Birds of Maine
Michael DeForge, 464 pgs, Drawn & Quarterly, drawnandquarterly.com, $34.95
Originally published between April 2020 and December 2021 as a daily strip on Instagram, Birds of Maine depicts a highly advanced avian society that long ago departed Earth to settle on the Moon. During the gloom of the lockdown-era, this fantasy of a socialist, polyamorous, ecologically sustainable society with functioning institutions was likely therapeutic for artist and audience alike. Unlike so much art from that cultural moment, it feels untouched by claustrophobia and fear.
DeForge’s illustrations, as always, are brilliantly colourful and formally daring. Despite sticking to a rigid structure of six equal-sized panels per strip, each of these 454 comics dazzles. The setting gives him plenty to work with: the mechanics of a fungus-based internet; samplings of new lunar artforms; interplanetary and intercellular voyages. And of course, there are the birds themselves, in all their grand and ridiculous plumage. Though they are often little more than spiky blobs of colour with dots for eyes, each vibrates with expression while remaining unmistakably birdlike in manner.
It may be surprising given the free-roaming compositions of previous books like Ant Colony, but Birds of Maine is at heart a pretty traditional strip comic. Just about every strip is structured around a verbal or visual gag, which reliably draws genuine laughs. There is a lot of Peanuts in the tenderness with which the mostly youthful characters are held even as their foibles are needled.
I also did not expect to be put in mind of My So-Called Life, but adolescent cardinal Ginni, the most-frequently recurring character, is as well- rounded a teen girl as any in recent fiction. As the curious, angst-ridden, moulting centre of the story, her arc gives this bawdy, meandering book poignancy. I was glad to take this collection in over the course of a month, and a bit sorry to lose my window to these birds when I reached its end.