Review: Michael DeForge’s First Year Healthy

Toronto graphic novelist mixes body horror with wild experimentalism


FIRST YEAR HEALTHY by Michael DeForge (Drawn and Quarterly), 48 pages, $14.95 hardcover. Rating: NNNN


In a comic arts scene growing more crowded by the minute, Toronto’s Michael DeForge continues to stand out and stand alone.

The 27-year-old, whose Ant Colony earned a spot on the New York Times graphic bestseller list last year, has a singular drawing style. He mixes body horror (see his Lose series and 2013’s Very Casual) and wild experimentalism (skewed perspectives, dense/sparse page variety) with the kind of innocence usually found in kids’ books (cute characters with babyish features, a friendly colour palette). His writing grounds his flights of fancy, with down-to-earth prose communicated by vulnerable characters having a hard time in life. 

All of this is true of new graphic novel First Year Healthy, about a young woman’s first year post-stay in a mental hospital. The premise is clear from page one, but not the reason for her “outburst.” Throughout the short work, DeForge milks that tension to create a sense of foreboding that vibrates through each page. 

Centred around the nameless narrator’s relationship with a Turkish co-worker possibly mired in criminal activity, the plot is fast and exciting. A strange, beautiful poeticism comes through via a magical cat that is seen on the pages more than talked about. (DeForge embraces the genre’s parallel-world possibilities.)

And the innocent/seedy blend leads to some terrific shocks – a gasp-worthy plot twist, a TMI relationship detail – that make First Year Healthy stick in your brain like an unsettling dream. It’s dark and lonely. It’s ambiguous and comforting. Not for the kiddies.   

Michael DeForge launches First Year Healthy at Type Books’ Queen West location on Wednesday (January 28). See Readings.

carlag@nowtoronto.com | @carlagillis

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