Telegraph Gallery serves up community alongside graphic art and comic books

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Michael DeForge’s Ant Colony will be featured at the March 6 gathering of the Comic Book Club at Telegraph Gallery. Michael DeForge’s Ant Colony will be featured at the March 6 gathering of the Comic Book Club at Telegraph Gallery.

Tucked away on Fourth Street NE just off the Downtown Mall, Telegraph Gallery still feels a bit like a secret portal to a different world. The hand-painted letters on the storefront windows tug at passersby with the promise of things both unknown and exciting. At once a gallery, bookstore, workspace, and shop, Telegraph showcases the unique strengths and aesthetics of husband-and-wife co-owners David Murray and Kate deNeveu.

Since the store opened in March 2013, its First Fridays receptions have attracted crowds to explore new, limited-edition artist prints, priced so that even the leanest budget can afford to start an art collection. The gallery also hosts free, hands-on Comic Craft Days, as well as author panels and readings. In a town with a strong traditional literary scene, Murray and deNeveu have successfully formed a community hub that works to expand our definition and appreciation of alternative forms of storytelling through comics. For the past few months, they’ve been experimenting with another way to share their passions: Comic Book Club.

Focused on encouraging new readers and informing a community discussion of alternative comics, Comic Book Club is open to all. The books discussed so far have included True Swamp: Choose Your Poison by Jon Lewis and Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on Earth by Chris Ware. The club gatherings have brought out a diverse group of people excited to discuss every detail, from narrative arc and panel layout to general impressions and questions. First-time readers will feel welcome alongside dedicated fans of specific authors.

“So far the response has been great: we’ve made new friends, dug into some good books, and eaten our fair share of cheese,” said Murray. “Getting more interesting books in readers’ hands is one of our favorite parts of this job.”

Intrigued? The third installment of the Comic Book Club will feature Ant Colony by Michael DeForge.

Released in January, Ant Colony is fresh off the press from Montreal-based publisher Drawn and Quarterly. The narrative provides a striking analysis of human nature through an intimate (at times very intimate) look at the inhabitants and interactions of the titular ant colony. DeForge’s aesthetic is one-of-a-kind and his touch is immediately recognizable in each panel. For those unfamiliar with his work, DeForge’s series of small format comics, entitled Lose (Koyama Press), makes a great entry point.

Animal and insect forms feature prominently in much of Deforge’s work and this book is no different. However, bright colors and a goofy drawing style belie the fact that this isn’t a comic book for kids. Originally a series of short-form comic strips called Ant Comics, the long-form book compiles the story in a beautifully designed tome that breathes anew with each turned page. DeForge is skilled at leaving room to inhabit his worlds and this story will certainly stick with the reader long after the last page.

Ant Colony has a dark humor and existential tone that will appeal to many, but certainly not all. In the end, it’s a well-crafted comic narrative for readers who are interested in exploring the depths of humanity in the company of dog-headed spiders and warring ants.

Spin-offs and follow-up stories from the Ant Colony universe seem highly likely, given the artist’s prolific work. This month finds him fresh off a book tour for Ant Colony, as well as an appearance at the Los Angeles Art Book Fair, where he debuted a new comic book with co-author Patrick Kyle.

For now, readers can enjoy DeForge’s invigorating new work with the help of Murray, deNeveu, and new friends with a shared obsession. The next meeting of the Comic Book Club takes place at the gallery on March 6.

Speaking of volumes

In other efforts to re-imagine books and what we do with them, the Virginia Arts of the Book Center (VABC) is hosting an exhibit of limited edition, handmade books this month in Staunton. Created during the 2013 collaborative project, “A Bookmaker’s Dozen,” 27 local artists teamed up to create this series of miniature books. This exhibit features 15 2″x3″ books showcasing a variety of printing styles including letterpress, lithography, etching, and giclée, as well as a variety of hand binding styles ranging from coptic to accordion. The opening reception will be held on February 28 from 5-7pm at Barrister Books in Staunton.

Want to take a bookmaking class of your own? The VABC operates a working studio and print shop in the Ivy Shopping Center that’s open to the public for classes, and past bookmaking projects are also available to view upon request.

Where do you go for your reading pleasure? Tell us in the comments section below.

  • James Ford

    DeForge is kind of the king of comics right now (or, at least, the prince, if we are to presume that Jaime Hernandez is still king), and “Ant Colony” is indeed representative of his strengths; I enjoyed it when he serialized it online, and love it as a finished book. the dog-faced spiders, the limousine caterpillars, and the eerie breathing worms are pretty indelible, and the sequences with the giant ant-queen are pretty spectacular.

    Sarah’s right, though; “Lose” makes a good introduction to his work (it’s all short works, there’s no ongoing narrative from issue to issue); Lose #4 in particular was the one that got me hooked; the first story, a Cronenberg-esque coming-of-age tale, piqued my interest, but the abrupt transition from that to the brilliant “Canadian Royalty” is what made me an obsessive fan.

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