Young Michael DeForge (b. 1987), a comer in the world of alternative comics, has given new life to Thoreau’s battle of the ants in his Web series Ant Comic, now collected and published under the title ANT COLONY (Drawn & Quarterly, $21.95, drawnandquarterly.com). True, Walden lacks gay members of the family Formicidae, and doesn’t contain any drawings of an owl-faced queen ant with giant yellow pear-shaped breasts tipped with pink-and-gray bull’s-eye nipples, with a cave between her legs that scores of speck-size males line up to enter, all the while complaining of the smell inside (“burnt rubber”). In Ant Colony, the black anti heroes are cowards, conscientious objectors, nihilists, children, and infertile females—non combatants who quaver under psychedelic skies cruised by hippie bees. They are threatened by fierce (drunk on spider milk) red ants, who have breasts where a warrior’s breastplate would be.
It’s gross, absurd, and existential, and the storytelling is simple and bleak ( DeForge describes his style as “really plain, dead lines, rigidly gridded pages”). He grants no victors and no spoils. The ants mistake an upside-down pyramid of pale yellow light for the fulfillment of a prophecy, but it’s just the sign that some human has come along and burned the battleground with a magnifying glass. At the end the survivors—an orphan tortured by visions, a female who may or may not be in a coma, a spurned lover, and a bozo of a cop—remain to rebuild the colony. Their efforts appear doomed. What can you do? As Andrew’s roommate learned, you go to war—or wars—with the army you have.