Friday, February 2, 2018

Film Noir in Four Color: The Fade Out by Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips

I just read the graphic novel, The Fade Out by Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips with colors by Elizabeth Brietweiser. Now, you might wonder why a review of a graphic novel would have labels for Classic Film and Film Noir. Well, set in the film industry of 1940s Hollywood and dealing with the death and cover-up of a murdered starlet, both fit quite nicely. If you want to know absolutely nothing about the plot, skip the next paragraph, but most of this info is what you would get in the first 20 or so pages.

***** Spoiler Alert *****

Charlie Parish is a screenwriter, returned from WWII so shattered by the experience that he can no longer write. He fronts for his writing mentor, a blacklisted screenwriter who can no longer work in Hollywood. He wakes from a blackout drunk to find the starlet he was with the night before has been murdered while was passed out in the next room. Guilt-stricken, he feels obligated to try to figure out what happened by sorting through the web of lies perpetuated by studio fixers, PR agents, and movie moguls.

***** End of Spoiler Alert *****

The Fade Out was a really good read and rings true from what I know of not just classic Hollywood, but the subtleties of the blacklist, poverty row studios, the fate of child actors, and the breakdown of the studio system, all seamlessly integrated into a compelling film noir inspired mystery. The story was largely inspired by writer Ed Brubaker's uncle, screenwriter, John Paxton (Murder My Sweet, Crossfire, and The Wild One). There's plenty of sex and scandal. Though published before the Harvey Weinstein scandal broke, the machinery that protects sexual predators apparently has long history.

The artwork is a treat. The backgrounds often have story-appropriate famous settings, a film premiere at the Chinese Theater, a clandestine payoff in the lobby of the Roosevelt, or the main character's apartment, almost in the shadow of Angels Flight. There are a couple cameos by real-world people, like Clark Gable and Dashiell Hammett, integrated into the story, but not to the point where it gets distracting from the main plot. One of the characters, a closeted gay heart-throb actor bears a striking resemblance to Montgomery Clift. I suppose that some people might think this is a cop-out, but for me, I thought it was a total nod to classic film geeks like me. 

Published as a 12-issue limited series between August 2014 and January 2016, technically, I guess you could say this is not a graphic novel, but a comic series. Me, I consider it a graphic novel because it is a single book-length story. It won an Eisner Award, the comics industry equivalent to an Oscar, for best limited series in 2016. You should be able to find The Fade Out at your local comic shop, bookstore, or purchase online. Though the original comic issues shouldn't be all that hard to find, it's also available in paperback in three volumes or in a deluxe hardback that reprints the entire story along with bonus material such as the original cover art, essays and illustrations, and behind-the-scenes looks at the production of the work.

I can't recommend The Fade Out strongly enough. If you are a comic fan, you'll love it. If you're a classic film geek, you'll love it, and if you're a fan of film noir, you will love seeing the genre done so skillfully in a different medium. If Billy Wilder was alive now, I could see him writing something like this.

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