Writer/Artist: Michael DeForge
Publisher: Drawn & Quarterly
Release Date: February 23, 2016
If you ignore the perennially beautiful, forward-thinking and compositionally innovative aspects of Michael DeForge’s work, there’s still plenty left to digest. Big Kids, his newest work, is a fine example of how he manages to charge full speed ahead on both medium and message, form and content, design and emotion.
DeForge doesn’t waste time getting to the point. His books are short—sometimes aggressively so. Big Kids is (sort of) a story about growing up. The narrative follows a teenager discovering the frailty of love, lust and self-actualization before his path twists in a dreamlike feat of style and insight. It shows, in a surrealistic 96 pages, the process of change through adolescence. Sometimes you look back on a past self, or even a self from a few months ago, and you can’t believe you were ever that young. Your previous veil lifts to reveal new eyes. On the other hand, do people really change?
You can read the title of Big Kids as meaning “grown-ups” or “those older than us”: the people we think we will become as we age. But you can also read it with the emphasis on the second word—“big KIDS”—meaning that although we get larger physically and develop new skills and gain mortgages and term-life insurance, we’re all just pretending. Inside, we’re not all that different from our younger selves. DeForge probably would have us read it both ways. He’s not so interested in answers. He’d rather tinker around with his lock-picking set until he opens a door for us into a new way of seeing ourselves.
The experience of reading his work is almost synesthetic; it puts almost inarticulable emotional states into seemingly unrelated visuals that evoke those feelings with pinpoint precision. How can a six-panel page of two squiggly lines intertwining suggest a late-adolescent sexual encounter? Do guilt and shame translate as a body slowly absorbing raindrops that feel like tiny, heavy metal balls? How does one draw the concept of becoming aware of a new dimension of thought and feeling? Big Kids posits crazy and ambitious goals, and DeForge doesn’t always achieves them, but his work here is reliably intellectual and emotionally intelligent as well as garishly beautiful.