Enter A Strange State Of Nature With Michael DeForge’s ‘Sticks Angelica, Folk Hero’
Who is Sticks Angelica? According to no less an authority than Stick Angelica herself, she is a 49-year-old former Olympian, poet, scholar, sculptor, minister, activist, and all-around hyphenate celebrity who has left the public eye after a scandal involving her politician father, and moved into the Monterey National Park in Ontario.
She is also the title character of Sticks Angelica, Folk Hero, a comic strip-turned-graphic novel by Michael DeForge.
As he did in his earlier work Ant Colony, DeForge has created an entire working ecosystem that gets teased out, explored, and mined for comic potential in Sticks Angelica, and the resultant world is at once familiar (even mundane), while nevertheless containing fantastical elements that make a perfect sense within the logical framework of the comic. (As an American who has never gone farther into Canada than their side of Niagra Falls, I can easily just file the talking animals and alternative laws of nature as the way things work in the magical land to the north.)
As an all-around hero figure and symbol of celebrity, Sticks is the focal point of the nearby animal life's attention, and it is immediately clear that the power dynamic she enjoyed in the human world followed her into the civilized wild of the national park; as pretty much the only human being living there, she is still incredibly special, and thus sought after, gossiped about, and obsessed over.
Oatmeal, a darling little rabbit, is in love with her, and struggles to accept her decision to just be friends, versus anything more fraught --- like say, master and pet. A sweaty bear with literary ambitions occasionally wrestlers her, and tries to include her in neighborhood activities. A moose named Lisa Hanawalt --- which should be a rather familiar name to most readers --- goes all Single White Female on Sticks, eventually graduating from her stalker to "a hot-shot law moose" who lives in the big city. (As for the name, the moose found it carved on a tree stump, but as she pulls a reverse Sticks and leaves the park for the human world, she does resemble one of the animal-headed human beings of Hanawalt's artwork). A pair of geese live in Sticks' car, and in lieu of rent she has them pay for the accommodations with information.
And so on. Think The Jungle Book, if Mowgli were a middle-aged Canadian celebrity raised by politicians, and the jungle were a national park governed by laws crafted and enforced by Mounties and forest animals alike.
DeForge introduces his cast, the world he builds for them and their intersecting, snowballing dramas over the course of some 90 comic strips, most of them consisting of two four-panel tiers, their machine-like regularity filled with his highly-stylized art work; here a unique compromise between cute pop art and old-school, alt-comics weirdness. All of this is rendered with pink and black ink upon the white page, so that the world of Sticks Angelica isn't black-and-white, but black-and-white-and pink. A little like the Canadian flag, but wrong.
The book is presented --- and was presumably created --- with each page's strip its own distinct, discrete unit, culminating in a gag of one kind or another: Sometimes it's funny ha-ha, sometimes it's funny as in off, sometimes there are soap opera strip moments of deadpan melodrama that are amusing in their juxtaposition with all of the other weirdness.
Eventually it all coalesces into a single story, in which the other human being living in the park, a feral little girl, is captured, arrested, and put on trial before the forest tribunal for the crimes of her father. Meanwhile Canada tries out a new slogan ("Sensual Canada"), new dumb geese are hatched to replace the old dumb geese, and life goes on.
By the end of the book, everyone has changed, some quite drastically, others only slightly. No one has changed less between the first and final strips than Sticks Angelica herself, however, and her change is simply superficial: She gets a new hairstyle. The celebrity, the hero might be at the center of everything, but in DeForge's comic, as in real life, the real story is what happens to everyone else.