There’s sickness to Ant Colony’s pallette. Nausea—in the Assorted Fruit flavored Tums tones. A child’s winter cold—Campbell’s Tomato Soup red on bile yellow and green. Pepto pink. Scab pink. Blood shot red. Existential dread blue. No hue is Crayola true. All colors are off-ish, each meaningful. That’s what a great comics artist does: he considers and imbues every element of the medium (word, picture, color, panel, page) with purpose.
One of Michael DeForge’s purposes in Ant Colony was to, “show characters who don’t have much agency—or who don’t feel they have very much agency over their lives.” The ant, spider, bee, and centipede Funny Animal antics of this, his first, graphic novel recall the opening joke of David Foster Wallace’s Kenyon College commencement address:
...two young fish swimming along… happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says "Morning, boys. How's the water?" And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes "What the hell is water?"
Life is water or an ant colony or America or whatever world informs you. Ant Colony attunes you to surroundings. Its world resembles its creator’s: modern Western society. The Queen Ant is like a capitalist state; workers drop loads into it. The story has no arc, only events in time: A child ant, infected with infinitesimal earthworms, gets powdered with bee pollen and becomes a prophet. A depressed half of a homosexual couple starts questioning his community’s “criminal justice system.” A war breaks out between red and black colonies, and the fighting only ends when both factions are incinerated by a magnifying glass handheld to the sun (like a hole in the ozone).
In the same way that Louis CK can speak truth through the ludicrous, Michael DeForge recasts human experience through a seemingly silly microcosm of it. Reading Ant Colony is like looking at our human world through acid-colored lenses; off-ish, we see more true.