What is the purpose of an ant colony? Existentially speaking, this is a question that no ant would have the power to ask, and no human the knowledge to solve.
Ant Colony by Michael DeForge is a graphic novel set in the world of an established ant colony, which follows various characters in their interactions. From the existential questioning of colony life by a gay ant couple, to the sociopathic interaction of a father and his son, this graphic novel covers some inarguably dark topics that is typical of DeForge’s works.
Although the art style may seem lighthearted and cartoony, they are as organic as the world these ants live in. Each panel is meticulously crafted and uses vivid colours, from bright yellows to pastel blues. The ants themselves are each independently unique; no two are drawn the same, although similar anatomy exists. While the designs for environments and ants may seem uncomplicated at first, from simple shapes and colours making up each aspect of the panels, the level of detail expressed by the characters themselves is powerful. Better yet, the easy feel behind each stroke gives a feeling that each panel was drawn independently. No two frames are alike.
When it comes to symbolism, images of bizarre, surreal sex between these insects are at the center of the unfolding drama, as the ant colony goes from booming to desolate.
At its core, Ant Colony establishes a strange totalitarian rule by a Queen. Seen as the only fertile female of the colony, its inhabitants are required to ‘donate’ monthly, by following the window roads leading inside the Queen’s midsection, and having the all-male colony leave these ‘donations’ inside of her.
The story unfolds as a rival ant colony is brought into the mix and war ensues.
Although these circumstances move the plot ahead, what constitutes the meat of the novel is the characters. While each story arch is self-contained, they bottleneck near the end of the book as the colony falls apart, and each of these individuals are brought together to try and find a new colony to belong to, or start one of their own. Although the book gives no conclusion to this story, the building hopelessness of the last few chapters provide a glimpse into the possible future of these characters.
Ant Colony is a fairly short read, but, as its publisher Drawn & Quarterly says, is easily DeForge’s magnum opus. It’s humorous, dark, and even a little meta at times. It builds an oppressive universe and lets readers wallow in the crippling atmosphere and feel the strange social despair that these ants live through.
The book is bold, and makes no attempt at trying to be tactful. It sets out with an idea and executes it in a way that is genuine, uncensored and powerful and blends the interesting with the depressing — giving us what is most likely going to be one of the best graphic novels of 2014.
Ant Colony, from the author of the Adventure Time comic book series, is available for sale at Drawn & Quarterly Library.