Or Else #5
Kevin Huizenga, writer/artist
Drawn & Quarterly, October 2008
Or Else #5 is one of Kevin Huizenga’s least showy comics in recent memory, as well as one of his most openly autobiographical; all of that is true despite it mostly being about living in a war-ravaged post-apocalyptic dystopia. The centerpiece story, “Rumbling,” is based on a prose work by writer Giorgio Manganelli, and sees Huizengan everyman Glenn Ganges inserted into a Handmaid’s Tale-esque scenario of warring religious factions as an ambassador from a country “where wars of religion are not waged.” (Amusingly, Ganges later reveals that his homeland fights scientifically rigorous wars of atheism instead. Bill Maher Is Watching You!) I think you can see a little bit of C.F.’s Powr Mastrs (Huizenga’s a fan) sneaking in here, with the strips emphasis on the lavishly constructed uniforms of the various factions’ soldiery and its relatively straightforward pacing and use of genre. The autobio elements slip in through a pair of strips about animal intrusions into the Huizenga/Ganges household–first a turtle in a strip that (I think) openly stars Huizenga rather than his stand-in, then a longer strip about various spiders and wasps that have infested and done battle in Ganges’s house, where the long, lighter-colored hair Ganges is sporting makes him look more like the cartoonist himself than ever. The back-cover photograph of one of the bug battles depicted in the comic adds another real-world/fiction crossover element. The package is rounded out by several strips that focus on picayune details–sentence diagramming, “How Are We Spending Our Tuesday?”, the structure of a conversation between two people represented solely in gibberish, and so on–to such a degree that their meaning is all but lost, like a word repeated into incomprehensibility. Need I mention the effortless cartooning–a loosening line used to connote flashbacks, the military precision with which Huizenga uses grays? It’s not the knockout blow that some previous Or Else issues have been, but as an exercise in Huizenga’s trademark juxtaposition of the quotidian with the universal (and frequently the philosophically troubling), it’s solid; as a unit, though, I’m not sure why it begins and ends where it does and contains what it does.