“Something other than nothing”– Thoughts on Charles Forsman’s The End of the Fucking World

TEOTFWCharles Forsman’s The End of the Fucking World looks like a Charles Schulz comic gone horribly wrong. We’re all familiar with Schulz’s Snoopy, Charlie Brown, Linus and that world of childhood innocence that was never lost. The only thing that Forsman’s comics shares with that is a penchant for those bulbous little noses and mouths that can end up being impossible gaping oblong holes on faces. The similarities are enough to draw the comparison to Schulz’s cartooning but Forsman walks down dark paths that I doubt (and hope)Schulz even knew existed. At least, I prefer to think that none of Schulz’s characters never grew up with the utter lack of empathy that exists in Forsman’s main character James.

The End of the Fucking World is the love story of James and Alyssa, two kids who never knew what love was. James’ introduction of himself shows a small boy with no sense of humor who grows into a teen who can kill animals or put his hand in the garbage disposal without any real connection to his actions. “At 16, I pretended to fall in love with Alyssa… She tried hard to make me feel anything,” he tells the reader as she tells him that she wants him to go down on her. After punching his dad, they run away together because they’ve really got nothing else going on in their life. For a while they live in a house they broke into, trying on someone else’s life until James finds a box full of pictures of grisly murders. When the owner of the house and pictures returns, James slits his throat with all of the cold emotions that he killed the animals when he was younger. “It was just a simple itch. Just a simple itch that I wanted to scratch. The only thing… I wasn’t so sure I could stop.”

There’s the timeless sense of teenage rebellion in Forsman’s book. As James and Alyssa run away from all of their problems, Forsman develops that “us versus them” mentality in his characters but his characters are never really together enough to be an “us.” Like he has done for his entire life, James walks through the motions of being a teenager. He has an idea of what a boy or a man should be doing in the situations he’s presented with so he does what he thinks he should do, without ever finding an emotional connection to his actions. It’s not just that he doesn’t have a sense of humor, he doesn’t have any sense of emotion. He isn’t happy or sad, angry or depressed; he just is.

Alyssa is at least a bit more like what we would expect from a rebellious teenager. For whatever reasons there could possibly be, she falls in with James. It’s too much of a stretch to say that she falls in love with James even though both characters would probably want to call it that. It’s more like she’s stuck in his gravitational pull at first. For what I want to call a “love story,” there’s very little true love in this book. Like James’s disconnect from basic humanity, Alyssa maybe understands what love is but doesn’t really know it. She looks for it in James and even later on from her the father she finds after he left years ago. James doesn’t want anything but Alyssa is full of a desire for love. It’s a huge void in her life.

Forsman practically begs his readers not to be like James or Alyssa, walking or running through life with no emotional attachment to much of it. From the title on through to the actions, it’s an incendiary book. The title alone, The End of the Fucking World, has a charge, an anger and a passion behind it that the characters are lacking. The cartoonist is getting pissed off at the world for his characters who can’t. Forsman shows us James and Alyssa’s lack of control, lack of maturity and lack of compassion for anything that isn’t just the two of them. What they have may not be love but these characters develop something together that’s greater than just a shared youthful rebellious stage.

While Forsman drags us down into this dark world that tries to crush these young lovers from the womb to the grave, Forsman takes Schulz’s classic and timeless art style and hammers it into something that is as truthfully painful as Schulz’s artwork is truthfully universal. Drawn with thin, simple marks, Forsman’s lines contain the pressure of his characters’ worlds. His lines are ready to snap under that pressure. The pent up frustrations of these characters are reflected in Forsman’s drawings where they are unable to let go of the emotions that are inside of them. Both characters have wants and needs but they suppress them beneath beneath Forsman’s drawings until they are nearly going to explode.

The End of the Fucking World is a painful book. Forsman holds up a mirror to us and challenges us not to see some part of ourselves in either James or Alyssa. It may be the searching or it may be the longing. Maybe it’s the wanting of love or the desire just to feel something, whether it be joy or anger. Forsman tight line exposes the characters; their lines are just as ready to snap as their heads and hearts are. The lives of James and Alyssa are tough to read and almost impossible to forget. Forsman makes it so that we can’t look away and can’t forget these kids who end up in love even if it’s a love that we can’t quite recognize.

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