Art vs. Art – Jim Thompson vs. John Fante

by Tony Shea on April 9, 2013


We usually go interdisciplinary in Art vs.Art,  musicians vs. writers,  painters vs. comedians and so on, but this week we decided to go head to head with two outstanding writers of the 20th century, Jim Thompson and John Fante.

April 7th marked the anniversary of the death of Jim Thompson, while April 8th marked the birthday of John Fante. Both men would be over 100 hundred years old by now, so it seems fitting that these centenarians should lock horns in this no holds barred literary take down.

Born within three years of each other, in 1906 and 1909 respectively, both Thompson and Fante faced hard scrabble times in the American West, shared a brass tacks writing style that relied heavily on autobiographical details, had darkly comic sensibilities, worked in Hollywood and had their works adapted for the screen, and found literary glory — but only after they were dead.

Where Thompson and Fante differ most obviously is in terms of content. Jim Thompson wrote  crime thrillers filled with dames and grifters, thugs and dolls, crooks, con men, murderers, hit men and psychos, delighting in a corrupt world of murder and vice. John Fante wrote observant slice of life novels about his family.

One of the things both men do especially well is convey the inner landscape of people, filled with weird thoughts and ideas. In Thompson’s case, many of his 31 books are written from the first person perspective of a deranged lunatic, who is a often a local town sheriff, as in the Killer Inside Me or a traveling salesman as in Hell of a Woman. John Fante, meanwhile, gave voice to the inner monologue of Arturo Bandini (and later to the inner voice of John Fante after he had dispensed with the pretense of a fictitious other) in hilarious, observant tirades as he tries to make sense of the seemingly non-sensical world around him, expressing in equal parts his contempt and his joys as he does in  The Road to Los Angeles and Ask the Dust.

Both authors had a variety of pet themes that they referenced time and time again, and a patented style from which they never really wavered,  so their entire catalogs can be seen as lifetime master works.

Who’s better? You decide. Vote below.

The Killer Inside Me

Stanley Kubrick, the famed director,  called The Killer Inside Me “probably the most chilling and believable first person story of a criminally warped mind that I have ever encountered.” The story of Lou Ford, a sociopath killer, and local town sheriff as seen through his eyes with chilling precision.

What are you going to say when you’re drowning in your own dung and they keep booting you back into it, when all the screams in hell wouldn’t be as loud as you want to scream, when you’re at the bottom of the pit and the whole world’s at the top, when it has but one face, a face without eyes or ears, and yet it watches and listens.

A Hell of a Woman

The story of a psychotic traveling salesman and an abused girl who murder her grandmother for the loot.

 It seems funny as hell, now that I look back on it. Strange, I mean. Me – a guy like me – in a bedroom with an armful of naked woman , and not even thinking about her being naked. Just thinking about her, without thinking about her nakedness. That’s the way it was, though. Exactly the way it was. I’ll swear to it on a stack of bibles.

Killer Inside Me

The Road to Los Angeles


Published after his death, the Road to Los Angeles was the first book that Fante wrote at the tender age of 24, and it is an absolutely hilarious, astonishing take down of the pretense of youth.

The callous vexations and perturbations of this night have subsequently resolved  themselves to a state which precipitates me, Arturo Bandini, into a brobdingnagian and gargantuan decision. I inform you of this in no uncertain  terms. Ergo, I now leave you and your ever charming daughter (my beloved sister  Mona) and seek the fabulous usufructs of my incipient career in profound  solitude. Which is to say, tonight I depart for the metropolis to the east — our  own Los Angeles, the city of angels.

Ask The Dust
Ask the Dust CoverSet in the life of the 1930’s in downtown Los Angeles, Ask the Dust is regarded as a classic and is taught in universities, the story of Auturo Bandini the struggling writer who dreams of greatness and the Mexican waitress with whom he falls in love.

Then a great deal of time passed as I stood in front of a pipe shop and looked, and the whole world faded except that window and I stood and smoked them all, and saw myself a great author with that natty Italian briar, and a cane, stepping out of a big black car, and she was there too, proud as hell of me, the lady in the silver fox fur.

Ask the Dust


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Tony Shea ( Editor-in-Chief, New York)

Tony Shea is based in New York, having recently moved from Los Angeles after more than a decade on the sunny coast. His short films have won numerous awards and screened at major festivals around the world including Comic-Con. As a musician, he is the lead singer for Los Angeles rock n’ roll band Candygram For Mongo (C4M) who has been a featured artist on Clear Channel Radio’s Discover New Music Program and whose songs have been heard on Battlestar Gallactica (Syfy Channel) and Unhitched (Fox) among other shows and films.

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