Hüsker Dü lurks within Charles Forsman's Celebrated Summer comic
Celebrated Summer, the latest comic book from Massachusetts-based cartoonist Charles
Forsman, throws a nod to Hüsker Dü early. Etched into the background
of its first page, sagging right below a poster stuck to a bedroom wall,
the band name exists as this crusty ink stamp made in ether. It's like a
wink of the author's eye.
For Forsman the band was key to setting a mood for what was named A.V. Club's best graphic novel or comic of 2013. "I sort of did that with myself when drawing it," he says. "I'd just blast their records and chug through it. It put me at this point that I wanted to be at when making the book."
This "point" is a mental state where drudging up teenage angst and the fear of aging is easy. "I think we should drop two each," the book's first line reads. Mike and Wolf, the stars of this teenage dystopia, hash out their coming acid afternoon in this instance, and that bit of dialogue lands laced with the coming high and inevitable drop from a ball-breaking burst of reality. "Cue us up," it should say, rather. Because this story unfolds only one way.
Apart from the title, there's a case to be made for Celebrated Summer's aesthetic relation to the 1985 Hüskers song found on New Day Rising. The book shouldn't be confused for an adaptation or homage, nor does it strive to be such a thing. Like any piece of good work, it draws upon proceeding examples and pursues discourse with an elder.
The End of the Fucking World, Forsman's previous book, established his ability to display two things at once. The purposeful influence of Peanuts creator Charles Schultz in those drawings lent an inherent innocence to sinister subject matter like satanic cults, abuse and oblivion. For both the amusement and disturbance of the reader, those stray elements were allowed to flirt visibly on the page for result of unsettling juxtaposition and hints of inward trauma.
That technique is on display in Celebrated Summer -- which was produced before TEOTFW, but released after -- but toned down a notch. The connection to the song in question still remains.
There's a hectic shift in "Celebrated Summer" from blistering power chords to acoustic plucks right when the bridge arrives. A lag is present, but it's not without a seamless sense of disarray supporting the moment. That fucking flick of a storm in those seconds reveals what the song is after, and Bob Mould's penchant for adventure in the face of concrete fact lay before us in a question. "Was this your celebrated summer?"
Forsman's Celebrated Summer captures this audacity on the page, but it doesn't take full shape without the reader's judgement. When Mike and Wolf hit the beach midway way through the book, no matter what grand illusion the acid may cause them to see, there's little wonder or magic from the reader's perspective.
Wolf insists that "Shit, this is so awesome." And Mike responds with a complimentary "Yeah," but it's hard to ignore the storm-like conditions in the background. Forsman cross-hatches the sky closed with a pound or two of black smudge. It's not a beach scene set with sun, and we're never shown the horizon wafting out past the shoreline. Instead, Mike and Wolf's plain, pretending reactions conquer the panels, and the focus aims inward on these characters rather than externalize in some hyper-active set of images.
In fact, most of the drawings feel retracted, never really capitalizing on their potential majesty. Towards the comic's end, as Wolf spaces out into full-on hallucination, whatever he is seeing extends only so far, chained, instead, to a non-existent color palette. The lyric "Then the sun disintegrates between a wall of clouds" fits here. It's a similar image of limitation and rivalry where fluid line work and funky shapes lay covered in a lack of color.
Like with most popular music, there are lyrics and sound, and typically we ignore one for the other. Comic books work like this, too. Pictures and words come together for this advanced reading experience, but a reader usually tunes into only one half of the equation. You need both to see Celebrated Summer as the conflicted piece it is. Forsman's drawings are the instrumentation bouncing against the lyrical content of Mike and Wolf's plot, and each end offers a different tone.
Take the plot as an outline, and it becomes a traditional "dazed and confused" outing, glazed in wasted time and greasy hair. But enter the dismal grey of the illustrations, and it's clear this acid trip isn't all it seems. Like the structure of the song, where before the bridge all seems wondrous, loud and anticipatory, Forsman comes through with his own sullen, downtrodden acoustic lick to unsettle everything and beg his reader to question.
When I ask Forsman about this, he admits to not pursuing any of these elements "in great detail." These particulars written about here -- the nods to the song -- weren't conscious concerns on part of the cartoonist. He chased a general mood, yet nothing else. But they're in there, and I wonder whether or not it was a matter of Forsman's subconscious directing Celebrated Summer in this direction, or if this goes beyond artistic choice.
What ever it be, both the song and comic book want us to part ways with those classic textile images of summer fun and look inward where snowflakes may be caking in high piles. It's a matter of playing hope against doubt, undercutting romance for some idea of what's really occurring and mashing two mindsets into one. Mould said it best with the line "I summer where I winter at, and no one is allowed there." Forsman drew an afternoon on acid and made it small.
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