Created by Andersen Gabrych
Art by Brad Rader
“Whatever you want. You can find it here. Or die looking for it.”
— Frank welcomes readers to San Francisco in the intro
Few noir novels, let alone graphic novels, wander into the murky areas of sexual desire, never mind homosexual desire, as well or as audaciously as Fogtown, Andersen Gabrych’s edgy, dark 2010 graphic novel, does.
In fact, short of maybe John Morgan Wilson and Josh Lanyon, few contemporary crime writers even come close to the dark whirlpool of guilt, shame and bleak despair that Gabrych’s characters — and particularly his aging bruiser of a private eye — gets drawn into here.
In 1953 San Francisco, and FRANK GRISSEL is hitting the bottle. Hard.
He’s got his reasons, I suppose. He’s run from his Wisconsin past, and reinvented himself as the owner and sole operative of a small San Francisco agency. But he’s never quite escaped the guilt and shame of abandoning his family and his past life.
He’s living with his secretary, the long-suffering but sympathetic Loretta Valentine, who’s loyal to a fault, despite Frank’s often loutish and at times abusive behaviour. But even Loretta’s great big heart isn’t enough when a Frank, pushed by Loretta, agrees to search for a runaway girl.
Gabrych’s labyrinth but never gratuitous plot twists and turns as the big brute plows his way like through San Francisco’s sordid underbelly, Mike Hammer in overdrive, runnung up against a deliciously rich cast of characters: Lady Tze, a sexy shipping Hong Kong heiress (and smuggler); Dr. Eliza Grey, a psychiatrist obsessed with studying human sexual desire; The Colonel, a powerful and pious millionaire with his fingers in far too many pies, trying to buy a stairway to heaven; Bone, his massive bodyguard and manservant; a creepy preacher running the Blood of the Lamb Ministry, a shelter for street kids and runaways; his assistant Gregory, a knife-wielding gunsel and assorted whores, junkies, corrupt cops, a missing daughter or two and more people with sexual hang ups than you can, uh, shake a stick at.
Plus a “Frisco Ripper” who’s “running around gutting prosties” tossed in for good measure.
Pretty bleak, huh? And the artwork more than holds up its end. Brad Rader’s deliberately crude, almost-thuggish black-and-white art definitely deserves mention. His thick, bold lines, heavy enough at times to suggest woodcuts, recall not just the Kirby/Simon artwork of the era but alson German Expressionism, and his decidedly non-pretty characters suggest an oppressively bleak, claustrophobic world of violence and ugliness driven by lust and greed — a perfect match for Gabrych’s narrative. And the distressed typewriter typeface used for Frank’s occasional wry, bitter first person narration, contributing to the dark, damaged mood, is an apt touch.
It’s definitely a wallow, with all the expected tropes you’ve come to expect of the genre… in spades. There are racist, misanthropic and homophobic slurs aplenty, plus flippant wisecracks, some pretty graphic sex and violence, and more than a few plot twists — some which you will have seen coming forever, and some that’ll have you frantically flipping pages backwards.
But Gabrych plays fair throughout. His real courage as a writer, though, comes through at the end. This is noir, all right, but noir that’s miles ahead of the narrowly defined fanboy fantasies that pass for it these days in film and literature. He offers up the kind of ending that, at least in NoirLand, dare not speak its name.
- “Fogtown isn’t a perfect book by any means, nor is it my favorite of the Vertigo Crime line, but it’s a solid tale that explores a territory previously unknown within Vertigo’s Crime imprint: homosexuality. Yes, Fogtown is about a lot more than sexual identity, but it’s Gabrych’s unfaltering willingness to be graphically blunt throughout the book that makes it so effective. The truthful sexuality that Fogtown presents separates it from the rest of the Vertigo Crime pack, introducing the first societal issue that these stories have covered in a legitimate way. Up until this point, the Crime line has been centered on characters, their emotions, and the messed up plots to destroy their lives. Fogtown diverges from this formula, delivering not only compelling characters but also social relevancy.”
— Joey Esposito, CraveOnline
- “I really dug the story and art in this book… Gabrych and Rader give us a look and feel of ’50s Bay Area Americana. Grissel intentionally comes off as a riff on Mickey Spillane’s Mike Hammer with an extra dose of testosterone. But the joy of this graphic novel is how Gabrych offers distractions and diversions as the secrets of the case and Grissel’s life are revealed.”
— Gary Phillips
- “It’s sorta cool to see homosexuality presented in crime comics as a plot element, without over-earnest self-consciousness or, worse, the type of hypocritical pandering to hoary old stereotypes under the guise of humour that sank Marvel’s ill-conceived, heavy-handed, unintentionally offensive “re-boot” of The Rawhide Kid. I mean, come on. It’s 2011. Do we really need a Cage Aux Folles with spurs ripoff at this point in time?”
— Kevin Burton Smith
Frank: “I’m a P.I. Name’s Frank Grissel.”
Dr. Eliza Grey: “Really? Like the meat? Or the attitude?”
- FOGTOWN | Buy the book
Written by Andersen Gabrych
Art by Brad Rader
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