By Zack Quaintance — In Fearscape #3, writer Ryan O’Sullivan and artist Andrea Mutti’s meta exploration of the darkness inherent to an unsuccessful creative life gets...even darker. Now deep into its story, Fearscape continues to be a comic entirely unafraid of darkness, intent to use its clever pseudo-New Yorker literary fictive voice to unpack the worst sort of artistic impulses. This combination of fearlessness and form is making for a compelling (and intensely singular) comic, one bent on examining why such feelings (as well as the actions they give rise to) occur, what they mean, and the damaging potential they can have on one’s life and morality.
This third issue opens with some of the delusion that has been present throughout. It starts with what seems like a writer’s fantasy—finding a novel finished, exactly as you would have written it, without you having to do any of the actual work. But not so fast. It’s obviously not that easy (nothing is in Fearscape). The found book is not the work of our hero, Henry Henry, but of the bed-bound mentor whose home he essentially burglarized in the first issue before being swept into the mythical realm of the Fearscape. Henry Henry is not finding a book he wrote without remembering; Henry Henry is stealing whole a finished novel from a sick mentor. For shame!
Much of the rest of the issue is spent elucidating the mindstate of a plagiarist. What’s most impressive to me about Fearscape #3, though, is how it shows rather than tells (that old creative writing canard) a set of feelings that are incredibly personal. O’Sullivan continues to play with form for a third straight issue as he does this, putting rectangular narration boxes over the traditionally round word balloons during a mental episode, which creates a writer’s fantasy of what the hero wants to hear versus what’s really being said. It’s used with great effect to convey how someone as delusionally ego-driven as Henry Henry can justify plagiarism, altering the reality around himself to be comfortable with artistic theft in a way that feels heroic, at least to him, anyway.
Other familiar writerly feelings found in this issue include: the ennui (a very Henry Henry word, btw) of publishing fiction and finding out it’s not the cure to whatever ails you, finding that no one else understands your special interiority, and wanting in alternate turns to embrace and disavow the muse that motivates you to write (to say any more about this last one would give away the climax of this issue).
Fearscape had one of my favorite debut issues this year (if not my very favorite), and little has been lost as this story has proceeded. I am admittedly very much the target audience for this—a comic book reader/author of short fiction who has published here and there but not put out a full collection—yet I’m sure this story has quite a bit to offer anyone who has ever contemplated any sort of career in the arts, especially when its full scope becomes visible at its conclusion. I am, however, now ready for ol’ Henry Henry to either start some kind of growth, or to hit rock bottom. I’m just not sure how much more of his continued descent into delusional awfulness I can take (which is something I’ve said more than a few times about our current president—rim shot—thank you, thank you).
Overall: A literary comic about what it feels like to be a struggling artist, Fearscape continues its descent into delusional frustration, doing so with a clever narrative voice and some visual tricks that convey a mindstate in ways only comics can. This is a must-read book for anyone who has contemplated the art life. 8.8/10
Writer: Ryan O’Sullivan
Artist: Andrea Mutti
Colorist: Vladimir Popov
Lettering: Andworld Design
Publisher: Vault Comics
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Zack Quaintance is a tech reporter by day and freelance writer by night/weekend. He Tweets compulsively about storytelling and comics as BatmansBookcase.