Saturday, 11 December 2010

Review - The Wild Kingdom HC

I am not really up to speed with what is going on in the world of ‘alternative’ comics these days, although I wish I was and I fully intend to catch up with anthologies like Mome and Kramers Ergot at some point (i.e. if and when I ever get a job). In the 1990s, pretty much all I bought was alternative comics, but when I almost gave up on comics entirely for a couple of years in the late-1990s, it was superhero comics that eventually dragged me back in. I still kept up with Love and Rockets, bought Cerebus right up to the (very) bitter end (although I still haven’t managed to work up the enthusiasm to read the last 100 or so issues), still bought Eightball, kept up with new works by Charles Burns, Robert Crumb, Chester Brown, etc., but my exposure to works by new alt. cartoonists was limited while I spent several years trying to recapture my childhood by filling gaps in my Daredevil collection. In retrospect, I did not choose wisely.

One relatively new alternative cartoonist I have managed to get in to, however, is Kevin Huizenga. I first saw his work in Ganges #1, part of Fantagraphics’ Ignatz series. The stories in Ganges are about Huizenga’s everyman character Glenn Ganges – who reminds me of Robert Crumb’s Flakey Foont – and his wife Wendy, and #1 (it’s now up to #3) is one of my favourite comics ever. It was certainly my favourite comic of 2006. In it, Glenn pondered time travel, the private lives of litterbugs, the meaning behind some Beatles songs, and what goes on in the minds of other people as they struggle to get to sleep, and it’s a great piece of work. I quickly tracked down most of Huizenga’s other comics, which include the Drawn & Quarterly series ‘Or Else’ (also featuring Glenn Ganges) and the excellent 2006 hardcover ‘Curses’, which collects some of Huizenga’s strips for various anthologies and magazines. I haven’t liked all of his comics, but I admire even the stuff I don’t like that much and some of his stuff is brilliant.

‘The Wild Kingdom’ is a new (2010) hardcover, published by Drawn & Quarterly (as was ‘Curses’), but it is really just an expanded reprint of Or Else #4 from 2006, which was itself an expanded reprint of a story from a self-published comic (Super-Monster #12) that Huizenga put together in 1999 / 2000. It’s not my favourite work by the cartoonist by a long way, but it’s an interesting book, presented in the style of a biology textbook but really nothing of the sort. It contains a whole bunch of weird, mixed-up parodies of TV ads, some apple reviews, and a bizarre-looking guide to fancy pigeons, but the main story running through the book concerns Glenn Ganges’ interactions with nature. He squashes a bug; he eats an apple; he observes a squirrel; he watches a pigeon get run over by a car after it eats too much discarded junk food to fly away; he puts a beetle he finds in his laundry room in a jar and places it in his garden, only for the beetle to be attacked by Glenn’s pet cat. It’s an odd, seemingly inconsequential story – and a quick read, as most of it is silent – that has major consequences when the hawk that eats the squashed pigeon lands on a telephone wire. The ad parodies are more unusual, reading more like a bad dream about adverts than actual adverts, and feature ads for products such as ‘Sliced Balls’ and the ‘Famous Ghost’ TV show. My favourite thing in here, I think, was the guide to some of the animals featured in the book, and I particularly liked this description of the grey squirrel: ‘Moving gracefully, their fluffy tails undulating elegantly, they sting only to paralyze their victims. Enemies: chipmunks, red squirrels. Friends: a few in high school’.

I’m not sure that I would recommend this book to readers unfamiliar with Huizenga’s better works. Really, you should probably check out Ganges issues 1 to 3 and the Curses HC first, and then move on to this later. It is a good book, though. I don’t regret buying it but I do slightly regret paying $19.95 (the full cover price) for it in Meltdown Comics in Los Angeles on a recent trip to America. It’s currently only £8.78 at the Book Depository and I already own a copy of Or Else #4, which only cost $5.95 when it came out, and I really can’t see much difference between that and this, apart from the addition of some colour and a few additional pages near the end. I think I’ll forgive myself for my moment of fiscal recklessness, though, as I rarely go in any good comic shops anymore and found myself a bit overwhelmed when confronted by a shop as good as Meltdown Comics. Plus I am happy to own any book by Kevin Huizenga, even if it is just a slightly different version of something I already have.

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