A shortish one by typical ASC Recs standards this week as a monster column is just around the corner.
It's an all Michael DeForge week, however, so truly this is Exhibit A in the case of quality over quantity.
By Michael DeForge
Published By Drawn & Quarterly
Back in June, I featured Inio Asano’s wonderful Goodnight Punpun, a beautiful and odd coming of age story in which the main character (and his family) are drawn as scribbly bird-things that interact with (and appear normal to) the real world. This week, we again take a look at the turbulence of adolescence this time given strange life through Michael DeForge’s Big Kids, a book that further proves there’s still plenty of artful life yet in the bildungsroman genre.
Kafka’s The Metamorphosis gone teen angst and pop art, Big Kids is the latest longform work by the prolific Canadian comics creator (Lose, Ant Farm, First Year Healthy) and Adventure Time animator, a hallucinogenic journey into the teenage tipping point of heartbreak and subsequent personal evolution. Alex is a normal rebellious teen in a normal town who suffers a breakup with his (secret) lover Jared. The very next day, Alex awakens much like Kafka’s Gregor Samsa, completely metamorphosed into a different state of being. Yet while Samsa is a figure of absurdity and existential terror those who see his transformation into a giant bug, Alex is welcomed into a world where he, and others like him, are apparently the “evolved” species.
Alex has actually become a “tree” in a world is divided up between “trees” like him and “twigs,” or those who have yet to manifest the change into tree. Twigs perceive the world as trees formerly did, or as you and I do, I suppose, but once the change hits a twig and they “grow” into a tree, everything is different, the world heightened in ways unimaginable to us twigs. There is no particular reason for the change from one form to the other. Clearly, Alex’s transformation was triggered by his emotional pain – the “change” now inherent in both his life experience and internal character. Yet trauma or heartbreak is not the sole reason for change, nor is the onset of puberty as many adults remain twigs and some, in certain cases, have moved back from tree to twig.
The world is now a radically different place to Alex the tree, abstract, vibrant and alive in ways he never could have imagined before and visually capitalised on by the artist in asudden riot of colour. The real beauty of DeForge’s work is highlighted in scenes depicting these new sensations as Alex comes to grips with this new world around him and how everything is now perceived and expressed by his being -- sounds, feelings, tastes, smells, sensations all take form and shape. In Big Kids, a song is a multi-legged insectoid, emotional pain is a red cloud shooting spurs into the sky – everything internal or ephemeral is actualised and given new life and expression by the artist. It’s a frankly remarkable use of the medium’s potential.
DeForge’s narration is matter-of-fact and introspective but his pages are shockingly vibrant, filled with clashing pinks and yellows, greens and reds, bursting off the page. His “tree world” is full of objects such as televisions and cars taken to the ultimate in surreal abstraction. Physically, Big Kids is a little object, a bit smaller than your hand, but it’s remarkable just how easily DeForge makes his quirky cartoon figures and their corresponding emotional states, just launch off the page. Scenes of tree characters coupling like the intermingling root systems of alien plants are somehow both tender and virtually sensual as well as being oddly hypnotic in their curling abstraction. Most remarkably, thanks to the grounding the narration provides, at no point whatsoever does any of the story feel remotely ridiculous. Just like Asano’s Goodnight Punpun, just like Kakfa's Metamorphosis it just simply is.
Further tempering all this strange visual wonder is the fact that it’s not really made clear whether or not existence is actually any better for the trees than the twigs, echoing real world doubts over changes and regrets we all feel and experience. DeForge says, “Big shifts in perspective seem monumental at first, especially in adolescence, like you’re leveling up—but in the end it’s a little disappointing and anticlimactic. I wanted to show that a number of the trees were ultimately ambivalent about the change, and a little wistful for how they viewed things before.”
Bittersweet and beautifully inventive, Big Kids cements DeForge’s place as one of comics' most distinctly singular modern voices. The heartbreak and the subsequent induction into adult emotional life that we’ve all experienced have never been explored quite like this in our medium before. A beautiful little book.
WEBCOMIC OF THE WEEK : STICKS ANGELICA, FOLK HERO
By Michael DeForge
Renaissance woman Sticks Angelica lives in the wilds of Ontario's Monterey National Park, keeping the company only of the wildlife that surrounds her, some of which has been marked for death and thus deemed okay for her to hunt. Some typically DeForgian stuff here in Sticks Angelica, Folk Hero, with Sticks pulling molecules from the air to examine them, and explaining that, as a former distance runner, she was in love with a man who she knew only by the familiarity of the back of his head until she inevitably would pass him by.
The gags are frequently great and the art consistently so, particularly DeForge's close ups on the various strange vegetation that surrounds Sticks' home. The story threads peeking through clusters of stand alone strips are compelling (why has the young Girl McNally been marked for death?) and, man, is it weird. I've started you off from the very first installment, so read this one and keep hitting "previous" for the story to run sequentially to 91st and concluding strip. Terrific fun in the great outdoors.
COMICS VIDEO OF THE WEEK : ADVENTURE TIME -- LITTLE DUDE PREVIEW (CLIP 1)
Officially the tenth episode of the fifth season of Adventure Time, "Little Dude" was written and storyboarded by Big Kids creator Michael DeForge. After Finn and Jake go swimming, Finn's hat somehow magically comes to life and, as you'll see in this clip, begins eating everything in sight with some fairly disgusting results. Enjoy after lunch maybe...
See you next week. Love your comics.