Offensive racist stereotyping, rampant sexism, an abundance of rape, clichéd and disjointed storytelling and an unwieldy cast of homogenous characters of which to keep track – what’s not to love about this 1940s noir in graphic novel form?
Choosing to read The Fade Out may have been a mistake. I judged this book by its intriguingly pretty cover. I clearly didn’t take the possibility of historical gender and race issues and tropes into consideration when forming my expectations. Having never read noir before, this may be par for the course.
Brubaker’s Hollywood is a sad and scummy place under the glitz-and-glamour facade. Its ruling elite are selfish, hollow alcoholics with a penchant for illicit sex, drugs and rape. It’s a Catholic priest’s fantasy with so many emotionally stunted sinners eager to offload their guilt, some of whom wealthy enough to furnish his coffers. Our main protagonist, Charlie, follows this particular pattern by attempting to lose his misery of PTSD from WWII in the bottom of many, many whiskey bottles. Trauma robbed him of his creativity to the point that he could no longer function as a screenwriter. That is until he entered into a deal with a fellow alcoholic screenwriter who’s been blacklisted from Hollywood and now ghostwriters for Charlie. Waking up in a bathtub in a stranger’s home after a bender with a thunderous hangover and no memory of the night before and stumbling out to find the lifeless body of the star actress of his movie, is how Charlie starts off The Fade Out. An intriguing beginning.
Due to its large cast, there’s a list in the opening pages. Despite this I still found it difficult to follow who I was reading about as back stories are revealed one by one. Each character reads like the same person. They’re far too similar. All women (bar one, so far) are victims to be used, abused, sold and murdered. Damsels in distress. Watching desperate-to-be-famous actresses meekly submitting to the sweaty hands of ageing, overweight Hollywood heavyweights is unsettling. But what really fired me up was the racist stereotyping of the sole black man as a ravisher of white women, both single and married, for which he’s regularly beaten. Historically, black women could go where black men couldn’t precisely because of this harmful stereotype condemning all black men for their supposedly irresistible seductive nature around white women. A step too far, in my opinion.
I’m not averse to grim situations or violent altercations. It’s the monotony of it all. An absence of contrast. Where are the eccentric and charismatic characters? We have a glut of Frank Grimeses and no Homer Simpsons to balance them out.
Concentrating on character backgrounds and returning to the business of the mystery – too rarely for my tastes – meant the unfolding story felt disjointed. I easily lost the gist of what was happening and I never really got it back again. And the inclusion of real people such as politicians and Hollywood stars – Clark Gable of Gone With the Wind fame, for example – added to the general lack of originality.
I can’t fault the quality of the illustrations, however, they do fail the Elliot Test in that they exclusively show female nudity.
Overall, The Fade Out is not something I enjoyed reading.