Review by Nate Derr
Michael Deforge’s VERY CASUAL by Koyama Press
Let’s face it, longer is better. Or, if not better, certainly more popular. Whether it’s in literature, film, or comics, most people will go for the novel, feature-length, or graphic novel over the short story, short film, or comic book. If I had to guess why this tends to be the case, I would think it has something to do with both a sense of better value and with a preference for the greater immersion offered by a lengthier work. A novel offers days or weeks of immersion in a world and lives, whereas a book of short stories drops a reader briefly into a world before whisking them off to the next. There could also be the sense that with a novel, for instance, one is getting their money’s worth, and that a collection of short stories is just cobbled together from disparate projects. Often this is the case. So the rare collection of short works that manages to provide a satisfying reading experience and some amount of thematic continuity is all the more remarkable, and Michael Deforge’s new collection Very Casual is nothing short of remarkable.
Michael Deforge is easily one of my favorite comic artists, and Very Casual has everything I love about his work: the fluid line-work, the subtle humor, the occasionally disturbing, often moving stories. With about half new work and half previously published material, Very Casual is a great introduction to Deforge’s work, and is essential reading for fans of the strange or bizarre.
You never know quite what you’re going to get with a Deforge story. One of Very Casual’s longer stories, and easily one of its highlights, is a documentary-style profile of the deer-like creature the Spotting Deer, one story has characters tripping off a slice of a snowman, and another stars a man with a beagle for a torso. The other stories are just as outrageous, and the art follows suit with grotesque creatures, unnatural shapes, and plenty of bodily fluids just for good measure.
For all his concern with the grotesque, though, Deforge is quite a versatile artist. He manages to draw in an impressive variety of styles all while maintaining a visual unity between stories. And in the midst of all the ugliness, some of the artwork is downright beautiful, with the color stories and illustrations standing out as the best eye candy here. The subdued colors of “Spotting Deer,” “Queen,” and “Channel Surfing” are somewhat reminiscent of old newspaper strips, and the hues perfectly compliment the unnerving tone of the stories.
In spite of the strangeness of the art, Deforge steers away from horror or another logical direction, and instead presents what are basically slice-of-life stories. The most bizarre elements of the stories are perfectly normal to the characters within, creating a great contrast and perhaps prompting some readers to think about what aspects of their lives would strike an observer as strange or horrific.
Deforge also manages to avoid a pitfall common to many artists dealing in the surreal or grotesque: instead of relying solely on the strangeness of the images and situations to sustain interest, Deforge grounds his work with a solid emotional core, with characters that invite empathy and identification. Take away all the creatures and deformity and these are regular people, seeking the same love and acceptance as everyone else.
I can’t speak to Deforge’s intent when he selected the stories to include in Very Casual, but there is a noticeable thematic similarity shared among many of the stories here, and I think the sense of unity here is a natural byproduct of the themes common to his work. Ideas related to change and transformation crop up constantly, as well as various looks at nature and the sorts of relationship humans have with it. Even if they were selected randomly, the book still holds up as a singular work of art, instead of just a group of short pieces.
Deforge is really starting to make waves, and those waves will only get bigger; make sure you get on board now.
6 x 9 inches, 152 pages, b&w and colour interior, colour softcover
Published by Koyama Press, May 2013
(photos from koyamapress.com)