Judging by the throngs of enthusiastic people who mobbed his table at the recent Comics Art Brooklyn festival, his three 2013 Ignatz awards and continued work on the hit cartoon Adventure Time, Michael DeForge is well on his way towards enshrinement as one of the seminal cartoonists of his generation. Palpable physical phenomena is a looming concern in DeForge's psychedelic body horror, not only of human/mammalian/animal bodies, but social bodies. His comics place halting, despondent, confused individuals into quietly hostile worlds that at first seem sparse but are revealed to be spacious and complicated, with isolated classes of people (or animals) so stratified as to seem alien to one another. Bizarre and semi-mythical authority figures lurk in the periphery of understanding, from ghostly androgynous Canadian royalty to a hallucinogenic god-mother Ant Queen.
DeForge gives us a darkly comic and often disturbing vision of life as ruled from a distance by vaguely understood social structures, and ruled more immediately by grotesque physical forces that are even less understood. Even otherwise innocuous physical contact takes on a pulsating menace when strained through DeForge's pen. Displaying a keen awareness that there is no such thing as totally hermetic originality, DeForge is able to layer references from the history of comics as well as a wealth of high, pop, and trash culture sources without his work ever feeling beholden to references. His work displays obvious and pervasive influences -- Chris Ware, Hideshi Hino -- but DeForge doesn't merely borrow style tricks from these masters, instead transforming them into something entirely original.
This year alone saw the release of the fifth issue of Deforge's monumental one-man anthology series Lose and the book Very Casual, a collection of early and shorter works. Early copies of his 2014 Ant Colony (above), a print collection of his popular web-comic, have already made a huge splash with dedicated readers and critics. More recently, the comics internet topped off the holiday season by passing around this two-page Christmas comic DeForge posted earlier this year, and it is brief, dense, elliptical, mysterious, funny, sad, and strange -- in other words, a perfect celebration of and introduction to DeForge's disturbing and fascinating world. --Jason Michelitch
Where to find it online: Ant Colony is available on the web with a print collection on the way from Drawn & Quarterly; Lose and Very Casual are available from Koyama Press.
My Dirty Dumb Eyes
Trying to properly describe My Dirty Dumb Eyes isn't easy: a collection of cartoonist Lisa Hanawalt's work that includes movie reviews, parodies of banal magazine articles (The illustrated suggestions in "What Do Dogs Want?" include "the chance to sit down and chat with a squirrel" and "a tennis ball bride") and more restrained, surreal pieces that border on the avant garde, it's a contradictory book that can lack cohesion and clarity at times. But it's also an amazingly funny book, and one where Hanawalt's blunt, childlike sense of humor is often contrasted by her subtle, even quiet artwork. At times oblique, at times laugh out loud funny -- it's possible I concerned some nearby onlookers with my laughter the first time I read it -- My Dirty Dumb Eyes is something that denies easy classification. There is one way to properly sum it up, however: A must-read. -- Graeme McMillan
Where to find it online: Print version available through Drawn & Quarterly and online book book distributors.