Hanging out with a friend. Driving around with no real destination. Getting high just to get high. Experiencing the city and people in it who come out at night. Thinking that there has to be something better coming up but not really wanting today to end. Video games and cops. Wanting some future salvation but not knowing where to find it or even if it could truly exist.
Charles Forsman’s Celebrated Summer is a snapshot. Not of an image but of experiences and fears. Reading the book is like looking through an old photo album as you fondly remember the times, places and people in those photos. It’s not so much the actual image itself that triggers something in you but the memories of everything going on around those images. The photo is just a catalyst that floods your mind with memories and thoughts.
There are many things in Celebrated Summer than can act as those kinds of catalysts. Cassette tapes and arcade video games and driving around in crappy hatchbacks and wearing bandanas as scarfs in the middle of the summer. These things were all cool at one time or another and the way that Forsman draws them triggers those recollections until you remember that the cars were crap and the cassettes always got caught in the tape players and the never ending nights really just never ended and never brought on a new and fresh tomorrow.
There isn’t so much a story in this book. It’s more that Forsman places you into that teenage uncertainty of the world around you. Wolf and Mike, the two buddies hanging out for a night, allow us to project their experiences onto our own. Like his TEOTFW, Forsman’s simple, cartoon-like style of drawing people creates the perfect opportunity for us to see these characters as innocent yet jaded. Forsman has an uncanny way of creating characters we want to protect from the world. Wolf is a large, simple boy and the world is an equally large but cruel place for him. As he’s playing an arcade game, the LSD he’s taken kicks in and the game becomes like the point in 2001 where Dave Bowman’s senses become more than sight, sound, touch, taste and smell. The world becomes color (even though this is a black and white book) and shapes as the video game becomes a gateway into some other existence. Everything becomes a sensory experience, much more kinder and gentler than the world really is.
Whether it’s the LSD or just the world that these characters live in, Forsman stretches out the moments of Wolf and Mike’s lives. Celebrated Summer doesn’t feel any need to rush through this night so that gives Forsman the chance to linger in these characters’ heads for a bit and to show us how they are experiencing everything around them. As they drive down the highway, time stops as the rigid and static buildings become these wavy and living creatures in the distance. The video games become a journey into another universe. Even flowers grow and bloom right before their eyes. In one night the universe changes and becomes something new and exciting. Of course by the morning, everything is back as it should be but Forsman forces us to confront the strangeness and beauty of both the seen and unseen world.
Reality seems simultaineously so open and closed to these two young men. There is the sense of discovery as the LSD and the night gives them a new perception of the everyday but then Forsman also shows us the morning after and the times after that celebrated summer night. The characters may have had everything laid out before them, new paths there for the taking but the ultimate sadness wrapped up in Celebrated Summer is that Wolf and Mike either can’t or won’t change their lives after this experience. Forsman doesn’t judge the events or sights of the night, leaving that to us to do for ourselves. You can see them as losers, as typical teens or maybe even as yourself. However you identify these characters though doesn’t change the fact that the summer is followed by the fall (seasonally and metaphorically?) when you have more of the year to reflect back on that to look forward to. “I can never be there again. I cannot be saved,” are Wolf’s thoughts and fears. Day follows night just as fall follows summer. And there’s no going back.
Forsman gives us a night to just hang out as tomorrow doesn’t matter even while the future is out there as the big unknown. All that exists is the here and now for Wolf and Mike or at least that’s what they’d like to think. But as Forsman shows us, time still exists and there is always going to be something after today and after tonight. There will always be tomorrow and next week and next year and no matter how much we may want to imagine that they won’t exist, we will have to face them and the unknown that come with them.