Friday, November 22, 2013

Thirty Days of CCS #22: Chuck Forsman

I covered a couple of his minis earlier in this month's worth of features, but the arrival of Forsman's second Fantagraphics book, Celebrated Summer, certainly is worthy of another article on him. Interestingly, he had completed this book prior to starting The End of the Fucking World and Oily Comics in general. TEOTFW was in some ways a reaction to the kind of storytelling he was doing in Celebrated Summer, a book that in turn sprang from a minicomic about the lead character, Wolf.  One can see the differences between the two, as Celebrated Summer is denser in terms of the art and far more internalized in terms of its emotions. The story follows Wolf and his friend Mike as they drop acid and go on a road trip after high school ends. Unlike TEOTFW, which is all about dramatic decisions, heightened experiences and young people who go to extreme measures in an effort to escape their lives, Celebrated Summer instead focuses on quiet desperation and confusion.

It's clear that the acid trip and the road trip are a means to try to escape, to experience thrills and to take a shortcut to the kind of adventures experienced by the kind of people who inhabited the world of TEOTFW. Of course, Mike and Wolf soon realize that LSD is not a drug that lets its users run away from their fears and tensions--it only heightens them. Forsman has total control over his line and his visual vocabulary in this story, propelling the duo (drawn in that Charles Schulz/Dik Browne mode) into a psychedelic state that is as accurately drawn as anything I've read about this drug experience. It's not just warped visual perception but rather the removal of sensory filters that allow us to go about our day. That results in Mike getting lost in rapt fascination looking at a bush or Wolf staring into a mirror, following along with the visual distortions and hallucinations that occur.  When a cityscape starts to warp, Wolf wisely and fearfully advises, "Just keep driving".

Of course, the drug trip, realistically as it is portrayed, is just a backdrop for talking about the relationship between Mike and Wolf and their own frequently unstated insecurities. Wolf is a big kid taught to restrain himself, and that he is being raised soley by his grandmother undoubtedly has everything to do with his difficulty connecting to others. He alludes to when "his mother started pulling away" while giving no other details, but that quick marker tells us everything we need to know about his anxieties. Mike talks loud but has many insecurities of his own, especially regarding women and intimacy. It's not entirely clear why they're even friends, as Wolf frequently resents Mike's aggression. Dropping acid has the potential to be a powerful bonding experience, because as Forsman demonstrates your acid buddy is going through the same kind of experience and looking at the world with the same set of perceptual filters being thrown out the window. However, Forsman shows that it's also an isolating experience, as communication becomes even more difficult.

The central metaphor of the book is the circle. Wolf sees images turn into circle, inverting black and white. He talks about his thoughts running in circles. The entire experience feels self-referential, as he constantly thinks about his childhood fears looping into his adult fears. Later, he loops back to the acid experience itself, regretting the loss of time, the lack of living in the moment.  It's a plea for wanting to be able to isolate moments instead of the inevitable sense of living in a headlong, rushing stream of experience. If anything, the acid trip explodes their sense of alienation: from society in general, from each other and from their own selves.

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