Michael DeForge’s comics veer dramatically from book to book, from absurdist slices of life to tales of uncanny transcendence. His latest, Sticks Angelica, Folk Hero, follows the adventures of the title character as she eschews human society for a surreal life in the forest; strange hijinks do, in fact, ensue. In advance of his upcoming New York appearance–March 29th at Rough Trade–I spoke with DeForge about Sticks Angelica, his tour with Sadie Dupuis, and more.
Big Kids had a very transcendental, sometimes mystical feeling to it, while in Sticks Angelica, the natural world becomes increasingly more absurd as the book progresses. Do you view the two as being in dialogue with one another?
My stories tend to have a lot of overlapping concerns, and I see them as all being related to each other in some way. I’m attracted to nature’s funny, complex, nonsensical machinery. I keep coming back to the woods.
What about the character of Sticks Angelica lent itself to the Sunday strip format?
I think I’m just suited to comic strips. I had done a weekly before, and am currently working on a daily strip. I like being able to tackle art in small doses. Portioning it off this way is a lot easier than trying to take on the entirety of a massive graphic novel all at once. Strips are able to mirror the rhythms of real life a lot more closely, too. You have more freedom to lose the plot for a while, and go on these little detours.
Over the course of the book, you experiment more and more with that format, as other characters briefly take center stage. Did you have that structure in mind from the outset?
It just sort of happened naturally. I like having an ensemble cast for these longer narratives. It stops me from getting too sick of any one character.
Versions of both yourself and Lisa Hanawalt show up in Sticks Angelica. What prompted you to riff on assorted comics creators within the confines of this book?
Well, the Lisa Hanawalt character was more of a tribute to Lisa’s work, and not written to be a version of her. I never have a good answer for why I write myself into my comics. I’m apparently quite narcissistic. I’m easy enough to draw, and I fit the bill of a character I intended to introduce to the forest (a pestering, intrusive author).
How did your tour with Sadie Dupuis come about?
Sadie’s a friend, and we were discussing about our touring schedules at some point last year and thought it would be fun to do a few events together. I’ve done so many process talks and so many “career overview” presentations, so it’s nice that this tour will be a little different. It’s a relief to switch things up sometimes. There are only so many times I can go on stage and, like, talk about Risographs or whatever.
What do you see as the common threads that link your work?
Most of my work is about transformation in some way.
There are a number of references to politics in this book, from Sticks’s libertarianism to a bird having a vision of its future career as a conservative pundit to Sticks’s father’s re-election campaign. When did you decide to incorporate politics into the larger story that you were telling in this book?
Sticks being a libertarian was just sort of a throwaway detail at first, something small that I thought fit with my initial sketch of her. As I filled in her backstory, it started to make sense that the family she was feeling estranged from would be deeply rooted in Liberal Party politics. It wasn’t supposed to be a particularly significant part of her character – it was just another piece of the puzzle, as I tried to imagine Sticks’ view of things, and how she would make sense of the world.
Artwork by Michael DeForge, courtesy of Drawn & Quarterly