Michael Deforge - TCAF - Featured

TCAF 2011 Interview:
Michael DeForge

Michael DeForge at the Toronto Comic Arts Festival
Michael DeForge at the Toronto Comic Arts Festival

Michael DeForge is a busy dude. At the Toronto Comic Arts Festival this weekend, DeForge will debut two comic books, an art book, a porn-anthology that he co-edited, and he’s featured as an artist in a third anthology. Not only is DeForge prolific, he has also emerged as one of Canada’s most celebrated young comic book artists. He’s also happens to be a pretty wicked guy. He kindly agreed to chat with us this week about his new comics, TCAF, immature Hotmail addresses, cable television and Toronto’s best ethnic food. Here is our conversation:

Dork Shelf: Having read your work for a while, I’ve always gotten the sense that you’re enamoured by the idea of flipping “Disney character” cuteness on its head. Whether it’s pretentious puppy undergrads, addict deer creatures, a boy finding respite from bullying in his maggot-horse, or a dog family struggling to cope with an ugly divorce – it’s a pretty consistent theme. Am I onto something here?

Michael DeForge: Yeah, I usually like drawing cute things, but I like the tension of changing one or two elements of the characters design to make it hideous. Or figuring out why something that is, on its face, kind of horrifying or weird looking, but can actually look cute. I like that tension there.

DS: Open Country – your new serial is being printed on Tuesday.

MD: Actually, Open Country isn’t going to be Koyama Press, that’s just me self-publishing it. Each issue is going to be printed with a risograph (a machine me and some friends bought). So once I finish all of the issues – and there will probably be for four or five of them – then I’ll see what I can do to collect it, but until then it’s going to be self-published.

DS: Now Open Country has got actual human characters, and a linear narrative throughout. This is somewhat of a departure from what we’ve come to expect from the Lose series… Can your fans expect more of the same going forward? Are you trying to get away from that more fragmented style?

MD: I’m never consciously trying to… Put it this way, I think my interests tend to change from story to story, and the focus of this one is a bit different. Because it’s a longer story I have more space to go on more tangents. With a comic like Lose #2, it’s a really short story – there’s only so much I can do and only so much of each character that I can explore – so I kind of just wanted to do it it as, like, “the events of one day.”

But with Open Country I can go on tangents, so some issues are going to be more about the logistics of – the whole story centres on this concept of these psychic projections in a silly way – and I think, in some issues I can focus more on that. And then other issues can be more about the conversations between characters, and some can be more action driven. So having it spread out over a few issues gives me more flexibility with that kind of thing.

Lose 3 - Michael DeForge
Lose 3 - Michael DeForge

DS: The “Artist in his home” back panel of Lose #3 – am I correct about it being an Archie reference?

MD: It’s not an Archie reference, but I guess the way it’s kind of drawn – my face and that – looks a bit like that Archie construction… Nah, that’s just me.

DS: I’ve always been curious about your personal “king trash” branding – where did that originate?

MD: I never thought of it as branding, and part of me kind of regrets not registering michaeldeforge.com as a domain. I got the website in grade 10 or 11 or something, and at the time I just thought oh it’s a “cool thing” and all these artists have “cool names”… But since then, I mean some other guy has michaeldeforge.com and I’m like – I don’t even know what “king trash” means! I guess I like trashy things or something?

DS: So it’s the website equivalent of everyone’s first Hotmail account…

MD: Yeah, it’s sort of like that. I guess it’s good that it’s not something embarrassing… it’s not like a Beastie Boys reference or something.

DS: So before I go ahead and ask you a bunch of questions about your art specifically – What is your least favourite thing to be interviewed about?

MD: The one I never really – I mean, I’m not like mad whenever someone asks it – but I can never answer it, is when people ask “Why do you draw drips on everything?” And again, I’m not like annoyed when someone asks me that – I just never have a good answer for it. I hope that’s not one of your questions I would feel bad if it was.

DS: It’s not. *Crosses question off the page and chuckles nervously* So Dog 2070 is sort of a more mature version of Dogs in College. Do you find it difficult to write dark, personal material, or do you intend there to be an underlying optimism in your work?

MD: I think, there’s an optimism in Lose #2, but I don’t think that is really there in Lose #3. But I don’t find it difficult. I sometimes find it difficult too – I mean, I consciously try and lighten things up a bit more, and go against my instincts to make everything too personal. I don’t want any of my comics to read like I’m just “going through stuff.” So I make a real effort when I’m writing them to have the personal material, but mostly I want them to read as a funny comic, or an interesting comic or a character study. I don’t want them read like it’s clearly me trying to grapple with “issues” or some shit.

Michael DeForge - Manananggal
Manananggal by Michael DeForge

DS: So in contrast with Dog 2070‘s rather verbose dialogue – Um, and you might have to help me with the pronunciation of this… *totally butchers the pronunciation of Manananggal so it sounds like mananangna*

MD: Oh, it’s Mananananggal.

DS: Oh, there’s an L at the end…?

MD: Yeah that’s an L – it’s the name of a mythological Filipino monster – and the actual comic, and the way I depict the monster has little to do with its [traditional depiction], it’s just with the space concept of a witch that can separate its torso from her lower-half. And if you salt the lower half while the torso’s out flying around, then it can’t re-attach and that’s like how it dies.  So the actual comic is that, and the effect of the separation.

DS: And the familial separation is also sort of a recurring theme there… What I found curious about it was how it directly followed Dog 2070, which, was so full of dialogue – and in Manananggal you have blank word-balloons to convey a sense silence or wordlessness… Have you ever used this technique before and where did you get this idea?

MD: I can’t remember if I’ve ever actually done the blank word balloons before, I’ve always really liked the way Dan Clowes does word balloons, and I think I steal a lot of his techniques. Like I’ll do overlapping word balloons or have one dialogue balloon cut off by a panel border maybe, to indicate a character actually being cut off, or some sort of distraction in the conversation. So I think that’s partially it too – I think the way he uses word balloons – and not that he was the first, necessarily – but the way he uses word balloons in particular influences the way I use them.

DS: What’s up for you at TCAF, where will you be, what are you showing off and what panels will you be participating in?

MD: I’ll be at the Koyama Press table – my publisher – and I’ll be launching Lose #3 which will make its debut from Koyama Press… Open Country #1 which I’m self-publishing. Then I also co-edited an anthology called Root Rot with Anne Koyama, that’s an art book. And I co-edited a porn anthology with my friend Ryan Sands called Thickness #1 – and that’ll come out too. And I’ll also be in an anthology called Gang Bang Bong edited by Janette Lepalme and Inés Estrada – and yep, those are all out for TCAF. And for panels there is going to be a Root Rot signing, sort of, and a few artists will be drawing and that’s going to be in the morning on Saturday. Then at 3 PM I’ll be at an Adventure Time panel and that’ll be with me, Bob Flynn, Steve Wolfhard, Andy Ristiano and Pendelton Ward the creator of the show who I think has been confirmed to actually be there too. Oh and Phil Rydna.. So yeah a bunch of people who’ve worked on the show will be there.

Lose 3 Michael DeForge
Michael DeForge holding Lose 3

DS: You’ve been a regular presence at TCAF for a few years, can we get some of your thoughts on the evolution of the festival and how it has come along?

MD: I’ve only been there as an exhibitor for two years – but I think the first one I attended was when it was first held, or the first time I went was the one hosted at Old Vic… It has – obviously – grown a good deal since then.

So far it’s been the best comics festival that I’ve attended – the fact that its curated, is really great. And I guess I’m a bit biased because I’m from the town, but it’s run a lot more smoothly than other festivals I’ve been to (the exception would be the Brooklyn festival in December, I think that’s probably the only one I’ve seen so far that’s comparable) – and I haven’t been to Stump Town which is hear is wonderful… But yeah – it’s run really smoothly, there’s nothing hectic about it, and the whole time you have the impression that you’re just hanging out with a bunch of your friends – who I guess, just happen to come from all over the world. But for a festival as big as it is – it always tends to seem very casual and stress-free, which, I’m sure is not the case for the organizers themselves.

DS: I’m well aware of your fondness for serialized cable television, and you’ve got a hidden Wire reference, and a rather clear AMC reference in Lose #3 – What’re your thoughts on Game of Thrones so far? And is there anything you’re looking forward too, that’s coming up over the next year and a bit in cable television?

MD: Oh man, yeah I’m digging Game of Thrones – the third episode the show really came together… I think it’s sort of like how Deadwood took about six episodes (and I thought the first six were really good), but it took a little bit for Deadwood to fully realize – and for you to really realize – what the scope was and what the focus could be. Game of Thrones – these first three are great – I haven’t read the books, and I don’t know – maybe I’ll start hating it by the end of the season, but so far I’m fully on board.

As far as other TV goes, I’m stoked for Louie to come back on – really like Louie, and I’m curious about Luck when that comes out because yeah, Deadwood is an all time favourite series, so I trust that writer despite him being responsible for John from Cincinnati.

DS: Lose 3 is filled with a bunch of ethnic food references – in fact, an ethnic food argument dominates an entire page– give me your five best ethnic food recommendations in Toronto.

MD: Oh man…

DS: Take time to think about it man

MD: Well Chinese Traditional Bun, that’s pretty close to me and it’s where I go, very often, on Dundas…

DS: I want five man, need four more.

MD: Oh, I don’t know… I feel like my feet are being put to the fire

DS: We ask tough questions here man…

MD: Well Sushi Couture is solid. Dosa Mahal on Bloor Street… Caribbean Queen – also in the Bloor village… Is that 3?

DS: I think we’ve got four…

MD: We’ve got four huh… ? I feel like I need a really good one.

DS: You’ve got to cap it off right, Mike.

MD: I need something no one has thought of.

DS: Not sure that matters, just give us some good food!

MD: Okay, I’ll go with the fried chicken at Ajuker – the Korean Fried chicken… It’s awesome.

DS: Good calls man. Alright that’s all we need! Thanks so much!

MD: Thank you!