PopMatters is moving to WordPress. We will publish a few essays daily while we develop the new site. We hope the beta will be up sometime late next week.
Books

Graphic Fiction Collaboration 'Hobo Mom' Merges Artistic DNA

Charles Forsman and Max de Radiguès' graphic fiction collaboration, Hobo Mom, is successful both in its minimalistic visual approach and its realistic treatment of the emotional dynamics of an estranged but well-intentioned family.

Hobo Mom
Charles Forsman, Max de Radiguès

Fantagraphics

Jan 2019

Other

Sales of Charles Forsman's 2013 End of the Fxxxing World spiked in 2018 with the Netflix release of the eight-episode British adaptation. Originally serialized in French, Max de Radiguès's Moose (Conundrum Press) premiered in the US in 2014, followed last year by Bastard (Fantagraphics). Where Forsman draws two teen runaways, Radiguès focuses first on a bullied teen and then a mother and young son running from the law. Their collaboration, Hobo Mom, takes a few of those elements and scrambles them into the tale of an absent mother returning to her estranged husband and a daughter who doesn't know her in the hopes of forming a new family. In terms of both subject matter and style, it's difficult to imagine two comics artists better suited to work together.

While I'm curious how the authors evolved their story content, the idiosyncratic back and forth of conceiving characters and developing situation and plot, I correctly assumed that the finished pages would effectively erase that dimension of their collaboration. As with any comic, if the two worked from a script, no hint of it remains. But I was surprised at how seamlessly the pages merge and so disguise the artistic process. While collaboration is standard in comics, scripter/artist combinations are more typical, and when two artists collaborate, one is often the penciler and so the primary visual storyteller laying out pages and panel content for an inker to finish. An exception is the 1988 Havok and Wolverine: Meltdown mini-series, where painters Jon J. Muth and Kent Williams divided not only pages but areas of panels, inserting their distinctively drawn primary characters into the other artist's visual environment.

Opening Hobo Mom, I expected a similar distinction, with the marks of each artist clearly defined at the page and pen levels. The graphic novel instead presents artwork so unified it could have been created by a single author. The success of the merged style is due in part to the artists' already similar tendencies. Both work in black and white, with simple, clean lines and virtually no cross-hatching. Their settings are minimal and their figures largely naturalistically proportioned, and while facial features obey cartoonish conventions of exaggeration, the degree is relatively slight. But it's those distortions that identify each artist: the wide, round jawline of Forsman's father, the small, triangle nose of Radiguès's mother. Appropriately, the features of the daughter are more difficult to differentiate, as if the two artists, like their stand-in parents, have merged at the DNA-level of the line.

Layouts are equally merged, with a range of constantly varying rectangles, sometimes gridded in 3x2 or 4x2, other times in uniform rows of shifting panel counts, often with sizing accents on images enlarged by merging panels within an implied grid. Because the frames and internal figures share the same line quality, with the sparse whiteness of a background identical to the white of the margins and gutters, the shifting layouts not only shape the story content but take on a visual significance of their own. The authors occasionally add blocks of black, usually in night scenes or to distinguish objects, plus the slight color effect of hazy pink Benday dots to define shadows. But rather than adding richness to the images, the minimal techniques emphasize the starkness of the artwork.

(courtesy of Fantagraphics)

The artists also treat pages as the primary units of composition, ending scenes on final page panels and giving the overall book a visual rhythm synchronized to page turns and the gutter of the book spine. When, for example, the daughter spends two pages feeding her pet rabbit, the scene ends on an enlarged panel revealing that she has climbed inside the enclosure, the angled grid of the fencing evoking the gridded frames of the layout in a way that indirectly suggests why the mother left in the first place. The facing page expands that visual suggestion with a full-page image of a train in an open landscape. A later scene change employs a similar leap, with a 3x2 page of the parents arguing over whether the mother can stay followed by a full-page of the family seated at dinner. After two two-page spreads of night-darkened interior panels culminating in a one-panel sex scene, the page turn marks a scene leap to the next day, with the mother and daughter outside in a white-dominated landscape.

While there are no formal chapters, a visual motif of a full-page panel with a single inset further punctuates the novel, producing an additional rhythm that culminates in a mother-daughter pairing near the climax. While the novel is largely dialogue-driven with no narrating text, later page sequences switch to a purely visual approach that expands the emotional tension through images of silently content mother-daughter interactions in natural landscapes and the brooding father alone in his truck with visions of his wife. The most ambitious page in the novel pairs a close-up of his face with a contextless nude of the mother. Because the face consists of two black circles for eyes and a continuous squiggle of a line to form nose and mustache, the close-up pushes style into nearly pure abstraction—intensified by the naturalistic shape of the more distant nude and its hair-obscured face. For a moment I forgot I was reading a novel and not poring over a concept-rich graphic design.

While the novel is successful both in its minimalistic visual approach and its realistic treatment of the emotional dynamics of an estranged but well-intentioned family, I still question the premise of its high-concept title. Since the word "hobo" evokes Depression-era homeless men hopping rides on agricultural trains, I assumed this contemporary story would use it only metaphorically, the phrase "hobo mom" evoking the title character's inability to remain in the rabbit cage of traditional motherhood. But, in fact, no, the mother's opening scene is literally set on a train, in one of those inexplicably empty cars with a sliding side door ubiquitous in film lore. She also faces a would-be rapist who tears open her shirt to expose her cartoon breasts before she manages to shove him out into a dust heap beside the rails. The burly rapist is apparently a "hobo" too, imported from the same bin of clichés, making any metaphorical or thematic reading of the word and its reflection on the mother's character difficult.

Here I suspect Radiguès, who lives in Brussels, may be the primary hand at work, since the Depression-era tropes are reminiscent of westerns written by European authors who preserve their own pseudo-version of US historical fiction in an even more distorted form. But who knows? Perhaps Forsman, who lives in Massachusetts, has an interest in hobos.

Happily, this one too-literal scene only briefly mars an otherwise warmly intelligent drama as the returned mother tries to make amends and reintegrate into a lifestyle that continues to grate against her wandering impulses. Since her husband is a locksmith who drives a truck adorned with the wordless logo of an antique key, and the daughter plays on a swing made from a tire tied to a tree branch, readers can probably sense the plot trajectory of those metaphors, but the pleasure is in the author's dual execution.

8

Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology and hosting provider that we have less than a month, until November 6, to move PopMatters off their service or we will be shut down. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to save the site.


Music

Books

Film

Recent
Film

The 13 Greatest Horror Directors of All Time

In honor of Halloween, here are 13 fascinating fright mavens who've made scary movies that much more meaningful.

Music

British Jazz and Soul Artists Interpret the Classics on '​Blue Note Re:imagined'

Blue Note Re:imagined provides an entrance for new audiences to hear what's going on in British jazz today as well as to go back to the past and enjoy old glories.

Film

Bill Murray and Rashida Jones Add Another Shot to 'On the Rocks'

Sofia Coppola's domestic malaise comedy On the Rocks doesn't drown in its sorrows -- it simply pours another round, to which we raise our glass.

Music

​Patrick Cowley Remade Funk and Disco on 'Some Funkettes'

Patrick Cowley's Some Funkettes sports instrumental renditions from between 1975-1977 of songs previously made popular by Donna Summer, Herbie Hancock, the Temptations, and others.

Music

The Top 10 Definitive Breakup Albums

When you feel bombarded with overpriced consumerism disguised as love, here are ten albums that look at love's hangover.

Music

Dustin Laurenzi's Natural Language Digs Deep Into the Jazz Quartet Format with 'A Time and a Place'

Restless tenor saxophonist Dustin Laurenzi runs his four-piece combo through some thrilling jazz excursions on a fascinating new album, A Time and a Place.

Television

How 'Watchmen' and 'The Boys' Deconstruct American Fascism

Superhero media has a history of critiquing the dark side of power, hero worship, and vigilantism, but none have done so as radically as Watchmen and The Boys.

Music

Floodlights' 'From a View' Is Classicist Antipodal Indie Guitar Pop

Aussie indie rockers, Floodlights' debut From a View is a very cleanly, crisply-produced and mixed collection of shambolic, do-it-yourself indie guitar music.

Music

CF Watkins Embraces a Cool, Sophisticated Twang on 'Babygirl'

CF Watkins has pulled off the unique trick of creating an album that is imbued with the warmth of the American South as well as the urban sophistication of New York.

Music

Helena Deland Suggests Imagination Is More Rewarding Than Reality on 'Something New'

Canadian singer-songwriter Helena Deland's first full-length release Someone New reveals her considerable creative talents.

Music

While the Sun Shines: An Interview with Composer Joe Wong

Joe Wong, the composer behind Netflix's Russian Doll and Master of None, articulates personal grief and grappling with artistic fulfillment into a sweeping debut album.

Music

Peter Frampton Asks "Do You Feel Like I Do?" in Rock-Solid Book on Storied Career

British rocker Peter Frampton grew up fast before reaching meteoric heights with Frampton Comes Alive! Now the 70-year-old Grammy-winning artist facing a degenerative muscle condition looks back on his life in his new memoir and this revealing interview.

Books

Bishakh Som's 'Spellbound' Is an Innovative Take on the Graphic Memoir

Bishakh's Som's graphic memoir, Spellbound, serves as a reminder that trans memoirs need not hinge on transition narratives, or at least not on the ones we are used to seeing.

Music

Gamblers' Michael McManus Discusses Religion, Addiction, and the Importance of Writing Open-Ended Songs

Seductively approachable, Gamblers' sunny sound masks the tragedy and despair that populate the band's debut album.

Books

Peter Guralnick's 'Looking to Get Lost' Is an Ode to the Pleasures of Writing About Music

Peter Guralnick's homage to writing about music, 'Looking to Get Lost', shows how good music writing gets the music into the readers' head.

Film

In Praise of the Artifice in George Cukor's 'Sylvia Scarlett'

George Cukor's gender-bending Sylvia Scarlett proposes a heroine who learns nothing from her cross-gendered ordeal.

Music

The Cure: Ranking the Albums From 13 to 1

Just about every Cure album is worth picking up, and even those ranked lowest boast worthwhile moments. Here are their albums, spanning 29 years, presented from worst to best.

Television

The 20 Best Episodes of 'Star Trek: The Original Series'

This is a timeless list of 20 thrilling Star Trek episodes that delight, excite, and entertain, all the while exploring the deepest aspects of the human condition and questioning our place in the universe.


Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.