On the surface this is simply a damn good comic book. But on a deeper level, this comic is visionary and transcendent, full of fascinating and impressive choices made by a cartoonist at the top of his craft.
There are two pieces in this second issue of Kevin Huizenga’s showcase. The first is a wordless exploration of recurring images and thoughtful use of two-dimensional space. It’s not as much a story as a surreal exploration of some very interesting iconography. It’s interesting at first glance, but as a reader you may be thirsting for a bit more narrative than this first story gives you.
The second story gives the reader lots of narrative, and reflects wonderfully back on elements in the first story. This story, called “Pulverize,” takes place in a doomed dotcom during boom times in the industry. There’s a wonderful verisimilitude about the setting; Huizenga does a wonderful job of conjuring up the “new economy” world where old rules didn’t apply and there was a pervasive feeling that the lunatics had taken over the asylum.
Purely as an invocation of those amazing times, this book works wonderfully. The workplace at this dotcom, with the wonderfully evocative name “Requestra”, comes right out of real life. There’s an implicit feeling of the employees at Requestra that they’re somehow pulling the wool over the eyes of their bosses, as they try valiantly to offer unnecessary services to businesses that just don’t need them.
One of the most interesting characters in this comic is Steve Stane, the goateed, sandal-wearing CEO of the company. Stane makes surface efforts to be one of the guys, but his heart is never really in those efforts. Steve tries pathetically to become friends with his employees, but his own shallowness and greed are his Achilles heel. Like the company itself, he’s a child playing at an adult’s game. When Steve is forced to wear a tie and closed-toe shoes as the company is going under, he seems oddly comfortably in that role. It’s obvious he would have been an equally mediocre leader at a traditional company as well. And the short note about Steve on the last page is funny and logical – one has to wonder how many dotcom leaders ended up with jobs in the Bush administration.
The thing that holds all the Requestra employees together is a game they all start playing at 5:00 when business is complete. The company is addicted to an online Halo-type game called Pulverize. It’s clear just how important that game was to Glenn and his former coworkers when we readers see the gleam in Glenn’s eyes when he describes the game. Tellingly, based on how he describes them, Glenn seems to have been fonder of the game than either his work at Requestra or the co-workers he saw every day.
Huizenga’s artwork does a beautiful job of emphasizing the themes of this story. He has a light and cartoony way of drawing his characters, but at the same time Huizenga does a sensational job of making his characters seem real. Faces have a real feeling of depth and humanity – just as characters from Peanuts were drawn with a whole range of emotions with just a few lines and curves, so too does Huizenga make his characters emotionally real. The amazing thing is that there’s just enough linework to make a scene or character work perfectly, no more and no less.
Huizenga’s artwork works to perfection in the scenes that take place in the video game. With his light but thoughtful style and a nice feeling for two-dimensional space, Huizenga vividly brings the game alive under his inks. It feels just enough like a video game to work perfectly, but not enough like any particular game to make knowledgeable readers wonder about the game itself.
He has other charming scenes as well. The description of Glenn’s previous favorite game, called “Yipper Yap World”, looks and reads like some oddball Japanese Super Nintendo game from 1987. The scenes that described that game made me want to seek it out on eBay.
But that description gets right to the heart of the ambivalence that Glenn feels about the game’s power over him. On the very next page we see Glenn discussing the game with his wife Wendy. Wendy never turns around to face Glenn as she talks to him, but readers can clearly feel Wendy’s dismissive anger at Glenn for wasting his time with the game while, as she puts it, “the company is in the toilet.”
Ultimately what makes this comic so satisfying is that it’s so perfectly realized in both factual and emotional terms. We don’t just read the events that caused Requestra to fail, or what Glenn did at that time. Instead, we get an emotional portrait of the era. Readers get a feeling for the mixed emotions that led to such a bizarre business climate. Requestra was never a real company, but it feels real in Huizenga’s hands. It’s easy to imagine a reader curious about the era seeking out this book and being satisfied with the portrait Huizenga creates. That’s an amazing achievement.
After the second story, it’s interesting to go back to the first story in this comic. Readers can see Huizenga playing with recurring images from the second story in the first story . Suddenly the first story feels like another video game from a lost world, like an abstract cross between Yipper Yap World, Mortal Kombat and Dance Dance Revolution. There’s astonishing beauty in the images Huizenga presents, and the feeling that the first story is an interesting abstract meditation on the themes of the second story. It’s an amazing achievement for a piece that’s so abstract and unique, but then again Kevin Huizenga is a very special cartoonist.
This is world class cartooning on nearly every possible level. Huizenga never fails to present thoughtful and provocative comics art, and this book is no exception.