by Kevin Huizenga (Drawn & Quarterly, 2005)

Most richly detailed stories tend to be fascinating but often fall prey to being rather overstuffed. Of course, it all depends on how the details are presented. Curses, a collection of stories from miniseries and anthologies Kevin Huizenga has done in the past, manages to create an incredibly detailed and rich world without ever once managing to come off as overstuffed or overdone, probably due to its unabashed sweetness and unapologetic sentimentality.

Glenn Ganges is a graphic artist living a seemingly normal life in middle-class Michigan, yet the everyday parts of his world are interconnected in ways that are multi-faceted. From the Lost Boys of the Sudan, to a mystical quest to find a magic feather that will lift the curse of childlessness from his family, to the journal entries of a turn-of-the-century minister slowly descending into insanity, these incredibly full, rich vignettes pull you right in from the first page.

The stories are built, in a cross-hatching and tangential manner, around the attempts of the Ganges attempts to have a child. Huizenga delivers stories in a way that creates a fascinating sequence while leaving room for quiet moments and philosophical explorations. Even the sequences with more printed words than actual art are somehow engrossing, pulling you without hesitation into a debate about evangelism versus the superstition that continues to rule our lives.

The stories range from sadly beautiful to fascinating to downright frightening, as in the case of the "Green Tea" story, which literally takes you on a highly suspenseful trip mind trip. Its companion piece, "Jeepers Jacobs," expresses the fierce struggle within the heart of a modern-day minister trying to come to grips with his personal demons.

Each tale is filled with mystery and a sense of suspense that doesn't let go at the end. Quiet human moments are handled as though they are tiny mysteries to be unraveled. Huizenga's work is so infused with mysticism and a strong awareness of a pattern that lives underneath the life we can see with our physical eyes that his pieces can be read as a mediation on humanity's place in the natural order, or a homage to the importance of strong narrative, or a commentary on the place faith has in our lives and the various shapes it can assume. But mostly, it's a feat of fantastic storytelling.

Faith is the book's central theme, expressed in the philosophical musings of an evangelical teacher, in the Ganges' emotional and physical search to have a child, in the denizens of a late-night diner. Glenn experiences the world gently, without value judgments, and so opens up a whole new world of magical realism that exists so close to the world we live in there is very little difference.

The simple, highly expressive artwork, a modern match for the Tin Tin comics, is crisp and clean, and reflects the same humanistic feel of the ligne clair (clear line) art that was Herge's contribution to the graphic arts. It's an interesting adaptation on Huizenga's part, using Herge's realistic style to draw comics that are at the very least magical realism and at the most metaphysical. The result is a terrific book that won't let you down or let you go after the final panel. Like me, you may end up thinking about the stories you've read long after you've finished reading them.

review by
Mary Harvey

20 October 2007

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