Unshelved Reviews Big Kids

“Big Kids by Michael Deforge” / Unshelved / Gene Ambaum / July 29, 2016

A young, gay high school student is enduring violence not only from school bullies and his cop uncle, but also at the hands of his boyfriend, Jared. April, a quiet college student, rents a room in his house. She comforts him, especially after Jared dumps him for another boy. He gets drunk and falls asleep watching TV in his basement. When he wakes up, everything looks different. April explains later: he’s a tree. It happens to most people at a certain age, and he’s seeing the world through new eyes.

Why I picked it up: I’m a fan of DeForge’s work, and I prefer his longer stories like Kid Mafia and Ant Colony to his shorter work. 

Why I finished it: The transformation when the young man wakes up in the basement is startling. From a realistic, recognizable world, the story shifts into a world of gangly, bulb-headed creatures with exposed, flower-like lungs (or are those shirts?). Those who haven’t transformed, like his dad and Jared, are twigs. And the new perceptions are about more than just people: one of my favorite images is a song that gets stuck in the boy’s head, which appears as a multi-legged creature that sits on his shoulder, spitting in his ear. 

DeForge’s stories run the gamut from recognizable to totally surreal, but this is the first I remember that combines both. It’s up there with Ant Colony as one of his best graphic novels.

Readalikes: DeForge uses a small, nine-panel grid of equal-sized panels on most of the pages, giving the book a deadpan sensibility that really works in contrast to the fantastic vision of the world through tree eyes. Norway’s Jason uses a deadpan style that’s equally effective. If you’ve never read one of his books, start with the short stories in Low Moon or one of his book-length graphic novels, Werewolves of Montpellier or The Last Musketeer.

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