In 2006, American cartoonist Kevin Huizenga’s Curses was included on Time Magazine’s list of the Top Ten comics of the year. He was 29 at the time and, although he had been creating comics since his teens, it still felt as if that was the title with which he found his voice. It is rather obvious now, for readers familiar with his later work over the years, that those minor obsessions that have come to define his style were always present.
For one, there is a striking contrast between the ordinariness of his characters — and Glenn Ganges is one of those singular beings who effortlessly takes on the persona of Everyman despite being prosaically based on Huizenga’s brother-in-law— and the timelessness of the universe they inhabit. Another thing that stands out is the deceptive simplicity with which he tackles profound topics such as mortality and parenthood, modernity, and capitalism.
It is reminders like these that make the reissue of Curses, after almost two decades, such a blessing. Not only does it introduce new readers to the possibly overlooked early work of an amazing artist, it also proves, almost eerily, how he arrived fully formed. There is no hesitancy in these pages, and the first glimpse of Glenn Ganges is the same as the last time we all saw him in 2019 when Huizenga gave us The River at Night. Even the economy with which he uses his panels to depict North American landscapes — those squat townhouses and featureless strip malls — has stayed unchanged.
Another stock device involves a normal, everyday act triggering a memory or train of thought that unravels to become something metaphysical, revealing some strange and infinite wonder. There is often a hint of surrealism when this happens, but it also feels natural, as if these are thoughts we would all be having if we weren’t so preoccupied by the business of living.
The stories that make up Curses are distinct, with individual narrative arcs, but they manage to come across as one large story about forces beyond our control that drive everything we do. While some curses are specific, others are hinted at. The title arguably comes from two stories, one (’28th Street’) about Glenn and his wife trying to have a baby and how that can’t happen until a particular curse placed on them has been lifted; and the second (‘The Curse’) about starlings that prevent the couple’s newborn daughter from sleeping. The subject and art of both, like much of the collection, is almost hallucinatory, but still grounded in reality to make readers empathise with what’s going on. We shouldn’t be invested in the possibility of a feathered ogre dwelling under a street, for instance, and yet we are.
An inescapable aspect of any collection of stories, irrespective of its creator’s brilliance, is the presence of high and low points. Some of the more experimental of Curses’ twists and turns may not appeal to everyone but, in all fairness, this isn’t too far from the mixed results he found with Gloriana or Wild Kingdom — both collections that followed similar meanderings by Glenn Ganges in his quest for truth and meaning. Those who have enjoyed his protagonist’s deep pondering on everything from dish soap and house plants, to libraries, fast food, and squirrel brains, shouldn’t have to struggle with topics like religious metaphysics (‘Green Tea’), our perennial fear of missing out on something (‘The Hot New Thing’) or even golf (‘Jeepers Jacobs’).
Reprints come into being only when an audience exists. Kevin Huizenga’s enduring popularity, and the consistent evolution of his artistic vision, are why Curses deserves to appear on bookshelves again.
Kevin Huizenga (W/A) • Drawn & Quarterly, $25.95
Review by Lindsay Pereira