Sunday, September 18th, 2011 | 5 Comments
Reading a Michael DeForge comic is an experience made up of equal parts
euphoria and nightmare.
Toronto-based artist Michael DeForge makes comics that seem to funnel the whole of comics history though the byzantine conduit of his imagination, anxieties, fears, dreams and desires. His stories are at once touching and terrifying, intensified by the dripping, dizzying eye-candy goo of his idiosyncratic drawing style. We caught up with Michael to find out what’s next for the immensely talented and prolific artist.
S&TM: You’ve been incredibly prolific in the last few years, releasing three issues of your comic Lose, the book Spotting Deer, what seems like hundreds of short comics for mags like Vice and Smoke Signals, commercial illustration work, and even recently Philip K. Dick cover designs for The Divine Invasion benefit for Dylan Williams. How do you keep up such an insane working pace? What kind of balance do you have between personal projects and commissioned work?
Michael DeForge: I split my time pretty evenly between my paid work and my comics work. On weeks when I have tighter deadlines on the paid stuff, I take it easy on the comics side of things. And obviously, on weeks where those deadlines are more relaxed, I try to take advantage of the extra time and fit more comics in.
I’m not sure if it’s that insane a pace, though! I usually end up working about 60-80 hours a week (depending on how much I have on my plate,) which I think is the roughly the norm for most artists I speak to.
S&TM: Your comics can often be pretty gut wrenching. The mix of horrific images with touchingly honest and sweet stories really gets under your skin. You seem like a pretty easy-going guy, where do all the dark elements in your work come from?
Michael DeForge: I struggle a lot with anxiety and depression, which I imagine informs a lot of my comics. It’s good to hear that I seem easy-going, though! For the most part, I’d guess that each of my comics reflects my general mood and outlook for the stretch of time I spent working on it.
S&TM: Since last year you’ve won a Doug Wright Award, and recently an Ignatz Award (congratulations!). As you get more exposure and recognition do you feel that it enables you to have more freedom to do the kind of work you want. Or does it create more pressure and limitations?
Michael DeForge: The drawing process can feel like a bit of a vacuum some days, so it definitely helps to know that there are actually a few people reading and responding to what I’m doing. As far as pressure goes – being nominated for those awards is such an honor, and it’s often alongside books that I think are much better than mine. So I definitely feel a pressure to up my game – to work harder to draw comics more deserving of being included amongst those other nominees.
S&TM: You co-edited the forest-themed anthology Root Rot with Annie Koyama, and also Thickness with Ryan Sands. Is the editorial/curatorial side of things something you look forward to outside of drawing/writing your own comics?
Michael DeForge: I’ve never actually had much interest in being an editor. Root Rot and Thickness are both unique cases because I believed in the idea behind each book, and enjoy working with Ryan and Anne so much. But unless a specific project comes along that I get equally excited about, it’s not something I plan on pursuing in the future.
I even feel a bit guilty about being listed as a co-editor alongside Ryan and Anne on those anthologies, since they’ve both done most of the heavy lifting on each book. As editors, they have a focus, drive and vision that I completely lack, and I suspect I have been the weaker link in both collaborations – or at best, just the guy “going along for the ride,” or something!
S&TM: We love the strange existential quality to your new bi-weekly web comic Ant Comic. With most of your work appearing in print, was there anything you’re hoping to explore by publishing direct to web?
Michael DeForge: I tend to prefer print as a medium, but I’ve always felt comfortable putting my content online. I’ve posted a lot of material that’s already seen print up for free on my blog, and more recently on the What Things Do site.
Ant Comic is the first comic I’ve drawn that I’ve designed with both web *and* print in mind, though. All the other comics I’ve posted to the web were still designed for print first. That they were readable online was just a happy coincidence afterwards. The Ant Comic pages are drawn to (hopefully) look good stretched across a monitor screen, which is something I will likely experiment with. I’m also approaching the story a bit differently. There’s going to be a loose narrative connecting all the strips together, but I’m also attempting to make each installment readable on its own.
I do plan on collecting them all in print when I’m finished, though!
S&TM: Anything coming up we can look forward to you?
Michael DeForge: You’ve mentioned Ant Comic appearing bi-weekly on my site, and I’m also contributing a weekly gag strip to Frank Santoro’s column on Comics Journal website.
Print-wise, I have a monthly strip that’s been appearing in Alvin Buenaventura‘s comics spread in The Believer, and am halfway through a quarterly serial I’ve been drawing in Maisonneuve Magazine. The second issue of Thickness should be coming out in October, as well as the second issue of Open Country, a mini-comic I’ve been self-publishing. Note by Note, a 24-pager I’m drawing for the Secret Headquarters store, and Lose #4 are also on the horizon for 2012!
S&TM: Huge thanks to Michael DeForge for taking the time to do this interview.
All images © 2011 Michael DeForge.