Michael DeForge, writer/artist
24 pages each
You could be forgiven for thinking Michael DeForge’s solo anthology series would be, and I’m using this word in its value-neutral sense, a mess. In terms of the vibe DeForge’s work gives off in single illustrative images, or in his dense and frequently deliberately illegible all-font/logo-design installment in Frank Santoro’s Cold Heat Special series, or in his xeroxed minicomics, or even on the covers of these very comics, the operative word is “noise.” And it’s a sort of noise that owes more to both the toner-smeared world of zine culture and the fine-arty fine-lined zaniness of Canadian art-toonists like Marc Bell or Keith Jones, than to the chunky, punky, living, breathing environments of the Fort Thunderites. Throw in those noxious, acidic greens on the slick covers, and it might present the kind of surface your eye would bounce right off and move on.
Don’t let it! Because as it turns out, DeForge’s actual comics, as contained in these two issues, are straightforward, funny, and sharp as a knife. Inside, he wields a precise line to create character designs that read like a slightly more avant-garde version of what you might see on a post-millennial Nickelodeon cartoon. The storytelling and punchlines are always crystal-clear even as the material bounces back and forth between long-form, surreal horror stories and laser-precise gag strips. In the latter category, which mostly crops up in the first issue, DeForge uses anthropomorphized dogs and the superheroes of the Justice League to skewer the foibles of college students and their immediately post-graduation counterparts with laser precision. (Dog #1: “Lately, I don’t even know if I enjoy walks.” Dog #2: “You’re overthinking it. Did you finish The Wire yet?”; Green Lantern: “Things have been crazy for me lately”. Batman: “Is that why we’re spending League money on art school?!” Green Lantern: “We all voted on that, Bruce! We all voted!“)
The longer stories fruitfully work that horror-comedy sweet spot a lot of young cartoonists are mining these days, a great thrill to me because the comedy tends to actually be funny, and the horror black as midnight. In issue #1, a cartoon conscience rebels against God after being sent to dissuade yet another comics artist from suicide, only to be sentenced to a Hell inhabited by cartoon characters and their creators. What starts as a lampoon of art-comics culture every bit as successful as the college stuff veers into nightmarish action-horror territory as our hero narrowly, and I mean very narrowly, escapes evisceration and ritual sacrifice at the hands of two former funny-animal characters whose appearances have devolved into monstrous deformation and shadow. In issue #2, virtually all the page space is devoted to a long and no-fucking-around nasty horror story about a little kid who manages to domesticate a large spider whose brethren are simultaneously ushering in a quite lethal and disgusting plague-style demise for his uncaring family and abusive classmates. Imagine Skyscrapers of the Midwest weaponized and you’re almost there.
With these two issues–cogent in conception, confident in execution, and surely just an early step in a promising stylistic evolution–DeForge has landed himself on my must-watch list. Give ’em a shot, see if he lands on yours.