Sticks An­gel­ica

Broken Pencil - - Book Reviews -

Folk Hero, Michael De­forge, 96 pgs, Drawn & Quar­terly, draw­nandquar­terly.com, $24.95

The more I chat about comics in dif­fer­ent cities and con­texts, the more I re­al­ize just how mas­sive Michael De­forge’s in­flu­ence is not just in Toronto, but the world over. He is hero to so many young creators and read­ers, who are equally en­tranced by the poetic and post­mod­ern sit­u­a­tions and di­a­logues that in­form his work and the uni­verse he’s build, al­ways one de­gree from re­al­ity, and his bizarre and spa­cious il­lus­tra­tions. And he is also pro­lific — start­ing with his Lose se­ries in 2009, De­forge’s steady stream of re­leases, whether self pub­lished or with Koyama Press and Drawn & Quar­terly, have al­lowed him to cre­ate a whole world that pushes the aes­thetic van­guard of in­die comics to­day.

One of the many steady trick­les of De­forge’s work has been his se­rial we­b­comic strip from 2015, Sticks An­gel­ica, Folk Hero, compiled in this re­cent edi­tion from Drawn & Quar­terly. The tit­u­lar hero is a self-de­scribed “Former: Olympian, poet, scholar, sculp­tor, min­is­ter, ac­tivist, Gov­er­nor Gen­eral, en­tre­pre­neur, line cook, head mis­tress, Moun­tie, colum­nist, lib­er­tar­ian, cel­list.” We meet the self-ag­gran­diz­ing, priv­i­lege-proud mav­er­ick af­ter she has fled her high-pow­ered Ot­tawa life to live in the fic­tion­al­ized Mon­terey Na­tional Park. The self-ap­pointed leader of the wood­lands, Sticks spends much of her time hum­ble-brag­ging, hurl­ing ad­vice and abuse at the an­i­mal com­mu­nity, and lead­ing on her not-so-se­cret ad­mirer and best com­pan­ion, a rab­bit named Oat­meal. When an un­speak­ing feral girl be­gins ap­pear­ing in the woods and shift­ing it’s gen­tle balance, Sticks is called upon to act.

As with all of the set­tings in De­forge’s worlds, there are strange and ar­bi­trary rules and shared un­der­stand­ings, like the prac­tice of mark­ing some an­i­mals for death as pun­ish­ment, and pro­tect­ing the oth­ers from be­ing hunted, and the in­her­ent gos­sipy and ro­man­tic char­ac­ter­is­tics of the geese. The speci­ficity of these things al­ways makes De­forge’s books feel strangely close to re­al­ity, thor­ough but in­ex­pli­ca­ble. And of course, the fact the Michael De­forge him­self is a char­ac­ter (and comics peer Lisa Hanawalt’s name is in­hab­ited by a lawyer moose), of course, adds to this strange fa­mil­iar­ity.

I won­dered how the for­mat of a se­ri­al­ized comic would fit De­forge’s work, es­pe­cially to read it all in one go as I did. The story arcs are a slow burn, but there is a co­he­sive nar­ra­tive, con­flict, and char­ac­ter de­vel­op­ment you would ex­pect from an­other comic, just with a bit chop­pier pac­ing. The Pink and white colour scheme is easy on the eye, and I just wish that wide, strip-style comics were kin­der on the bind­ing of books (no­body’s fault but physics, I guess).

Yet an­other silly, strange, and evoca­tive ad­di­tion to De­forge’s oeu­vre. Get into it. (Jonathan Valelly)

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