PW Comics Week | Chris Arrant | February 6, 2007
Kevin Huizenga interviewed by PW Comics Week
Released late last year, Kevin Huizenga's short story collection, Curses, promoted Huizenga as "one of the brightest, most interesting new comix authors to appear in the last five years" by Time.com. In drawings featuring a sly, understated line, Huizenga offers an insightful portrayal of life's mundane drudgery as well as its philosophical complexity. The lead character in many of Huizenga's stories is Glenn Ganges, a suburban everyman whose calm and thoughtful engagement with life illuminates these stories and delights the reader. PWCW talked with Huizenga about the creation of his stories.
PW Comics Week: Curses collects stories from several minicomics and anthologies you've done in the past. How did you go about choosing which stories ended up in Curses?
Kevin Huizenga: It was a couple of different things. One, it was stories that fit the [physical] format of the book. I've drawn pages in a couple different sizes and formats, and you have to think about what's going to [physically] fit in the same book. Two, they're all sort of Glenn Ganges stories that seem to play off each other pretty well. There's the theme of trying to have a child. Then there are two stories about ministers who deal with their personal demons. They all sort of work pretty well together, I thought.
PWCW: After reading this book and the Ganges book from [Fantagraphics'] Ignatz series, I find your stories unassuming and matter-of-fact. They allow the reader's own experiences to inform the larger story. Would you agree, and if so, why have you decided to go in this storytelling direction?
KH: I've always been attracted to stories that were not driven by plot. I've always been more attracted to telling stories that arose out of the contingencies of everyday life. On the other hand, my life experience being as limited as it is, I'm not really able to tell stories that involve too much wide-ranging detail about different social strata or racism, classes and so forth. I've always been a guy living in the suburbs, and that's all I know, so that's what I write about.
PWCW: When you structure your stories, what are you trying to get across to the reader?
KH: There's always an initial germ of an idea--a scene, a line of dialogue or some idea that starts as the main idea--then once I begin work on the story, other ideas and other scenes start to change that idea, and the story takes on a life of its own, in an organic way. At least that's how it works for me. My original goal for the story is sometimes different than what ends up resulting after the working process is over.
PWCW: One of the most important stories in Curses is "28th Street," loosely adapted from an Italian folk tale. Your story follows Glenn and his wife, and they go through some fertility problems, which leads Glenn to resort to supernatural means to help him and his wife's situation. Going back to your explanation of a story's beginnings, what was the initial idea and how did it develop over time?
KH: Well, that's a perfect example of what I think I was talking about earlier. I thought that I would adapt an Italian folk tale from a collection by Italo Calvino that I happened to be reading. I originally had the idea that I would sort of adapt one of those stories to a modern setting. At first the story had two main characters, Glenn and one of his friends, and that changed pretty quickly, and I revised it to be just Glenn.
Once I started working on the story, I realized I really wanted to write about suburban sprawl and the "big box" retailers--stuff like that. Originally, I hadn't planned to write about sprawl at all. What I find is that it's good to get started on a story, and as I get working on it, it generates its own ideas, ideas that I wouldn't have from just sitting around meditating on "now what do I want to do a story about?"
PWCW: In the "Jeepers Jacobs" story, you have a theologian writing a tract about hell. As he's writing it, his viewpoint is informed by his interactions with fellow Christians and Glenn, who could be described as a lapsed Christian. How would you say the idea for this story started?
KH: Well, I had been reading about the theology of hell and became interested in these guys that defend the traditional doctrine of hell.
First, I became interested in the varieties of interpretations of hell, and was doing a lot of reading on that. Always in the back of [my] mind I'm thinking, "how can I do a comic out of this?" and figuring I'd do some sort of thing where I adapt some nonfiction about hell and draw some awesome pictures of Dante-esque landscapes with writhing bodies and so forth. But once I started reading these conservative defenses of hell, I became interested in the guys writing these books. I thought, "what kind person spends all this time defending the idea of eternal torment for the majority of the human race?" What kind of mental gymnastics do you have to do to defend something like that and meditate on something like that and not go a little crazy?
So I started really thinking about those guys, and I realized the story I needed to do wasn't fantastic drawings of hell, but a more mundane story about one of these guys who writes defenses of hell.
PWCW: Another story, "The Curse," points to a larger thread in your work that incorporates nonfiction passages in your stories. In this story, you describe the migration of starlings into North America and their mention in popular culture. What led to this story?
KH: I'd lived on a street in St. Louis where we were tormented by a flock of starlings, which would roost in Bradford pear trees along the streets. They'd literally wake me up in the morning with all their squawking, and if you were stupid enough to park underneath the trees, in the morning, your car would be coated with starlings' droppings.
So that was really the first time I really noticed starlings. At the same time, I think I had been reading a book by [writer] Annie Dillard in which she mentioned that starlings were an exotic species brought over to America by a well-meaning but foolish man and were first released in Central Park. That really got me reading about starlings.
PWCW: What led you to name the book Curses?
KH: When I started putting the stories together, it became clear that "curses" were a theme in the stories. There were negative forces at work in these stories that caused grief, whether it be hell, having a stillborn baby or being tormented by a ghost. I wanted to tie that all in with the flock of birds. Originally, I thought about calling the book "The Curse," after the story of the same name, but it seemed right to make that plural because of the variety of different curses in the stories.
PWCW: The lead character in all of the stories in the book except one is Glenn Ganges. He's been a fixture of your work since the late 1990s in your minicomic series Supermonster and has become a sort of a cipher that enables you to tell stories in comics. Although some people have said Glenn is just a stand-in, an alter ego for you, you've said in previous interviews that he is not. How do you relate to this character, and how does this character relate to you?
KH: Glenn is a way for me to write about my own experiences without getting caught up in the complexities of writing autobiography. I can abstract myself into a generic cartoon character, and I don't have to worry about Glenn's psychopathologies or neuroses. In our everyday lives, there's a lot of family history involved with the way people react to situations. It gets too complex.
If I were to write straight autobiographical comics and be true to my own experience, it would be difficult--I think I would have to distort my own experience to make a story out of it. Everyday life doesn't translate one-to-one to a good story. You have to distort it--there are the truths of what happens and the imaginative truths of a story. They're a little bit different, but they overlap.