The Awe and The Awfulness
The awe and the awfulness of our outer and inner workings permeate the peculiar comics of Michael Deforge. “I used to have a lot of body anxiety and nightmares growing up. Bodies just give you so much to work with - they’re always so pretty and goofy and awful, all at the same time.” Deforge, twenty-six, Ottawa-born and Toronto-based, juggles a “day job” as a commercial illustrator and a character, effects and props designer on the hit Cartoon Network animated series Adventure Time (2010-) with his prodigious, almost profligate authorial comics. Luckily, he doesn’t need much sleep and instead seems to purge the stuff of his waking dreams onto the page. He’ll even use the altered state of a 24-hour flu to draw an eight-page story which he will soon get Risographed into another limited edition collectible.
For some years, his febrile, at times nausea-inducing graphic aberrations have been coagulating into an interconnected series about his native ‘Weird Canada’. This ‘Deforge-iverse’ encompasses Spotting Deer, The Sixties, Canadian Royalty and Muskoka, as well as Sticks Angelica and Elizabeth of Canada, two of three longer narratives he is concurrently serialising. “I prefer to work on them all in small portions and I never plot out anything longer than a page or two in advance. I get bored if I have too much of a story mapped out.”
Spotting Deer (Koyama Press, 2010, above), for example, comes across as some increasingly repulsive yet compulsive wildlife documentary, based on fictional expert Clay Figgle’s third study of the species. The deer in question is ‘actually a kind of terrestrial slug’, while its antlers are ‘colonies of parasitic polyps that are first attached to the deer during adolescence’. Deforge escalates the absurdities, documenting cultural responses to the creature such as abstract paintings, a comedy newspaper strip and a crudely pixelated computer game, as well as certain deers’ adaptation into urban society, providing regenerative ‘psychic meat’ and ‘sporting prosthetic antlers’. He ends with an ironic patriotic flourish: ‘Deer stand proud as stalwart champions of our most cherished national values: multigrain, diversity and volunteerism’.
Deforge swept the Ignatz Awards for North American alternative comics this September in three categories, outstanding series, anthology and artist, an achievement for a relative newcomer. “Before I started drawing comics seriously, I used to be focused on making really large drawings on nine- to twelve-foot stretches of craft paper. I’m working now on some large scale sculptures and wearable costumes based on some of my designs with my friend Phil Woollam.” Some of these eventually were exhibited at the SAW Gallery in Ottawa in April to June 2015 in Deforge’s first solo exhibit All Dogs Are Dogs (poster and photos below).
Deforge’s next book compiling his Ant Colony strips is due in January 2014 from Drawn & Quarterly. His new story below for the November 2013 issue of ArtReview revives the amorphous business models of the Dot.Com boom and bust. That queasy unease seeps through here again, as baffled receptionist Terry goes from an awkward first peck with his co-worker to the animalistic drive of the mermaid pressing up against the glass wall of her tank. Despite appearances, Deforge has not taken loads of hallucinogens, but, as he told Publishers Weekly, ‘I used to ‘shroom a lot, and I was always struck by that buzzing, hyper-defined texture that everything would take on. I usually want my comics to read a bit like that, as if the whole world is filled with a prickly, hostile energy vibrating beneath the surface of everything’.
This Article originally appeared in the November 2013 issue of ArtReview Magazine.