Charles Forsman made a name for himself as the cartoonist behind “The End of the Fucking World” or “TEOTFW” which he serialized as a monthly minicomic for almost two years. His success and enthusiasm for publishing minicomics led him to start Oily Comics, a small publishing company that has specialized in minicomics which sell for one dollar each and has become a sensation in the indie comics world.
This year, Fantagraphics is releasing two books by Forsman: The collected edition of “TEOTFW” was released in late August with “Celebrated Summer” hitting shelves November 27. Forsman spoke to CBR News about the influence of the Center for Cartoon Studies in his life and the webseries adaptation of “TEOTFW” currently in the works in the UK.
CBR News: The book is “The End of the Fucking World,” or “TEOTFW,” an acronym I have to think about and that takes me longer to say that the actual title. Why did you decide to use this long title?
Charles Forman: The whole book started as the title and one drawing of the main character James. It’s just something I’ll do in my sketchbooks — sometimes I’ll get stuck on a phrase or word and I write it over and over again, lettering it in different ways. I do a lot of teenage stories and it seemed like a phrase that a parent would say to their teenager when they’re freaking out. I just liked it. It’s sort of embarrassing because it feels like one of those titles that is looking for attention on purpose — which I guess it kind of is. It’s not normal to see “fucking” in a title. But I just liked it. I liked the way it looked, I liked how long it was, and it just seemed to it got me in the right headspace to write that story.
The title captures a lot of the feeling of being a teenager.
I think it works as a good hook. People look at it and they want to see what it’s about. Though I’ve seen reviews where people are disappointed that there is no actual end of the world in it. [Laughs] It’s more about a teenager’s end of the world — which as a grow up, we’ve matured and know it’s not the end of the world — but falling in love for the first time and having it fall apart or breaking up feels like the end of something really big.
You were serializing this story as minicomics. How much did telling the story in these short chapters shape the story?
I think it shaped a lot of it. I’d been making minicomics, but it never occurred to me to serialize something or have that be an avenue to write a story in. It was just an accident. I was looking for something fun to do, something not so laborious and something I could do fast and sell really cheap. That’s what spurred me to do that and a few months in, I was like, I should do this every month. I just fell in love with serializing and the challenge of saying what I needed to say in eight pages. The other great aspect was it’s the opposite of working on a long book that no one is seeing and you get no feedback. I soon had readers every month who were buying it and ordering it from me. I got to hear from those people which was very encouraging. It was fun.
When you started the book, did you know the whole story?
No, I didn’t. [Laughs] When it started, it was all about creating this feeling and this atmosphere. I’d say 4-5 issues in, I mapped it all out. By then I knew the general place it was going. That’s it. Everything changes so much with every step. There’s always things changing and adjusting.
Did you know from the beginning you were going to alternate between telling the story between the two characters?
When I sat down to do issue two, I felt like I had established James really well and got a good feeling of who he was and I didn’t have that clear of a picture of Alyssa in my head. I thought that would be a really interesting idea to have her looking back from the future and James is talking from the present. That just seemed like a cool idea to play with. To have two different perspectives from these two characters speaking from different times.
And besides just jumping between the characters’ perspectives, when the new chapter starts, things have changed, it’s not always clear how much time has passed. For example the first chapter ends with James stealing the car and the second issue starts with an image of the car totaled.
I think that’s something I really enjoy doing. I like to set up a puzzle so that the reader has to do a little bit of work and put the dots together themselves. I don’t like to over-explain everything or give everything away. I just think it’s more interesting that way.
Your new book is also about teenagers. What is it about that age that fascinates you?
My dad died when I was 11 and it put me into a depression that I didn’t really understand fully. I had to grow up faster than maybe other people around me had. I think I learned a very hard lesson about life at 11 and I always felt like I was missing something. It was just a very dark time in my life. I think I’m always thinking about it and I’ll do other kinds of stories, but for me, it’s just a time in my life that I can’t stop exploring. I think it was because I felt like something was missing. I have regrets that I didn’t get to be a normal teenager or that I missed out on something. And it’s just a very confusing time. I’m really attracted to that. Your emotions are so raw and you feel things so much harder than you do as you get older.
“Celebrated Summer” is a very different book from “TEOTFW.”
I think so. It looks a lot different. I actually drew this before “The End of the Fucking World.” It was supposed to be out first. I had sold it to Fantagraphics in Spring 2011, I think. The pages in that book are really big and there’s a lot of cross-hatching and finishing that I wanted to do something simpler and faster as sort of a reaction to doing that book. It’s weird because people will see it as my sophomore effort but it’s actually the first larger work I’d done.
Talk a little about where Oily Comics came from. Did it spring from putting out your own work?
It’s all tied up with “The End of the Fucking World.” I really fell in love with that format and I’ve always enjoyed the production side of comics and books. It was during that I was like, I love doing this, other people will love doing these little short comics with not a lot of expectations and selling them for a dollar. I asked Melissa Mendes, my girlfriend, to do a comic and she started “Lou” and I just started asking other artists that I admired to do it. I found a really cheap Visograph printer on Craigslist and drove down to Pennsylvania to pick it up and that really gave me a lot of freedom. It made the process a lot cheaper and I could do it really fast and didn’t have to worry about finding a printer. Sometimes I describe Oily as my version of an anthology, but giving each artist their own space and not having it be wrapped up in one package where it’s maybe it’s easier to skip stuff, but it lets them design their own publication and be a small commitment.
Then I did the subscriptions, which I was really scared to do. [Laughs] Just as far as whether or not people would buy them and whether I could keep them all organized, but Melissa kept hounding me. She thought it was a really great idea. Of course it’s a great idea because it gets if people are coming for me or Melissa or Michael DeForge, they’ll subscribe for those books but they’ll get other ones from other artists they may not have heard of. It’s a nice trick to get people I admire into readers’ hands.
That idea of thinking of it as an anthology, is there a sensibility or idea you have of what you’re going for?
Not really. It’s as simple as artists I like. That said, I get a lot of people asking to do Oily Comics and sometimes I just don’t think they fit. I’ve never really spelled it out in my head. I think it’s just what I react to. I like a wide variety of stuff I think but I guess I tend to like clear storytelling and people who cartoon — as opposed to not cartooning. [Laughs] People like Andy Burkholder, who maybe looking at the other books isn’t someone you’d think I’d react to, but I think he’s doing something really interesting. He’s got a really cool line that I really reacted to.
One of the new releases from Oily is “Habit” from Josh Simmons, which is a different book for you. It’s longer and larger and a different format.
I wanted to start doing some bigger books and Josh was looking for someone to put all these collaborative comics he was doing into one book. I had done that “Flayed Corpse” mini with him and we had become friends. He asked if I would be interested in doing that and I had been thinking about different formats for a while. I was a little scared because it’s more investment and a lot more work too but I really enjoyed it and I have some more larger books coming out. I’m going to do more of that and I’m going to scale down on the smaller format things in the future. But we’ll see. Almost every day I tell myself I’m going to shut the whole thing down. [Laughs]
Just because the business end gets to be too much and you’d rather be drawing?
Yeah, there’s a constant push and pull with that. There’s a lot of production work where I’d rather be drawing, but I do like it. If I wasn’t doing this I’d have some other day job. I like this for now because it’s I’m the boss and I like having non-creative work to do, but I do worry about it taking over and becoming too big. I don’t want to grow it that much bigger. I’d rather be a cartoonist. I don’t want to be a publisher. [Laughs] That said, I really love doing it. It’s a lot of fun.
You went to the Center for Cartoon Studies. What were you doing before that and what made you interested in studying comics?
I wasn’t really doing anything for a long time. After high school I moved out and worked at pizza shops and movie theaters and moved to LA for a year and lived with my brother. While I was in LA I had started to read comics again and I just fell back in love with it. I was in my early twenties and trying to figure out what I wanted to do and comics came back in my life and I thought I really want to give it a try. I moved back to Pennsylvania and enrolled in community college. I had matured enough to finally respect school and want to learn more. I had gone there for about a year and I read about the Center for Cartoon Studies. I applied and did basically the first comic I ever completed for the application and happily — or surprisingly — they accepted me. It sounds like I’m doing a commercial, but it really changed my life. I never knew people who drew comics before so it was a big deal to all of a sudden be in this community with people doing the same thing. I made friends there that I’ll have my whole life. It gave me confidence to say I was a cartoonist. That first year you do a ton of work and I felt like I was able to do five years of work in a really short amount of time. A lot of experimenting and figuring out what I wanted to do in comics. It was just a big thing for me. It really changed my life and gave me a purpose.
A lot of the people who have come out of CCS don’t have a similar style, but many of you do have a similar handmade aesthetic. How much of that do you think came from the school?
The school really focuses on a very well rounded education as far as comics. You focus on every part of it. Like all your assignments are about making a finished comic. You rarely just hang up pages without having it be in a package. They really encourage you to think about the whole thing as opposed to I just want to be a penciller or something. Production is big there and design is big there. It’s great because I’ve been able to work as a designer with the skills I got there. The school definitely has a hand in that. Robyn Chapman was there when I was there and she’s big into self-publishing and minicomics and was always showing us stuff by people like Dan Zettwoch and the minicomics they made. Doing handmade books like that appeals to a lot of us.
So the focus is on production and design on the one hand and storytelling on the other?
Story is the other thing that they really push. In my experience there wasn’t a whole lot of nuts and bolts — this is how you draw with a brush — which at the time frustrated some of us. We wanted more technical stuff, but I think they’re smart there because all that stuff comes with doing it. I think it’s hard to teach that. You just have to do it a thousand times to learn how to use a nib or a brush. You have to make yourself use those tools. They don’t focus a lot on style, it’s more about are you telling a clear story? Are you successful at getting across what you want to get across?
There’s a film adaptation of “TEOTFW” in the works. How did this happen?
Well, not a film, a webseries. I forget how many issues I had out but John P. at Spit and a Half started distributing the books and he had sold them to Gosh Comics in London. They seem like they’re a really cool store, but I didn’t even know they were on sale over there because I don’t know who John sells to. I send him the books and he sends me a check later. One day last spring I got an e-mail from this guy Jonathan Entwistle who’s a director. He’s done commercials and short films and he had picked up a few of the issues and he really liked them. I think I was struck because he didn’t seem like a Hollywood guy who was promising me all this money. I watched his films and he seemed talented and I liked that he was young and starting out and I felt like we were sort of in the same spot in our trajectories. He was hooked up with this producer Dominic Buchanan and soon Film 4 got into the picture. Film 4 has done all these pretty big movies and a few years they started Film 4.0 to do smaller projects online. Dominic and Jonathan brought this project to them and they really liked it. Months and months of negotiations ensued with me freaking out and trying to kill the deal a few times. [Laughs] In the end I’m glad I went through because I learned a lot about negotiating that kind of crap. I’m really happy with the deal I have. I’m even happier that it’s actually happening. A lot of times options get signed and nothing happens so it’s pretty exciting. It was really weird to see something I had drawn in the flesh.
What’s coming up next from Oily Comics?
There’s this young cartoonist Nick Drnaso from Chicago. I printed his book “Young, Dumb, & Full of Cum.” He’s a really interesting cartoonist. I just printed “Tell God to Blow the Wind From the West” where the text is the transcription of a September 11th call with some really ghostly images of the city. I’ll have that for SPX and hopefully I’m going to have a “Making of The End of the Fucking World” zine. I just got some new colors for my printer so it’s an excuse for me to play with color. [Laughs] I’m going to put together a zine with stuff from my sketchbook and some drawings and an interview with me done by Brandon Soderbergh.
And the monthly barrage of minicomics coming. It feels like I’ve been playing catch up lately and SPX is coming so I’ve been working a lot the last few days. I don’t really plan out that far in advance. Luckily I have a lot of minicomics ready to go. I’m always getting new issues from the artists so I have ten or fifteen books ready to go at any time. I’m thinking of changing what I do either scaling back or moving to different formats. Just because I feel like I said it’s taking over a little bit and I want to focus more on my own comics, but we’ll see.
What about your own work? What are you working on now?
I started “Teen Creeps.” That came out last month. It’s a new serial. It’s teenagers again but the idea is, and I don’t know if I’ll follow through, it’s my “Love and Rockets.” It’s an ongoing thing I want to do for years and I’ll jump between different characters. You’ll see a character in the background and then it’ll be about them when the current story finishes. That’s my idea. I hadn’t been doing “The End of the Fucking World” for like six months and I was going a little crazy so I started something. That’s my main thing right now. I’d like to do another issue of “Snake Oil,” but I don’t have anything to share about that yet. It’s mainly just “Oily” and “Teen Creeps” right now.
The print edition of “The End of the Fucking World” is on sale now from Fantagraphics. Visit Oily Comics for more on Forsman’s publishing ventures.
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