Investigating “A Body Beneath”

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There’s weird, there’s weird, and there’s weird. And then there’s Michael DeForge. You may have heard the End of the Universe team talking about the Toronto-based comic creator’s new book, “Ant Colony,” in our most recent podcast. In between lusty hoots of satisfaction and slack-jawed amazement, we discussed how terrifically inventive, curious, fun, and funny of a read it was. That being said, it is also weird, disturbing, and gross.

Whereas “Ant Colony” is DeForge’s most recent output, and perhaps his most consistent, “A Body Beneath” (collecting issues of his brilliant comic book, “LOSE”) is arguably his most fun, surreal, and off-the-wall-bonkers yet. Collecting issues 2-5 of his Koyama Press-published ‘floppies’ (or comic books), “A Body Beneath” serves as a fascinatingly crunchy look into what DeForge has been up to the past 5 years.

Although it remains puzzlingly (and pleasingly) strange throughout, as the issues progress, the quality increases, the storytelling becomes more effective, and the output more focused. Watching the evolution of the creator is fascinating. From the raw, maggoty adventures of “It’s Chip” to the bafflingly succinct, sci-fi nakedness of “Social Studies,” “A Body Beneath” is the most satisfying collection of DeForge’s work to date.

As far as award-snagging goes, DeForge’s “LOSE” series has won several. Most notably, the creator won “Best Emerging Talent” for the series at the 2010 Doug Wright Awards. DeForge and “LOSE” also won the 2011 Ignatz Award for “Outstanding Comic,” and most recently, the 2013 Ignatz awards for “Outstanding Artist” and “Outstanding Series” at last year’s SPX. Whether this legitimizes the series or diagnoses the comics community with insanity, who’s to say. We’re all along for the ride either way.

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Readers not overly familiar with DeForge’s award history might recognize his work from “The Best American Comics 2013,” the Baltic Comics Magazine “š!” or numerous other bigwig anthologies. The fellow also works for everyone’s favorite Cartoon Network bizarro program “Adventure Time,” which might give people who aren’t familiar with his comics work an idea of the type of work he’s doing. However, don’t expect any Finn and Jake adventures here (unless “Dog 2070’”is Jake’s bleak fate, or Finn joined the “Canadian Royalty”).

Although his work may be hard to describe aptly (words like ‘strange’ and ‘baffling’ have been thrown around), it’s the execution that makes it so unique and great. His material is not only weird, but it is so committed to that weirdness, to a point where it all seems normal.

For example, “Dog 2070” is a particularly bizarre comic, and also one of the more depressing strips of the lot; a laughing-on-the-outside, dying-on-the-inside kind of read. What makes it so bizarre is that it is actually, to a degree, totally believable. The strip follows the bleak, day-to-day life and existential qualms of a divorced father living alone, talking to himself, boring others, and wondering if he’s hard to be around. Oh, and he’s a dog that can fly (or at least glide, like a flying squirrel). Believable, right? In the sense that, if there was a divorced, flying, anthropomorphic dog in the post-apocalyptic future, living alone and stewing in sadness, it seems totally believable that his life would play out this way.

The first story, “It’s Chip,” is one of the most inexplicable and gross comics of the collection. With possible influences of legendary Japanese comic creator, Hideshi Hino (his book “Oninbo and the Bugs from Hell” comes to mind), the story follows a young, ostracized boy and his only friend, a rotting, severed horsehead.

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The body-horror strip “Someone I Know” is one of the most fascinating and disturbing of the lot. This dark, Charles Burnsian comic follows a nervous college freshman as he tries to woo a senior girl from his film class by taking her to the new club, “The Grand Room.” It all sounds cool until he realizes it’s a bizarro-world S&M sex club, with his entire film class in attendance (including the professor), all of them fully decked out in glorious S&M regalia, and full of nefarious intentions.

 

“Canadian Royalty” is perhaps the funniest of the series, serving as an informational strip describing the fictional monarchy’s ‘lifestyles and fashions.’ It includes bony royal children whose features are sanded down to nothing so that they can fit into their illustrious, otherworldly garb. These children also drink the viscous fluids of their recently boiled father, as they are forced to compete viciously with their fellow siblings to become the next ruling monarchs. As a side note, one of the children is subsequently diagnosed with Avoidant Personality Disorder. This kind of real-world weirdness pops up fairly often in DeForge’s work, and can make the reader scratch his/her head and mumble, “Well, I suspect that would make sense…” And, readers, once you’ve uttered those words, you know you’ve truly lost it.

Other highlights include “About The Author,” a funny and insightful (?), self-deprecating one-pager. The creepiness of ‘Stacyface’ in the short strip, “The Sixties,” is enough to give you goosebumps (once you realize what’s really going on). And getting high off of octopus ink has never been so touching as it is in one of the book’s most accomplished strips, “Living Outdoors.”

Although 2014’s “Ant Colony” may be the creator’s most polished and colorful work yet, those looking for more of a range of his material (as well as some of his most celebrated work) should scour the graveyards for “A Body Beneath.” Those with insatiable appetites should also check out the Michael DeForge collection, “Very Casual,” which is another stellar output from Koyama Press, and a must-have for comic curio-collectors. Truly, if anything can be said about DeForge’s work, it is that it’s better when experienced than it is to hear about it, so for god’s sake, go and pick up this book right now.

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Be sure to check out Michael DeForge’s blog for more crazy strips and webcomics, michaeldeforge.wordpress.com.

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