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Kendal Calling: Michael DeForge, the “Marvin Hagler” of North American “Art Comics”

"Plants" by Michael DeForge

“Plants”, an illustration by Michael DeForge

Last year, in partnership with the Lakes International Comic Art Festival, downthetubes brought you a number of interviews with creators attending the event – and we’re delighted to be able to run a series in the run up to their eagerly anticipated 2015 event in October, continuing the series with an interview with acclaimed Canadian artist and designer Michael DeForge.

Described by one ardent fan as “the greatest cartoonist ever“, Michael DeForge was born in Toronto, Ontario. He has drawn the graphic novels Ant Colony and First Year Healthy and the short story collections A Body Beneath and Very Casual – a collection of stories variously published in places like Best American Comics 2011, The Believer, and Study Group Magazine. It won the 2013 Ignatz Award for Outstanding Anthology or Collection as well as the award for Outstanding Artist.

Culled from mini comics, online comics and anthology contributions, Very Casual, published by Koyama Press in 2013, collects notable short stories from DeForge’s prolific oeuvre. Included are stories about litter gangs, meat-filled snowmen, righteous cops, beagle/human hybrids, and forest-bound drag queens. Very Casual also collects Spotting Deer, which won the Pigskin Peters Award for best non-traditional, non-narrative or avant-garde work at the 2011 Doug Wright Awards.

Culled from mini comics, online comics and anthology contributions, Very Casual, published by Koyama Press in 2013, collects notable short stories from DeForge’s prolific oeuvre. Included are stories about litter gangs, meat-filled snowmen, righteous cops, beagle/human hybrids, and forest-bound drag queens. Very Casual also collects Spotting Deer, which won the Pigskin Peters Award for best non-traditional, non-narrative or avant-garde work at the 2011 Doug Wright Awards.

According to DeForge, he has “always been drawing cartoons” and learned to read and draw from his parents’ comic strip collections such as Bloom County, Far Side, Peanuts and Calvin and Hobbes. He has described Peanuts as his all-time favourite cartoon strip. He read and tried to draw in the style of superhero comics until junior high and high school. He has described his early comics as “just these dinky revenge cartoons” in response to having been “picked on a lot growing up”.

In high school he realized that drawing could be a vocation and started drawing gig posters, initially in exchange for free entrance to concerts until he started charging for his work. He became interested in the work of Marc Bell (which he saw for first time in Exclaim!) and Matt Brinkman and has described Chester Brown’s I Never Liked You as his “introduction to alternative comics”. He also cites Chloe Lum and Yannick Desranleau’s Seripop work as strongly affecting how he wanted to draw for some time. Artists that he cites as having been important during formative points in his life include Hideshi Hino, Jack Kirby, Derek Jarman, Eduardo Muñoz Bachs, Prince, Mary Blair, Saul Steinberg and Mark Newgarden.

DeForge works as a designer for Cartoon Network’s Adventure Time. He has modestly described his work as a “props and effects designer” with “odd bits of storyboard work, character design and concept art” and “the best day job I could have ever asked for”.

downthetubes: What are you working on, comics-wise, right now, and when will it be published?

Michael DeForge: I’m currently working on a story for an issue of the Youth in Decline series, Frontier – and a short serial for Brandon Graham’s anthology series Island, as well as putting the finishing touches on a graphic novel called Big Kids, coming out in 2016.

Art for "Dressing" by Michael DeForge, a short story collection from Koyama Press published in 2015.

Art for “Dressing” by Michael DeForge, a short story collection from Koyama Press published in 2015.

downthetubes: Which comic project you’ve worked on are you most proud of and where can people see it or buy it?

Michael: I’m always happiest with my newest material, and Dressing is a collection of short stories out from Koyama Press this fall.

downthetubes: How do you plan your day as a creator? (Do you plan your day?)

One of Michael's designs for Adventure Time.

One of Michael’s designs for Adventure Time.

Michael: I try to spend the first half of the day on commercial work, and the second half of the day working on comics.

downthetubes: What’s the best thing about being a comics creator?

Michael: Creative freedom.

downthetubes: And the worst?

Michael: Lack of financial security.

downthetubes: What most distracts you from getting your work done?

Michael: Money.

Art from "Cody" by Michael DeForge, which was first published as a continuously scrolling strip online

Art from “Cody” by Michael DeForge, which was first published as a continuously scrolling strip online

downthetubes: Do you think it’s easier or harder for young comic creators to get published today?

Michael: I think it might be easier than it’s ever been to get published or find an audience. There are many fantastic micropublishers out there with very diverse and interesting tastes, and the barriers to self-publishing (either in print or online) are very low. However, “getting published” doesn’t really translate into an income, career or financial return in any way.

downthetubes: Have you ever been to the Lake District before and if so what did you think of it? If you haven’t, what are you expecting?

Michael: I haven’t, so I’m coming in blind! I’m looking forward to being surprised.

downthetubes: Which one comic creator would you most like to meet, and why?

Michael: Patrick Kyle.

Art from Michael DeForge's vibrant tale "Ant Colony", which you can read on his web site.

Art from Michael DeForge’s vibrant tale “Ant Colony”, which you can read on his web site.

downthetubes: How do Festivals and other comics events help creators most, do you think?

Michael: It’s good to actually get to meet readers, especially since cartooning can be such a solitary vocation. It’s nice to see proof that your “audience” isn’t just hypothetical – they are real people who breathe real air and are usually very, very nice.

downthetubes: What one piece of advice do you offer people looking to work in the comics industry?

Michael: To start out self-publishing – either in zines or online.

downthetubes: What’s your favourite comic right now and where can people get it?

Michael: Lala Albert is one of my favourite current artists, and her book Janus last year was fantastic.

downthetubes: Michael, thank you very much for your time and enjoy the Festival.

Michael DeForge can be found online here: www.michael-deforge.com (for starters!)

Events at the Lakes International Comic Art Festival featuring Michael DeForge

King Trash: Michael DeForge
Sunday 18th October  1.00-2.00 pm  Shakespeare Centre Tickets £8
FIND OUT MORE AND BOOK TICKETS

Read an interview with Michael DeForge on Beautiful/Decay

Why Michael DeForge is the greatest cartoonist of his generation: The Critics Explain by Ng Suat Tong

About John Freeman

The founder of downthetubes, John describes himself as is a "freelance comics operative" who is currently working as a freelance editor for TITAN COMICS, as Creative Consultant on the new DAN DARE audio adventures for B7 Media, and on promotional work for the LAKES INTERNATIONAL COMIC ART FESTIVAL and LANCASTER COMICS DAY. John has worked in British comics publishing for over 25 years, starting out at Marvel UK, where he edited a number of the Genesis 1992 books with Paul Neary, including DEATH'S HEAD II and WARHEADS. At Marvel he wrote strips for THE REAL GHOSTBUSTERS, THUNDERCATS, DOCTOR WHO and co-created SHADOW RIDERS with Brian Williamson and Ross Dearsley. His numerous credits include editor of titles such as Doctor Who Magazine at Marvel and Star Trek Magazine and Babylon 5 Magazine at Titan Magazines, where he was Managing Editor. He also edited STRIP Magazine and worked as an editor on several audio comics for ROK Comics, including TEAM M.O.B.I.L.E. and THE BEATLES STORY. He has written comics for Marvel UK, Judge Dredd Megazine, Lucky Bag Comic, CGL (an Italian publisher), STRIP Magazine and ROK Comics; and edited some of Titan's British comics collections including Dan Dare and Charley's War. Most recently he is writing CRUCIBLE as a creator-owned project with 2000AD artist Smuzz, published on Tapastic; and DEATH DUTY and SKOW DOGS with Dave Hailwood for the digital comic 100% Biodegradable.

2 comments

  1. Mr. DeFprge is so much more than an “Adventure Time” designer – the title is misleading, folks! Michael is the “Marvin Hagler” of North American “Art Comics”!!

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