Wednesday, March 26, 2008

I buy very few comics these days, due to budgetary constraints. It seems like people who buy more have lower standards, in a way that's not necessarily to their detriment. The more things you consume, the easier it is to evaluate something on its own terms. I think I can listen to music more honestly due to the volume I consume, but when I buy a comic, I tend to have unreasonable expectations- I expect it to work on every level a comic can possibly work, rather than as just an aesthetic experience.

Anyway, Kevin Huizenga's Ganges 2 works on every level a comic can work. I listed his stuff at the top of my 2006 list- his complete output that year. Then, in 2007, nothing came out, except for a minicomic called New Construction that I didn't read because I would've had to order it through a website that didn't have anything else that particularly appealed to me. Ganges 2 came out today, after a hiatus that would suggest a year spent working on it.

New Construction, apparently, had deleted sequences from Ganges 1, a suite of short stories. Something appeared on Huizenga's blog (linked to in my sidebar) that seemed like something from Ganges 2 in the middle of last year. In retrospect, it seems like that was probably the deleted sequence that appeared in the New Construction zine, and that shows up in Ganges 2 in expanded form. There, it was a small vignette, with a vaguely poetic ending. Here, it's a period piece set during the dot-com boom that allows for all sorts of tangents and details. When that poetic ending is reprised here, it's still not quite amazingly moving, but there's less weight on it after the extended narrative of the rest of it.

Huizenga exists at this point on the alternative comics spectrum between something like Chris Ware (Eddie Campbell might be a better comparison point) and something like Paper Rad. Here, he starts talking about video games, and their kind of abstracted relationship to nature, which is vaguely the province of Jacob Ciocci. There's also a really great scene describing a fictional platforming game using some Ben Jones-ish details for jokes. But there's this more bookish/short story way of going about it, with a more delineated cast of characters playing off of each other, and the politics of the day and interpersonal dynamics are drawn in detail. But the tone is closer to melancholy than depression, because people are capable of warmth and feeling in Huizenga's comics. Sometimes, Huizenga navigates the divide even further, by using crazy cartoony doodles to communicate some kind of abstract epiphany in thought process at a comics' climax. I love it when he does that, but it seems like his best comics don't do that, in favor of being more controlled and concrete. His three stories from Drawn And Quarterly Showcase that were reprinted in Curses don't do that, for instance. This comic doesn't do it either, but it does start off with this abstracted overture of drawing that seems like something out of issue 18 of Paper Rodeo. It's kind of superfluous filler compared to the generally literary thrust, but it's great for what it is.

These are generalities. Here are specific bits I liked: The strip of panels at the bottom of a page where Glenn drives home, goes to sleep, and dreams of corridors. Specifically, the rhythm, cutting from outside a car to inside, to then being outside of Glenn's sleeping head and then inside a dream sequence, and how that is inforced by the compositions.

I also like how, on the very next page, the vistas of the videogame remind me of the movie Black Narcissus. There's this gorgeous palette of shades of blue that make up the color in the comic, so the technicolor of that film isn't diminished by the one-color of the Ignatz books' format. Black Narcissus had all painted backdrops, in keeping with the videogame's artifice later highlighted: It's a deliberate allusion, but a subtle one.

There's other things- the strength of comics to balance the subjective and objective, and the way that the captions tell a parallel narrative to the drawings, which happens in Huizenga's comics a lot, and is almost not worthy of note, besides to point out how dynamic the depiction of action in the images is this time around, and how lived-in the narration is, compared to the sometimes facts-cribbed-from-books nature of, say, "The Curse." That had it's own strengths, in terms of information about starlings I didn't know, that made it pleasurable to read, but this development seems distinctly like artistic growth.

This isn't to say it's perfect, that every choice seems like a good one- I don't know why there's that drawing of Glenn's head popping off in the middle of a meeting, but it's still a great comic, and those moments where it becomes a little too excitable are just evidence of reach exceeding grasp in a way that seems like it should be expected from a great cartoonist actively trying to become a better one.


Anonymous said...

Good review, Brian. I don't know if I consider this a leap forward for Huizenga, but that's just because I think he's been producing at a pretty high level for a while now. I don't know if enough can be said about what he's doing, at this point.

As for the head popping off thing...made me think of the George Swanson (the Flop Family) reprints in TCJ 281. In a lot of the Swanson strips, he uses a device, where at the end of the strip, 'the straight man,' reacting to the punchline would fly into the air, out the window/panel, have his head pop off, be flipped upside down, etc.. Forget what they called it, but it was basically a (often cheesy) way of signaling that THIS IS THE PUNCHLINE in the last panel. Don't know if that's the direct/indirect lineage of Glenn's head flying off, but I got a chuckle out of it just the same.


Anonymous said...

There's a comment that Ganges reads like "freshman philosophy"

Interestingly, my girlfriend just happened to be reading Ganges last night
(I'm not making this up) and this morning said:

"I love how people write comics to be a vehicle for philosophical one liners. And then they get praised for their insights. 'He's so intense, it's so real.' " She shrugged and pointed at the book, Ganges, "Those ideas are intense? I'm sorry then you gotta read some real books. I'm so bored."

Weird. I know my girlfriend isn't the most discerning comics reader but it is an interesting outsider view. I simply brought home the book and
said it was good. I like Kevin's work, but I found her reaction to the work telling.

The action sequences with video game war characters in Ganges 2 are pretty bad. Bad drawing. I don't know. Me thinks Kevin is having an identity crisis of sorts. The first half of the book is interesting in a weird abstract acid trip kind of way but it's so sugary, barf. The device that this video game sequence dovetails into the 2nd story is nice but then the device becomes THE story. I didn't care for it. I want to review somewhere it and politely tear it to shreds but there's no way I'm giving america's favorite cartoonist a bad review.
(I guess I just did) Oh well.