Some names immediately make you think of quality. Michael DeForge is one of them — that’s why I cracked open First Year Healthy the second I received it. Despite my eagerness to dig in, the plot was a mystery to me. Three pages later I was hooked both by the developing narrative and by DeForge’s outstanding and bizarre artwork. The combination kept delivering superb entertainment for 48 pages, and I was forced to return to the beginning and read the whole thing again the moment I was done.
First Year Healthy tells the story of a young woman who has been recently released from a psychiatric hospital she was sent to after an outburst. Once outside, she finds a job at a fish market and develops a relationship with a strange Turkish immigrant known simply as “the Turk” who may or may not be a criminal. “The Turk” has a son and the young woman starts taking care of him. With a new love, a job, and a baby, the young woman’s life seems to be more or less in order despite the fact that everyone in town looks at her and whispers about the event that sent her to the hospital. Unfortunately, the new life she was building crumbles when “the Turk” disappears and the woman is left with the infant. What follows is a colorful, sad, and surreal narrative that’s as otherworldly as it is entertaining.
This is a great read because the author achieves a rare balance between economy of language and offering backstory and detail. DeForge’s prose is at once informative and very fast-paced, rich and almost painfully direct. A great example of this balance is the passage that explains The Turk’s son:
“He had a son with a round old bitch who lived just on the outskirts of town. He had moved in with her when he first got into the country. She let him sleep in her guest room for free so long as he got on top of her every now and then. She surprised him with the boy about seven months after he had moved into his own apartment.”
At only 48 pages, First Year Healthy is a very short book. However DeForge has a knack for delivering a lot in a few words and the story blends together love, mystery, violence, loss, and surrealism in a way that makes it as satisfying, and mesmerizing, as a much longer narrative. Also, the artwork is vibrant and matches each paragraph of text perfectly while offering an undeniably energetic palette of reds, yellows, and grays along with drawings that seem to be constantly in motion.
First Year Healthy is a little adventure into a frozen lake as well as a look at mental illness, a bizarre and gloomy love story, a narrative about life on the outside, and a bizarre tale about a magical cat and a weird baby. Michael DeForge’s work is brilliant and unique, and both of those things shine here and make this thin graphic novel one worth reading more than once.