This interview was conducted by Fantagraphics intern Sam Chattin. Thanks to Sam and Kevin!
Ganges 4 hits stores in October, or get your mitts on an early copy at SPX, September 10th & 11th in Betheseda, Maryland! Kevin will be signing at the Fantagraphics table from 1:00-3:00 PM on Saturday, and 3:00-4:30 PM on Sunday. -- janice
NOTE: THERE ARE SOME SPOILERS IN THIS INTERVIEW [esp. #8]. READ THE COMIC FIRST IF YOU DON’T WANT SOME STUFF RUINED FOR YOU. -- Kevin H.
SAM CHATTIN: Your stories are marked by this deep comprehension of the various sciences (everything from zoology to physics). Why do you choose to include those expository elements in your stories (which often take up multiple pages)?
KEVIN HUIZENGA: That’s nice of you to say, but I feel like my knowledge of these subjects is still pretty superficial. Laying out things and looking at things is more interesting to me than dramatic storytelling. That’s not a value judgment; it’s how my brain is wired. Other writers I know can effortlessly think up dramatic situations —characters who want things and have conflicts — but my story ideas tend to be more like “what is chlorophyll?” or “walking around/oxytocin” or “terrifying TV commercial,” which are the kinds of things that reveal how solitary and lonely a life I live. I’m terrified that if I really indulged myself and my instincts I would just make comics that are diagrams of how things fit together, like complicated diagrams or giant flowcharts, and become a completely hopeless case.
CHATTIN: The often anti-climatic endings and rambling narratives add a sense of realism to your stories. It feels as though we’re peeping at not only the life but also the working mind of some stranger. What made you go this particular route?
HUIZENGA: I wish I had a more interesting answer, but really it’s just as simple as writing in a way that seems least gross to me. I feel pretty good about how things turn out, for the most part, but at the same time there’s little voices saying “what are you doing?” and “you thought this was a good idea why?” But you have to ignore these voices and start another one and keep moving. Judging by the kinds of ideas I start out with, I maybe could be writing essays or poems, but I got mixed up in comics. I thought it would be a good idea to draw comics and build upon and around Glenn Ganges as a blank character, and now it’s too late. I’m only being half-serious here. Because there are limitations to writing prose without pictures that would be very frustrating to me. I want to see what things look like and I want to see things diagrammed. When I read pictureless prose I’m often imagining illustrations or emblems or diagrams of whatever I’m reading about, and part of me is frustrated that those don’t exist.
HUIZENGA: I write notes, I think about a story, I get irritable and crabby, I eventually start drawing it, etc. I don’t think I go very deep into my subconscious. I’d like to try doing that more in the future. It’s a way of thinking and trusting your gut that’s not my usual method, I guess. In this issue “the Wanderer” was improvised in an attempt to, I don’t know, go from panel to panel with a different kind of story logic than usual.
There’s an interview where Dan Clowes says (this is pre-Ice Haven days, I think) something about how he thought he’d get faster over time as his skills improved but that he found himself getting slower because he kept trying out complicated effects and tricks in each panel. That really fits my experience drawing this issue. It took me a long time. There was a lot of trying something, then changing my mind, then going back and forth, etc.
CHATTIN:How heavily do the misadventures of your characters (specifically Glenn Ganges) reflect your own personal experiences?
HUIZENGA: It’s not autobiographical. I take things from my life, like any writer does, and I try to make a new thing out of it that others can identify with and hopefully enjoy.
CHATTIN:How do you choose which experiences will work best in the comic medium?
HUIZENGA: You just sort of know. Or sometimes you think it won’t work, and the trick is in finding a way to make it work. The point isn’t really the ostensible subject, the point is figuring out how to package the ideas in an interesting form. It’s like a puzzle. I like puzzles when there’s no pressure, and no one cares about how you perform. I think that explains a lot about my career and my personality.
CHATTIN: Glenn Ganges’ latest adventure concerns a restless night. What is your preferred method for combating these moments of temporary insomnia?
HUIZENGA: A bowl of cereal (low sugar) and a book that is kind of boring and/or hard to read.
CHATTIN: How would describe the structure ofGanges #4?
HUIZENGA: An infinite grid of panels, only some of which you can see and read, but occasionally you catch a glimpse of it fading off into infinity, and also the grid contains itself nested within itself at different levels.
CHATTIN: Was it an aesthetic or symbolic choice — or neither — to break up the panels on the bottom of pages 10-13?
HUIZENGA: I’m not sure what you’re asking, but I probably wouldn’t want to answer anyhow, since this seems like the kind of thing where I’m being tempted into explaining the thinking behind a story. Obviously I have to do some of that in an interview, but I try to keep it to a minimum. As a reader I often want a writer to explain their thinking behind a short story or a poem, but at the same time I really don’t want to know, either. And the same thing holds for writers too, I think—they often want to know what readers think, but at the same time they don’t, really.
CHATTIN: How did you tackle, visually, working with so much moonlight and shadow inGanges #4?
HUIZENGA: Experimenting with tones and shadows in Photoshop, making a mess of it, and settling for the least gross-looking version of the panel. I wanted to try to draw Glenn walking around the house at night, and it took some experimentation to get something interesting that worked. I’m still not satisfied with it, but I think I know how to fix it for the collection.
CHATTIN: What are some of the challenges of depicting Death, who appears in your latest work?
HUIZENGA: It didn’t feel like it was a challenge at all. As I understand it, it’s been pretty well established that Death is a skeleton in a cloak with a scythe. I’d like to think that death appears in many of my comics so far.
CHATTIN: I found the connection with Earth’s calendar and Glenn’s calendar amusing. What kind of thought process goes into making these connections?
HUIZENGA: I don’t think it gives anything away to say that Ganges is largely about time, and different ways representing and thinking about it. The Earth’s calendar thing is a pretty common illustration in popular geology books and natural histories, and since Glenn is reading Basin and Range in the story, it was an obvious way to go.
• Review: "...Shimura Takako tells this story in such a gentle, unobtrusive way, one might believe that this story flows naturally – as if it simply spun itself from nature and is the way it is supposed to be. I think Matt Thorn’s tidy translation, which goes down the mental gullet with such smoothness, is a big reason for how readable this is. Wandering Son is not flashy or aggressive, nor does it pander or try to be hip and stylish. Takako draws the reader in so quietly that some may be surprised to find themselves on a journey of discovery and exploration with these characters. It’s like seeing preadolescence for the first time or seeing it again through fresh eyes and a new perspective.... If only more comic books were so evocative and so clear in their storytelling like Wandering Son, an ideal comic book. Ages 8 to 80 will like Wandering Son. [Grade] A" – Leroy Douresseaux, I Reads You
• Review: "Of the three books collected in this volume [What I Did], Hey, Wait... is a really evocative portrait of how childhood experiences can affect one throughout his entire life, and The Iron Wagon (which adapts an early-twentieth-century Norwegian novel) is a pretty good murder mystery that makes good use of Jason's deadpan style, but it's the middle entry, Sshhhh!, that really sticks with me, immediately jumping to the top of my favorites among the cartoonist's works.... It's sad, wonderful, exhilarating work, a great example of how amazing Jason is at what he does, and how nobody else can do it like him." – Matthew J. Brady, Warren Peace Sings the Blues
• Review: "The plot often takes a sharp turn towards the absurd and downright crazy, but eventually the story always comes back to our heroine. Adele Blanc-Sec takes no crap... It’s really nice to see such a strong female character at the centre of all this mayhem, and her character really pulls the book together.... Tardi’s artwork is great to look at; his panels are vibrant and full of life. In his hands Paris 1911 is a busy metropolitan city still hanging on to its 18th century spirit and facade.... The first volume ofThe Extraordinary Adventures of Adele Blanc-Sec left me with more questions than answers, and volume 2’s release date of November seems all to far away! I look forward to reading more of Adele Blanc-Sec’s adventures." – Will Pond, Good Comic Books
• Review: "Glenn Ganges — the protagonist of the first volume of the series Ganges — is a dreamer, an eccentric, a loving husband, but first and foremost a restless man. Meaningless details do not give rest to him, he makes a mountain out of a molehill, and his fantasies replace the reality. Five stories under one cover are the five pieces of a day in the life of Ganges.... I’d like to meet this Ganges." – Ray Garraty, Endless Falls Up
32-page two-color 8.5" x 11" comic book, with jacket • $7.95 Part of the Ignatz Series
Ships in: August 2011 (subject to change) — This item will be available for order simultaneous to its release in comic shops.
Can you make an exciting comic out of insomnia? Kevin Huizenga rises to the challenge as he depicts his alter ego Glenn Ganges wrestling with sleeplessness, trying to trick it by reading a particularly abstruse book, obsessively breaking his past, present and future life down to ever more hallucinatory, complex grids, and wandering around his darkened house trying not to wake up his wife. Also: Loose cat action!
• Review: "...[T]he cartoons in Willie & Joe: Back Home capture Mauldin at a low ebb personally, and ferociously inspired professionally.... The material in Back Home is bitter but witty, and remarkable for its courage. Given the platform of a major syndicate, Mauldin used his moral authority — as a firsthand observer of atrocity, venality, and want — to try and make his complacent countrymen feel a little shame. Where his wartime cartoons had said, 'I am one of you' to grunts in the trenches, his post-war work said, 'What the hell happened to you?' to the people who stayed home. At the time, the public rejected Mauldin’s lectures. Today they’re a blistering reminder that life after WWII wasn’t all suburban bliss and baby boom." – Noel Murray, The A.V. Club
• Review: "Told with humor and a great depth of sensitivity, these comics offer a human lens to an epic more often expressed in grandiose terms. Over the past couple of years Fantagraphics has amazed me consistently with its archival releases of seminal cartoonists' work, and Willie and Joe: The WWII Years is yet another fine example." – David Gutowski, Largehearted Boy
• Review: "Toth brought clarity and drama to the page — the equivalent of a top Hollywood director elevating rote material through elegant framing and camera moves.... Nearly every drawing in this book is purposeful and exciting, and they flow together to tell stories so clearly that the words are often superfluous. Setting the Standard is a treasure trove..." – Noel Murray, The A.V. Club
• Review: "...Jacques Tardi is certainly in Toth’s league when it comes to rendering seamy genre fare with real artistry. Like a Sniper Lining Up His Shot ... is a wonderfully wicked piece of work, tracking a hitman as he tries to sever all ties with his past and retire with his childhood sweetheart. The story’s a familiar one... but Manchette’s approach is especially violent and gory, with a tough twist ending. And Tardi picks up on the sadness underlying the brutality, sketching a black-and-white world where the choice to go to the dark side is irrevocable, no matter how hard characters work to wrest control of their fates." – Noel Murray, The A.V. Club
• Review: "...Belgian artist Olivier Schrauwen does a fine job of approximating the high weirdness of early-20th-century newspaper comics in The Man Who Grew His Beard, a collection of seven deeply strange short stories.... Schrauwen mixes ink and paint in ways that blur the distinctions between comics and fine art, and he brings back certain themes — instruction and erotica, primarily — that suggest how men try and fail to place parameters on the primal. But The Man Who Grew His Beard isn’t meant to be 'understood' so much as it is to be entered and experienced, in all its wildness." – Noel Murray, The A.V. Club
• Review: "Kevin Huizenga’s Ganges #4 continues the artist’s increasingly masterful hybrid of direct storytelling and experimental abstraction.... The story suits Huizenga’s style, since he can document both the familiar minutiae of daily life and the sense of unreality that takes hold whenever someone is up half the night. Huizenga works in visual motifs of endlessly branching possibilities and spiraling shapes, showing how becoming 'lost in thought' can be terrifying. In short: This is another terrific installment of a series that’s fast becoming a classic." – Noel Murray, The A.V. Club
• Review: "Mr. Twee Deedle, Raggedy Ann’s Sprightly Cousin: The Forgotten Fantasy Masterpieces of Johnny Gruelle... collects the strip that illustrator Gruelle created to fill the void left by Little Nemo when Winsor McKay departed The New York Herald. Though not as imaginative as McKay, Gruelle’s Mr. Twee Deedle was every bit as colorful and lavishly rendered, telling gentle fairy stories that explore a rich fantasy world existing in tandem with our own, like children having elaborate playtimes mere feet away from their parents’ more prosaic lives." – Noel Murray, The A.V. Club (NOTE: This review was based on samples of the strip provided to the reviewer; the book itself is incomplete and still in production.)
• Review: "...Drawing Power... brings together an eclectic set of examples of comics being used to sell products. The pages are fun to look at — from Mickey Mouse pitching Post Toasties to Dr. Seuss illustrating ads for Esso Marine Products — but the topic is a little too large for a 120-page book, especially one so loosely organized. Then again, maybe that’s the point: to create a reading experience as chaotic and laced with odd beauty as cartooning itself." – Noel Murray, The A.V. Club
• Review: "I have long admired Woodring’s brilliant, hallucinatory, and bizarre Frank comics. But his work has taken a leap forward with last year’s Weathercraft and this year’s Congress of the Animals. The Frank world is one the reader benefits by being immersed in. What might seem a bit incomprehensible in a short strip blossoms into a dark Dionysian dream in these two graphic novels.... If I keep mention them together, it is because I believe they beg to be read together. They show different but complimentary sides of Woodring’s vision. And also because these two books combine to form, I believe, one of the greatest achievements in recent comics. If you are a fan of the strange, the uncanny, the bizarre, the hallucinatory, and the fantastic, I can’t recommend them enough." – Lincoln Michel, The Faster Times
• Review: For Magnet, Marc Bianchi of the band Her Space Holiday (they're good!) pens an appreciation of Charles M. Schulz's Peanuts, adding "A good place to rediscover the Peanuts is through the retrospective that Fantagraphics started releasing in 2004. They are complete and total masterpieces, from the elegant layouts provided by famed comic-book artist Seth to the wonderful guest introductions each volume has... If you are ever in a shop that carries these books, I highly suggest thumbing through one of them. Especially the earliest works (1950-1952 or 1953-1954). You are guaranteed to find something that in one panel can tear your heart apart and, in the next, put it back together again."
• Review: "To say that Wandering Son isn't a manga for everyone is perhaps stating the obvious, but despite the potential to make light of its cross-dressing, coming of age tale it proves itself to be an impressively subtle and considered take on growing up within this opening volume. ...[G]ive it time and you'll find an impressive, character-driven series beneath its simplistic surface that will both charm and fascinate you, leaving you rooting for its characters and wanting to follow them through to (you hope) eventual happiness." – Andy Hanley, UK Anime Network
• Review: "Supermen!: The First Wave of Comic Book Heroes, 1936-1941 promises to fill gaps in 'the origins and early development of superheroes and the comic book form.' Editor Greg Sadwoski has assembled an eye-catching collection of stories, magazine covers, and house ads showing unfamiliar faces from the first years of American adventures comics. ...Supermen! is most interesting for what didn’t lead anywhere.... Seeing what didn’t work or become the norm can be as illuminating as seeing what did." – J.L. Bell, Oz and Ends (via Robot 6)
• Plug: "...[D]espite his undeniable gift for crafting elegant and vibrant storytelling that transcends all genres, sadly there has never before been a comprehensive, affordably priced reprinting of Carl Barks' Disney work…until now. Fantagraphics Books recently announced that it will begin reprinting the entire catalog of the master’s Disney material, beginning with the release of Walt Disney’s Donald Duck: 'Lost in the Andes' by Carl Barks in October, 2011." – Bill Baker, The Morton Report
• Interview (Audio): The hosts of Comics Alliance's "War Rocket Ajax" podcast talk to Michael Kupperman about his new book Mark Twain's Autobiography 1910-2010, crafting his brand of humor and sundry other topics (such as bleu cheese): "It's about things taking the turn that you don't expect, the ball taking the bounce you don't expect. That for me is an example of trying to make the sentence end up in a place that's different from where it started."
• Tribute: At The Comics Journal, Kim Thompson's obituary of Francisco Solano López: "Argentina’s Francisco Solano López was a titan of South American comics, on a level with the great Alberto Breccia, the temporary honorary Argentinean (during the 1950s) Hugo Pratt, and the hugely influential writer Hector Oesterheld (who collaborated with all three)." (Excerpt courtesy TCJ's Tim Hodler)
Apologies for the long delay since the last roundup. I enjoy bringing you these posts but lately it's been hard to squeeze them in. I may need to figure out a new approach or something. Anyway, on with the show:
• Hey, a new comic from Jonathan Bennett! Spin commissioned a 2-page strip from Jonathan as part of their commemoration of the 20th anniversary of Nirvana's Nevermind and posted it on Facebook (Via Spurge)