There are a number of cartoonists working today who deal with the pathos of existence by couching it in absurdist humor. Artists like Chris Ware, Noah Van Sciver, Charles Burns, and Brandon Graham often convey the misery of their themes through the subversion of expectations that comic Comics offer. Charles Forsman is one of those cartoonists too, and Snake Oil #8 proves this.
Presenting the narrative in the confines of mostly six or nine-panel pages, and arranged using something akin to the Burroughs cut-up method, Snake Oil #8 tells the story of Daniel Strong, who played a robot in a very popular Science Fiction movie, Star Force. His character was a protocol droid named 2-T0 whose adventures in a galaxy far, far away are enjoined with his robot companion, P2.
Forsman has the good sense to write on the inside cover of this book, “Any similarity between this material and Anthony Daniels is purely coincidental. Seriously. I love Anthony Daniels. I'm sure he is a very nice man.”
Just so we're clear on that.
The simplicity of Forsman's lines against his choice of white backgrounds on almost ever page brings the reader's focus to the words in the book. Forsman's choice of conveying his chronology using a disjointed temporal sensibility also narrows that focus.
And it's kind of a brutal story. Daniel Strong's life consisted of a childhood awash in feelings of failure soaked in his father's disapproval and abandonment. Through luck he is able to land a role in which he is encased in a costume that cancels his individuality. His personality is further subsumed by a dictatorial director who demands a strict adherence to the script. After that, his life is spent living on the meager fame the film afforded him, while replaying much of his own damage when assuming the role of husband and father.
Snake Oil #8 has a quiet emotional punch that, through an active engagement, leaves the reader hollow. Forsman is not going for pity here, nor does he wish to invoke sadness. What he's attempting is to place the reader in the experience of being Daniel Strong. He seems to be getting at ideas of false fame, exploring the concepts of the masks we wear, how the damage we do to each other perpetuates, and, finally, our constant need to be validated.
It is this last idea of validation that carries with it the greatest affecting power in Snake Oil #8, and Forsman pursues this heavy weight with his still, slight hand. Who we are, Forsman seems to say, is as much a product of our failures as it is our successes, and often it takes us a lifetime to understand our own value, or lack thereof. This is the sort of big idea that is a constant in Forsman's work and one that he still seems to be trying to understand himself. Snake Oil #2 is another step in that development and is the kind of book you will return to again and again as you pursue your own self-awareness. It remains and lingers there for you.