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Or Else 1 by Kevin Huizenga

Or Else #1 by Kevin Huizenga (Drawn & Quarterly, 2004).

Missed out on this the first time around, but after reading issue 2 I was excited to get this. The issue features a few short stories. The first and best one is “NST ’04” which features Glenn Ganges and his wife/girlfriend Wendy. Huizenga does interesting things with time here, mixing the real and the imaginary as well as jumping back and forth chronologically. Glenn and Wendy hang out at a diner late in the night and talk with the other insomniacs. Panels of them at tables with others are interspersed with panels of the individuals telling us how they spend their time (a very interesting section that speaks to my own interest in how people occupy their time). We also see Glenn and Wendy skipping the diner one night to go for a late night bike ride and visit a grave yard. In part of the graveyard scene Glenn is whistling a song and Wendy makes a two guesses as to the song. A few pages later, during which we see other earlier or later (its hard to tell) events, there is a panel where Glenn tells her the song name. It takes a moment to connect this single panel back to the earlier one, but then, when one does, the dislocation of time becomes even more obvious. Another section of the story features Glenn and Wendy riding their bikes and dragging their feet in the leaves gathered at the curb. The art starts as realistically as the rest of the story and then becomes abstracted with motion. The effect is startling for its change of style but also successfully integrated into the feeling of bike riding and fluttering leaves.

The way time is dislocated, repeated, and folded back is something I haven’t seen much in comics. It’s not just a flashback, it’s a whole reorganization of time. It makes me think of Alain Robbe-Grillet’s use of time in such novels as La Maison de Rendez-vous where we get repeated scenes, slightly changed, out of order. In a novel this requires a good amount of words to recreate the scene and make the reader know that the scene is repeating, but, and this speaks to a strength of the visual language of comics, in comics its a simple matter of a panel redrawn or a background redrawn with characters in place. There’s a goldmine to mine in this area, a kind of nouveau roman of comics…

Another stand out story in the book is “Jeezoh” which explicates the origin of small statues of the same name that are found in mid-western graveyards. Huizenga puts the non-fiction into a frame with Glenn and Wendy (at the graveyard again) and then illustrates the essayistic explanation.

I can’t recommend this highly enough. I even want to push it off on non-comics readers. See Huizenga’s site for examples of his work.