Like a wicked fever dream or a Ralph Bakshi film, Michael DeForge’s Ant Colony, published by Drawn & Quarterly, is a comic that manages to be completely otherworldly while at the same time lucid enough to be relatable. Originally published online and fully readable here, DeForge’s vision of a colony of ants marching through life (and through the giant ant queen’s “sex canal”) is a fitting tribute to the unpredictability and fragility of living, portrayed by one of the more twisted graphic artists working today.
The black ants of the story are beautifully drawn, each with their own individual digestive system and unique head and body shape, distinguishing them from their completely identical red ant counterparts. The black ants, who remain mostly nameless, are expected to fulfill their duties for their Queen, but DeForge’s main characters are philosophers, frustrated lovers, dubious fathers, and freaked out children who end up on a series of misadventures. As this was originally a webcomic, there is less of a central narrative so much as there is a series of events that culminate in a war between the black ants and the red ants, who are high on the dripping pink milk of the neighbouring wolf spiders, and the collapse of the hive, foretold by a boy ant who, having subdivided a worm into so many microscopic living pieces and inhaled them, gains prophetic powers. Yep, it’s a trippy book. It feels slightly disjointed, but there is enough of a link between the stories that you care about the characters and their overall fate within the story.
This comic is definitely not for kids
The beauty of the desolation DeForge illustrates is in the small details. The colour in the world is hyperreal and rich, further immersing the reader in the bizarre scenarios played out on the page. The landscapes are suitably bleak, yet alive with the population of creatures such as the limousine centipede and the wolf spiders who are basically wolf heads on spider legs. The ant queen herself is a masterpiece; a giantess of a woman with flowing red hair, sitting languorously with legs akimbo with a stream of tiny ants marching between her legs. This is definitely not the classiest comic, but it is pulled off with such sheer audacity and gorgeous art I was hooked from beginning to end. If there’s one thing I’m upset with, it’s that the ending, which is suitably enigmatic, is quite abrupt and left me instantly wanting more.
I highly recommend you pick up this book, so you too can appreciate the angst of ants: