SPX Pulls: Ganges 1 - 4 / by Patrick Smith

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My time at SPX this year might as well have had the added addendum of “SPX 2012: Patrick Smith Plays Catch Up”, because that was what it was. If you've seen a lot of the books I've reviewed up to this point, very few of them are new. The way I am with most of this stuff is that I’ll read about a comic that sounds interesting, but instead of just slapping down some cash (or I guess slapping down my Paypal card would be more appropriate), and getting the comics, it gets filed into my mental Rolodex until I eventually just do some spur of the moment spree shopping with little rhyme or reason. When I went to SPX however, I went with the plan to get caught up with all the series and artists that I had since heard about but never got around to reading, and effectively get caught up with in one fell swoop. Overall I got pretty much everything I was going after; the biggest ones, though, (at least in terms of prestige) were the first four issues of Kevin Huizenga’s Ganges. These were the first books I read at the show, and if I stuck to my plan this will be the last review that I write for the books I bought at SPX. After reading this series though, not only do I realize that all the praise this book has received is not only incredibly well deserved, it also sort of undersold it, because I wasn't really prepared for what Ganges would give me, which is one of the most personal and innovative series I've ever read in my life.. The big thing about Ganges is that on paper these comics are just about a regular dude, the titular Glenn Ganges, with a handful of possible autobiographical elements peppered throughout and the overall arc of these four issues are essential about Glenn dealing with a bad case of insomnia and trying not to wake up his wife. So right there, it doesn't sound all that impressive, but because comics are a visual medium there is one more level to take into account. The visuals use the canvas of human thought and memory that adds on to my belief that although Ganges has been praised before, it is still underselling exactly what Huizenga accomplishes with his art, which takes some fairly simple story ideas and turns them into something absolutely spectacular- if not out and out groundbreaking.  I realize this whole thing is bordering on being ridiculously hyperbolic, which I normally try to avoid, but goddamn it if there is a book that deserves a little hyperbole it's this one!

The majority of these stories are, like I said, fairly simple. In fact at its core it's essentially about a man living his life and we as the readers seeing his thoughts from moment to moment. There are tons of comics like that, but what Ganges does that no other comic like it does is take those simple thoughts and turn them into incredibly unique visual narratives. The fact that this book is going to be something special and that Huizenga is an artist of almost staggering talent comes within just a few pages of the first story in issue one, when Glenn is walking to the library and quickly morphs into some thoughts on the perception of time using panels within a page to show how time isn't so much linear as a series of singular moments, many of which would look exactly the same despite taking place in years of thought. That’s the kind of innovative and heady storytelling that I love, but I didn't realize that was just Huizenga getting warmed up.

 

The stories within each installment of Ganges all seem to take place over the course of one sleepless night for Glenn, who in the throes of coffee induced insomnia tries passing the time in a variety of ways like playing a videogame, trying to find and old book, or simply tossing and turning and trying to get some sleep. What Huizenga does, though, is that he takes those video games and turns them into memories of working at a dot com startup and playing a first person shooter game with your co-workers. This then dovetails into an examination of how that virtual world might be real. Trying to find an old book becomes an example of a faux intellectual Dadaism on the hope that such drivel will create a fugue state so you can finally go to sleep, and simply tossing and turning in your bed becomes a scene where Glenn is literally swimming through his own thoughts in the hope of finding some small mental island of quiet so he can get some sleep.

You know, looking over this writing I’m not even sure I’m doing this book justice. I’m writing this out at three in the morning because I can't sleep and am trying to put down the many thoughts and feelings that these books give me, but they keep slipping away which I feel is a sentiment that both Huizenga and his creation Glenn Ganges would appreciate. Thoughts are essentially small individual creations that we create each and every day by the millions, but almost always the important ones slip through our fingers and we’re left wondering what we were even thinking about in the first place. We get distracted and hope we can remember what we were doing before our thoughts drifted off elsewhere. Ganges is a book that uses those lost thoughts and recurring memories and creates a unique visual tapestry of such immeasurable complexity that it looks simple. If that hyper-textual mumbo jumbo doesn't do anything for you, just know that this book made me yell “F@&# I LOVE COMICS!!!” and then I kicked over a table. That’s got to count for something right?

TL;DR: Patrick got really hyperbolic but the gist of it was that Ganges will make you jump up and declare your love for the comics medium with its smart innovative visual storytelling that uses the very nature of  your mental landscape as a canvas. In other words it's really good you guys.

Ganges is written and illustrated by Kevin Huizenga and is jointly published by Fantagraphics and Coconino Press. You can purchase copies here