Kevin Huizenga

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Kevin Huizenga's work presents a peculiar and almost outdated charm. Glenn Ganges, his seminal character, could belong to the great era of the Belgian ligne claire, with his round nose and simple dots for eyes. Using this simple vessel, Kevin Huizenga explores in turn strange adventures, chosen moments of the quiet daily life of an American thirty-something and vast exegetic or scientific ponderings. The overall coherency that emerges from the Curses collection indeed reveals the know-how of an author interested in authenticity, overcoming the first impression of heterogeneity.

Nicolas Verstappen : When did you create the character of Glenn Ganges ? Had you in mind at the time he would be a recurrent character ?

Kevin Huizenga : I think the first story I drew with Glenn Ganges was in 1999. At the time I did not think he would be recurrent. But each time I started on a new story, I thought, “well, Glenn Ganges would work here.”
The name “Glenn Ganges” comes from a highway exit sign I would drive by often when I lived in Michigan. If you exited the highway and went one way you’d go to Glenn, Michigan, and if you went the other way you’d go to Ganges, Michigan.

NV : I have the feeling there is, in Glenn Ganges, that kind of two opposite directions but coexisting in the same story. Some parts of the stories are very poetic (mute, impressionistic) and then some other parts are very informative (scientific) like in The Sunset/The Moon Rose. Is it Science versus Faith ? The hard (but yet human) coexistence of the two ?

KH : I never made that connection before with the idea of the two directions — that’s a good question.
I don’t want to explore something like “Science vs. Faith” in my work, though it may seem this way. My stories have involved scientists and clergymen and they seem to be in conflict — as well as the conflict over the explanation of the red harvest moon. I’m not interested in questions of “either/or” or even “both.” We have these kinds of discussions going on right now in America because some religious conservatives are trying to fight the teaching of evolution in Biology in our schools. I’m interested in a dense visual presentation of information — whether this is religious, poetic, or scientific, it doesn’t matter to me. I’m mostly trying to tell an interesting story — and then because it’s a comic strip, I want the drawings to be complex and suggest the complexity of reality. I love diagrams. Secondly I’m interested in putting this information in a story with characters. I’d say I’m more interested in the characters who might be interested in these questions than the questions themselves.

NV : You did the USS Catastrophe Election 2004 Treasury (to get money for Kerry). What’s your opinion about American politics ? What is your feeling after Bush re-election ?

KH : Since the last election, I’m very cynical and negative about our politics. I was never interested in politics until the 2000 election, which I followed on the Internet from work. After that, I continued to follow politics on the weblogs, especially after the World Trade Center was destroyed. I approached it initially with an open mind, reading both conservative and more liberal writers, and became convinced that the liberal writers were more honest and rational. Those years were terrible — the buildup to the Iraq war was incredible to me — I became convinced of how terrible Bush is, and became very emotionally invested in him losing the next election. After the 2004 election, I felt sick — I gave up reading and following the news, and felt very dispirited about American politics.
I grew up among conservative Christians to whom it seemed the only political issue was abortion. They would vote for whoever was against the legalization of abortion, and whatever else that politician thought was beside the point—if they were against abortion, they were on the same side. I think many of these conservative Christians are really concerned about outlawing abortion, and preventing the legalization of same-sex marriage, and these concerns override other issues like war or economy or the environment. That is where I see a lot of Bush’s support coming from — the idea that his anti-abortion stance trumps all his other obvious faults — and the current battles about the Supreme Court are all about the possible eventual overturning of legalized abortion.

NV : In your xeroxed booklets (like Untitled KH Book 4) there are lists of words (all kinds of words, though). Is it something like automatic writing ? Are these all the words passing through your mind ?

KH : These were ideas for titles for several different projects I was trying to think up titles for. The pages in the book come from a couple years—it didn’t happen all at once.

NV : In Kramers #5, all the pages of your story are separated in two by the middle (and sometimes in four like if you were working on four strips). Why did you divide those pages ?

KH : They are merely four rows of panels — like with Tintin or something like that. I like 4 rows instead of 3 because you can fit more on a page.

NV : Is Tintin a reference in your panel disposition ?

KH : I’ve really only read Tintin in Tibet. I’ve copied some panels from other books in my sketchbooks as an exercise, but I’ve sadly not read many Tintin, though I always mean to sit down and get to know them someday. I mentioned Tintin only to give an example of another comic with 4 rows of panels.
That said, I’m interested in Tintin and other clear-line style, serialized European comics as a style of story-telling. I haven’t read very many of them because in a strange way I’m too afraid of being overly influenced by them — I want to be influenced by them more by glancing at them and dreaming up what they must be like. I have this same feeling toward American Newspaper comics — I love to glance at them and imagine drawing my own comics in the same style, but when it comes to actually reading them, I can’t find the time because I have to be working on my own pages.

NV : You seem very interested in “old newspaper strip guys”. When did you discover (or rediscover) their works ?

KH : There used to be a magazine named Destroy All Comics that I read when I was a teenager, and it would mention old strips from time to time, and that got me interested. In college I bought the Smithsonian Book of Newspaper Strips, and that was very inspiring. Also, I was lucky enough to live near a library that had a good collection of books that reprinted older comics, but I didn’t really begin reading those books until I was in college.
Unlike some cartoonists I know, I don’t scour E-bay for old newspaper clippings or travel to flea markets or anything like that. I’m not very obsessive when it comes to collecting.
In my early days of trying to figure out how to draw comics, I looked to strips like Mutt and Jeff, Thimble Theater, Little Orphan Annie, Baron Bean, Gasoline Alley, etc. as a kind of comics “vernacular” style that was very attractive to me, in terms of how they showed characters and action.

NV : Did you try to be published in a company before self-publishing your books ?

KH : No. My friends and I self-published comics starting in high school. At that point we had only read superhero comics. So I was already self-publishingwhen I discovered “alternative comics.” At that point I knew that I was not good enough — I didn’t even consider trying to get published by a company. It was only after Chris Oliveros read one of my self-made books and asked me to do the Drawn and Quarterly Showcase that I decided I could try this.
I love making my own books and plan to continue doing this in addition to the work that gets published by others. Even though in the small world of N. American alternative comics, the publishers give you as an artist a great deal of control, I often miss the casualness and freedom to play and experiment and the control that you have making mini-comics.

NV : What led you to the creation of USS Catastrophe ?

KH : I didn’t create it, Ted May and Warren Craghead did. I got involved after I moved to St. Louis in 2000. I began the Catastrophe Shop, which is part of the USS Catastrophe website, where we sell other people mini-comics. This began after John Porcellino shut down his mini-comics distribution catalogue, Spit and a Half. That created a vacuum, making it difficult to buy self-published mini-comics. Nowadays there’s several other websites that do this now, as well as a group named “Global Hobo” who sell mini-comics.

NV : Did you choose to adapt Green Tea or was the story chosen for you by the editor ?

KH : I chose it. I read a handful of stories and liked Green Tea the best. It’s a wonderful story, and I had a great time adapting it.

NV : Horror in novels is quite effective thanks to what’s left to reader’s imagination (like in Lovecraft’s books). Was it hard to adapt the short story in drawings ?

KH : I didn’t find it to be difficult. It is quite possible to be scary with movies. I thought along the same lines, I guess. I think there are some very frightening Japanese comics.

NV : You added a Glenn Ganges intro to your story. Was it to make a more effective link with the reader through a contemporary character ?

KH : Not really. I wanted to frame the story with Glenn in order to make it a “Glenn story”, so it would fit in a Glenn Ganges book someday. Also, Victorian ghost stories are often framed by recalling a story told by someone else. Narrators within narrators like the proverbial Russian dolls. That was interesting to me and I wanted to add my frame.

NV : Was it a challenge to work on the 40 pages you did for D&Q Showcase book one ? Were you totally free to do what you wanted in those pages ?

KH : I was totally free to do whatever I wanted. It was a challenge, yes. Luckily at the time I had been reading about various subjects which all seemed to fit together, and I shaped the trio of stories from those subjects—suburban city planning, exotic species in North America, the Lost Boys of Sudan, and folk tales. I’m pretty happy with how it turned out. Anders Nilsen was originally supposed to do a story for that book but his story grew too long to be included.

NV : How were selected the stories for your 28th Street book ? Was it the selection of the publisher, yours or both ?

KH : I assume you’re referring to the collection I’m going to do for Vertige and Coconino. The title currently is Malédictions. We both agreed on the stories. It will contain the D&Q Showcase trio of stories, the story from Kramers Ergot, and Green Tea.

NV : You did some short stories being only beautiful and strange fight sequences (with Chopper). Are they some playgrounds between two more “dense visual presentations of information” ?

KH : Yes. Those comics were the result of a few different ideas. I’ve been trying to teach myself to draw more comics that don’t require much planning or research. Also I want to make up some “games” for comics — with rules and set perameters — kinds of comics that others could draw as well if they wanted to. Fight or Run was the first one. It was also the result of thinking about violence in comics, and trying to find a way to show a battle or violence that would be more like a series of abstract drawings — not so violent.

NV : Your stories are now published by D&Q and translated in French and Italian. Do you hope that you’ll be able to make a living only as a cartoonist ?

KH : From what I understand, this is almost impossible to do, even for the very well-known American cartoonists. Even though I’m published now and have some books coming out in Europe, really there won’t be enough money to live on. It is true that I don’t have a job right now, however, and my wife and I are making it work. I’ve been “self-employed” for about 7 months.

NV : And what are your next projects ?

KH : Or Else #4 and Ganges #2. I will also have collections of stories coming out in ’06 in Europe and from D&Q. Also I’m working on several self-published, Xeroxed books — for instance one of my reading journal.

[Interview conducted through email between October and December 2005 for the ninth XeroXed leaflet.]

Entretien par in September 2008