shipping but I want to be a cartoonist. That is my main concern and I found my attention being pulled further and further from that. So I decided to end it. It more like faded actually.

I think the whole reason I began doing it was just that I was getting some attention for TEOTFW and I thought I could shine that light on cartoonists I liked and get them in front of new readers. That was the main goal.
"The End of the Fucking World," was the first thing by you I read back in the bygone days of 2013. I told you I haven't watched the adaptation on Netflix yet, and I apologize but my que is 100-titles deep. That said, how did the adaptation come about, and how satisfied were you with it?

Well, Jonathan Entwistle, the creator of the show picked up a few of the comics in 2012. He emailed me and said he would like to adapt it. Five or six years of ups and downs and anxiety later the thing is a show. It’s really a testament to Jon’s drive. I’m surprised he didn’t give up on it. But he made it happen along with a whole mountain of people it takes to make a TV show. I am extremely happy with it. And, look, from my end, it’s basically like winning the lottery. Just the thing actually getting made is a miracle. And then that fact that it’s genuinely a cool show and so many people have reacted to it positively is hard to fathom.

Looking at your drawing-style it seems capable of great variation. "TEOTFW," looks minimalist and almost cartoony, a stark contrast to something like, "Revenger," which is detailed in its brutality and, "Slasher," which also doesn't shy away from explicitly-rendered violence. What goes into you deciding what kind of artistic style you want to use for a book?

Yeah, I appreciate you calling me “capable.” HAHA. I actually don’t think I’m a great cartoonist. I’m okay but I don’t think I have too much natural god-given talent. I have minimal talent that I try to make work in as many different ways as possible. I used to get really hung up on not having a style to call my own. But I kind of learned to embrace that and become a bit of a chameleon. I enjoy drawing in different ways especially when I can adapt it to suit a story. Deciding on how I’m going to draw something depends on the feeling of it. Revenger was quite a shift because I wanted to do something with all these comics I was reading from the 80s and 90s. Marvel and DC stuff but also the stuff from the self-publishing “boom” from that time.

TEOTFW’s style came about as I wanted to try to strip my stuff way back so I could pump out paged quickly. I think for me that is important to move quickly. It’s harder to keep my focus if I laboring over each page.
I of course loved, "Slasher," and considered it one of my favorite mini-series of 2017, and it played a major role in your being one of my favorite writer-artists of 2017. Would you mind sharing how the idea for it came about?

Yeah, that one was spurred on by things I believe. I wanted to do a female killer story. For whatever reason female serial killers are not as prevalent as male killers. I also wanted to have a character where the violence was tied up with their sexuality. It’s a gruesome thing that some serial killers have. The other part was based on the real life case of Gypsy-May and DeeDee. There is a really great longform piece on them on Buzzfeed that I read a few years ago. If you don’t know about them, it was basically a mother and daughter living in a trailer but the mom was making her kid sick and convincing the world she had cancer and was like 10 years younger than she actually was. The story really stuck with me and I decided to put it with this other idea and see how it came out of me.

Before the killing starts in, "Slasher," I really felt bad for the main characters (or who we think they are). Christina comes across as someone desperately lonely and unsure how to handle her blood-based fetishes, and, "Josh," has an overbearing and emotionally abusive mother. Oftentimes in horror stories the focus is on the people fleeing the boogeyman, but here you actually try to really give us a sympathetic view of the, "monster," before they start acting monstrous. What made you want to flesh-out Christina so much so that we didn't just view her as a psychotic killer?

I can’t help it. It’s how I tell stories. Or at least it’s how I’ve figured out how to do it. I need to get into the character and make them feel real. So a lot of what I’m putting down it mapping out how they interact with the world. To me, that is the story. I’m not much of a plotter. I’m just more interested in depicting characters that feel true.
When I was reading, "Slasher," I felt like I could see it going in one direction before it very suddenly zigged where I thought it would zag. This is of course when (spoilers) we learn the so-called romance we've been witnessing is one big catfish. I thought the comic would have Christina meet Josh and either, A. Embark on a killing-spree as a couple or B. Have Josh be surprised she was actually acting out murders and not just doing some kind of weird role-play, resulting in his rejecting her. We of course got neither of those things and instead got a plot twist I use to describe the comic to friends when I say, "Slasher," is arguably about, "Why you should never catfish a serial killer." Did you have this big twist planned all along when you started the story or did it happen later on?

Honestly no I did not. But that’s okay. I had the whole thing mapped out in an outline but halfway through either due to boredom or anxiety I decided to make a left turn. It seemed like a good idea to me at the time and carried my enthusiasm the rest of the way. Part of me feels cowardly for doing it. Like I should have just stuck to my little poem I was working on. But it’s what I decided to do. This happens a lot to me. And it is what makes comics fun for me. Because It is just me and I’m not working with anyone else, I am free to do something like that. I enjoy it when it doesn’t go to plan and I like when it happens. With every step of the process I am tweaking and making changes. And I’m not a robot. Sometimes my mood can affect things in the story depending on how I’m feeling that day. But to me, that’s comics. It’s about setting up rules in the beginning and watching the characters try to stay within those rules and ultimately they end up breaking those rules.

You have made a number of comics featuring your character, "Revenger." I would say its tone is quite different from the disaffect youth in,  "TEOTFW," or the stark horror of, "Slasher." It reminds me of old grindhouse flicks or pulpy comics and when I read it, I feel like I'm enjoying a comic by someone who set out with the intention of having fun. You've done a number of series and one-shots with her, so am I correct in feeling like, "Revenger," is what you do when you feel a bit more like cutting-loose?

Yeah. It is me having fun. It is all of those things you’ve described but I think deep down it really is me getting out my frustrations with the world. She is the ultimate Social Justice Warrior. But she uses the tools of a fascist to kill fascists. So yeah, I’m having fun but I also want her to be a Dirty Harry for socialists.
Sometimes when I think of creators I associate them as doing much of their work with a particular publisher. That doesn't seem to apply to you, with you having done everything from your own micro-publishing, to working with indie publishers, having stuff come-out from Fantagraphics, and now you're doing a comic exclusively available to folk who back you on Patreon (which we'll discuss more in a second). What makes you choose whatever publisher (or lack thereof) that you do for certain projects, and why?

Well, I think when I was starting out I would see some cartoonists I admired jumping from publisher to publisher. I’ve never been one for being loyal to a certain house. Plus I came up self-publishing, and as you mentioned, I still do. I’m lucky enough to have the opportunity to work with different publishers. A big part of it is also because my books can be so different that I think it’s smart to have multiple publishers. There is so little money and opportunity in comics that I think it’s smarter for me to cast a wide net. That probably isn’t true for everyone but it works for me.

Like a number of talented creators you have a Patreon. Something I can't recall anyone else doing however is that you have a comic that people can only get by backing you on Patreon (or if a retailer backs you at a higher-level they can get some extra copies of the comic to sell at their store). What made you want to do this?

Well, I’ve been doing subscriptions for my comics since the Oily days. I think people like it. They like the regularity of getting a comic in the mail monthly (fingers crossed) and it keeps me motivated to hit that deadline every month. Patreon is just another way of doing a subscription. It really works for me. When I started floppies were dead for alternative comics. Fanta and D&Q had stopped printing any floppies. And the big publishers were giving book contracts for great big graphic novels. And that seemed to be the way the wind blew so I never thought much about serializing. But when I started TEOTFW I found that it was like a drug. I just love it. I love putting something out regularly and it helps when I get feedback during the process. It’s hard to be holed up in your room for years working on something. I mean, I love being alone but man I like telling a story in chapters and getting them out there.
I recently received my first issue of, "Automa," and loved it [since our starting the interview-process I've gotten issue #2 and #3 and they rocked too]! I get a really dark vibe from it like you've married a boxing movie and crime flick and thrown-in the complicated issue of our main character being an uncle to a newly-orphaned child. I had mixed feelings about the movie, "Drive," but loved certain elements of it, with your story making me think of the parts I liked in that movie, perhaps because it oozes a weird arty-and-gritty tone. It's just the first issue that has come out, but a lot is already happening. Can you tell me how many more issues you plan to make--if you have decided--and what readers can expect? Also, how can people who want to read, "Automa," get in on it?

Thanks, yeah. I am hesitant to say too much about AUTOMA in terms of the story because I want it to be a surprise. Right now, the rough plan is to have it be 18 chapters. It might be the biggest book I’ve made when it’s all said and done. It’s a much bigger story in terms of its timeline than any of my other comics. In my head, AUTOMA is my version of Manga. I want it to be breezy to read with good character iconography. But I’m limited by my abilities so it comes out not exactly how I envision it. And, jeez, first issues are hard. I second guesses so much stuff in that first issue. It’s touch because you have all these ideas in your head but once you start putting them down, you have a commitment. I always have to trick myself out of caring too much.

I am someone who loves music and sometimes, "Hear," a certain kind of music in my mind when I read books. Often when I flip-through your comics I either hear loud heavy-metal or weirdly tense electronic beats like something from Trent Reznor, depending on the title I'm enmeshed in. May I ask what kind of music you like and if you listen to music while working?

HAHA. This is great. Music has often been pretty important to me. And I have often listened to certain music when drawing comics. Celebrated Summer and TEOTFW were heavily influenced by Husker Du and I think I was listening to a lot of NIN when I started Slasher. It’s one of those things the readers can’t see or hear, but I do think it seeps into the work somehow.
This is probably as bland a question as you can get besides, “Where do your ideas come from?” but I am curious whom you would cite as an artistic influence, if anyone?

In comics, my biggest visual influences are E.C. Segar, Chester Brown, Frank Miller,
Klaus Janson, Charles Schulz, Jorge Zaffino, Paul Gulacy, George Herriman.

It seems like a decent amount of the time more independent-scene creators will do a project for a, “Big,” publisher. Do you have any interest in having a comic published with Image, or have you ever even considered dipping your toe into a superhero comic at Marvel or DC? I’ll be honest and tell you I’ve wondered what a Forsman-written Moon Knight might be like, or as fan-ficy as it might sound, what kind of scene we’d get if Frank Castle AKA the Punisher met the Revenger.

I would be lying if I said I didn’t think about it. But it’s still a weird thing. No one gets called a sell out anymore because artists need to get money where they can get it. But I think I would need to think about it long and hard. And there would have to be something that really pulls me to do it. Whether that’s working with someone I want to work with, I have a story I need to tell, maybe it’s freedom to do a book that I have control over and not something like taking on a regular series. I think there has to be a pretty good “why” for me to do something at Marvel or DC. But this changes daily. I’m sure if you ask me tomorrow I would just say, yeah, I want to do it.

As far as someone like Image, I actually did send a Revenger pitch to them through the normal submission channels. I knew it was a long shot not having and in over there. And as I expected I never heard anything back. I’m actually happy about that though. It made me do what I always do. Self publish. I’m often too impatient to wait around for someone to say ,”go.” You don’t get to draw comics waiting for someone to give you permission.
The television adaptation of, "TEOTFW.
Another cliche question, but we often read about how independent creators can struggle to, “Make it,” in regards to achieving a livable income where things like groceries, bills, etc. can be paid. How long did it take you to get to a point where you felt you could pursue comics as your main, “Job,” and not have to worry about going totally broke--or do you even feel you’re at that point?

Honestly, I still don’t feel that secure. Money is never stable when you work freelance. It comes and goes. My anxiety over it has lessened over the years. I left my last day job in 2011 and it was because I needed to move for unrelated reasons. I found myself jobless with no real prospects and that’s about the time I started doing TEOTFW. Sometimes flying without a net can be a good motivator. But I know that’s also a privileged position to hold. I don’t have kids or people relying on me or dire medical needs so it’s easier for me to to take that risk. I live fairly cheaply in a really small town. I think if I moved to New York City like I always dreamt of doing, I wouldn’t have many comics to show for it.

One thing that fascinates me besides the work a comic creator completes is the, “Graveyard,” of projects that they didn’t finish. Is your graveyard mostly barren with the majority of concepts you undertake reaching their conclusion or is it full of half-realized ideas or projects that found themselves at a dead-end? Would you be willing to tell us about some or any of these?

I have a few things like that. Teen Creeps is a series I began after TEOTFW. I did 4 chapters and gave up on it. I just had this feeling I couldn’t shake that I was doing the same thing I just did. So I ditched it. I have a book called Lena 4-ever about a girl who becomes a carnival stripper in the 1970s. I’m not sure why that one stalled out. I think I just put it aside intending to get back to it but just never have. I still like the idea so I may come back to it someday. I also did 2 issues of a comic called Luv Sucker. It was a teenage vampire book. Again, same thing. I just haven’t returned to it.
When you’re not makings comics what else do you like to do? Are you a video-gamer? Do you enjoy sports? Play any instruments?

I used to play guitar a lot but I haven’t picked it up in a few years. I always mean to because I find it relaxing.

Lately I’ve gotten back into video games. I was out of it since the Dreamcast died. But I’ve recently gotten into collecting NES games and playing them. But also a few modern games. I tend to gravitate to platformers though. Those are my favorites kinds of games. Metroid and Castlevania are just the best.

What is your favorite comic that you ever read?

Ha. This is what I call an impossible question.
Revenger fighting some homicidal clowns.
If you could adapt any other comic you’ve created so far into any other medium, which one would it be and in what form (movie, television show, cartoon)?

Revenger. I think it would just make a really cool show. When I started it, I sort of thought about it as being an ongoing thing so in my head seeing her story serialized on TV would be a good fit.

Do you have any other projects coming-up you can share some information about, or is, “Automa,” your main focus for now?

Right now, I’m all Automa all the time. I do mutter to myself that I’m going to do another issue of Snake Oil. Just a good old fashioned comic with a few random strips. I have some ideas so I might actually get that done sooner than later.

Concluding Thoughts
Thanks again to Charles Forsman for doing this big interview with me and being so open, honest, and interesting. I encourage everyone to visit his website and you can check-out his Patreon here!

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