Michael DeForge creates fully realized worlds that seem a natural progression of Dan Clowes’ Eightball era with the sensibilities of Gilbert Hernandez, without aping anything from that lineage. His style and stories are unmistakably his own. Very Casual collects over a dozen of his shorter works that have appeared in various places on the internet and printed page.
Subjects are wide-ranging but include a pseudo-scientific portrait of the fictional Spotting Deer, the subculture of litter gangs, Spiderman in therapy, the trauma of a man having his own beagle-torso removed after a violent crime, and… other things too difficult to summarize. It may be that inability to summarize that is most compelling about the work. There’s a successful surrealism to DeForge’s narratives which are typically interior, first-person stories about connection and alienation. A feeling of otherness dominates everything, including his characters’ anatomy. “Bodily” is the word that best summarizes his artwork. The people are distended, awkward, impossibly cartooned. Pores gush, orifices ooze, snowmen are carved up for the psychotropic meat inside. Everything in his narratives is both matter-of-fact and irrational.
While many of these short stories have a humorous bent, they are heavy with a struggle to make sense of the senseless world. Through magical-realism and symbolism, DeForge is unifying words and visuals in a way no other medium could. (Arthouse film dream sequences long for the effect that DeForge pulls off on the page.) But the humor that runs throughout is wry and absurd and occasionally self-aware. For example, a basketball player fears his team hates him because his greatest contribution is inventing new arrangements for the court, new shapes for the ball, but they have no patience for complicating gameplay. (Those readers steeped in the comics world will recognize this as a riff on “art” comics in mainstream culture. Those readers who aren’t, well, it’s funny still.)
Very Casual runs the gamut of DeForge’s output. Despite the stories swinging between outright formal experimentation to throwaway gags, the work is surprisingly consistent overall. In a remarkably short time Koyama Press has become one of the most interesting publishers of young and diverse cartoonists in North America, providing fertile ground for development. DeForge’s universally-lauded regular series, Lose, is also available through them.