Interview: Charles Forsman
Charles Forsman is a three-time Ignatz Award winning cartoonist for his minicomics Snake Oil and The End of the Fucking World. He is also the creator Oily Comics, a small independent outlet of minicomics for his own work and likeminded creators.
CYA: You began reading comics and drawing at an early age. If you remember, what can you remember as your first true attempt at making a comic?
Charles Forsman: I think my first attempt at comics was probably when I was 12 or 13. I was never good on follow through but I remember folding and stapling some paper and drawing out panels. Probably some Sin City inspired stuff. But I never got too far. Nothing to write mom about.
CYA: For readers who might not even realize there is a cartooning-specific art school, how would you describe your experience attending the Center for Cartoon Studies? What did you learn most there about taking your art to the next level? What did you learn most there about taking your writing to the next level?
CF: Yeah, well CCS really came into play to help with that 'follow through' I had trouble with as a kid. I think the first comic I finished was my application test to get into the school. The act of taking me out of my environment and living and breathing comics for 2 years helped me a lot. And that I had teacher giving me assignments every week. It helped me just start finishing shit. Just getting the work done. That really is half the battle to doing most things I think. It's hard to shut down your doubts and just general lack of experience and put the pencil to the page. So that bootcamp drill running aspect helped me to become much more productive. I still think I wouldn't have finished a comic if I hadn't had CCS pushing me.
As for the art/writing aspects of the school. I feel that they treated it all as one thing. Which I think is what comics actually is to me. It's not art and writing put together. It's both. And at the same time it's its own thing. And I think CCS really treats it as such. It's not a place where you are going to learn to be a cog. It's about becoming an auteur. And I don't mean that to sound pretentious. I really mean that. And I'm proud of that. That aspect feeds into the ability to have no budget and do everything yourself. No one is going to pay you starting out unless you are super gifted so you might as well learn how to make every part of the watch and do it yourself.
CYA: Your experience at CCS and the relationships formed there helped inspire the foundation of Oily Comics. What would be your one piece of advice for someone who wants to self-publish minicomics in 2017?
CF: Oily started as a place to print my own stuff and turned into a slightly bigger thing. But not much. The main thing is that there is no secret formula and you don't need anyones permission. If you have a story to tell and can cobble together enough knowledge to make a book then there you go.
CYA: Your comics The End of the Fucking World and Celebrated Summer explore pivotal developmental moments in young people. Do you feel like it will be harder to write these kinds of characters the older you get?
CF: Yeah, I could see that happening. But I think the reason I am drawn to characters at that age is because I have something in myself that is unresolved from my experience at that age. I think it's something I will probably explore the rest of my life. I've begun to move into different types of stories but I just finished another book about teenagers in high school. It's filled with self-hate, drugs, and sex. Every time I think I'm done with that subject I find myself right back in it. So will it get harder as I age? I think I may start to sound like an old man who doesn't get the kids. And it that happens, I hope people stop reading because that is just always embarrassing to see, right?
CYA: Your Revenger series of comics are a huge stylistic departure from your other work - something you don't see from many independent cartoonists. Is it challenging for you to explore a different side of yourself as an artist?
CF: For me it was two things. First I overdosed on mini comics or alternative comics. I felt the walls closing in. I felt like I was doing the same shows and trading comics to the same people and at a certain point I felt burned out. I was bored to be frank. And at the same time I was going back to comics that I read as a child that I rejected in my 20s because I thought I was better than that. Plus Revenger represented a big risk at least in my mind. It was almost like starting over, which is what every comic feels like. It was just a more ultimate version of it. And also, action comic books are fun to draw. They just are. You can get sick of it for sure but after drawing hundreds of pages of characters talking to each other it's fun to draw them punching each other's lights out.
CYA: The End of The Fucking World was recently adapted in a television series for UK's Channel 4 and Netflix. What was your initial response to the idea of creating the show? Do you have any say or involvement in the production? Did you reach out to any other people in the cartooning community who have had their work adapted for advice?
CF: When the director first approached me I took with with a huge grain of salt. I did talk to my mentors about such things and the best advice I got was to consider it a lottery ticket. Most of the time you won't win so don't get your hopes up and put all your eggs in that basket. It really is a miracle that the thing has been shot and is being edited as I type this. I don't have any say in the production and early on that is what I decided. I wanted to be hands off because I want to make comics. Plus who am I to TV executives? I'm not anybody they've ever heard of so I figured if I walked in there demanding to write and direct it, they would have laughed at me. And also, I really do feel that adaptations work best when they are more concerned with adapting the tone or feeling of a work rather than replicating it. A comic is not a movie or TV show. They are having me possibly do the title and some graphics which I am excited about but it is its own beast now. It is way out of my hands and I am excited as anyone to see it. I'm sure I will be very surprised once it is done.
CYA: Oily Comics helped create and distribute comics from many independent creators forming a strong body of work in a few short years. It took an incredible amount of work on your end to facilitate all the printing, production and distribution of all the books. What's your favorite part of the process when creating your own books? What's your favorite part of the process when creating someone elses?
CF: I like everything about it. I like making the actual work and I like folding, stapling, printing and mailing stuff. That stuff, the production, is what I burned out on. I started to get carpel tunnel syndrome from all the stapling. And it just sort of grew bigger than I had imagined. Which is a good thing but ultimately I wanted to draw comics. It came to a point where I had to decide to do Oily or draw my own stuff and I made that choice. It was hard because I really enjoyed it and I think Oily got a lot of interesting comics in front of people. Just writing a comic strip, make a book for someone is an exercise in problem solving. I enjoy that. What paper? What ink? It's fun.
CYA: What's the current status of Oily Comics? How do you see it's future and the future of minicomic self-publishing on a similar scale for others?
CF: I consider it dormant. I've thought about trying to turn Oily into an imprint at a bigger publisher and being an editor but again, that's not what I want to do with my time. No matter how fun. Maybe if people stop buying my comics or I run out of ideas I'll pick up the Oily thing again but right now, I'm having too much fun doing what I'm doing. I think people will always self publish. As long as somebody thinks they have something to say, they'll figure out a way to get it out there. I think it has grown a lot in the last decade which is maybe why I kind if stepped back form it all in my own way. Gotta make room for the kids. It's their court now. Let them play. I'm happy to watch.
CYA: What was the most recent great comic you read and why?
CF: A friend of mine told me about this strip called Creature Commandos that was in DC war comics in the 70's. The basic setup is that there is a team of classic monsters doing secret missions during WW2. So there is a Dracula, a Frankenstein, and a Wolfman. It's just such a great and silly idea. They are basically government slaves too. So there is a tortured monster element that really works. And it's done with such seriousness that only industrial comics can do. I wouldn't necessarily recommend you go out and read it but I enjoy it.
CYA: What's next on deck for you as a creator?
CF: I've got one more issue of Slasher to draw for Floating World Comics and I have a new book called I Am Not Okay With This coming out from Fantagraphics late in the year. And Of course there are two volumes of Revenger out from Bergen Street Press. I hope to have a Revenger Christmas Special out in December.
You can purchase Charles Forsman comics at the following links. TEOTFW and Celebrated Summer are available for purchase, while I Am Not Okay With This is available for preorder, from Fantagraphics. His self-published Revenger series can be purchased via Bergen Street Press. More projects and information are available via his website.