Uniter reviews Curses

“Book review: Curses” / Uniter / Whitney Light / March 28, 2007

The first book by comic author Kevin Huizenga is a collection of his fantastic tales about Glenn Ganges. They are fantastic in two ways: the drawings are elegant with an element of retro style; and Huizenga tackles some fantastic subject matter. Myth, demons, and spirituality figure in several stories.

But the world of Glenn Ganges is our own. With wide open eyes and a receding hairline, Ganges looks like everyman living the Western suburban experience. Occasionally he shares it with his girlfriend/wife, Wendy.

Ganges' life, in fact, faintly echoes Huizenga's. Huizenga lives in a suburb of Saint Louis with his wife. His comics have received much high praise, including several different awards. The stories collected here come from Kramer's Ergot, The Drawn and Quarterly Showcase, his series Or Else, and Time Magazine.

Huizenga takes the mundane aspects of life---opening junk mail, dealing with incessant bird chirping, chatting late-night over coffee with the neighbours, playing golf---as pathways to insightful, sometimes humourous, telling of what it means to be human. Suburban shopping malls and chain stores, supermarkets, and bland neighbourhoods depict the surface of the modern world. But it is infiltrated by the darker world of the imagination, inspired by musings on the past and spirituality.

In the first comic, "Green Tea," for example, Huizenga draws Ganges as a college student who develops an obsession with his research project. Unfortunately, he also develops a persistent vision of a dog with a human hand protruding from its mouth. Stumbling across some archival documents, Ganges finds a parellel situation to his in the papers of a psychologist who investigated the case of a Reverand plagued by visions of an evil monkey. The comic is based on the story of the same name by nineteenth century ghost writer Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu. A simple punch line takes the macabre tale swiftly back to real experience.

Clearly, Huizenga is a well-read and quite literary comic author. The text heavy "Jeepers Jacobs" even includes footnotes to several relatively recent theological writings. The story follows Jacobs, an acquaintance of Ganges and professor at a seminary, as he writes an article, "Is Hell Empty?," about the debate between annihilationists and traditionalists on the possibility of eternal conscious torment (ECT) after death. Smart and funny, the comic won the Eisner Award for Best Short Story.

Other comics let the pictures do much more of the talking. "The Curse" depicts Ganges' neighbourhood overrun by starlings. After a brief escapade into the history of starlings in North America, Huizenga simply draws strip after strip of plus, minus, and v-shapes to convey the soaring flock of birds.

Taken together, the stories leave one with a feeling of unease. The deftly drawn graphics with their well-timed text makes more than a satisfying read, but Huizenga brings forth those troubling aspects of life that cannot be easily resolved. And perhaps that is what makes this book so engaging. Those aspects are the endlessly interesting ones.

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