familiar face

Familiar Face
By Michael DeForge
Drawn and Quarterly

“The only constant is change.”

Heraclitus of Ephesus said that. I looked it up. Actually, I’m not quite clear that he said those exact words. I’m not sure that that’s not just a paraphrase of his actual sentence. But you get the idea. Through a couple of thousand years of translation, the actual structure of his statement may have changed, but the intent seems to have stayed the same, which makes me think that actually the only constant is the meaning behind what Heraclitus of Ephesus said about change.

Change, however, is entirely in the eye of the beholder. That dictates not only the level of change but also the speed of it. What some people think is slow change is just the right pace to others, while some people react to swift change as disorientingly fast and therefore not a good thing. Most people who reached adulthood before the turn of the century consider the pace of change to have sped up considerably lately, while a wider view suggests that change has been picking up pace at least since the Industrial Revolution.

familiar face

One difference that the rate of change has affected lately is that it intensifies the now that people live in. It’s so fast that brains have less time to acclimate and so any change brings a present that we accept as eternal just so we stay sane. A lot of that has to do with our virtual world, our online connections, and that is exactly what Michael DeForge’s Familiar Face portrays.

In Familiar Face, DeForge uses his trademark squiggly abstract figures that inhabit surrealist worlds to delve into the life of … well, we don’t know her name, and that’s just as well because reality is stricken by constant updates and reboots and patches that change everything in the blink of an eye. It could be your body. It could be your lover’s body. It could be the layout of your apartment or the layout of the city you live in. It could be the actual life that you are living. One day you have one life and the next you are somewhere else doing something else as someone else. Names barely matter anymore.

Within this world, our unnamed heroine has the job of reading complaints. She doesn’t do anything about them. She doesn’t have any knowledge of whether anyone else actually does anything about them. The complaints are essentially monologues, and they spell out in absurd and hilarious ways how slower lives of consistency are wrought with discord and paranoia, and also slow change that, in the end, isn’t any more pleasant than fast change, because either type can be unexpected.

familiar face

Trouble begins for our unnamed heroine when her girlfriend disappears in an update. Our unnamed heroine begins to experience the effects of slow change even as rapid change continues. Paranoia overtakes her existence as she tries to read various incidents as secret messages from her missing girlfriend, which leads to anxiousness, despair, and a lack of self-worth. With nothing tangible to cling to emotionally or physically for that matter, she begins a course of rebellion that may or may not give her what she needs.

DeForge’s fable isn’t a hopeful one, but I’m not quite sure that there’s much to be hopeful about anyhow. But while shooting from the hip with this particular prognosis, he’s masked a lot of it in presentation, so any similarity to our own reality at least has a buffer zone and maybe the possibility that we can laugh it off and believe that at least WE’RE not like that. But since the human brain’s survival instinct to the kind of rapid change Familiar Face depicts is to shift into that state of an eternal present, how would any of us really know whether we are like that or not?