Toronto-based illustrator Michael DeForge, whose usual list of clients includes the likes of The New York Times, Bloomberg Businessweek and Jacobin, has this time released a new comic titled Stunt that deals with the topic of self-destructive desires and doppelgängers. If his editorial illustrations often involve wiry, sharp-limbed characters with almond eyes in a multitude of colours, Michael’s latest release is a neo-noir comic that reads like you’re going on a wild goose chase.
The former Adventure Time designer recently completed the collected version of Leaving Richard’s Valley, his comic set in a mythical version of Toronto, benefitting from the already surreal history of the city to meld reality with fantasy. This previous work was drawn in black and white and featured crying anthropomorphic hearts, a keen intern spider and a sad frog. This time, the protagonist of Stunt is a blue character wearing white trousers and flip flops, a doppelgänger stuntman hired as a full-time body double. “I was trying to write about my changing relationship with suicidality and suicidal ideation. The story tracks two characters using each other as proxies to play out their own self-destructive desires,” Michael tells It’s Nice That.
“Performance comes up a lot in my work. Living as a mentally ill person performing as a ‘healthy’ person requires so much discipline and control, and I frequently come back to writing about how absurd maintaining that sort of discipline can be,” Michael explains. Maintaining this discipline, he says, becomes much more difficult during the low periods, leading him to become much less forgiving on himself.
Using this comic to explore these concepts, with the doppelgänger as an embodiment of this performance, allows him to weave these notions and interactions through the body double. “Having the protagonist be a stuntman felt like a natural starting point, a profession with many different layers of performance, discipline, self-immolation and punishment woven into it,” he continues.
GalleryMichael DeForge: Stunt
As the doppelgänger myth goes, when a person comes face to face with their double, it serves as a bad omen of an impending death. In Fyodor Dostoevsky’s 1866 novel The Double, for instance, a government clerk meets a more charming and confident version of himself who eventually usurps the protagonist’s place socially and professionally, eventually turning into bitter enemies and ending with the protagonist being institutionalised to an asylum.
Michael’s upcoming graphic novel, Familiar Face, to be published by Canadian cartoon publisher Drawn and Quarterly, has similar themes of bureaucracy along with the loss of agency and humanity in one’s life, with a much more colourful palette. But for Stunt, the illustrator was more restrained. “I experimented a lot with how many colours I’d use. I did versions where the colour scheme would change scene to scene, and versions that were purely black and white. This final version looked most ‘correct’,” he explains.
“I wanted it to look a little like a noir movie. That’s also what the page and panel shapes were trying to evoke, the screen of a dark movie theatre.” Beyond that, the horizontal panelling, combined with the long-limbed characters, creates a claustrophobic feeling when read. Michael’s mastery of character design and the comic form complements this project, hopefully a therapeutic endeavour and an important reminder of the different reality that those experiencing mental health issues might go through.