Ganges #2: Unexpected and Good

January 13th, 2010 Posted by david brothers

I picked up Ganges #2, my introduction to Kevin Huizenga, on Tucker Stone‘s recommendation, so it’s only fitting that I bite Nina’s Virgin Read gimmick, right?

I’d heard of Huizenga before, of course. He made several Best Of 2008 lists, but I’d never really bothered to check him out. I dunno what it was–maybe being a little wary of trying new things, hopping onto a book I knew next to nothing about, maybe just being a little dumb–but I didn’t get around to it until I ended up at APE ’09 with a list of books from Tucker to keep an eye out for. I was short on money, long on time, so all I got was Ganges #2. I mean, I didn’t even know that it was about a guy who can’t sleep. I found that out weeks later. I came into this colder than cold.

My first reaction when I started reading Ganges was a mixture of confusion and surprise. The first panel is clearly a menu from a video game, and the next few panels hit all of the video game staples. I saw a select screen, some platforming, some exciting zooms, and a little fighting before it all went weird. The next ten pages are a blur of bizarre shapes and experiments in symmetry, all filtered through the language of fighting games. There are health bars and charge meters, and there’s even a bit where the black figure (player one) checks his upgrades and moves in a pause menu.

Huizenga uses the large-sized page to great effect here, as he moves from relatively normal-sized panels to one- and two-page spreads. The level of detail and complexity of the figures in the image expands drastically as they warp from form to form. There are no words, save a few text boxes in Japanese, so the art stands on its own.

It’s weird and it’s different and it immediately showed me that Ganges #2 is not what I thought it was. I was expecting mopey autobio, a distant cousin of Blankets with better artwork, and instead got something that was well worth the hype.

The game is something that Glenn Ganges is playing while his wife sleeps in bed. After a sequence where he restarts the game and gets back to it, a caption informs us that Glenn used to play a game called Pulverize when he worked for an internet startup. From that point on, I was instantly hooked. I got my first job when I was 14, doing web design (I think in Front Page and Notepad.exe) for a local non-profit. We left work at around 630. The boss left an hour earlier. Someone on staff had a copy of Quake II, and soon that last 45 minutes of work (just in case the boss came back) was game time. We had custom skins and everything.

Ganges #2 is about how people come together. While everyone in the book has their own problems and worries, Pulverize becomes an equalizer. In the game, they’re their avatars. Nothing more, nothing less. Playing together gives them a common ground to stand on, strengthening bonds and turning people from coworkers into something akin to friends. But not exactly- at the end of the day, the camaraderie is fleeting. Pulverize brought them together, but in a very specific way. The friendship was like watching a movie through a piece of glass, a little foggy, a little distant, and not quite real.

But even still, Huizenga shows how these kinds of relationships can be important. When layoffs begin at Ganges’s company, they send off one employee in grand fashion. Their bond may not be the thickest there is, but it is a bond, nonetheless, and valuable simply because it brings people together. The connection existing in that moment is what counts, not how long-lasting it is.

By the end of the book, the story is nothing more than an anecdote, something you could tell in ten minutes over drinks. In the book, it’s framed as just that. We see Ganges playing the game, the caption tells us about the time he was really into another game, and then the story ends.

Despite that, Ganges #2 is never boring. The video game that serves as the glue for the story is interesting, basically GeneriQuake, but what’s important is that the game puts the people on a level playing ground, allowing Huizenga to illustrate differences of personality by how they approach the game. It’s an obsession for Glenn, and something he hides from his wife, behaving a lot like a cheating husband when he works late and lies about it. His boss plays it because he thinks it’d be good to bond with the team, but soon quits. It’s a calculated decision, not one he did for fun, and as authentic as his relaxed posture when asking his employees about whatever small detail he’s latched onto as being the best way to relate to them. He’s fake.

Ganges isn’t at all what i expected. Taken on its own, #2 is a comic about nothing. A guy plays a game, we read a brief story about his past, then he gets some water from the sink and plays again. That’s it. But, the story is deeper and more entertaining than that summary suggests. It’s a comic about people and how they interact, held high by shockingly good art. The first ten pages show that Huizenga can do some amazing things with storytelling and the rest of the book shows his strong grasp of body language and how to make talking heads interesting.

I’m going to try to pick up the rest of Ganges (numbers one and two, which are in stock at Fantagraphics.com) and do another review, this time knowing exactly what it’s about going in. I think it’ll be interesting to see how my assessment of the series and Huizenga’s work changes. Based off Ganges #2, though, I expect to enjoy both.

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My Year in Comics: 2009

December 29th, 2009 Posted by david brothers

I keep trying to do a top ten list, but I keep getting bored and wandering off partway through. It’s not that I can’t do it. It’s just that everyone has done it, and I wouldn’t be bringing anything new to the table. Sure, my list of ten books would be different from someone else’s list, and I’d probably inadvertently end up pissing off fans of Geoff Johns/Brian Michael Bendis/JMS again. What’s vastly more interesting, is looking at 2009 in terms of how my approach to comics changed. I stopped chasing the dragon this year, but that’s just half of it. I started, or re-started, a lot of things, too.

Amazon makes this easy. I can look at the 46 orders I placed in 2009 (which is completely ridiculous) and see what I bought and when I bought it. On 02/16, I ordered three books from Amazon. Jack Kirby’s O.M.A.C., Black Panther by Jack Kirby Vol. 2, and Pluto: Urasawa x Tezuka, Vol. 1. I was very high on Kirby after picking up the first two Fourth World omnibuses, so that explains the two Kirby books. The outlier is Pluto. I hadn’t picked up any manga in some time before then, having stopped reading Monster when I moved to SF and already having a complete set of Dragon Ball. I’ve had a box full of manga chilling in my place for two and a half years now, with everything from Battle Vixens to Shaman King to The Ring waiting to be pulled out and reread, only for that to never happen.

The catalyst was Pluto, though. I’ve been watching anime since I was a kid, reading manga since I was a teenager. I remember picking up Super Manga Blast to read What’s Michael. Two days after reading Pluto 1, I ordered Monster 9-12, inadvertently giving myself two copies of volume 9. By February 24th, I had volumes 14 through 18, completing the series. I’d forgotten how much I enjoyed Monster, and reading the end of the series in a sprint like that was a blessing.

I live about six blocks from Kinokuniya, which is easily one of the best places to buy manga in the city. Large selection, decent back stock, and they’re on top of new releases. They’ve got an enormous selection of Japanese books, too. I visited it maybe twice my first year and a half here. Now, it’s more like monthly.

Pluto led to 20th Century Boys, which in turn led to Viz Signature. Other than a brief dip into and out of Black Lagoon (Nah, y’all can keep that one), Viz Signature has turned into my favorite imprint in any comics company. I’ve picked up Dogs, Ikigami: The Ultimate Limit, Jormungand, solanin, What A Wonderful World! and Vagabond, and enjoyed all of them. I’m looking forward to reading GoGo Monster (which is a very handsomely designed book), Real, not simple, and maybe Tsutomu Nihei’s Biomega.

Viz Signature led to SIG IKKI, which led to Shonen Sunday. I rediscovered Yotsuba&!, which led to Yen Press, which has a few titles I need to try out. A friend’s recommendation led to Mushishi, from Del Rey, and a few titles out of that imprint, too.

I started paying attention to manga blogs, mainly via Brigid Alverson’s Manga Blog and Kate Dacey’s Manga Critic. That spiraled out into half a dozen other blogs, which led to more books. I started writing about manga more often, though nowhere near as often as I actually read it.

While all this was going on, I was growing out of slavishly following superhero books. David Mazzucchelli’s Asterios Polyp fell in my lap like a bomb, I fell in love with Darwyn Cooke’s Parker: The Hunter, and scored several other books. I grabbed a used copy of Usagi Yojimbo: Grasscutter II on a whim and remembered how much I dig that series. Usagi Yojimbo: Yokai coming out a few weeks later was perfect timing, leaving me ripe for more. While the special edition by Fantagraphics collecting the first chunk of stories was pushed back to September 2010, I’m paying attention to Stan Sakai again and wondering why I ever stopped.

Dark Horse’s Noir and David Lapham’s Young Liars reminded me of Stray Bullets again, Joshua Dysart and Alberto Ponticelli’s Unknown Soldier rocked. I finally read Creepy, Adam Warren’s Dirty Pair, and a gang of other books.

I read Ganges #2, my first Ganges, after some goading from Tucker. I loved it, now I’m looking out for that, too. I can count the number of books by Fantagraphics I owned before picking up Ganges on zero hands. Now, I’m keeping my eyes open.

That was 2009 for me. I found a lot of new things, I learned more about my own tastes, and I started fitting my buying habits around that. I try more things, I’m open to more kinds of books, and it’s been fun discovering things that I should’ve known about all along.

2009 was a good year for comics. At this point, I’m reading American books of all types, a few Eurocomics thanks to Marvel’s partnership with Soleil, a lot of manga, a little manhwa… is there a word for that? Omnivorous? “Comics reader?” Either way, I feel better about comics than I have in a long while.

2010 is going to be a good year.

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