Kevin Huizenga, writer/artist
Fantagraphics/Coconino, September 2009
You wanna talk about a gateway comic? How ’bout handing this sucker to anyone who’s ever had trouble falling asleep? The whole thing is dedicated to nothing more or less than reproducing the mental and physical sensations of insomnia. Ironically it’s Huizenga’s most action-driven comic this side of Fight or Run or the video-game bits in Ganges #2. In order to evoke the insomniac mind’s uncontrollable wanderings, Huizenga takes Glenn Ganges’s mental avatar and sends him on a series of Cave-In-like explorations–dipping him into water, sucking him down the drain, walking him up a tree, bouncing him off thought balloons, floating him along on sleep bubbles. At one point he mentally fends off invisible burglars; at another he’s armed with a bow and arrow, or a machine gun, taking aim at his own wiredness. Combine it with one of the most effective uses yet of the Ignatz series’ two-tone color palette–here a cool small-hours blue–and the experience is almost tactile, as though you’re physically tunneling through the mysteries of your own mind. It’s only when Glenn finally gives up and gets out of bed that the gutters switch from black to white and everything instantly feels less dense, less close; naturally, removed from the million-miles-a-second flow of his Glenn’s thoughts and reset in the real world, the action switches from complex reverie to straightforward cutesy business involving playing music late at night and freaking out when the cops show up about the noise. The mastery of tone is deeply impressive.
Look, I’m always gonna be up front about how I think the “Gloriana” issue of Or Else, #2, is the best thing Huizenga’s ever done. That thing hit me with the force of a revelation, and so I tend to be deaf to the claim that he keeps getting better and better. (Particularly regarding Ganges #1 and its disastrously wrong take on the Beatles’ “She’s Leaving Home”!!!!!!1!!111!) That’s as good as he’s gotten. But it’s obviously true that each new release proves just how much he’s mastered the stuff of comics, and how thoroughly he’s staked his claim on chronicling areas of contemporary American human experience few if any other cartoonists are going anywhere near. It’s pretty darned exciting.