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The slow expansion of DC’s Vertigo Crime “sub-imprint” continued this week with the release of Fogtown, an original graphic novel by writer Andersen Gabrych (Batman, Detective Comics) and artist Brad Rader (Catwoman, True Adult Fantasy).
While Fogtown contains many of the classic noir elements, like femmes fatales, seedy locations and sordid crimes, it breaks out of the mold in at least one notable respect: Frank Grissel, the hard-knuckled private eye, is a closeted homosexual living in 1953 San Francisco.
Here’s a sampling of what people are saying about the graphic novel:
Glen Weldon, NPR.org: “The story of Frank Grissel, a private detective in 1950s San Francisco who (sing along, you know the words) finds himself drawn into a web of deceit, Fogtown is pulpy, lurid, gleefully trashy, occasionally contemptible, frequently ridiculous, crammed to the gills with noir cliches — and kinda great. It’s kinda great because Grissel is hiding a big, fat Capital-S Secret, and it’s one that doesn’t turn up in this kind of story with anywhere near the frequency it could. Seeing its repercussions play out amid all the classic private-dick tropes — femmes fatales, gruesome murders, hero-set-up-to-take-the-fall, etc. — is a lot of fun. And because Gabrych and Rader hit those tropes hard, for all they are worth, Fogtown never feels like a mere pastiche. Or, Hammett help us, as a parody.”
Christian Cintron, EDGE Boston: “The comic challenges typical noir by offering a story that is as diverse as the city in which it takes place. It captures the city’s grit, sordid sexual underbelly, and vast cultural differences. It tells a truly noir story while introducing some culturally relevant subplots and motifs. It helps that one of the main characters is a gay man trying to find a place for himself in the 1950s. The story has so many twists and turns and such a frenetic pace that it would make an amazing film. Each pane holds some amazing detail or clue that captures the San Francisco of the era, and really carries the story along. The characters seem so realistic and true to form that you can lose yourself and forget it’s only a comic book.”
Joey Esposito, Crave Online: “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.”
David Maine, PopMatters: “Gabrych’s story is not well served by Brad Rader’s artwork, which is suitably heavy on blacks and deep shadows but lacks much in the way of nuance or finesse. Thick lines and a limited palette of grays result in a heavyhanded, cartoony look, perhaps a deliberate attempt to evoke the ‘50s. Action scenes in particular look stiff and unconvincing; Rader is better at static scenes such as cityscapes, which he suffuses with tension through heavy inking and clean lines. His character’s facial expressions are as stylized as the characters themselves; some panels simply look poorly drawn. Dr. Grey in particular suffers from Rader’s inability to draw a woman who is supposed to be sexy and professional at the same same time.”
David Pepose, Newsarama: “With all this to say about Gabrych and Grissel, artist Brad Rader is likely to get overlooked. Which is a shame — his work feels like Pia Guerra spliced with a hint of Eric Powell, making scenes like a P.I. sharing a cigarette with a streetwalker into some particularly moody stuff. A lot of times, there are artists who have these talky scenes — particularly with a lot of letterbox panels — and they can’t make them work. Rader isn’t one of those people — he excels in plumbing emotion from those shadowy lines, to the point where the action at the end of the book almost seems superfluous.”
What did you think about Fogtown?