Kevin Huizenga isn’t quite a household name in the world of the indie comics, but these days it seems nearly impossible to walk into a comic shop or convention without spotting the artist’s work, be it in Drawn & Quarterly book form, tucked away in the pages of an anthology, or gracing the cover of some piece of comics-related promotional material.
His style in steeped in the classics, owing heavily to the works of forebears like E.C. Segar and Herge, but Huizenga has molded their aethestics into something altogether different, best personified in his seemingly ever present everyman, Glenn Ganges.
In our first part of our interview with Huizenga, talk about the role of the character as a storytelling vessel and the importance of artistic consistency.
I noticed you were drawing pictures of Glenn Ganges for people on the inside cover of their books. Is that default mode, or do you get requests to draw specific things?
That was default mode. I don’t get a lot of requests to draw specific things.
Do you ever get sick of him?
Do I get sick of him? No, because I don’t feel constrained to do one thing or another. Right now I’m using him in Or Else 5 for a completely different story. It’s like an alternate history story. It’s got top hats in it and it’s going to have a section in it that’s kind of science fiction. I don’t feel constrained. It’s kind of the way a director would use a certain actor over an over.
It’s a character, though. Are there certain aspects of him that you have to stay true to?
No. That’s not how I’m treating him. Other characters I might want to keep consistent, but Glenn is empty enough that I try to keep him kind of nebulous and vague so I can do a lot of different things with him.
Could you describe him to someone who asked what Glenn Ganges is all about?
Well, I guess, in the sense that he’s a character with a name and a particular kind of look, but he’s not a character in the sense that he has a complex psychology and a particular set of behaviors or things like that, that you can nail down.
If there’s nothing concrete about him, aside from aesthetics, why keep coming back to him?
Um, I guess because it’s nice to have a landmark you know. You know that part of it when you start.
A starting place in terms of where the story is headed.
Yeah. Like if I were a composer and I liked a certain chord and always wanted to use that chord just as a start. And then the variations all come out from the same starting place.
He’s more of a starting place than a destination.
Yeah. I don’t have any plans to turn him into a complex, full-bodied, real character, at this point. At this point it’s like a how a cartoonist always draws panel boards a certain way and a certain width and he doesn’t vary that because he’s not interested in varying that. It’s similar to that. Drawing comics is really hard, and you have to make a lot of decision about whether this looks like this and does this change or stay the same? It’s helpful to have some certain decisions made for you, when you start out.
Does the existence of a nebulous character make it more difficult or easier for readers who have already read your stuff to enter a new story?
I have no idea what’s more difficult or easy for the readers. It’s never a good idea to try to guess what your readers’ experiences are going to be like. I always try to have an ideal reader in my head. The ideal, intelligent, sensitive, tolerant, open-minded. That person is in my mind, and I hope that person enjoys it. everyone else, I can’t predict how they’re gonna react. Sometimes people have only read my newest work. Sometimes they’ve read everything since my very first, embarrassing college comics. I can’t predict what they’re going to be like.
Is there a good entry point to your work?
I guess Curses. That’s the most under one roof, and I still think I’m working in the same sort of way.
I remember reading an anthology a few years back and seeing Glenn Ganges for the first time. When I found your work later, it was immediately clear that this the same artist. Is it important to you to have something of a consistent aesthetic?
I don’t know that I think of it in those terms. For me it’s more that that’s what I like. I keep coming back to what I like, and that’s why it’s so consistent. It’s not consistent because that’s good marketing or branding or anything. I like that in other cartoonists.
You mean consistency?
To an extent. But then I also like curveballs and things that you totally don’t expect. I like to do that too. I like to keep the reader on their toes. I hope that people don’t think a specific kind of story is a Glenn Ganges story. I would hope that each Glenn Ganges story would be weird. “I wasn’t expecting him to go so far down that alley.” That’s a goal I have.