Familiar Face, by Michael DeForge (Drawn & Quarterly, 176 pages)
If you feel like the ground has shifted under your feet, of late – that the terrain you face is utterly unrecognizable – have I got the book for you.
In Familiar Face, Michael DeForge imagines a world where roadways, train lines, buildings and people are subject to constant, arbitrary change. Even individual faces and bodies get “updated” without forewarning. Every facet of life is precarious, uncertain; everyone lives in front of a screen. The nameless everywoman who narrates the book spends her workdays reading complaints about the unaccountable processes that upend everyone’s lives, only to have her own existence thrown into turmoil when her girlfriend vanishes without a trace – perhaps to help fight the surveillance state.
While DeForge’s writing vividly captures a sense of anomie and impotence, his irrepressible art is filled with constant, colourful stimulus. The result is a blackly comic juxtaposition, something like Hieronyus Bosch let loose in the salesroom of Canada Computers, all chaos and critters and screens and apps, a relentless jumbling of hardware and flesh, in which protest seems futile but brave nonetheless.
The Cursed Hermit, by Kris Bertin and Alexander Forbes (Conundrum Press, 192 pages)
The second in the line of Hobtown Mystery Stories is every bit as engrossing as the first, and even more accomplished – just the sort of cracking tale with which to while away an afternoon in isolation. The Hobtown Junior Detective Club – a team of teen detectives, à la Nancy Drew – continue to investigate strange goings-on in their small, eccentric Nova Scotian village.
Suffused with a believable sense of the supernatural, this adventure sees jocky Brennan and clairvoyant Pauline at Knotty Pines, a brooding hilltop boarding school for gifted students, headed by sinister descendants of the town’s Georgian-era founder. Why has the wild-eyed local “hermit” broken down screaming at the sight of the school? And why does Pauline keep having visions?
The steady hand of artist Alexander Forbes proves as adept at muscular fight scenes as at phantasmagoric dream sequences, while writer Kris Bertin builds on the first book’s strong character work, continuing to deliver surprising and satisfying plot twists. A ghost story, a teenage romance, and maybe even an allegory about the long inheritance of colonialism, The Cursed Hermit is consummately crafted entertainment.
Constantly, by GG (Koyama Press, 48 pages)
GG’s biographical note tells us she hails from “a small Prairie city in Canada.” Given how claustrophobic Constantly is – a chamber piece that rarely ventures outside the main character’s apartment – that setting makes perfect sense. The push and pull between the oppressive insularity of a small town and the expansive countryside beyond its borders mirrors the contradictory mindset of this young woman who struggles to leave the confines of home. “I don’t want to leave a trace,” she writes, in the laconic notes that punctuate her day; but she also decides, “I don’t want to be forgotten.”
Beset by crippling depression – figured as ghostly black hands, clawing at her constantly – she manages to shower, water a plant and blend a shake, before preparing, eventually, maybe, to step outside.
This stripped-down follow-up to GG’s debut, the similarly self-effacing I’m Not Here, is less story than poem, its pages filled not so much with action as with minimalist choreography. As the young woman confronts her anxiety and agoraphobia, those of us who are newly housebound may find release in GG’s ability to depict such aching melancholia with grace, empathy and impeccable beauty.
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