Wednesday, December 02, 2015

30 Days of The Fade Out: Telling Stories in Storytelling.

The latest extended forecast from ComicList predicts that we'll see the twelfth and final issue of The Fade Out on Wednesday, December 30th.  We're starting our "30 Days" review of the series today, so if that forecast holds true, we'll conclude by reviewing the entire series on New Year's Eve.

In the meantime, each day we'll do our very best to write on The Fade Out, covering all sorts of aspects of this mini-series by Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips, a straight-up noir story set during the Golden Age of Hollywood.

The first thing that strikes me about the series is an aspect that is evoked by the somewhat iconic cover to its first issue and its manual typewriter.

Some searching through Google makes me believe that the typewriter shown is a Royal Standard typewriter, similar to the one found on an Etsy page for a sale for a model which evidently dates to the 1930's.  Notice especially the distinctive shape of the "window" at the top of the typewriter, where one can see where the keys would strike the page.

(I wonder if one of the other images for this particular page served as a reference for Sean Phillips.)

UPDATE, 12/3:  On Twitter, Sean confirms that the typewriter is a Royal, which he bought at a local antique market.

There's something romantic about the manual typewriter, which bridges the gap from laborious typesetting (and handwritten manuscripts) to the electronic typewriter and its progeny, the word processor.  The rhythmic clicking of the key striking the page and the occasional carriage return, the entirely portable device that requires only paper and an ink ribbon:  it calls to mind Ernest Hemingway, and it makes sense that it would be the only prized possession of the idealistic bohemian writer in the movie Moulin Rouge.

The object is well chosen to introduce readers to the series:  the central character is a screenwriter, and the setting is Hollywood where an entire new industry had so recently emerged, where each blockbuster spectacle on film has its origins in the ideas that a writer typed out in his office or in his bedroom.

But, at the broadest level, the image evokes writing and storytelling, and it's a theme that recurs quite often in stories themselves.  There's Shakespeare's "play within a play" in the comedy of A Midsummer Night's Dream and the tragedy of Hamlet.  In the movies, you have Hollywood in (the much happier tale) Singing in the Rain and the bedtime-story framing device of The Princess Bride, and C-3PO recounted the Rebels' adventures to the Ewoks long after he had told Luke Skywalker that he wasn't very good at telling stories.

And we don't have to look far to find the theme in other Brubaker-Phillips comics.
  • In their first serialized collaboration, Sleeper for DC's Wildstorm imprint, super-powered villains would pass the time by telling each other their "origin stories" as if they were characters in a comic book.
  • From Criminal, Jacob in "Bad Night" was the creator of the Frank Kafka, P.I. comic strip, and in "The Last of the Innocent," Riley Richards' nostalgia was partially triggered by his rereading the old EC-style comics that he had so enjoyed in his "innocent" youth.
  • And in Fatale, an ancient book -- the evil bishop's bible -- becomes the major MacGuffin, and a few of the men who encounter Josephine end up creating haunting pieces of art, from Alfred Ravenscroft's pulp story "To the Unseen Eyes," to "The Losing Side of Eternity" by the reporter Hank Raines, to the stunning songs created by the grunge band Amsterdam.
UPDATE, 12/3:  A friendly commenter Spence also reminds us of this year's Criminal Special Edition, with Zangar the barbarian and his comic within the comic -- a glaring omission, as it's been my favorite single issue of the year.  Thanks, Spence!

The aphorism is that writers should write what they know, and obviously that always includes the act of writing itself, but there are other good reasons for the subject to appear in the noir comics of Brubaker and Phillips.

Beyond being used for exposition, writing expresses the psychological need for human connection, magnifying the sense of longing and loss for those who read it -- as with Riley in "The Last of the Innocent" -- or allowing the central character to grapple with his anxiety and alienation through self-expression, as the insomniac Jacob did with both the wish-fulfillment evident in his take-charge character of Frank Kafka and the pessimism and even dread of the endless maze that Kafka is forced to navigate half-blind.

It's crucial to note that, in The Fade Out, the main character Charlie has had writer's block since his return from the Second World War.  He's a writer who doesn't write -- and a man whose memory is damaged by blackouts and who wants to hide behind a disguise that resembles 1933's The Invisible Man.

Charlie is a broken man who almost doesn't exist and who wishes he didn't, a man who longs to express himself and finds himself almost entirely unable to do so, either in his craft or in his personal relationships.

We discovered in issue #11 that Charlie made a rare connection with Val, but she was soon lost to him, the victim of both a murder and a subsequent cover-up.   It's no wonder that that loss drives him for the entire story.

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Blogger Spence said...

Plus the Criminal 2015 "Special Edition" is a comic within the comic.

5:30 AM  
Blogger Bubba said...

Good catch! My favorite comic of the year, for which I've been buying copies for friends, and I completely forgot about the savage Zangar!

10:30 PM  

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