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In 'The Complete Works of Fante Bukowski', a terrible writer explores real artistic anxieties

Comic Books

In ‘The Complete Works of Fante Bukowski’, a terrible writer explores real artistic anxieties

An Idiot Hero pokes fun at—and low-key sings the praises of—the truly foolish artistic pursuits.

The writer in fiction—and there are, frankly, a lot of them—exists as equal parts self-aggrandizement and self-flagellation. In the former, the real-world writer attempts, somehow, to make the medium seem holy, a just cause at which our writer avatar is bent; in the latter, the real-world writer sets down and then turns up every bad facet about themselves (or writers they know or have read) so that the writer avatar becomes a wretched, malformed monster, a gin-soaked ghoul lustfully shambling after potential, too-young lovers while willfully screwing over their peers and committing crimes both major and minor.

Almost all writers in fiction are, for whatever reason, incapable of writing. This means, paradoxically, that they are no writer after all.

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Fante Bukowski is a sort of bumbling amalgamation of both types of writer-in-fiction. Truly egocentric, an idealist, and insufferably bad at his craft, Fante attempts to brow-beat those critical of his work, Jack Kerouac-style. Like at least half of your Intro to Creative Writing workshop in college, he has internalized all the wrong parts of the wrong books. He is, in the first half of the first volume collected in The Complete Works, almost entirely (but hilariously) irredeemable.

The Complete Works of Fante Bukowski
To quote Isaac Brock, “Who would want to be such an @$$hole?”
Fantagraphics

As we move forward in the book, he never quite gets better at writing, his self-importance, or his consistently one-sided relationships, but he does eventually become more likable. This isn’t through a lot of earnest growth so much as a clear growing affection cartoonist Noah Van Sciver has for the character. The cold, short-sighted lampooning of the writer archetype begins to falter, and fractures of a sweeter soul begin to shine through; Fante’s desire for a writing career might be misguided, but he isn’t exactly a bad guy. He’s just not very smart.

The Complete Works of Fante Bukowski
Real Peantus vibes.
Fantagraphics

With the growing intimacy of Fante, The Complete Works also grows in emotional scope. A failed romance leaves Fante regretful but not hateful. An ill-advised journey leads him to a new city, filled with slow-coming but real friendships and artistic breakthroughs (which, of course, don’t quite pan out). By the end of the trilogy, we have come to know Fante in a way that makes us care for him, in all his toxic ways, due to the truly honest human moments he bumbles through.

There’s something that truly elevates the book, and that’s Van Sciver’s understanding that writing—as with all artistic craft—is real, laborious work. The joy of Fante’s suffering is that he almost adamantly refuses to put in that work, but we spend a good portion of the second book following Audrey Catron, the woman with which Fante shared that brief romance. She’s finished her novel since we saw her last, and she finds herself facing all the very hard truths of being a successful writer—second book syndrome, the gladhanding by critics and peers, and the parallel lack of respect from non-writers who expect something from her.

The Complete Works of Fante Bukowski
On a personal note, your reviewer is currently owed around two-hundred bucks by a few writing gigs from almost a decade ago. Clearly no hard feelings.
Fantagraphics

By the end of the book, Van Sciver has illustrated the woes of a handful of artists from a variety of mediums and levels of success, including his own. Inserting a version of himself on the ghoulish side of avatars, the Van Sciver of Fante Bukowski struggles in anonymity despite the publication of his previous graphic novel. He is equally jealous and deeply desperate in work and love, prone to the waves of artistic mood swing; as the authorial voice runs in the deep background, the cartoon Van Sciver’s presence both compounds and confirms the silly emotional frivolity of his peers and their careers.

The Complete Works of Fante Bukowski
Honestly, though, if you could mention my name to your agent, too. . .
Fantagraphics

Art is a struggle, his presence seems to affirm, and all of us are idiots thinking we can survive it.

The Complete Works of Fante Bukowski
Fantagraphics

In total, The Complete Works of Fante Bukowski is less the condemnation of the type of writer for whom Fante is a caricature and more a manifesto of artistic anxieties filtered through long-form gag strips. It’s a book that successfully uses an Idiot Hero to poke fun at—and low-key sing the praises of—the truly foolish artistic pursuits.

In 'The Complete Works of Fante Bukowski', a terrible writer explores real artistic anxieties
In ‘The Complete Works of Fante Bukowski’, a terrible writer explores real artistic anxieties
The Complete Works of Fante Bukowski
Though it starts in caricature, The Complete Works of Fante Bukowski becomes a semi-earnest lampoon of artistic growth.
Reader Rating0 Votes
0
Funny and insightful.
Noah Van Sciver's work feels like a fresh take on classic cartooning.
Punchlines of the 'gag strip' style feel outdated.
Occasionally ham-fisted.
8
Good
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