The Ember reviews WILD KINGDOM

Into the Wild with Kevin Huizenga

The Ember    |    Elizabeth Prater    |    November 23, 2010

Like you and like me, Kevin Huizenga inhabits the wild kingdom – a place of ‘innumerable and ever-varying phases’ populated by humanoids, anthropomorphs, spectres and hapless beasts. In the twilight of his adolescence, Huizenga began documenting these ever varying phases in zine form. In the year 2000, he published a representative sampling as Supermonster #12. A decade has passed then, since that first gathering up, and to mark this tenth anniversary Drawn & Quarterly have re-released Huizenga’s field guide to causality and nature as a handsome little hardback.
Aping the avuncular didacticism of old-school documentarians, Huizenga introduces his life manual thus:
Our ancestors, millions of years ago, were as much a part of Nature as any sheep or moth or blade of grass. They moved towards and swallowed their food or water, just as they breathed the air, without taking thought and without being aware of what they were doing.
Mistakes were made, poisonous substances were glibly consumed.
‘But they came to learn quickly from experience, and they could hand to our descendants an increasing stock of facts, in the form of comics. We too brood over this stock, rejecting some, treasuring some.’
With its deference to the gradual accretion of knowledge and its subsequent dissemination in primers, introductory guides, text books and manuals, The Wild Kingdom showcases Huizenga’s commitment to a noble tradition. In his capacity as a founder and curator of the USS Catastrophe Library of Knowledge, Huizenga records and celebrates the many successful steps cartoonists and scholars have made along the road of learning. ‘How did nine planets come to travel round the sun in orbits arranged in a plane or disc, and whatnot? How did Life arise on at least the Earth, and maybe Mars? Why are there so many commercials for drugs?’
Huizenga mixes simplified cartoon characters with closely observed literal representations of the world at large. The star of the collection, Glenn Ganges, makes his way around non-descript domestic interiors and a suburban backyard, he drives past strip malls and buys stamps over the counter in a post office. These real-world, sequential narratives are almost entirely wordless. Where words do appear they bring little in the way of dialogue or plot. Observed reality gives way to surreal sloganeering and parodic advertorials – I was saved from my own life – and to potted autobiographies and factoids narrated by famous ghosts. Maurice Maeterlinck is one of Huizenga’s favourite revenants, an excerpt from the Belgian playwright and naturalist’s The Life of The Bee is the basis for a text heavy offering. On the face of things, Glenn Ganges’ wordless interactions with the natural world sit at the opposite extreme to this verbosity – but in their own way both approaches convey the same fascination with the myths and moral dimensions we project onto nature. Huizenga intertwines the plausible with the absurd, and his wide-eyed attentiveness to the systems which rule the wild kingdom is paired with a satirical and sometimes melancholy intent.
The forces at play in our sprawling galaxy maintain a precarious balance and Huizenga’s guide deftly frames this reality. The Wild Kingdom concludes with a sequence extrapolating global destruction from the fiery electrocution of a bird of prey on domestic power lines. Huizenga’s world is a scientific system - it answers to laws of physics, biology, cause and effect that have been handed down from cartoonist to cartoonist through the ages. The combination of Huizenga’s divergent muses - scientistic empiricism and the brain addling insistences of late-night infotainment - gives The Wild Kingdom the charm of a mild delerium.

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