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Review: Charles Forsman's 'The End of the Fucking World' is a Violent, Un-Nostalgic Look at Teens on the Run

A comic review article by: Geoffrey Lapid

Charles Forsman's The End of the Fucking World came to a close last month. A story that follows James and his girlfriend Alyssa as they find themselves on the run from the law, trying to find a place to call home, Forsman's solid cartooning and bold storytelling work together to tell a violent love story about teenagers, because, really, what other kinds of love stories about teenagers are worth telling?

 


Throughout their road trip, James and Alyssa get up to some of the usual stuff teenagers get up to. They make out, drink, dance, talk shit at a diner, breakup, shoplift, get into fights, get back together -- that sort of thing. What's interesting about all this typical teenage stuff is Forsman's ability to make these moments appear as quiet and personal to us as they must be to James and Alyssa. Rather than putting their experiences in a nostalgic light, Forsman forces us into feeling empathy for James and Alyssa as they experience these moments. Instead of allowing you to step back and look at James and Alyssa through wistful adult hindsight, Forsman's fluid and subdued linework take us right into those moments that you only understand when you're 17 years-old, proudly oblivious and doomed. There's a bit where James and Alyssa are spending time in a home they've broken into. They drink and they dance and tear through the owner's stuff, but they also have peaceful moments where they read books and sit on the roof, staring at the stars. These quiet moments between James and Alyssa are pleasant breaks from the chaos that they find themselves in through the series. Whenever some third party enters this private life they've created for themselves, that third party is met with aggression (at best by rudeness, at worst with horrific violence), but when it's just the two of them we get to appreciate some small moments of tenderness amidst their own issues with anger, abandonment, and resentment.

James and Alyssa both want to make a connection with another person in some way. Alyssa sticks with James because she thinks she loves him and she knows he needs her. Alyssa's devotion to James is put to the test, though, as she discovers that James may be a cold-blooded killer. James, on the other hand, just wants to feel something and to care about something. There's this bit in Part Seven, "Mother," where James explains,

 

"I knew I was different from most people. But I learned how to blend in for the most part. There were times when I didn't know how to act. Sometimes I would let things happen that I didn't understand. I guess I thought I might feel something. Something other than nothing."

 

Because he is an actual sociopath, James has trouble denying his violent impulses and feeling any sort of empathy, but meeting Alyssa looks like the first time he's ever done something even close to caring about someone else, and we see these feelings for Alyssa develop through the course of the story. At the very beginning, James says he pretended to fall in love with Alyssa, probably as another way of blending in. By Part Nine, "Protector," he's come to realize that he needs her. By the end of the series, in true teenage tragedy ballad form, James finally understands what love means, which leads to him sacrificing himself to save Alyssa.

 


Even when the story begins to take a turn for the outrageous or the violent, Forsman's skill as a cartoonist keeps it believable, never really allowing the violence to appear too over-the-top or stylized, and making it just personal enough to make it hurt to watch these characters fall apart. In The End of the Fucking World the violence is never really sexy or glamorous. Forsman draws every violent and reckless act with a precise economy that makes every bloodstain and every wound and every impact appear completely utilitarian and vicious. Violence is never done for show or style. Violence happens because it needs to happen or because characters have some sort of gruesome compulsion to hurt someone else.

 

 

One of the things I enjoyed most about The End of the Fucking World is that it's different from other teen slacker comics that are out there approaching the teenage years through a lens of nostalgia (Ted May's Injury #4, and Snake Oil #7, also by Forsman, immediately come to mind). James and Alyssa feel like real, substantial characters rather than simple broad strokes alluding to a deeper history. Broad strokes are fine, of course (and for the record, I loved Injury and Snake Oil), but they accomplish something different. With The End of the Fucking World, Forsman reveals a very close and very specific look at the private lives of James and Alyssa, allowing us a more intimate understanding of who they are, ensuring we feel every emotional impact as deeply as each swift brutality.

You can buy The End of the Fucking World now directly from Oily Comics. Look for the collected edition of this book, scheduled for release this August from Fantagraphics


Geoffrey Lapid lives in Brooklyn where he writes about comics and gets older every day. You can follow him on twitter at @gwarrenl, and check out some comics he's made at strongconqueror.com. He's thinking about getting a bike.

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