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Ganges #2 (2008) page 3. Kevin Huizenga.
Comics’ panel-by-panel mode of presentation is incredibly effective at sucking people in. The simple fact that we say we “read” comics when we describe following strings of pictures attests to how strong a tool for immersion sequencing is. And it’s especially strong when we step back for a moment and think about just how weird, how alien cartoons look. A single panel of a comic, especially one drawn with the blend of simplification and exaggeration that forms the look of newspaper strips and many alternative comics, is as much a conceptual statement about form as a depictive drawing. Where the real depiction comes into play is with the sequencing, which turns cartoons from abstractions into living vehicles for movement and action.
Kevin Huizenga is one of the cartoonists whose work addresses comics’ conflict between the abstract and the literal most frequently and interestingly. Huizenga’s attempts at using comics to mimic the visual effect of video games are especially notable: rather than creating the simulacrum of reality that the vast majority of comics do, what is brought forth instead is a simulacrum of a simulacrum, a copy of a copy, something already abstract abstracted further, its ties to reality stressed and stretched about as close to the breaking point as they can go.
Huizenga’s departure from reality is a highly attractive one for a few reasons beyond the usual — though certainly still valid — comics-are-supposed to-be-escapism chestnut. It’s a mental workout, something more engaging (even edifying) than the passive reception most comics allow their readers. In order to glean meaning from the sequenced shapes and symbols on this page, the reader is forced to consider the specifics of what’s going on from panel to panel, to reconstruct the oblique narrative with each new picture. Sometimes comics give readers too much, making the words and pictures blur into the indistinguishable mass called “story” without first being recognized for what they are. With pictures like Huizenga’s, which give us nothing more real than a horizon line, the immediate effect is that of drawings rather than narrative. It’s a gradual process to piece this page together into an uninterrupted sequence, which means readers have that much more time to spend with the crisp lines and radically unfamiliar forms Huizenga builds with.
More than that, though, Huizenga uses his unfamiliar symbols to create a true fantasy comic, something not held by our world. Here, abstraction is an excuse for the artist to draw whatever he wants as much as anything else, and Huizenga’s imagination is up to the challenge. Every new panel holds something completely unexpected when what’s going on is divorced from reality: forms explode, recombine, sprout new appendages, and perform the violent physical interaction so native to comics in a way that can’t quite be fully understood. (Though the sunset in the final three panels does inject a perverse logic into the sequence by evoking the world’s single most inevitable, basic process, the passage of solar time.) On this page, Huizenga creates a world that is completely under his control, subject not even to the basic laws of physics and logic, only to the imagination propelling it. It reminds us of a basic truth of comics: anything the artist can dream can be drawn. Just put it in sequence.