"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.
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.
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.
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
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
About the reviewer
James 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.
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.