I take real pleasure in going against the conventional wisdom. I enjoy being holding a dissenting view, in going against the general curve. Kevin Huizegna’s new book Ganges has been receiving rave reviews from every reviewer who’s read it. Huizenga has been hailed as the next big talent, and his book has been hailed as the early front-runner for best graphic novel of the year. I think it’s fair to say this has been the best-reviewed graphic novel since Craig Thompson’s Blankets.
Well, the conventional wisdom was right on Blankets and the conventional wisdom is right on Ganges. This is an absolutely amazing graphic novel, with fascinating depth and insight.
Ganges tells stories of the inner lives Glenn and Wendy Ganges, a conventional couple living in an unnamed city. In the lead story, “Time Travelling,” a walk to the library triggers some fascinating meditations on time, and some even more spectacular cartooning. Huizenga has a wonderfully cartoony style, which he uses to great effect in this story to show the multiplicity of time paradoxes within Glenn’s mind. More than that, though, the story is a kind of meditation on routine, on the ruts we create for ourselves, without even explicitly calling out that point.
In the second story, Glenn sees a boy litter on the street, which triggers all sorts of grandiose thoughts by Glenn about the litterer’s childhood and how the littering begins a life that would eventually lead the boy to great success in his life. Ganges’s bizarre thoughts are undercut by the subtle ending, where Glenn’s wife Wendy quietly beings Glenn back to earth.
In fact, the relationship of Glenn with Wendy is absolutely fascinating. In the third story, the pair just sit in their living room, reading. Glenn is reading a book about the history of mankind on Earth, while Wendy is lost in her work on computer animation. The pair live parallel lives, only briefly intersecting each other, and it leads one to wonder: does Wendy ignore Glenn because she’s working on her project, or because they’ve been married a long time, or is there a bigger problem in their marriage?
This question becomes poignantly fascinating in the last story, a gorgeously subtle piece where Glenn is fascinated by the sight of his beloved wife asleep next to him in bed. Glenn has gone to bed after WendY and tries in vain to have a conversation. Buzzing from the coffee he drank, Glenn imagines other couples who have slept next to each other for years: “‘Last night I lay there and watch you as you slept.’ It’s like something out of a pop song… I guess it’s a pretty common sort of setup. ‘I lay there and watched the one I love sleeping.’ So many people must have done the same thing… all those people – all those centuries.” Glenn is connecting to the infinite, in an amazingly gorgeous and intimate scene. It’s hard to find a scene in any art that so wonderfully conveys the intimacy and love that exists in a marriage. It only adds to the moment to know that the couple isn’t as intimate as Glenn would like them to be. Huizenga’s art and the use of blue color is exquisite in this story, serving to deepen the quiet intimacy of the moment. There’s a full-page panel that’s brilliant in its subtlety and silence.
Finally, what makes this book so special is its exquisite packaging. It’s part of the Fantagraphics “Ignatz” line, and features black, white and green art, thick paper and a slipcover cover like a hardback book. The production on this book is perfect in every way, and adds to the overall feel of excellence here. This is sort of halfway between comic and graphic novel, but in every way, this comic feels like a complete package.
Don’t be put off by the quiet, domestic themes of this book. Ganges is subtle and complex, thoughtful and insightful. Huizenga is a master at taking ordinary situations and bringing profundity to them. I know it’s only February, but the conventional wisdom is right: this is the comic of the year so far.