Isaac Butler’s diablog response to my Essential Reading post on Kevin Huizenga’s work is right here.
In it he details not only some of the reasons he digs Kevin H., but also the one major shortcoming he finds in Huizenga’s work. A couple of quotations from his post sum it up nicely.
What happens in one issue has only cursory bearing on another. Glenn Ganges is in many ways like a bulletin board that Huizenga uses to pin whatever he wants to talk about to.
I’m unsure what the stakes are within Huizenga’s world, and I’m unsure what my relationship to his characters are supposed to be.
Isaac then asks…
Is it wrong for me to have this quibble while enjoying rather profoundly each individual Huizenga story? … Should I just relax and quit my bitching and enjoy the riches that are there? Do you think Huizenga is deliberately playing with how character is represented in narrative? Do you think I’ve totally got my head up my ass here? And weren’t we supposed to talk about Ganges #2 which Douglas Wolk called “the kind of thing I want to hand to people who ask ‘what kind of comics do you like?'”
So, in order … No, maybe, sometimes, kind of, and yes we were.
By which I mean …
No, we all want more, right? I think you covered it pretty well here.
Maybe we’d all enjoy stuff more if we stop looking for fault. But that’s hard when you’re in the art business and used to questioning reality, right?
I do think that Huizenga deliberately plays around with the rules of narrative sometimes. After all, his stories rarely end-up being about what they seemed to be about at the beginning. He’s liable to give pages upon pages over to what would otherwise be a tiny moment, giving that moment twice as much weight as the rest of the story. (As in “The Moon Rose” in Or Else #2.)
Wolk uses the term “gradual narrative” to talk about the Glenn Ganges stories. I think he’s alluding to the fact that the stories are so rarely really about Glenn & Wendy, so only with a lot of diligent reading and after-thought can we piece together the story of Glenn & Wendy’s lives. We learn much more about the world around them than we do about their stories. Sometimes this seems deliberate, and sometimes Huizenga does seem to be using Glenn as a vessel to talk about whatever’s on his mind. (Or, maybe he’s just a tease. Check out the last page of Ganges #2. Who is fuck is Uncle Louis? That seems like a detail he threw in just to be ridiculous.)
Would you like Huizenga’s oeuvre better if it were a whole bunch of stories about people with different names, but similar faces and lives? Abe Abbot, Brian Billingsly, Carl Compastner, Dave Diggler … and so on?
So, no, your head is definitely not up your ass. Maybe Huizenga’s just not interested in writing the book you wanna read. Or put it this way … Wouldn’t we all like to know a little bit more about that Godot? Sure, but that’s not the play Beckett wanted to write.
Ganges #2 is all about video games, kinda.
The first “story” appears to be basically an exercise in abstraction and riffing on a couple of basic elements who happen to have appeared in several of Kevin H.’s previous books. What starts out quite clearly as a Tekken-style fighting game in comic form becomes a competition to see which character can produce the most complex and impressive variations.
The art is beautiful to look at, and in the end the white one wins. Sweet
As it turns out, Glenn Ganges was playing the black one, and he lost. Thus the theme of video games takes us into the only other story in the comic, “Pulverize”. And, as is Kevin H.’s way, he uses this theme to draw us into a personal story about his time in the dot com boom, a bit of history about video games, some ruminations of the nature of video games and the effects they have on the players, and commentary about on-the-job relationships. We also meet Bob Bilson, who already returned for one panel in Ganges #1, and who is exactly the type of lovable loser that Huizenga loves to spend time thinking about and giving his due.
Check out Huizenga/Glenn exploring the nature of video games – “Underneath, it’s just dots shooting at dots” – and at the same time using it as justification for his fixation. While, at the same time, Huizenga inserts a sly assessment of the effect these video games are having on Glenn & Wendy’s relationship by never letting us see Wendy’s face in the whole story (or even on the back cover).
(Hey, what’s this snazzy shirt Glenn’s wearing? I don’t think you could get away with this in real life. Could you? Note how it matches his long-sleeve t-shirt, shown above.)
What’s great about this issue is the way Kevin H. manages to do all the things he loves – he mixes in some fiction, tells a good story, gets in a lot of commentary, uses the comics form to his best advantage, breaks out of the panels, and shines some light on an unexpected hero – and yet it doesn’t feel forced. It all fits in one long form and it flows in a completely natural way. The symbolism of the images gets layered as the story gets longer, and it takes all of the foundation he’s spent 19 pages laying out to create that incredibly moving ending.
If you had told me I’d read a comic book about video games and that something that occurred in the game would be the key emotional moment of a brilliant story, I’d have laughed in your face and suggested you stop reading Super Mario Adventures.
And maybe that’s the best way to sum up what’s great about Kevin Huizenga’s work: No matter what you get from it – a history lesson, a lesson in empathy, or a great story – it never happens in anything like an expected way. He always comes in through the side door. Remarkable.