Herald Scotland on First Year Healthy

“Graphic Novellas of the Month” / Herald Scotland / Teddy Jamieson / February 23, 2015

Michael DeForge is a twentysomething insomniac Canadian cartoonist whose last book Ant Colony was one of Graphic Content's Books of the Year for 2014. He has now given us First Year Healthy, a slim but far from slight fable about mental illness, parenthood, ice and snow, fish guts and magic cats.

Londoner Isabel Greenberg would have made our Best of 2013 list with her book The Encyclopedia of Early Earth if Graphic Content had been in existence at that point. The London comic store Gosh Comics have now published her short story Dreadful Wind and Rain, based on an old folk story. A tale of fairy tale sisters and a handsome man whose eyes constantly slide "hither and thither" who professes his love for both of them. What follows thereafter is a death and a resultant kind of haunting. This is a fable too, one with a strong feminist message as a kicker.

Neither of these stories top 30 pages but both offer a full fat reading experience. Dreadful Wind and Rain is the more conventional tale with a particularly gruesome twist. Greenberg's splintery art is printed murkily here but the slightly off-register colour tones just add to the visual appeal.

In the circumstances though it must remain a worthy runner-up to the strobing strangeness of DeForge's short story. Critics have seen reflections of the work of both cartoonist Ivan Brunetti and the Edwardian artist Louis Wain - a man who was obsessed with cats and who was himself a schizophrenic - in First Year Healthy and both are valid calls. But DeForge has already carved out his own visual territory in his relatively short artistic life. He has a penchant for flattened yet intricate imagery.

First Year Healthy doesn't use grid patterns. Nearly every page is a single image, though even then they're often layered. We are given privileged glimpses of hidden interiors - pipes beneath the ground, fish under the ice, fish guts under the scales. It's not hard to project this onto the narrator, a woman - visually represented by a puffy cloud of hair - who at the start of the story has just been released from hospital. What follows is an acid-soaked fable told in vivid colour. It's a reminder too that the ice is always cracking under our feet.

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