If a duck murders an innocent fish, and a mosquito is a witness to the crime, how will the duck keep the mosquito quiet, if not by becoming a host to the mosquito and permitting it to live the rest of its days inside the duck’s head? Michael DeForge forces readers to accept such situations in his new graphic novel, “Sticks Angelica, Folk Hero.” The graphic novel strategically uses ridiculous scenarios as a lens through which to observe a type of daily life that makes the normal feel peculiar and the peculiar feel normal. In a matter-of-fact style, DeForge imbues the book’s strange anecdotes with unexpected depth.
The plot of the book follows the day-to-day life of Sticks Angelica, a woman who leaves Ottawa after her family’s fall from fame. She spends her days in the woods pouring hot sauce on her tongue instead of eating breakfast or lunch, finding ways to stay active throughout the day, and interacting with the forest’s wildlife. The book sets up the scene in a style resembling the comics section in a newspaper. Most pages have complete mini-stories, and some pages contain series, like the one starring Lisa Hanawalt. Hers is a five-page story arc in which Sticks interacts with Lisa, a moose who wants to be human. The plot has a few flashbacks to fill in gaps necessary to understanding the overall story, but from there DeForge forms a coherent story of a part of Sticks Angelica’s life as well as the lives of some of the woodland characters.
DeForge shifts what could have been stereotypical characterizations into peculiar ones that add life to the book. Most of the characters are simply animals of the forest. There are, however, almost no two alike in either species or personality. From a rabbit enamored of Sticks to a bear with the desire to be an author to the aforementioned accidentally-murderous duck, each character is memorably unique.
Although all the captions are written in capital letters, which often connote strong emotion, the text almost never gives an emotional feel to the story. The capitalization normalizes itself through its constant use. Periods are missing at the end of speech bubbles, giving the dialogue an informal feel. The content of the scenes themselves imbues the book with a more serious tone, like when the eel tells another character about her brother’s recent suicide, or when Sticks rips the shirt that Lisa Hanawalt stole. How can one not feel pity for Lisa Hanawalt as she begins to sob? The scene, though brief, is one of many that can actually affect the reader on a surprisingly deep level.
These strong emotions are particularly unexpected given the graphics. The layout, as mentioned before, is like that of a comic strip in the newspaper. The colors are simple: black, white, and salmon. The odd, not-quite-cartoonish quality of the work looks simple, but gives careful detail to the characters and environment alike. One can quickly immerse oneself in the subplots of the book and see the most genuine of facial expressions in the simplest of lines and details.
“Sticks Angelica, Folk Hero” is an unexpected journey that is ultimately satisfying. The strangeness of the book becomes an effective part of the story. DeForge takes unexceptional animals, such as Oatmeal the Grain Rabbit, and adds extraordinary layers to them and their forest through subtle but vivid scenes. DeForge carefully constructs each page to give a glimpse into the life of an unconventional folk hero, Sticks Angelica.