In a comic arts scene growing more crowded by the minute, Toronto's Michael DeForge continues to stand out and stand alone.
The 27-year-old, whose Ant Colony earned a spot on the New York Times graphic bestseller list last year, has a singular drawing style. He mixes body horror (see his Lose series and 2013's Very Casual) and wild experimentalism (skewed perspectives, dense/sparse page variety) with the kind of innocence usually found in kids' books (cute characters with babyish features, a friendly colour palette). His writing grounds his flights of fancy, with down-to-earth prose communicated by vulnerable characters having a hard time in life.
All of this is true of new graphic novel First Year Healthy, about a young woman's first year post-stay in a mental hospital. The premise is clear from page one, but not the reason for her "outburst." Throughout the short work, DeForge milks that tension to create a sense of foreboding that vibrates through each page.
Centred around the nameless narrator's relationship with a Turkish co-worker possibly mired in criminal activity, the plot is fast and exciting. A strange, beautiful poeticism comes through via a magical cat that is seen on the pages more than talked about. (DeForge embraces the genre's parallel-world possibilities.)
And the innocent/seedy blend leads to some terrific shocks - a gasp-worthy plot twist, a TMI relationship detail - that make First Year Healthy stick in your brain like an unsettling dream. It's dark and lonely. It's ambiguous and comforting. Not for the kiddies.