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Michael DeForge’s ‘Ant Colony’ is a dark, penetrating achievement

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Ant Colony cartoonist Michael DeForge works as a designer on Cartoon Network’s Adventure Time.
J. Caleb Mozzocco

Five stars

Ant Colony By Michael DeForge, Drawn and Quarterly, $22.

Cartoon enthusiasts of all ages have seen some of cartoonist Michael DeForge’s work from Adventure Time, the popular Cartoon Network show he works on as a designer, but that’s poor preparation for Ant Colony. An epic, novel-length comic book fable about some disaffected members of a community of ants who are eventually forced by circumstances—a brutal war with a colony of savage red ants all hopped up on ant drug spider milk, sabotaged by one of their own psychopathic members—into trying to start their own colony.

Presented mostly in colorful, nine-panel, landscape strips—some are stand-alone, non-sequitur gag comics; most continue into the next strip—Ant Colony introduces a disparate cast of ant characters in a surrealist world of bugs. Centipedes are stretch limos with dozens of tires, and spiders are cartoon wolf-heads with eight lines for legs. Gradually their conflicts draw together into an existential melodrama. Remarkably violent and darkly hilarious, it’s a comic about the human condition that features no human characters at all. Well, there is a human hand, holding a magnifying glass, which obviously doesn’t make life any easier for a war-torn ant colony.

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