Whit’s Friday Review: Chuck Forsman’s ‘Teen Creeps’ 1-4
I first picked up Charles Forsman’s The End of the Fucking World (TEOFW) minis at SPX a few years ago and instantly knew that it was going to be a thing (yeah, I’m being one of those annoying “I told you so” people, but whatever). Now that TEOFW is done, Forsman has embarked on a new series called Teen Creeps, which according to him, will be a long running series made up of a “universe of loosely connected characters” and multiple stories. I will be reviewing the first four minis.
Forsman has a thing for teenagers. Ok, back it up, that sounds skeevy. RATHER, he has a history of writing stories about adolescents who forge bonds in inhospitable environments. In the case of Teen Creeps 1-4 we see two female friends who navigate a sexually hostile one. The weapons of choice here are language and violation of trust by peers, adults, and friends.
Writing about high school can be tricky, because many people, and in particular comics-oriented people, probably have negative associations with it (ok I know this is a gross generalization, but we were all dorks at some level, c’mon!). You’d think that people would gravitate towards something as universal as school and adolescence, but reliving this time period can actually be quite distressing and a deterrent to trying out high school related material. Luckily, Forsman has a knack for it. Yes, it’s painful, but compelling enough to make you keep reading.
#1 starts off with Hilary hooking up with Wade, a popular jock. When she refuses to have sex with him in any form, he calls her a prude and leaves. The next day Hilary’s friend Dawn finds out that there is a rumor going around that Hilary gave the wrestling team hand-jobs. Dawn ends up beating up a fellow student who is spreading the rumor and finds her self in the principal’s office, where she is suspended.
In #2 Hilary and Dawn try to buy alcohol under-aged and are bribed by the cashier to flash him their breasts in exchange for booze. Dawn proposes that he show them his leg “stump” first. After he does, they flee the store, leaving him infuriated. Cut to gym class where Hilary is confronted by Wade’s ex-girlfriend who accuses her of being a slut for giving Wade a hand-job. My favorite part of this episode was the fight that ensues in the locker room, as it reminded me of the scene from Carrie where she is shamed in the locker room for getting her period. It’s that herd mentality, whether being shamed for sexual activity or lack of experience, that is pretty damn traumatizing. The episode ends vaguely because when Hilary reiterates to Dawn that she did not give Wade a hand-job, Dawn gives a distant and ambiguous “Yeah”. This made me realize what I like about Forsman’s work. He maximizes minimal language through nuanced facial expression and calls on the reader to do some work too. It’s all about inference.
#3 opens with Hilary and Dawn hanging out with Dawn’s dad, who sends Dawn to fetch him a cigarette (he actually has some), so he can hit on Hilary when she’s gone. After Hilary excuses herself, she discovers a witchcraft book in Dawn’s room and the girls decide to cast an evil spell on Wade. The spell doesn’t end up working and Dawn confronts Wade unprovoked after which he calls her a “dyke” (this is not the first time she’s called that…in fact it seems like something she’s desensitized to on the surface). In Dawn’s frustration, which has deeper roots than readily apparent, she head-butts Wade in front of the principal who she’s already on shaky ground with after her previous suspension.
In #4 Hilary admits to Dawn that she was hit on by her dad and doesn’t feel comfortable hanging out at her house anymore. She feels objectified, taken advantage of, and ultimately betrayed by men and wonders if it’s because of her breasts. This was an interesting moment for me because I realized the fundamental difference between the two: Hilary internalizes how she is treated by beating up on herself, while Dawn externalizes it in the form of attacking others. Dawn affirms Hilary with an intensity in her eyes that clues us in that she cares about her on more than a friendship level. When she grabs Hilary’s breast during a comforting hug, Hilary leaves, once again feeling violated. The story ends with Dawn requesting roofies for two from a school recluse and drug dealer. This act confirms my suspicion that Dawn seems to be lacking in empathy, a quality noticeable in TEOFW’s James and to an extent Alyssa. Perhaps this lack of empathy is a survival mechanism and I look forward to learning more about how Dawn’s history and inner world dictate her behavior.
Before writing this I read Rob Clough’s review of it and found it interesting that I had the same initial thought: slut-shaming. We still live in a world where a man can engage in sexual activity and be rewarded for it, while the consenting woman will be labeled as promiscuous and immoral. This whole female purity and chastity thing is steeped in a long history, and unfortunately is not something that can be unraveled easily. I’d argue though that it’s not just about being called a slut, but also being called a prude, dyke, bitch or some other sexually degrading word. It’s about shaming someone to manipulate the power dynamic and boost one’s wounded ego (ie. Wade’s language towards Hilary after she denies his advance) as well as thoughtlessly buying into that herd mentality (ie. Dawn being called a dkye by the student defaming Hilary).
I’d argue that I have been guilty of this in the past. Yes, I have used the word slut before. And why? Because it was the most immediate, socially understood means of demeaning someone who had either offended me or I was jealous of. I used the term ‘walk of shame’ in college when I saw girls walk home in the morning after a possible night of partying and or staying a some dude’s house. And at the time, I didn’t understand the implications of it.
I’ve also been on the receiving end. I felt embarrassed doing the ‘walk of shame’ in college, even though I was literally just going home to my dorm after making a decision to spend the night at someone’s house. I have been called a prude when I wasn’t comfortable doing something with someone I did not trust. I was called a slut after I refused to hook up with a guy freshman year of high school and he spread a rumor that I had slept with him in the gym. And who called me a slut? His girlfriend and her female friends. And I have been called a dyke, because I didn’t have a boyfriend, dressed in loose fitting clothes, and didn’t conform to certain “feminine standards” in high school.
What I’m saying is that we can be both perpatrators and victims. And often due to some cognitive dissonance, we can fail to see this. I’m curious to see how this theme will play out in Forsman’s subsequent minis, as Hilary and Dawn’s relationship evolves for better or worse.