The canon of critically heralded, commercially successful non-superhero comics is a small one, crafted by a group of artists whose ranks were seemingly closed in the early ’90s. Thus, both genuine excitement and critical brushback has bubbled up over the last two years as the prolific Michael DeForge emerged as a possible member of this tiny family. DeForge’s growing popularity should seem surprising, considering the challenging, bizarre nature of his work. However, the seductive line and punchy pacing of even DeForge’s strangest stories makes his seemingly outsider work accessible. (Not to mention, his mainstream gig as character designer on the cartoon "Adventure Time” means he has arguably surpassed his predecessors’ popularity.
DeForge’s 2013 anthology, “Very Casual,” was jarring, with dreamlike tales of alternate dimension basketball, oozing beauties and death metal logo sight gags. “Ant Colony” is a more ambitious story about the gruesome last days of an ant colony and a motley crew of survivors exploring their future. Compared to earlier works, the structure of “Ant Colony” (from the linear survival narrative to the actual panel grid) feels somewhat conservative. Which is relative: Scenes of graphic queen ant sex, brutal violence and sternal gland-excretion ooze more fluids than should be allowed in anything labeled “conservative.” With its striking design, strong characters and parallel references to kiddie-fare animal antics and soul-crushing adult decisions, “Ant Colony” is compelling work.