There’s an unfortunate yikes factor to Flung Out of Space. The graphic novel recounts author Patricia Highsmith’s early 1950s experiences as comic book writer turned famous mystery author who just happens to be gay at a time, as dudes love reminding her, it’s a crime. Unfortunately, Highsmith was also a bigot. And the way Flung shows it is to have her make Jewish jokes about people all the time, including Stan Lee. If there’s a way to do a rousing biography about bigot… writer Grace Ellis sure didn’t find it here. There are fewer bigot one-liners from Highsmith in the second half, which helps, but I can’t believe this way of dealing with it was the best anyone could’ve come up with.
Especially since the author’s note talks at length about the decision to include the one-liners. And, more problematically, says the comic’s not going to treat Highsmith as a hero.
I mean, maybe not as a hero hero, but definitely an anti-hero.
It’s a mostly exceptionally well-done comic. Artist Hannah Templer does outstanding work. There are numerous excellent sequences with great visual pacing. Ellis wraps the whole thing up with a nice echoing device—Highsmith’s character motivation until she publishes Strangers on a Train is to therapy herself out of being gay, so the comic’s about her arc towards not trying to pretend to be straight. Along the way, she has a great romance, talks shit about comics a lot, and becomes a renowned American author (who apparently didn’t like Hitchcock very much for some reason).
Ellis skips over whatever Highsmith’s problem was with Hitchcock—it’s a one-liner—along with various other seemingly pertinent events (or at least dramatic ones) to do a star-crossed romance montage. Highsmith’s second novel is a lesbian love story inspired by her experiences with a woman from her group therapy, and the whole experience is profoundly affecting.
Especially since there aren’t any more bigot one-liners. It’s unclear why they stop too. More pleasant, but not more factual (the author’s note alludes to Highsmith’s racism, but there aren’t any Black people in the story, so… again, whatever the way to do a bigot bio, Flung ain’t it).
Flung does take a lot of shortcuts. There are no real examples of Highsmith’s writing—we’re just supposed to take conventional wisdom’s word for it. Whenever she’s writing Train, Templer inserts these visual asides, splitting the page between the real world and her imagination. It comes back later with daydreams and actual dream sequences. The daydreams tend to be effective, the actual dream sequences not so much.
There is good dialogue from Ellis, some great cat jokes, and excellent art from Templer. Flung ought to be a no-brainer to recommend, but it comes with a bunch of caveats. First, the bigotry lesson: if you just ignore someone’s bigotry enough, it’s Jim-dandy. And then, the whole “comics suck, and people who read them are losers” message of this… comic book. It’s a tricky proposition, and Flung’s technically outstanding.