Ant Colony 'imaginative, tragicomic, and deeply engrossing.'

“Ant Colony” / No Flying No Tights / Garrett Gottschalk / July 14, 2014

Those who are small and insignificant can feel great turmoil and anxieties, just like those of us who are big and important. The smallest among us laugh, wonder, and worry about the things that matter. Ant Colony demonstrates this by taking us into the world of a philosophical ant colony.

Knowing that Ant Colony is going to make you think is a good frame of mind to occupy before diving into this twisted and existential work by author and artist, Michael DeForge. It is almost certainly an allegory; the ants could represent us, after a fashion. But there seems to be something else at work here – something sinister yet optimistic at the same time.

Ant Colony is a series of vignettes centered around several particular ants as they live their perilous lives. Death looms around every corner. Red ants, alien in their speech and ways, are a constant threat. Spiders, wolf-faced and brightly colored, lurk and loom with a horror that almost becomes humorous due to the expression on their faces. Colony life revolves around periods of idle leisure and home life, interspersed with a daily routine of marching in to visit the queen to perform the primary function of male ants. Several tales are woven together as the story progresses, involving some cops, a prophet, and a baby red ant rescued from death after a grim and bloody battle.

Nothing makes much sense in this story, but that doesn’t matter very much. This is, after all, a glimpse into the trials and tribulations of a harsh life, ruled by nature without so much as an iota of care for those who struggle. Somehow, DeForge has managed to marry a saccharine cheerfulness with the gruesome realities of life as an ant. The art–garish, simple, definitive, almost child-like–completely stands at odds with the subject matter. This could be a children’s book if it weren’t for the casual gore and the truly dark thoughts that these ants shoulder and ponder until they come across a sugar cube. These ants are meant to embody us, and it is a bitter pill to swallow as a reader, and yet… something about the way that these characters feel and emote lends poignancy to their plight that feels authentic. Their tragedy becomes our own, and we are made better for it.

Ant Colony is a tale not for the casual reader, but for those who wished to be challenged. The subject matter is dark, for mature readers, and not for one who seeks idle entertainment, despite the juvenile humor. If DeForge continues in a similar fashion, he promises a canon of work that’s imaginative, tragicomic, and deeply engrossing.

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