Comics Time: Ganges #2

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Ganges #2

Kevin Huizenga, writer/artist

Fantagraphics/Coconino, 2008

32 pages

$7.95

Buy it from Fantagraphics

I seem to remember not being as impressed by Ganges #1 as everyone else was. Mostly this was because I really, really, really loved Huizenga’s other ongoing (?) series Or Else, and thought the best material there set a standard for depicting transcendent moments in everyday life that this new stuff, keenly observed and gutsily drawn though it was, failed to live up to. No such quibbles about Ganges #2. Huizenga makes it look easy in this tale of dot-com-boom-era follies. Along with “Jeepers Jacobs” it’s one of his most straightforward stories, yet it still employs the techniques of elision and conflation that make his more abstract stuff so powerful.

It actually does start out abstract, with a pair of dueling creatures (boasting almost Marc Bell-ish designs) expanding and colliding in baroquely geometrical ways. No sooner do you realize that their conflict is working almost like a video game would, complete with life meters at the bottom of each image, than you discover it is a video game being played by Huizenga’s everyman Glenn Ganges. This sets him off in a reverie about his old job at an overcapitalized dot-com start-up, one where his actual job consists almost solely of utterly meaningless business jargon and a set of company goals so nebulous as to be nonexistent, but where his co-workers’ marathon after-hours first person shooter sessions provide both their most genuine and heartfelt human interaction and, as the company’s spirit heads south with its finances, becomes almost a point of pride.

Kind of like those rare movie comedies that are actually shot well in addition to being funny–your Annie Halls and your Big Lebowskis–what you’re getting here is something that didn’t need to be as beautifully done as it ended up. So while you’re enjoying the astute Office Space-style corporate-culture takedown, you’re also noticing Huizenga’s choice to only ever show Glenn’s wife Wendy, who was largely ignored by Glenn during his time with the company, facing away from us. Or you’re seeing how Glenn and his white-collar information-industries coworkers’ subtle idealization and thus dehumanization of the company’s long-time pink-collar secretary, Fritz, is conveyed simply by giving her the broadest caricature in the book. Or you’re realizing the extra effort Huizenga put into really capturing the appeal of the video games Glenn plays–the beauty and specificity of the environments in the ostensibly stupid shoot-’em-up, say (one is a perpetual winter morning in a mountain monastery), or the crazy dream logic of the all-ages video game he used to be into, which is described in this brilliantly dead-on passage:

He had always preferred games like, say “Yipper Yap World,” controlling science adventurer Grandma Lagrand as she gathers Fruitclumpz in Death Forest (you need the monkey rocket suit), avoiding the roller skating spiders (by double rocket jumping) in order to throw the fruit at a giant caterpillar who had spun a coccoon in the only satellite dish on the Island of Special Thanks, which had messed up cable TV for the native tribe of Rasta-Ostriches, in exchange for which they give you the moon salsa you need to bribe the Volcano Witch Triplets.”

Maybe Huizenga overwrites the ending, where Glenn and his coworkers all assign their in-game avatars the handle of a fired colleague. I’m trying to figure out if there’s a way to have shown that without explaining it. Maybe there’s not. Maybe it’s better with the captions to explain it and thus take the air out of the moment a bit, lest it get too grandiose. However transcendent that moment might have been for the players, there were still pink slips with each of their names on them waiting in the wings. They could be heroes, but just for one game.