December 23, 2010

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The Wild Kingdom

Written by Kevin Huizenga
Illustrated by Kevin Huizenga
Drawn and Quarterly

Glenn Ganges weaves in (but mostly out) of this collection of odds and ends from older zine projects of Kevin Huizenga, the master of understated but extremely detailed comics. Watch as Glenn wanders through his life where the Wild Kingdom is made up of squirrels and pigeons and other mundane creatures we take for granted. Plus, Huizenga adds some other short pieces of commentary, from commercials to mock documentary pieces on items both true and familiar. It's a collection that's anything but wild, but has a kingdom of rich images from Huizenga's pen.

I have to be honest, I was a bit disappointed to learn this book was mostly a reprint. The more I read, the more I realized this was largely the same mini I'd read almost a year ago, making me glad I'd gotten this from the library instead of buying a hardcover version of a zine I'm pretty sure I own somewhere. I thought it was good enough at the time, but it wasn't earth-shattering it. Reading the same stories in a cleaner, larger format didn't change my opinion that much.

About 18 months ago, I thought there were some clever touches, such as the idea that a wild kingdom for a city dweller such as Glenn would be cats and common birds and what have you. That's still true, but I admit that now I'm a little less inclined to read along with a story that doesn't go much of anywhere. My taste for that type of book, whether in graphic or prose form, is waning. If you need your comic to really have a strong beginning, middle, and end, I don't think you're going to much care for Huizenga's work, particularly here.

My favorite in Or Else 4 was the commercial parody, and that's still true here. The addition (I believe) of color definitely adds a bit, though not enough to make a huge difference. I love how the panels change, almost like changing channels, and the commentary on modern commerce is nice and subtle, especially when compared to another book I read recently.

I don't remember the trading cards from the earlier work, but those were clever, too. Looking not unlike things you'd take from the back of a toy or cereal box, each has a connection to the stories within. Might have been neat to include a few for actually clipping.

The rest of the book shows Huizenga's strong sense of whimsy and ability to get as much as possible on the printed page. The details are striking, but I don't think they drive the work enough to make it something I feel others have to read.

Overall, however, the book wanders a bit in a way that I can indulge in the zine/mini-comic format but works far less well for me as a hardcover edition from a major independent publisher. I liked these stories less than I did the first time, and even in the first reading I felt this was something that "wasn't for everyone." I agree with that assessment.

As a zine, Huizenga's rambling, almost plotless work was fine. I don't think it works nearly as well in the larger book format. I can't say I'd recommend this book, even though I like Huizenga's work in general. If you like Huizenga, you'll find this to be a good book for you. If you've never seen his work before, despite this being his newest book, it's definitely NOT the place to start. The Ganges books published by Fantagraphics is probably a better place to see if you like his style. Leave the Wild Kingdom for later, and even then, be aware it's not his strongest book. A little domestication for a larger book format may have been in order.