Michael DeForge has become one of the most exciting cartoonists in the business in part because of his relentless work ethic and constantly straining imagination. Let's catch up with a couple of recent comics of his:
Incinerator. DeForge is becoming known for his horror and fusion comics, but it should never be forgotten that his greatest virtue is his sense of humor. Incinerator is an absurd comic that generates several exquisite gags surrounding a crazy purpose: a rubbery figure has a torso that looks like the back of Snoopy, thanks to the fact that his mother was a beagle. I have no idea what spurred this agreeably stupid idea, other than the pure shape of the figure, which is done in silhouette on the inside front cover. As with , it's the small movements of his characters that speak volumes, like the gorgeous girl who's eyeing our hero so oddly on the first page of the story despite being part of the mob that beats him up.
From there, the comic goes from set-up to gag to set-up to gag, like his torso being taken to a veterinary hospital and the rest of him going to another hospital. Or going to group therapy and being told that transference (the process of identifying group members as members of one's own family) is normal, only to find that the group consists almost entirely of members from his own family. The ending features a Citizen Kane reference along with a final gag that reveals what that girl on the first page was really after. Other than handing someone all three issues of his series Lose, this is the first comic I might give to someone interested in what DeForge is all about. The comic certainly satirizes family dynamics, therapy and relationships, but at its heart it's mostly concerned with some great jokes and strange images. It's a comic as informed by the sensibilities of Gilbert Hernandez (the importance of sex and the lingering images of a desolate but beautiful environment) as it is Charles Schulz (the obvious, in terms of Snoopy, but also in terms of having a sad-sack protagonist and a smart-ass pet).
Open Country #2. This is the second issue of what will be a five part series--a 90 page comics novella, essentially. The first issue introduced us to the concept of psychic projection as an art form as well as a potentially troubled relationship. As the series proceeds, it seems that one of its major themes is the potential for narcissism at the heart of all self-expression. We meet a look-alike of the female psychic-projecting artist at the beginning of the story, who both laments her status as an unpaid intern and uses it to her own advantage in gaining the attention and attraction of Philip, the male lead of the series. DeForge's understanding of body language is highly refined, allowing a set of exchanges between the look-alike (Cody) and Philip wherein the body language has almost nothing to do with the actual dialogue, and yet conveys the real meaning at work here. The cartoony nature of DeForge's line means that an exaggerated raise of her eyeballs is a highly coquettish gesture.
Cody reveals that the artist's image is just that--a highly calculated image designed to make her sound more profound than she actually is. It's a way of justifying the narcissism of a show that's entirely about one's own projection, even if that projection is one of pain and body horror. When DeForge cuts to Phillip's girlfriend in a bathtub, practicing her own psychic projections, the text is that of a blog entry that subconsciously reveals her own frustrations as an artist and person. Even the end of the entry, where she invites people to a screening of her films but emphasizes all of the bands that will be there (as a way of getting people to actually come) reveals both her insecurity and her own doubts about the validity of self-expression. There's more going on in this comic in terms of imagery that seems less clear, but I imagine that will coalesce in future issues. When this is collected and color is added to the picture, it's going to open a lot of people's eyes with regard to his talent.