"The world is a strange and terrifying place": James Varney reviews "Dressing" by Michael DeForge

Posted 4 Dec 2018 by Writing Squad in Writing Squad Reviews

"I first encountered Michael DeForge in issue #7 of his comic series, Lose, and it was revolting. Flesh may as well be jelly in his illustrations; bodies flow from one shape to another, and his longer stories feature grotesque and beautiful physical transformations, or slow but inevitable bodily degradation.

Dressing coverDressing is a short story collection. The stories are all comics but aside from including images and text they range in style and form wildly. More than once, I have handed the collection to someone and seen them amazed to know the whole thing is the work of a single person. Deforge will return to writing and illustration styles he has used before but has the ability to adapt his style for the story he is telling. This means we find abstract lines and colours accompanied by sentences of prose, in All of My Friends, Up High, in a Jumbo Jet, in the same collection as the simple, expressive figures and visual storytelling in the panel-comic Mars is my Last Hope.

The startling thing about Michael DeForge’s writing and creations is that in amongst stories of mermaid-based dot coms, flirting fish, leaping millions of miles in one bound, he retains the ability to recreate the tangible, skin-tearing awkwardness of human interactions. Someone’s face may melt away into a shapeless lump, but the tension in the story comes from their parents cutting off communication, their milk mysteriously curdling. Bodies are frequently an inconvenient detail of DeForge’s work – he deviates persistently from presenting naturalistic human characters. And the result is stories where changing emotional states are as important as morphing physical ones.

Christmas DressingIn Dressing, DeForge writes about anxiety, relationships, depression and alienation with the sense of a hand held out to you, which rather than taking your hand, strokes your elbow. The comics in Dressing end suddenly – you turn a page and there is a new story, the last panel you read becomes the final panel and suddenly is transformed. You’re forced to make sense of it. And that latent finality is something I see in the small mysteries of life, moments that are suddenly retroactively given significance: the last time you hung out with a partner before they dumped you, the morning you woke up before discovering someone had died.

My favourite by far is My Sister Dropped Dead From The Heat, a scrappy and brutal comic in eight panels, ‘Drawn on a flight between Oakland and Las Vegas 08/10/2014’. It feels like an idea thrown down with force and exemplifies what I love most about DeForge’s work. DeForge’s characters are abject. They are at the mercy of both their own unreliable flesh, and the cruel rules of social interaction. The world is a strange and terrifying place, and so is your own body."

About the reviewer

James VarneyJames Varney is a writer and theatre maker based in Manchester. He has written for Le Monde, The Real Story, Exeunt and The Stage. He is currently developing Prince Gorge, a long-form poem and gig in which Prince George of Cambridge grows up to become a Queer cult leader. He maintains a blog of cultural criticism at www.jamesvarney.uk and tweets @mrjvarney.

Event Boundary, a dramatic monologue written by James, was performed as part of My Uncle Who Works For Nintendo, a night of new writing inspired by playground rumours, urban myths and creepypastas at The Peer Hat in Manchester, Wed 25 October.

James is one of the featured writers in The Last Christmas, a collaboration between Writing Squad writers and Composers from the No Dice Collective, at the Anthony Burgess centre, Manchester on 7 December

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