Flung Out of Space: A Review by T.S. McNeil

scenic view of nebula in space

Few have the courage for warts and all honesty, most of humanity containing aspects in our complexity that we aren’t always proud of.  A particular problem for those whose public image is part of their job. Some cultivate a ‘rebel’ image, but this is rarely organic or the whole picture, any more than those who would prefer to present themselves as entirely good. Largely striking the balance between such demonic impulses and better angels  are writer Grace Ellis and artist Hannah Templer in their graphic novel Flung Out of  Space.

Perfectly illustrated by Templar, in a style that walks the line between realistic and cartoonish, the people recognizable as such, but allowing for goofier moments, the lengthy graphic novel relates the true story of Patricia Highsmith, the author of such crime fiction classics as Strangers On A Train and The Talented Mr. Ripley

Beginning in her early years, Ellis and Templar chronicle Highsmith’s days as a staff writer for various comic book companies, going uncredited on all of her books at her insistence, thinking that comics were beneath her talents. When challenged on this, by none other than Marvel founder Stan Lee, when he was still known as Stanley Leiber, because Highsmith wrote crime novels, she replies “I don’t write crime novels. I write good novels. With criminal elements.” 

By no means a pleasant person, especially the the standards held for women at the time, Highsmith is presented more as a low-key misanthrope, not particularly fond of anyone, including herself. Except when forced to by circumstance, the only one she really seems to like is her Siamese cat Spider, rendered in adorable detail by Templar, actually stating on page 58: “You’re the only one I’ll ever love, Spider.” 

The usual assumptions come up, particularly about Highsmiths stated antisemitism, though Ellis misses the obvious in terms of context. Describing Highsmith’s beliefs as “nothing short of evil” in the author’s note, Ellis never seems to consider that Highsmith, a deeply closeted lesbian, had no less than two affairs with Jewish women, her subsequent antisemitic statements likely a deflection tactic. No one went to prison for being antisemitic, even in the 1950s, while members of the LGBTQ community often did. In the plus column, Highsmith also wrote The Price of Salt, later known as Carol, the first ‘lesbian story’ with a happy ending. Flying in the face of the laws at the time, that dictated that any stories with LGBTQ characters had to maintain ‘moral standards’ – be it one member of a lesbian relationship returning to her husband, or one or both members of a gay pairing dying at the end – Highsmith gave generations of LGBTQ readers comfort and inspiration. The latter part of Flung Out Of Space is largely dedicated to her writing the book and the struggle she went through to get it published, including compromises such as the title change and writing under a pseudonym. Ending on a high-ish note with Highsmith messing up another social interaction, even during the first glimpses of the impact the book would later have. 

Born in the far north, T.S. McNeil was attending art galleries before he could walk. Earning concurrent degrees in Art History and Political Science, he has written on Arts and Culture both in print and online since 2002, starting while still in college. He lives in a cabin in the woods with his dog, and firmly believes that Marie-Gabrielle Capet was criminally underrated.

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