SPX Pulls: Michael DeForge Roundup / by Patrick Smith


I’ve heard a lot about Michael DeForge over the past year so when I saw that he would be tabling at SPX I knew that this would be a perfect chance to dig into his work which at that point I was only vaguely familiar with. Going through his work the term that kept popping into my head was “grotesquely beautiful” which is a term I’ll bust out while writing about comics with a particularly off kilter art style, and it's only now after reading Michael Deforge's second, third, and fourth issues of his Lose anthology that its occurred to me that I should maybe go into what I mean when I say that. There are certain artists, probably starting with the underground comics movement of the sixties although you could probably find some examples even earlier than that, where artists sort of stopped concerning themselves on whether their art should look pretty and instead started utilizing their styles to cater to their individualized id. Abstract physiology, wide and warped facial expressions, disjointed limbs and new more eclectic ways of portraying movement and emotions became the norm and it’s a tradition that has kept growing over the years. Those styles and the ones that came before managed to turn a sort of art style that would be ugly to some into something that could be embraced by countless others. Okay, I know that was all a little dry and frankly I’m probably not the guy that should be talking about that but that’s what I think about when I think of the term "grotesquely beautiful,” and that’s the term that comes to mind when looking at the work of Michael Deforge. And I would believe that a lot of people would agree with that description, as he has accumulated a devoted following that have embraced his off kilter design and storytelling. However, I don’t think I’m going to become part of that following after reading these three books.

That last bit came off way more dour than I wanted it to and I don’t want to give the wrong idea going forward because I certainly don’t think his style is off-putting in any way nor do I think it isn’t impressive. It is albeit to a point. However, being impressed and being enthralled are two different things and while reading these three issues of Lose I never really felt the latter. As some context, I read these three issues in a row as the last part of a marathon reading session of most of the books I got at SPX. It was pretty late by the time I got to the tail end of Lose three I was finding it hard to focus on the work and naturally I just thought I needed to get some sleep and give the work the focus it deserved. So I went to bed, got up, made some coffee and proceeded to read all three all over again assured that things would go smoother, but then I found that I had the same problem focusing on the work right in front of me.

After that I began wondering about any number of reasons why the books didn’t work for me because from a critical standpoint I know that a lot of what’s in these books works very well. Lose two is arguably the roughest of the bunch, but I think even hardcore Deforge fans would agree that it's nowhere near what he would be able to do later. Lose three was fascinating because of a poignant story of a divorced Dad trying to relate to his kids and being completely out of his depth and Lose four in particular is clearly the strongest example of using the one-man anthology format with three stories about how fashion and appearance can both individualize and trivialize the human experience while using a wild sense of design. I can see all of this but that’s what makes it so frustrating that I found just getting through the books incredibly taxing. Some would say you should just suck it up and let the work challenge you, but at that I would say that there is a difference between reading something that’s a challenge and reading something that’s a chore. That line can vary from person to person.

I realize this has come off as less a review as it is me dealing with some weird existential crisis, and for that I apologize, but the thing is this: despite my fatigue for these books, I would still recommend them to anyone who might be interested in this kind of thing, because comics as a medium need this kind of work. The fact that it doesn’t work for everyone isn’t so much a point against it as it is a comment on the medium in general. I realized a long time ago that not everything I read or watched or read or listened to would affect me the same way as it did other people, and vice versa but the important thing to remember is that you need to be smart enough to know that something is competently executed and different enough in form that its exciting, but also having enough faith in your own personal taste that despite all that it still doesn’t resonate with you. Going even further than all that you should never allow your tastes to stagnate and as such you should try to get out of your comfort zone and try new things. I did that with these books and it didn’t work out for me as well as I had hoped but that doesn’t mean the work is any less valid for the people that love it or will love it. It just means that as individuals we look at everything a different way and I’m hoping that in a few years my tastes will change to the point where I can read this again and maybe appreciate it more, but as of right now it just isn’t happening.

TL;DR: Uh....to be honest we're not really sure. We think Patrick had some sort of existential crisis or something due to exhaustion. We....we think what he was trying to get at was that all things resonate with people in different ways and even though DeForge's work didn't resonate with him he's still aware enough to know that the work is both different enough while being competently constructed that its still worth checking out. Yeah we're going to go with that.....

Lose 2 - 4 were created by Michael DeForge. They can be purchased through Koyama Press.