The Last Web Comic I Loved: Forming by Jesse Moynihan


As a fiction writer, I sometimes get jealous of the storytelling freedom in comics.

With prose writing, everyone seems determined to fit stories into predefined boxes. A work must be “literary” or it must be “genre,” it must be “science fiction” or it must be “fantasy,” it must be “serious” or it must be “comedy,” etc. The boundaries of various genres get argued with the same passion and vitriol found in political debates.

However, people don’t seem as concerned with boxing in comic works. Perhaps this is because readers still do not take comics as seriously as “literature.” Perhaps it is because the artform is new enough that it hasn’t been codified and drained of blood by academics. Perhaps it is because the visuals literalize the action and trick you into accepting any direction the narrative goes in. Whatever the case, some of the most unique fictional narratives are being written (and drawn) by comic artists such as Michael DeForge, Lisa Hanawalt, and Daniel Clowes.

Serapis saved by a stranger

This brings me to Jesse Moynihan’s brilliant science-fiction-soap-opera-comedy-cum-action adventure-mythological-origin-story, Forming. I started reading Forming at midnight when I needed to wake up early the next day. I told myself I’d just read the first few pages and get to bed. Then I told myself, well, I’d read the first 20. Then just an even 50. Then 75. 100. A few hours later, I’d read the entire thing.

Forming begins with an alien named Mithras (named after a Zoroastrian deity) traveling to ancient Atlantis to start a mining operation. Mithras, thanks to his advanced alien technology, is taken for a god by the early humans. His operation is going well until he falls for the earth woman Gaia. Gaia—acting on directions from the gnome king Ghob—sleeps with Mithras and gives birth to the Titans and Cyclopses of Greek mythology. These children soon revolt against their alien father.

And this is only a fraction of a story that also includes intergalactic transgender assassins, a time travelling struggling artist, a skeezy hippie version of Noah, the proletariat struggles of giants, and Lucifer unwittingly forming the world during a sword battle with the Archangel Michael.

Noah meets his creator

Forming is all over the place, but Moynihan ties everything together with gorgeous full-color art and subtle yet wicked humor. The story combines bits of mythology from a dozen civilizations with Moynihan’s own inventions. Forming’s expansive narrative vision is mirrored in its writing and illustration. Dialogue alternates between philosophical meditations on existence and juvenile insults. Characters dressed in t-shirts and athletic shorts stand beside aliens in bondage costumes. And yet it all works, and combines into one of the most exciting stories I’ve read in any genre.

Forming is serialized each Thursday on Moynihan’s personal website. There are currently 144 installments. In addition, the first part of the story was published by NoBrow Press in gorgeous book form. Read it here.

Arges talks with Lucifer via a disembodied head

Lincoln Michel‘s fiction has appeared in Granta, Oxford American, Tin House, NOON, Pushcart Prize anthology, and elsewhere. His essays and criticism have appeared in the New York Times, The Believer, Bookforum, Buzzfeed, VICE, the Paris Review Daily, and elsewhere. He is the former editor-in-chief of Electric Literature and a founding editor of Gigantic. He is the co-editor of Gigantic Worlds, an anthology of science flash fiction, and Tiny Crimes, an anthology of flash noir. His debut story collection, Upright Beasts, was published by Coffee House Press in 2015. He teaches fiction writing at Sarah Lawrence College. He was born in Virginia and lives in Brooklyn. He tweets at @thelincoln. More from this author →