Project: Get Known! CHARLES FORSMAN
There are times we wish to grow as readers. We’ll seek outside influences to expand our borders in search for books we may have otherwised missed. For me, I aligned myself with a podcast named Paperkeg. After years of their weekly comic book club format, the opinions of the hosts were ones I grew to respect as much as my own.
It was through this channel I was able to become familiar with writer/artist Charles Forsman. After discussing his graphic novel called The End of the Fucking World, the creator of that book would eventually write into the show and later, even co-host an episode. I also had the pleasure of meeting him in real life at Baltimore Comic Con. He was cool enough to let me ask him some creative questions and, while anyone who’s had a pulse to the comic scene knows of this rising star, Get to Know Charles “Chuck” Forsman.
Mikey P: Chuck, in a short amount of time, you’ve been able to publish several unconventional titles, and on your own terms. Was this by chance or something you specifically set out to achieve?
Chuck: A little of both I guess. Sometimes it happens when working in a bunch of things that they all come out at the same time. I try to work consistently so I’m always producing new stuff but it’s usually just by chance when things come out when they do. Different publishers have different speeds in which their machine works.
Mikey P: When did you start drawing and when did you decide to pursue a career in the comic world?
Chuck: I drew as a kid and wanted to do comics since I was 10 years old. I just had no follow through. I stopped drawing as a teenager but in my early 20s I fell back in love with comics and decided it’s what I wanted to do with my life. So that led me to apply to, a new program at the time, The Center for Cartoon Studies. I barely got in and the place really changed my life. It gave me confidence and license to call myself a cartoonist. And while there I produced a lot of work which helped me grow and explore my abilities. Learning my strengths and limitations.
Mikey P: I’m personally fascinated with creators who are writers and artists on their works. I find one of the strongest aspects of your storytelling is the pacing. You make strong use of the silent panel with attention to detail. A specific example: a rock is lifted in Celebrated Summer and the insects scurry away. This is something which could maybe have been done in 1 or 2 panels, but the fact that that there are 6 silent panels brought me closer to the energy and tone of the scene. Is this sort of structure something you plot for while writing or adapted when you start creating the page layout as an artist?
Chuck: Yeah, I like to slow down time in my stories. I think it’s an underused tool, especially from what I see in American Mainstream comics. It’s a great thing that comics can do. There are a lot of ways to speed up or slow down the reader. For Celebrated Summer I just wanted to slow things down to experience details like that when you are out in nature and just looking at bugs.
Mikey P: My jumping on point was Revenger. I assumed it was going to be just be a fun homage to all the shoot ‘em up movies of the 80s-90s. Yet, there were elements of consequence and some real life evil. What gave you inspiration for this book?
Chuck: Well, ha, that’s what Revenger was supposed to be. It was supposed to be fun 80s action and I think it still is but I just can’t help myself. Some heavy stuff snuck in there like the presence of child exploitation. I wanted Revenger to be a force against things like rich people and exploitation so I felt in order to really get that across I couldn’t gloss it over with some just general evil villiany.
Mikey P: As much of a force that Revenger is, there was never a sense that she’s impervious. At the same time, she’s sort of become your marquee character. Do you have a set path for her or are you just seeing where things go?
Chuck: I originally planned to be Revenger as an ongoing series with short single issue or 2-3 issue arcs. But I just found that I didn’t want to do that. I prefer to do more finite stories. I just did a X-MAS one shot with her but I don’t have any real plans for a new story. Right now, I just plan on doing one-shots when I need a break from other work or just need to clear the cobwebs with some action. I have a rough idea of where she is going but I also really enjoy keeping it open and jumping around in time instead of doing a big overarching story.
Mikey P: Revenger was also different than your prior work up to this point, stylistically. What gave you impetus for something different?
Chuck: I got burnt out on the way I was drawing and the comics I was consuming. I found myself getting into action movies and older action comics from the 80s. Plus I was heavily inspired by cartoonists Ben Marra and Michel Fiffe who were tackling action comics in a way that made me extremely jealous. I wanted to play in their sandbox and they were generous enough to let me play.
Mikey P: You’re a traditional pen and ink guy, mostly black and white, but you decided to color Revenger. How much did that change things for your process?
Chuck: A bit. I pulled back on hatching and feathering because I knew the coloring would take over some of that duty. I’m not a great colorist but I love doing it. I was really inspired by the colors of Klaus Janson comics. He is mostly known as a penciller/inker but in the 80s he was doing his own colors on stuff like Daredevil, Punisher, and a personal favorite of mine, St. George.
Mikey P: From what I can tell, you still have a hand in every day-to-day aspects of Oily Comics. Have you been able to transition some of this work or do you like the control?
Chuck: I love self publishing. I don’t publish other people’s work like I used to but that’s how I got into comics. Learning every aspect of the process and having that control is very satisfying and hard to give up. That’s kind of why I think I settled into comics. I can literally do every part of the process and I don’t need anyone’s permission or help to do what I want to do.
Mikey P: I think I gravitate towards the characters you write because they are mostly teenagers who are lost and rudderless. It’s relatable to every reader who has been through those awkward, terrible years figuring out who they are. What inspires you to deal with characters of this age?
Chuck: It was a time in my own life where I was pretty depressed and frustrated. Frustrated that I had to grow up a little faster than everyone around me, frustrated that I was stuck in the town I lived in and the nature of school. Normal teenager stuff but it left a big mark on me. I think it’s just something that I’ll always go back to in my work. I think it’s the only way I could make sense of all those feelings and emotions related to that time in my life.
Mikey P: You have a skill in making unremarkable characters that even make poor decisions, likable and engaging. Speaking specifically about The End of the Fucking World, these are characters who are almost hopeless but I couldn’t help but want things to get better for them. What did you set out to accomplish with this work?
Chuck: In the beginning it was just an exercise to make a comic fast, cheap, and to remove my own mental roadblock and perceived pressure. I had just finished Celebrated Summer which had big laborious pages and I wanted to do something in the opposite way. I was inspired by my friend Max de Radigues, a Belgian cartoonist and friend. He started a comic called Moose that spurred me on to do something in a similar format. Max has had a big influence on me. He taught me about the value of moving forward and not being a perfectionist.
Mikey P: All of your chapters are purposeful and concise. In TEOTFW for example, there is no excess which does not move the story forward. Reading through, it was easy to tell there is always a clear direction. Do you have a system to what you want to tell or do you start with a premise and figure out where it’s going as you progress. What is your editing process like?
Chuck: The first few chapters were very improvisational on my end but I soon wrote a very rough layout of beats I wanted to have in each chapter. I’m talking like one or two sentences describing each chapter. The real work for me comes in my thumbnailing stage. That’s the part that feels like the writing and where the real heavy lifting is done. For comics like TEOTFW I do very little editing after the fact. I feel like every pass, thumbnails, pencils, inks, has it’s own editing process built into it. I’m always making adjustments in each of those steps. But once the page is set I rarely make changes.
Mikey P: Nowadays, some comics feel written with a TV pilot structure but this is definitely not the case with anything you do. Yet recently, you have been able see The End of the Fucking World come life in the form of a TV adaptation in England and soon to be airing in America on Netflix. How did this come to fruition? Was it something you actively pursued?
Chuck: I did not pursue it. The director, Jonathan Entwistle, picked up some of the mini comics up in a shop in London called, Gosh! Comics. And he emailed me and asked about making it into a series or movie or something. It was a long process in getting it to an actual show and many times it seemed like it would never happen. I like making comics because you don’t have to rely so much on other people to give you permission to do something. I was pretty hand-off the entire production. I trusted Jonathan to do his thing and he delivered. I’m really happy with what they made and I think people will like it.
Mikey P: How faithful do you feel the show is to your material?
Chuck: It was more faithful than I expected but it certainly is it’s own thing which I wanted them to do. I hate adaptations that spend all their time trying to stay faithful to source material. No one wants that. Even if they think they do. They don’t.
Mikey P: It must be weird to hear dialogue you wrote on the screen or look at real life shots you drew years ago.
Chuck: Super weird. I get and full body jolt of electricity when I watch it.
Mikey P: With the show and the awards you’ve won, how much confidence does it give you when you are promoting your work? Does it ever change how you approach a project?
Chuck: Promoting is...you know, promoting. It’s a necessary thing. It gets easier over time but It’s hard to shake that feeling that I am just annoying everyone around me. But as I work with publishers more and more, thankfully they have amazing people who do that sort of thing for a living.
I try really hard not to let any outside forces influence my work. Writing for an audience or trying to live up to some perceived expectations sounds like the worst thing in the world to me. I do this to scratch an itch I have and sometimes to make Michel Fiffe giggle.
Mikey P: You sometime don the tongue-in-cheek moniker of a fan proclamation; “the left handed Frank Miller.” Yet joking aside, I consider the same manner in which you are forging your own path much like he did. Your career has been unyielding to conventional comic book forms in the same manner he based his career on. What motivates you to set out and create?
Chuck: That Left handed Frank Miller thing came from a comic store clerk that I don’t know. Someone relayed that story to me and I just LOVED the sound of that phrase. I should send that clerk a box of donuts or something.
Honestly I just make comics that I want to do. It’s that simple. This ties into the previous section. I see so many cartoonists trying so hard to impress an audience or an editor or whoever. And I just feel like that is so backwards. You gotta do the thing that excites you. And people pick up on that. When you are having fun, people notice.
Mikey P: The upcoming Revenger: the War on Xmas special issue you are currently promoting is entirely Black, White, and Red inks - just another example of the Frank Miller influence in your work. I’m sensing hints of Charles Schultz in some of your art as well. Who are some other creators that inspired you growing up? Who inspires you today?
Chuck: Those two are biggies for me. I love folks like Klaus Janson, E.C. Segar, Sammy Harkham, Michel Fiffe, Ben Marra, Chester Brown, James Sturm, Tony Salmons, Ken Landgraf, Lynda Barry, Yoshihiro Tatsumi, and a ton of others.
Mikey P: If there is any comparison I could make between each story, it would be that the character personalities are very genuine. Sometimes I’ve read writers who mimic personalities of real life individuals in their personal lives. Other times, writers might say their characters take on traits of themselves. Which is it for you?
Chuck: Yeah, I am guilty of both of those things. I think the best way to get authentic feeling characters is to mine from your own experience and thought patterns. I’ve certainly based characters on people I know but I don’t do that a lot. Mostly it’s stuff from my mind and trying to put myself in a character's costume and voice. For me it comes down to dialogue a lot of the time. You can built characters so much through how they talk or think.
Mikey P: You have great versatility when you showcase your writing of these unique voices. Slasher is another example of your ability to really get in the mindset of someone with some issues. And as messed up as the love story might be, it was compelling and something even touching. What’s your method of channeling these characters.
Chuck: Boy, I don’t know. I guess I just see writing characters like Christine who is basically a serial killer as a challenge. Serial Killers are human beings and they have thoughts and feelings so I don’t see it as that big of a difference. But of course they have this “thing” that sets them apart. I find that fun. It’s like putting up a wall that I have to work around.
Mikey P: In Slasher, Christine gives into her sexual violent desires, which leads her down a dark spiral. In the letter section of issue 3, you tell the readers how you meet people in real life who have read your work and they expect you to be like an eccentric guy. Has it been the reverse where people in your life read something like Slasher and are taken aback?
Chuck: Hmm. Yeah, I don’t think my mom approves. She would much rather I do something nicer with less swearing. But for the most part people are cool. It’s important to remember I’m not my work. Even though I put aspects of myself into these comics it’s not who I am. I’m playing make believe. It ain’t real, folks.
Mikey P: Despite what Christine does, everyone else in Slasher almost feels more malicious and evil than she. Considering all your works in fact, parents are mostly damaged and most of the straight male characters in your works are depicted pretty negatively (/accurately). Is it your goal to leave these ambiguous definitions of good and bad up to the reader?
Chuck: Yeah, I like to leave a lot of decisions up to the reader. That’s what makes stories fun to read in my opinion. I don’t like reading stuff that is explained to me. There is no mystery to that. That said, I definitely had a laundry list of types of dudes that I wanted Christine to slice up. I think it’s cathartic for myself and for people to read. I would never wish real life violence on anyone but fiction can deliver fantasies that people need and like, I think.
Mikey P: Sydney from your most recent completed work, I am not okay with this, broke my heart the most. I was never expecting the story to end up the way it did. Is staying ahead of the reader an objective when you write?
Chuck: No. I don’t really think about staying ahead of the reader exactly. For me it’s about making a scattering of puzzle pieces for the reader to put together. The fun part is that no one makes the same picture. Everyone brings their own experience and expectations to the comics.
Mikey P: You spent a good part of the year self-promoting your stuff at convention and shows. How much do you feel these physical appearances help bring awareness to your works?
Chuck: It’s hard to say. I’ve been going to conventions pretty non-stop for ten years. I’m ready to slow down. I’ve said that many times before but I think I really want to do less travelling next year. I have a couple things lined up but I want to cut back. It can take it’s toll on a person. I’m not a great traveler. I prefer being at home with Melissa and the cats. But it’s really fun too. I have friends all over the country and it’s great to see them. I consider that a big plus in doing what I do. It’s hard to say how much it matters. I think for young artists it’s really important and often the only way to connect with people. It’s hard to get noticed on the internet but in a smaller room you can start to make a dent.
Mikey P: I mean, I kept mentioning different works and they have all been completed within the last decade. How do you decide which projects to take on?
Chuck: I just try to keep moving and usually it’s just whatever idea has interesting me in the moment. I’ve abandoned a few projects because I just wasn’t feeling it. I think that’s an important thing for artists to be able to do. It’s okay to give up sometimes. You still have done that work and you’ve learned something about yourself.
Mikey P: I’m also a big fan of your keen eye for obscure comics and NES games. You still have some rare finds to hunt down?
Chuck: HA. Yeah, I’ve gotten into collecting NES games lately. It’s fun being an adult, right? We can buy all the games that seemed impossible to own as kids. I still have a list of stuff to find. Though my local game store just shut down so I’ve been buying less lately. But it’s fine. I have a nice “to-play” stack of games that needs my attention.
Mikey P: What’s a guy like you do to unwind when you’re not creating?
Chuck: I like going to the movies and watching TV and movies with Melissa. But yeah, going to the movies is one of my favorite things to do in the world. I love getting in that dark room and shutting off the phone.
Mikey P: 2017 was a very big year for Charles Forsman. What can we look forward from you in 2018?
Chuck: I’m going to launch a new series in January that will only be available through my Patreon. It’ll probably be 20 page comics I’ll send out every month. Gotta get back to work!
Mikey P: What’s the advice you give to the unknowns out there trying making their own stuff?
Chuck: You don’t need anyone’s permission.
Mikey P: I really appreciate your time and hope to meet up with you again. Really great getting to know you.
Check out any of the works mentioned above at your preferred outlet (links below), especially the newly released i am not okay with this, and the upcoming, Revenger: the War on Xmas.
Look for The End of the F***king World on Netflix starting January 5th.
Check out Chuck's Patreon for exclusives and updates.
And follow Chuck on the socials for some great art and cat hijinx.