Monday, January 26, 2015

First Year Healthy

First Year Healthy
Drawn and Quarterly
Michael DeForge
This one's the latest from Michael DeForge, but by the time you've finished reading this sentence, I'm sure that statement will no longer be correct.  Quick note: A quick google search for "michael deforge prolific" gives up about 23,200 results.

First Year Healthy is about a young woman who is trying to get back to living a normal life after an often-alluded to but never explained outburst that resulted in her being hospitalized.  She gets involved with a man with a career in organized crime, and she tries to take care of the man's son from another woman who died recently.  It is also ostensibly about living and dealing with mental illness.  It's a fairly straightforward and lean book, told with sparse prose and full page illustrations.

What I think I found most interesting about this book was its actual format and presentation.  The book itself has the size and feel of the kind of book you would read aloud and then open up to show off the bright funny pictures to a child, and for the most part the book feels less a comic and more an illustrated prose story.  I don't want to get into a "but is it comics?" discussion because I find those to be pretty tedious, but whatever you want to classify it as, it works and it's a good story.

I think that the illustrated prose style really works with DeForge's storytelling tendencies.  Oftentimes you can spot a really detached tone in his stories, like a documentary narrator telling a strange story.    It works particularly well in First Year Healthy because we get a very matter-of-fact, reportage-style narrator, but because that narrator is also the main character, the events she tells us about are more personal, and that takes that documentary-style detachment and kind of warps it into a confident telling of an old folk story or one of those stories your grandma tells you from when her mother was a young girl in the old country.  This old country/folktale vibe really works well with the big full page illustrations coupled with short prose bits.  It's one of those great achievements where the story and its format really work to complement each other.

First Year Healthy is pretty typical of DeForge's work.  If you already know his work, you know what you're getting into.  It's good.  It's strange.  It's funny.  The artwork is alive and vibrant and creepy and funny.  There's depression.  There's crime. There's weird sex stuff.  There's strange jobs and tasks.  There's some violence, implied and explicit.  This one has kind of a folktale element in play.  It's fine, y'know?  It's a DeForge story.

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