Speaking of artistic reputations, sometimes—and it’s not a good habit really, I know—sometimes I find myself unwilling to respond to things simply because they are praised. If everyone is talking about how great a particular movie or book or comic is, I often feel like skipping it entirely, because anything that’s that well-liked probably isn’t all that good.
That approach serves me well in many cases, protecting me from such things as The Da Vinci Code, but sometimes, it also obviously deprives me from enjoying excellent work. In general, though, I feel like anything really great that’s also really popular will survive long enough for me to catch it a few years down the road.
On a somewhat related note, I know I’m the last regular comics reader on the planet to discover this, but Kevin Huizenga‘s a really good cartoonist!
I’m not sure why, but until recently, his work has never really clicked with me. It never seemed bad exactly—I always found it competent enough, and well put together, but somehow it struck me as kind of bland and inessential. (Though I did immediately like Huizenga’s excellent adaptation of J. Sheridan Le Fanu’s “Green Tea” in the otherwise mostly underwhelming Orchid anthology.)
But people whose taste I respect (including Dan and my wife, among many others) kept telling me he was worth another shot, and recently I picked up Ganges #1. It’s an extremely impressive book, and it finally enabled me to recognize the ambition and care evident in almost all of his comics.
An advance reading copy of Huizenga’s upcoming collection Curses came my way soon after, and, though I’d read most of the stories before, this time they opened up to me, and seemed far richer and more interesting than they had previously. His comics are quietly literate and unassumingly innovative, and I especially like the way he incorporates science and nature. Sometimes, especially in stories like “Time Travelling” and the one about starlings whose title I can’t recall, Huizenga shows the same kind of cosmic depth that Brian Aldiss recognized in Thomas Hardy, a “tremulous awareness set against the encompassing mysteries of space and time.”
I don’t remember who first said it about whom, but it’s a truism that for genuinely original artists or writers, you have to look at or read their work a lot before you actually learn how to really see it. Nabokov’s like that, as is Krazy Kat, as is Henry James, et cetera. It’s good to remember that sometimes, when a book doesn’t work for you, it’s not the writer’s fault, but the reader’s. Not always, not even often, but sometimes. Not to put Huizenga in quite this company in terms of accomplishment—I don’t want to make unfair comparisons—I think that’s the case here, or at least it was for me. (Or perhaps I simply wasn’t trying hard enough the first time.)
Alluding to Thomas Hardy may give the wrong idea, and I don’t want to mislead the few of you who haven’t already read Huizenga. He’s still a young cartoonist, and doubtless his best work still lies in the future. But his work is truly impressive, and I only slightly regret waiting so long to really engage with it, because now there’s much more for me to read, and re-read.