First Year Healthy (Drawn and Quarterly): Technically not comics, this illustrated prose picture book for adults is still of great interest to us because of its author/illustrator, Michael DeForge, and its publisher, Drawn and Quarterly.
It’s also of interest because of its compelling quality.
In matter-of-fact first-person narration, DeForge tells the story of a young woman who just got out of the hospital, having suffered some traumatic event or disease that alienated her from many of those around her. She chronicles her relationship with a man, to whom she refer only as “a Turk.”
After she moves in with him, he takes a job out of town doing something for a vaguely criminal associate and, one day, never returns, leaving our narrator to deal with the people in his life: the landlady with whom he fathered a child while exchanging sex for rent, that child and, eventually, the criminal associate. There’s also a magical cat creature, which plays a small but ultimately vital role inthe short story.
As a piece of prose fiction, it’s a sharp and concise bit of writing, bordering on magical realism, and bearing several powerful, striking images — so striking that, in some cases, they’re conveyed just as strongly by DeForge’s words as they are by his pictures, which fill every page and engulf the little paragraphs of prose.
Those familiar with DeForge’s artwork won’t be surprised at how surreal and strange it appears here, even though it’s performing the function of illustrating a written story rather than telling a story on its own. Our heroine, like all of the people, is a tiny, elfin, cartoon person with an oversized head; she differs from the others in that her long hair eclipses her eyes and most of her face. The cat creature, which gets drawn as or more often than any other character, has a mane that appears somewhere between a flower and a sun, and eyes that sit the wrong way in its head. The backgrounds, the “sets” and the “props” are all assembled as design elements.
The artwork is hardly representational, but its relationship to the writing is rather fascinating, as here we get to see a cartoonist divide the two basic elements of his medium, and then attempt to tell the same story twice, once in each of element, running parallel with one another.
They both tell the story, and the same story, but the writing element does so clearly, while the art element does so suggestively.
I said First Year Healthy isn’t technically comics, but maybe I spoke too soon. Maybe it’s comics unraveled.