The Sublime Surreality of Michael DeForge

It's a rare thrill to pick up a comic book, read a page at random and feel something in the back of your mind click into place. Such was my experience with Michael DeForge's Heaven No Hell (Drawn & Quarterly, $21.99), a collection of short comics by turns incisive, surreal, unsettling and serene. The stories showcase many qualities I've come to appreciate as DeForge's signatures: the play of bold colors and geometric forms, the anarchic storytelling and offbeat humor that occasionally slip into melancholy. Strange brew, but intoxicating, stimulating; I craved more.

I next picked up Leaving Richard's Valley (Drawn & Quarterly, $32.95), an earlier graphic novel starring four adorable talking animals exiled from their commune by a wrathful cult leader. A veritable epic compared to Heaven No Hell, its rangy page count (just under 500) allows DeForge's worldbuilding to reach its full expression. He explores how communities form and dissolve, subcultural identity and gentrification through the story's many playful digressions.

Familiar Face (Drawn & Quarterly, $21.95), the middle sibling of the above titles, is a lonely sci-fi tale set in a future wherein everything--city streets, human bodies--is subject to frequent, arbitrary "updates." When one such update separates our protagonist from her girlfriend, she seeks out an underground cell of radical cartographers in hopes of repairing the disruption. This, to me, is DeForge at his most trenchant and affecting: utopia and dystopia are practically indistinguishable; technology accelerates the sensation of change while the dance of exploitation and resistance carries on.

Like the semi-abstract shapes dappling his compositions, DeForge's ideas can morph into seemingly endless arrangements. It's no surprise, then, that he is famously prolific. This is great news, as it permits me the two chief pleasures of "discovering" an artist with an extensive catalogue: to dig deeply and to proselytize with the zeal of the newly converted. --Theo Henderson, Ravenna Third Place Books in Seattle, Wash.

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