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book review

Puke Force

By Brian Chippendale, Drawn & Quarterly, 120 pages, $27.95

Brian Chippendale's laugh-out-loud, labyrinthine Puke Force is less a story than it is a city – a thriving, pulsing, postapocalyptic shopping plaza in which the artist's odd little people live their lives. As Chippendale meanders through their misfit stories – this one gets lost in mists of memory, while those ones start a riotous bar brawl and that one simply scrolls through Twitter for panels on end – an ink-black contagion spreads throughout the city's denizens, spawned from the depths of online comment sections. Chippendale uses his hyperactive drawings to pit the imperfections of corporeal existence – ratty penmanship, physical exertion, torment and puking – against the invisible ways that social media and bleeding-edge tech contribute to the easy commodification and surveillance of our lives. The artist's chipper doomscapes fall just short of truly wild-eyed visionary status, if only because Puke Force flits about its crazed, convulsive business in the shadow of Gary Panter's punk cosmos (see his work on Jimbo, or Pee-Wee's Playhouse). Still, rather than simply parroting Panter's lo-fi/highbrow aesthetic, Chippendale advances and enriches it, scratching out his own nervy marks that make life under WiFi look animal and sick.

Renée

By Ludovic Debeurme, Top Shelf, 564 pages, $39.99

Ludovic Debeurme follows up his breakout king-sized graphic novel, Lucille, by introducing a new character to that book's cast of damaged, needy people in a small Norman fishing village. Lucille lives under the too-watchful eye of her mother, and continues to battle anorexia, while her boyfriend, Arthur, serves time in jail for murdering Lucille's would-be assaulter. Renée at first seems unconnected to either character, which is one reason this volume works so intelligibly on its own. Despondent and self-critical, she resents her married older lover at the same time she clings to him, and is haunted by dreamlike, ghastly apparitions. Debeurme's exquisite style in Renée is more mature and lived-in than it was in the thin-lined and comparatively adolescent world of its predecessor. Everything has literally taken on new shadings and dimensions, with the artist's pliant pen adding so many embellishments that his unforgiving portraiture often turns into florid grotesquerie. These characters are awkward in their skins – too fleshy, too sagging, with all the weight of the world dragging them down – but Debeurme's refusal to avert his gaze from their struggles and suffering is compassionate, and even loving.

Big Kids

By Michael DeForge, Drawn & Quarterly, 96 pages, $19.95

It was once standard to compare Michael DeForge to David Cronenberg, given each artist's stories of bodies in polite but horrific distress. Any more, though, his comics practically lug Kafka in by the mandibles, and not only because it's so tough to adequately characterize DeForge's own work – the unpredictable young author may yet require his own adjective (DeForgery?). In Big Kids, DeForge's teenaged protagonist awakes one morning from troubling dreams to find himself transformed to a tree. Not, of course, a tree like we know it: In the artist's usual dysphoric manner, words and images seldom signify what they're supposed to. Instead, "trees" look vaguely insectoid, with tendril-like limbs and lungs made of flowers. This, the youth learns, is the true form of humans who have reached full maturity. For them, the world takes on abstract new contours, with heightened senses granting access to a crisper reality, while children and unfortunates who haven't yet "treed" (our hero's callow ex-boyfriend, for one) remain ignorant of the altered state of their betters. Big Kids thus sets up a slippery, multilayered metaphor, which DeForge then complicates with all the legerdemain of Kafka writing parables.