Sticks Angelica, the new book from Michael DeForge, is a wide format hardcover with a particularly fine cover. Inside is a strange and very Canadian book. DeForge’s work is frequently strange, but is not always so rooted to a particular place as this. Sticks Angelica is introduced as “former: Olympian, poet, scholar, sculptor, minister, activist, governor general, entrepreneur, line cook, headmistress, mounty, columnist, libertarian, cellist”. That’s quite a CV by any standard, but also something of a red herring as we get nothing that can be considered an adequate explanation of how any one person can be so many things by the age of 49. All that’s in her past, though, and now she lives in Monterey National Park to avoid the public eye and a political scandal involving her father. It seems she’s swapped one form of attention for another though, as the animals in the forest are obsessed with her.
With few human characters, these animals play a major role in the book, particularly Oatmeal, a rabbit in love with Sticks. There are plenty of misdirected cross species crushes and liaisons, and power imbalances in relationships. One of DeForge’s talents is to create an off-kilter world that differs from ours in various strange ways, yet to do so convincingly, and in a way that sheds light on aspects of our own. As well as doomed romance, there’s an interesting justice system. Forest animals can be marked for death, and these are the only ones it is acceptable to kill, even for the other animals. Such status can be conferred for quite arbitrary reasons, but the laws must be obeyed. Sticks is pretty mean to some of the animals, but has a strong sense of justice as we soon discover.
DeForge’s comics often work on so many levels. Here he explores themes of justice through a character who is marked for death, and revenge through Oatmeal’s past. At the same time, the book repeatedly reaffirms its Canadian identity, and is also extremely funny in places (such as when the ants are representing Sticks and reply to her correspondence, or the brilliant Christmas sequence). As always, his artwork is utterly distinctive, rendered here in black and red, and full of details that reward close attention. Sticks Angelica is an absolute pleasure.