This interview was conducted by Fantagraphics intern Sam Chattin. Thanks to Sam and Kevin!
Ganges 4 hits stores in October, or get your mitts on an early copy at SPX, September 10th & 11th in Betheseda, Maryland! Kevin will be signing at the Fantagraphics table from 1:00-3:00 PM on Saturday, and 3:00-4:30 PM on Sunday. — janice
NOTE: THERE ARE SOME SPOILERS IN THIS INTERVIEW [esp. #8]. READ THE COMIC FIRST IF YOU DON’T WANT SOME STUFF RUINED FOR YOU. — Kevin H.
The Wild Kingdom ©2010
SAM CHATTIN: Your stories are marked by this deep comprehension of the various sciences (everything from zoology to physics). Why do you choose to include those expository elements in your stories (which often take up multiple pages)?
KEVIN HUIZENGA: That’s nice of you to say, but I feel like my knowledge of these subjects is still pretty superficial. Laying out things and looking at things is more interesting to me than dramatic storytelling. That’s not a value judgment; it’s how my brain is wired. Other writers I know can effortlessly think up dramatic situations —characters who want things and have conflicts — but my story ideas tend to be more like “what is chlorophyll?” or “walking around/oxytocin” or “terrifying TV commercial,” which are the kinds of things that reveal how solitary and lonely a life I live. I’m terrified that if I really indulged myself and my instincts I would just make comics that are diagrams of how things fit together, like complicated diagrams or giant flowcharts, and become a completely hopeless case.
CHATTIN: The often anti-climatic endings and rambling narratives add a sense of realism to your stories. It feels as though we’re peeping at not only the life but also the working mind of some stranger. What made you go this particular route?
HUIZENGA: I wish I had a more interesting answer, but really it’s just as simple as writing in a way that seems least gross to me. I feel pretty good about how things turn out, for the most part, but at the same time there’s little voices saying “what are you doing?” and “you thought this was a good idea why?” But you have to ignore these voices and start another one and keep moving. Judging by the kinds of ideas I start out with, I maybe could be writing essays or poems, but I got mixed up in comics. I thought it would be a good idea to draw comics and build upon and around Glenn Ganges as a blank character, and now it’s too late. I’m only being half-serious here. Because there are limitations to writing prose without pictures that would be very frustrating to me. I want to see what things look like and I want to see things diagrammed. When I read pictureless prose I’m often imagining illustrations or emblems or diagrams of whatever I’m reading about, and part of me is frustrated that those don’t exist.
Or Else #2 ©2004
CHATTIN: Sometimes your panels veer off into the uncharted areas of the subconscious. They appear to depict the convoluted and distracted thoughts that occur in us daily (well, at least some of us). What is your creative and drawing process for such panels?
HUIZENGA: I write notes, I think about a story, I get irritable and crabby, I eventually start drawing it, etc. I don’t think I go very deep into my subconscious. I’d like to try doing that more in the future. It’s a way of thinking and trusting your gut that’s not my usual method, I guess. In this issue “the Wanderer” was improvised in an attempt to, I don’t know, go from panel to panel with a different kind of story logic than usual.
There’s an interview where Dan Clowes says (this is pre-Ice Haven days, I think) something about how he thought he’d get faster over time as his skills improved but that he found himself getting slower because he kept trying out complicated effects and tricks in each panel. That really fits my experience drawing this issue. It took me a long time. There was a lot of trying something, then changing my mind, then going back and forth, etc.
CHATTIN: How heavily do the misadventures of your characters (specifically Glenn Ganges) reflect your own personal experiences?
HUIZENGA: It’s not autobiographical. I take things from my life, like any writer does, and I try to make a new thing out of it that others can identify with and hopefully enjoy.
CHATTIN: How do you choose which experiences will work best in the comic medium?
HUIZENGA: You just sort of know. Or sometimes you think it won’t work, and the trick is in finding a way to make it work. The point isn’t really the ostensible subject, the point is figuring out how to package the ideas in an interesting form. It’s like a puzzle. I like puzzles when there’s no pressure, and no one cares about how you perform. I think that explains a lot about my career and my personality.
CHATTIN: Glenn Ganges’ latest adventure concerns a restless night. What is your preferred method for combating these moments of temporary insomnia?
HUIZENGA: A bowl of cereal (low sugar) and a book that is kind of boring and/or hard to read.
CHATTIN: How would describe the structure of Ganges #4?
HUIZENGA: An infinite grid of panels, only some of which you can see and read, but occasionally you catch a glimpse of it fading off into infinity, and also the grid contains itself nested within itself at different levels.
CHATTIN: Was it an aesthetic or symbolic choice — or neither — to break up the panels on the bottom of pages 10-13?
HUIZENGA: I’m not sure what you’re asking, but I probably wouldn’t want to answer anyhow, since this seems like the kind of thing where I’m being tempted into explaining the thinking behind a story. Obviously I have to do some of that in an interview, but I try to keep it to a minimum. As a reader I often want a writer to explain their thinking behind a short story or a poem, but at the same time I really don’t want to know, either. And the same thing holds for writers too, I think—they often want to know what readers think, but at the same time they don’t, really.
Ganges #4 ©2011
CHATTIN: How did you tackle, visually, working with so much moonlight and shadow in Ganges #4?
HUIZENGA: Experimenting with tones and shadows in Photoshop, making a mess of it, and settling for the least gross-looking version of the panel. I wanted to try to draw Glenn walking around the house at night, and it took some experimentation to get something interesting that worked. I’m still not satisfied with it, but I think I know how to fix it for the collection.
CHATTIN: What are some of the challenges of depicting Death, who appears in your latest work?
HUIZENGA: It didn’t feel like it was a challenge at all. As I understand it, it’s been pretty well established that Death is a skeleton in a cloak with a scythe. I’d like to think that death appears in many of my comics so far.
Ganges #4 ©2011
CHATTIN: I found the connection with Earth’s calendar and Glenn’s calendar amusing. What kind of thought process goes into making these connections?
HUIZENGA: I don’t think it gives anything away to say that Ganges is largely about time, and different ways representing and thinking about it. The Earth’s calendar thing is a pretty common illustration in popular geology books and natural histories, and since Glenn is reading Basin and Range in the story, it was an obvious way to go.