Comic explores pop culture through offbeat art, story

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Autobiographical series twists cultural icons into neurotically original take

Ever since Toronto-based cartoonist Michael Deforge first burst onto the alt-comics scene in 2009 with “Cold Heat Special #7,” bloggers and critics have hailed him as the next big thing. With the first issue of his annual pamphlet “Lose,” he again proves himself worthy of the hype.

The cover of “Lose #1” is an auto-portrait of the cartoonist, his expression disgruntled and his face a scarred landscape of disintegrated and degenerated images of dripping oil and geometric fractals. This will set the stage for the content within, which is heavily autobiographical, both in theme and execution. The framing narrative of “#1” is the story of Nesbit Lemon, a “guardian elf” who refuses to do the “It’s a Wonderful Life” routine with a depressed cartoonist because of a bureaucratic name mix-up and thus fails to prevent the cartoonist’s eventual suicide. When Nesbit goes to God to complain about the confusion, he is hurled into Cartoon Hell as penitence for his insubordination.

Deforge recently won the 2010 Doug Wright Award for Best Emerging Talent for “Lose #1” at the Toronto Comic Art Festival, an award from a jury of distinguished Canadian artists and critics. Really, it’s no wonder as to why Deforge is a cartoonist’s cartoonist. Operating with an easy slickness that belies his immense talent and skill, Deforge draws from an eclectic mix of influences ranging from serialized newspaper craftsmen like Jim Davis of “Garfield” and Scott Adams of “Dilbert,” to the manga of Rumiko Takahashi and Osamu Tezuka. He even goes as far as name checking alt-comics masters Gary Panter and Matt Groening in an inspired sequence set at a bar in Hell, which features iconic characters like Astro Boy and Dick Tracy puking as they lose relevance and meaning in today’s throwaway culture.

Deforge’s mastery over their iconography allows him to twist and distort these pop-culture touchstones through his own personal neurosis. At one point, characters like Garfield and Cathy literally spill their guts like a ruptured Christmas Day Macy’s Parade balloon, the air — and entrails — gushing out of their hollow shells. A show-stopping Calvin and Hobbes nod will take your breath away, not only in its flawless execution but also in its grinning-doofus sincerity.

A stream-of-consciousness roller coaster ride through Deforge’s vibrant imagination, “Lose #1” is beautifully done. It says, with a deft and steady hand, to watch out and take notice. The second issue of “Lose” has since come out, a departure from the stream-of-consciousness style of the first issue to a more focused narrative about schoolyard loneliness and alien invasions.

Grade: A

All of Michael Deforge’s work can be found on his website at www.kingtrash.com. Lose, both the first and the new second issue, can be purchased through www.AdHouseBooks.com. More work from the publisher can be found at Koyama Press, www.koyamapress.com.