“This Really Is Happening”: Snake Oil #4 and #5

Posted by on December 26th, 2009 at 5:15 AM

Rob reviews Chuck Forsman’s SNAKE OIL #4 and #5.

Chuck Forsman has emerged as one of my favorite artists who graduated from the Center for Cartoon Studies, thanks in part to his skill in composing the comics page as well as his increasing confidence in the raggedness of his line.  He’s also moving beyond his influences (Sammy Harkham and Chester Brown, most notably) to develop a visual style all his own.  Like fellow CCS grad Sean Ford, Forsman mixes horror, absurd humor and finely-modulated character moments into his narrative.  Forsman’s story that ended with SNAKE OIL #4 concluded a tale about supernaturally horrible things happening, seemingly at random, to otherwise normal people on a normal day.

The story was about being thrown out of one’s comfort zone, and long journeys spent trying to reclaim some kind of equilibrium.  One man treks through a desert in an effort to find his friend.  A teen, after having lost his father and best friend, tries for a drug-induced shortcut to obtain revenge.  A young woman’s psyche is captured by another realm after a drug experience, and she winds up imprisoned.  When she winds up taking one of her captors as a lover, things go horribly awry.  All of the stories come to an end, but there’s not really an explanation.  The behind-the scenes images of the bizarre beings who prey on humans are hilarious, revealing a quotidian sort of dullness of routine underlying their inscrutable actions.  It’s almost like they are supernatural slackers who have a job to do but don’t necessarily do so with great enthusiasm.

Issue # 5, “Wolf”, is a striking one-off story about a young endomorph going through the motions of his day.  He looks a bit like a modern-day Walt Wallet (from Gasoline Alley) and lives the slacker lifestyle.  That includes everything from getting stoned during his workbreaks to living in his grandmother’s basement to abashedly buying a porno mag to read when he comes home at night.  Along the way, he relives past relationships and mistakes, knowing full well that his life could have turned out differently if he had taken advantage of certain opportunities.  The bulbous character design of the title character is what makes this story a winner, especially as we seem him depicted at different ages of his life.  The post-it notes sprinkled throughout the issue are sort of “panels” of their own, ostensibly depicting the tossed-off scrawls of Wolf, a gentle young man who was perhaps matched up with the wrong physical attributes in life.  There’s a sense where Wolf understands that his predominant attribute–his enormous physical strength–was a danger to others, even thought it had the potential to make him rich and famous.  Wolf conflated turning aside that particular ambition with having no ambition whatsoever, but was too deeply entrenched in his own daily ennui that he couldn’t see how he was limiting himself.  The final page, where his grandmother finds him asleep in a chair with his stroke mag in his lap, was a hilarious one even as it was tinged with sadness.  In some ways, this may be Forsman’s most satisfying comic to date, holding together a story with a minimum of absurdism and a forceful commitment to a single emotional narrative.

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