You know how puberty is super weird? Like one day you’re a normal human and then next day you feel like every single sense in your body is more alive and alert than it every has been before? Well, in Michael DeForge’s latest comic Big Kids, from esteemed publishers Drawn & Quarterly, he captures that not-quite-yourself-anymore-and-everything-else-is-different-too feeling exquisitely. In Big Kids, the protagonist is quite literally changing.
Into a tree.
That’s the premise of the comic: when we come of age, some of us become trees. But most of the world is made up of twigs. Learning to be a tree, then, means learning to be lonely, to connect with people who we might not otherwise choose or even like, or to destroy ourselves trying to live like twigs instead.
It’s an achingly beautiful meditation on being a teenager with depression or anxiety disorder that addresses something few coming-of-age narratives do: what happens when you grow up and you’re not quite sure you like the person you’ve become? And it’s a thoughtful metaphor for growing up queer and different and lonely. It’s a comic well worth reading, with DeForge’s signature strange and surrealist art style that will keep you engaged and curious.
I didn’t always “get it,” as I read Big Kids. But I liked the challenge of trying very much.
It’s also a book that is absolutely beautiful to hold. The thing we should talk about more when we talk about comics — such a visual and tactile medium — is the form factor. Big Kids is paradoxically small, a tiny hardcover that fits in a big pocket or a small purse. Holding it somewhat awkwardly and peering at the tiny text is part of the experience of reading the comic, removing the reader from his or her comfort zone in a way that parallels the experience of waking up in a new and foreign body that the comic details.
If you haven’t had your perceptions challenged by a comic lately, pick up Big Kids and spend some quality time with the weird and wonderful Michael DeForge. You’ll be pleased you did.