St Louis Post-Dispatch on Dan Zettwoch and Kevin Huizenga

Imaginative graphic lit from St. Louis and beyond

St Louis Post-Dispatch    |    CLIFF FROEHLICH    |    August 18, 2012

Dan Zettwoch’s “Birdseye Bristoe” (Drawn & Quarterly, 64 pages, $19.95) is the most anticipated of them, the first book-length work by one of graphic lit’s most innovative talents. The eponymous protagonist is an iconoclastic old feller who, for opaquely religious reasons, allows the controversial erection of a sky-piercing cell tower on his land. The construction coincides with a visit by his great-niece Krystal and her cousin Clint.

The teens’ and Birdseye’s interactions with one another and the tiny surrounding community constitute the slender “plot,” but the main pleasures of Zettwoch’s work derive not from narrative per se but from the imaginative ways in which he tells his stories. A practiced hand at infographics — i.e., information conveyed through visual means — the artist makes complex use of maps, diagrams and extensive annotations.

The book thus alternates more traditional story-driven interludes with frequently hilarious (but dead-on) explorations of arcane subjects, including a primer on how to harvest nightcrawlers and an exegesis on blood blisters. There’s even a foldout, “Birth of a Cross Section,” that cannily simulates a newspaper graphic offering an “anatomical overview” of the cell tower.

Zettwoch uses these narrative strategies both to provide a richly furnished environment for his characters and to reveal with striking economy their quirky obsessions, memories and feelings. A Rube Goldberg construction of marvelous intricacy, the book begins in dreamlike confusion — starting with the apocalyptic destruction of the cell tower before flashing back to its origins — and assembles its crazy quilt of seemingly stray details into a wonderfully organic whole.

Drawn in a faux-primitivist style — nicely appropriate to Birdseye’s own handmade, down-home inclinations — and colored with a muted palette that emphasizes yellows and reds, “Birdseye Bristoe” merits careful study. Though relatively thin in page count, it’s dense with meaning and allusion.

Zettwoch’s running buddy Kevin Huizenga — a major figure in contemporary cartooning — is similarly interested in fresh ways of constructing narratives. “Gloriana” (Drawn & Quarterly, 118 pages, $19.95) would generate serious excitement if it weren’t simply a repackaging of a 2001 self-published minicomic (“Super Monster” No. 14), which had already received an upgrade in 2004, when it was published in slightly revised form as the second issue of the Huizenga series “Or Else.”

The latest iteration features hard covers, higher-quality paper and an incrementally larger size. If you own one of the previous versions, there’s frankly no reason to invest an additional $20, but if you’re a “Gloriana” newbie, buy the book posthaste.

Starring Huizenga’s recurrent characters — everyman Glenn Ganges and wife Wendy Caramel — the comic features four interlocking vignettes of quotidian events: daydreaming at a desk, putting away the groceries, watching the sun set and the moon rise. Huizenga vamps on these superficially inconsequential moments and makes them surprisingly large by stretching and fragmenting time and by experimenting with different representations of how thought is processed.

Huizenga veers into abstraction in one long stretch, culminating in a glorious four-page gatefold of sometimes baffling imagery. He also deploys his own version of Zettwoch’s infographic approach in a bravura sequence — no doubt influenced by his stint at the St. Louis Science Center — explaining why the moon sometimes looks “blood red.”

In addition to its linked pieces, “Gloriana” even provides a bonus story: a brief, lovely autobiographical piece on the Huizenga family and basketball in Illiana, Ill....

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