I was looking forward to this old school Hollywood noir in graphic novel format, but this book just pissed me off on a few different levels. The premise, a writer with PTSD and writer’s block wakes up next to a dead starlet who just happens to be starring in his movie, was so great. There are fascinating characters: the blackballed writer who just can’t deal, the smart-as-a-whip publicity girl, a hulking and somewhat shady security guy, a head over heels in love movie exec, and an up and coming actress just trying to get her name out there. Shadiness, secrets, and plot twists abound. Unfortunately, The Fade Out fails to live up to its premise.
The first failure is in the writing. There are too many characters and plot threads introduced at once. It’s near impossible to follow everything that’s going on without constantly reading back a few pages to get context. This confusion wouldn’t be so bad if not for the second failure.
The second failure: the artwork. Don’t get me wrong, Sean Phillips is a talented artist, but he failed when it came to the artwork’s main job, clarity. When your characters look different from one page to the next, that’s a huge problem, especially when there’s a large cast of characters. It’s already bad enough that most of the characters are middle-aged white guys in suits. But when you’re not sure which character is talking to which character because they keep morphing… yikes.
And then there’s the tiny issue of this book treating the women as objects. Like, you started this narrative by fridging a woman, maybe you should take it easy for a while? But instead, Brubaker and Phillips double down. I’m not against nudity, but when all of your nudity is female nudity? I’m going to call that what it is, sexist. Hey, I get it, people have sex, except that usually when people have sex, men get naked too. So maybe instead of only drawing perfect pert boob after perfect pert boob, you should add some bare-chested men or even a little booty action. I could see an argument being made that since this story takes place in the early days of Hollywood, it’s only accurate to depict the sexism in that culture. The problem with that argument is that you can tell the story of sexism without doubling down on sexism in the way you’re telling the story.