It’s been a year - nearly to the day - since the official launch of Vertigo Crime, and it’s been interesting to say the least. While most of the output has been quality, a few titles have faltered here and there. But a year out, despite it’s successes or failures through a wide range of genres, Vertigo Crime has finally delivered the new evolution of these little digest-sized jewels in the form of Andersen Gabrych and Brad Rader’s Fogtown.
The story follows Frank Grissel, who is best summarized on the book’s back cover: “a tough-talking, hard-drinking, womanizing private dick who’s seen it all and done it all...twice”. When hookers start disappearing off the streets in 1950’s San Francisco, and it ties into a case Grissel’s been working on, he finds himself embroiled in a nice mix of violence, double crosses, and sex. While the plot has that classic crime setup and is engaging enough, it’s everything between the lines that makes Fogtown a worthwhile read.
Fogtown isn’t a perfect book by any means, nor is it my favorite of the Vertigo Crime line, but it’s a solid tale that explores a territory previously unknown within Vertigo’s Crime imprint: homosexuality. Yes, Fogtown is about a lot more than sexual identity, but it’s Gabrych’s unfaltering willingness to be graphically blunt throughout the book that makes it so effective. The truthful sexuality that Fogtown presents separates it from the rest of the Vertigo Crime pack, introducing the first societal issue that these stories have covered in a legitimate way. Up until this point, the Crime line has been centered on characters, their emotions, and the messed up plots to destroy their lives. Fogtown diverges from this formula, delivering not only compelling characters but also social relevancy.
In fact, sexuality isn’t the only topic Gabrych tackles here. It is the most successful portrayal, and clearly the hot-button issue that he has the most to say about. There are parts of Fogtown that don’t work quite as well. The relationship between the closeted Grissel and his secretary/sometimes girlfriend isn’t quite as effective as it could be, do in part to the extreme cliches that Gabrych pulls out during their scenes together. Accusations of cheating, regurgitation of past wrongs, angry sex - it’s all there. It comes off as a genre send-up instead of staying in line with the serious tone that the rest of Fogtown establishes, and lacks the special subtlety that Gabrych puts into building every other relationship in the book.
Brad Rader’s artwork is interesting, nailing the time period by giving Grissel a rather Cary Grant-esque mug and making sure that most of the hair styles, clothing, and interior designs were in keeping with the 1950s. Rader goes stride for stride with Gabrych in presenting everything with no holds barred. His layouts are kept simple; there’s absolutely nothing fancy here, not even in terms of inking or style. Rader keeps the reader’s focus on the characters and their emotions rather than his suave style, something many of the other Vertigo Crime books have suffered from.
Fogtown is bold in its storytelling, an effort that is perhaps partially successful due to the story’s content in relation to its setting in the sterile 1950s. It’s set forth a new expectation of Vertigo Crime, at least for me. Simple noir revenge tales can no longer satisfying, not when I’ve tasted the potential for how much more a line like Vertigo Crime could bring to the genre.