Tuesday, 3 June 2014

Celebrated Summer by Charles Forsman Review

“Sad bastard comics” sounds like a derogatory label but it’s not, at least not to me – I like sad bastard comics! Seth and Jason both create sad bastard comics and I love Seth and Jason’s work (I highly recommend It’s a Good Life If You Don’t Weaken by Seth, and The Left Bank Gang by Jason – melancholic but beautiful comics).

Charles Forsman’s Celebrated Summer is along the same lines of those great cartoonists’ work, exploring themes of nostalgia and loneliness as two teens, Mike and Wolf, drop acid and take an impromptu road trip… to the end of their adolescence?!

Because that’s what we’re witnessing in the comic – the end of childhood for these two teenagers as they finish high school and begin their uncertain first steps into adulthood. But we’re also seeing other things, like the end of their friendship as Mike begins moving on with his life, getting a job, spending more time with his girlfriend, and we’re also catching a glimpse into the sad life of Wolf, an overweight boy with no other friends and who lives with his grandmother.

There’s a tangible sense of vague fear, doubt and sadness in the book as the boys realise their childhoods are behind them and they don’t know, or can even imagine, what adulthood will be like for them. The acid trip is a symbolic transformation of perception in more than one way.

And while psychedelics play a part in the story, it’s not a psychedelic book at all – it’s presented in black and white rather than filled with zany colours, and, save one sequence towards the end, Forsman keeps the reader’s perspective separate from the boys’ so we’re watching them on acid but we’re not experiencing it ourselves.

Parts of the comic hit the themes a little too hard on the nose, like when a young woman propositions Mike to make out in a driving simulator booth and he can’t do it, preferring to walk away – the arcade was the background to his adolescence, now marred with grown-up pursuits he’s not fully prepared for yet. Or when Wolf morphs into a child by the end.

But for the most part Celebrated Summer shows confident and sophisticated storytelling from Forsman – the nuances in Mike and Wolf’s relationship showing the two growing apart were really well executed and convincing, and, despite the brevity of the book, you get a strong sense of character from the two boys, Wolf especially, so that they come across as believable and real.

One of the rules of sad bastard comics is to be relatively short and Forsman adheres to that with his book which comes in at a shade over 60 pages. I can understand some readers disliking it’s shortness but, as a fan of Jason’s books, most of which are 40/50-some pages in length, I can’t fault it for that – though I can understand the impulse to want more, especially when you’re just getting into the story.

Celebrated Summer is a bittersweet story of lost youth and the fragility of friendship, and a really good sad bastard comic that doesn’t wallow in self-pity or sentiment but tells its story well and in a genuine heartfelt way. But it is a sad bastard comic so y’know - miserable gits will like this; everyone else? Eh…

Celebrated Summer

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