In this follow-up to his acclaimed The End of the Fucking World (a/k/a TEOTFW), Charles Forsman introduces us to a new pair of alienated, apathetic teenagers, Mike and Wolf. Wolf, an awkward, taciturn lump of a boy with a Mohawk who lives with his grandmother, has just graduated from high school and is quietly freaked about what’s next. Mike – lean, lank-haired and a bit older – is more established and outwardly sure of himself. At the outset of the story, the boys drop acid and, like Fucking World’s James and Alyssa, take to the road, heading no place in particular. Thus begins their “celebrated summer,” a reference to the Hüsker Dü song that gives the story its name: “It’s back to summer, back to basics, hang around.”
Rather than finding the life-changing transcendence or groovy adventure depicted in acid trips of movies and other popular media, the boys – particularly Wolf – turn inward. Their ambivalence towards each other and their lives fuels the narrative. Celebrated Summer is a quiet, funny-sad character study in which what isn’t said speaks volumes; its broader subject is the liminal state of teenagers standing uneasily on the cusp of adulthood and responsibility, anxious or just plain numb at the prospect of leaving the “carefree” days of childhood behind forever.
The boys start out with the usual Let’s-Get-High shenanigans: burping out the ABC’s to each other, staring at candy bars and snacks at a gas station, smoking cigs, tooling around aimlessly, first anticipating then experiencing LSD-distorted visual/sensory information. Underneath the teenaged hi-jinx is a growing sense of quiet desperation, an endless circularity in their supposedly lighthearted excursion. When they stop at a beachside arcade Wolf becomes hypnotized and finally lost in the digital activity of a video game, watching as everything on the screen eventually becomes a perfect beckoning zero, no end and no beginning, his face superimposed – trapped – within. Wolf is uncomfortable even in his own body – at several points during their outing he attempts to urinate and finds he can’t: “It’s like I just forgot how to do it.” Later, on the drive back home, Mike says, “I kinda feel like we are going in a giant circle… I just can’t make out which way we are going.” He further observes: “I swear we’ve driven by that donut shop like four times.” While seemingly more outgoing and confident, Mike may intuit on some level the possibility that his current life trajectory is circular, donut-shaped. And it’s also quite possible that he doesn’t particularly care. If Wolf is shaped by fear of an unknown future and longing for an ineffable past, Mike is apathetic, working at a dead-end fast food job, listless in his relationships. He appears to be a more benign version of sociopath James in Fucking World. While he may care for Wolf as a friend, he’s only occasionally supportive, at times dismissive, irritable, or derisive. He has a girlfriend who he views as little more than an appendage, an inconvenience: “I’m feeling more like her dealer and less like her boyfriend…I’ll probably break up with her when we get back. Whatever.” When an aggressive girl comes on to him at the arcade, Mike, unnerved, not in control of the situation, beats a hasty retreat. Later on the next day, when the two meet up again, Wolf ruminates, “That was a pretty weird night. I think I can still feel it,” while Mike remains business as usual: “Eh. Don’t worry. It’ll wear off.”
Author/creator Charles Forsman has an impressive resume. An alumnus of the Center for Cartoon Studies in White River Junction, Vermont, he also presides over the micropublishing outfit Oily Comics, which feels like the eye of the needle of the current excitingly fertile mini comics scene. Like fellow cartoonist Box Brown, he has an innate understanding of teenage misfits and malcontents – though his protagonists, unlike Brown’s, seem to hold out little hope of spiritual redemption. Even without a lot of backstory, cynical Mike and haunted Wolf are fully believable and even relatable, if deeply flawed, teenage boys. Forsman’s elegantly minimal art has aptly been compared to that of Charles Schulz (and to Dik Browne’s Hi and Lois). Here it feels like homage: the lonely ache Wolf expresses could easily come from an older, more alt-comics version of Charlie Brown himself. When Wolf sees his face within the video game circle, we readers clearly see more than a trace of Schultz’s famously “round-headed kid.” Celebrated Summer is an affecting demonstration of the famous adage “Youth is wasted on the young.” But here, the reader is left with the disconcerting thought that Mike and Wolf may well waste far more than that. It’s a simply told but resonant slice of all-too-real life.