Personally, I enjoy a good, fictitious ‘trapped’ story. Or rather, I’m fascinated by human behaviour in uncomfortable or horrifying situations; we all have our hobbies and interests. So, when I crossed paths with Tillie Walden‘s dark, fantasy The End of Summer, I was intrigued. The End of Summer is a grandiose, visually stunning comic that showcases the dark and twisted depths of people inside and out.
The End of Summer is the story of a royal family barricading themselves in their castle during a treacherous three year long winter. The youngest son/narrator, Lars, is confident he will not survive the winter. He spends most of his numbered days with his massive cat Nemo and twin sister Maja. As his health deteriorates, the rest of Lars’s family slowly crumbles inside their fortress. Tensions and psychotic breakdowns escalate where it becomes a matter of not if, but who will survive three years indoors.
The strongest element to The End of Summer is the artwork. It’s just beautiful. The author’s passion for architecture is evident with every castle backdrop. The backgrounds are so elaborate, they could tell the story without any words. Walden’s shading choices also capture the comic’s dark and ominous tone well. The intimate moments are up close and cloaked in shadows while scenic panels highlight the smallness of each character. However, the slight downfall with the artwork lies with the characters. It’s difficult at times to distinguish Lars from his brothers, making the narrative not as fluid as it could be.
If the visuals don’t entrance readers, then surely the story itself will. The End of Summer is a deeply fascinating read. The plot is intricate and suspenseful, bouncing between reality and Lars’s ‘fantasies,’ although I would use that term loosely. However, one flaw worth mentioning regarding what’s actually happening inside the castle versus Lars’s narrative is the pacing. At times, when the focus is on Lars’s thoughts, the story feels stagnant. It’s like The End of Summer is chasing its own tail. But, when something actually does happen in the castle, it’s immensely more dramatic because it snaps Lars out of his head. Overall, the fantasies and stories-within-the-story are nice additions, but can be distracting.
Another large feature of this comic that acts as both a strength and weakness is its main character. Lars is a solid character; he’s imaginative, caring, sympathetic. If I were like Lars, I expect my day’s highlight reel would also mostly include thoughts about death. The issue is perspective. The reader sees almost everything from Lars’s eyes. That doesn’t leave time for readers to spend quality time with the other characters. There are moments when Lars is absent from a scene and other characters have the opportunity to shine, but they don’t.
The End of Summer is most certainly not for the casual reader. It is impossible to merely skim over it’s distinctive visuals and complex narrative. It’s dark content isn’t for the faint of heart. But for those who can brave the storm, The End of Summer is certainly worth the investment.