Ganges 1 and 2

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I picked up Ganges #1 a month or so ago on a whim. Mostly, I liked the way it was printed and coming from Coconino press I felt some obligation to at least investigate the title. But having no expectations about this comic isn't really all that important, because it's a real gem.

The first issue of Ganges tells a hand full of loosely connected stories centered on the titular Glenn Ganges. Glenn's just a guy that hangs around the house, making trips to the local library, thinking too much, or being kind of a jerk to his girlfriend while arguing about the Beatles. There's a deep mundane-ness that made me check multiple times to be certain that Glenn Ganges didn't author these books himself (it's Kevin Huizenga, actually).

These characters feel shockingly real. They talk, worry, and wonder. They're faceted and present many faces at once -- both good and bad. And as impressive as that is, Huizenga's real trick is how he takes these living breathing characters and tells little stories with them that seem desperately important. In the first issue, Glenn rushes to get to the library and suddenly finds himself lost in questions about time and existence (all told with some of the most brilliant application of Scott McCloud's treaties on the power of panels in Understanding Comics). In another, Glenn simply can't get to sleep and spends a while puttering around the house. This is poetry made out of the everyday, but it's always natural and never contrived.

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The second issue felt like a departure from the looser first issue. Issue 2 tells the story of Glenn's time working with a ficticious web company and the late night video game sessions that tied the employees together. Instead of many stories, it follows one narrative throughout the book and explains Glenn's backstory somewhat.

This book went up and down for me. At first, I was blown away by the beautiful and bizarre opening pages which depicts an absurd and artful video game. But the shift into a discussion of a first person shooter that Glenn was fond of years ago didn't resonate with me at first. Huizenga tries hard to make wonder at the nature of these games, how they can be so beautfiul and so depressing in their perfect eternal stasis. And while that's well and good, it's clear that he tells the stories of people much better. When we get into the story of this company, and the people inside it, I'm right there and loving every minute.

Another odd change to issue 2 is that Glenn's girlfriend (fiance?), the only other real character in the first issue, hardly appears and is always drawn from behind. Even on the back of issue two, where on issue we'd seen her face looming comically over houses, is just a teasing head of hair. She's always away -- either withdrawn, or perhaps ignored by Glenn who is very much centered on himself in these stories. This one puzzling artistic choice helps reinforce this sense of vague dread that settles over the entire issue.

I have worked hard to try and stop overusing superlatives, and so I hesitate when I say it, but Ganges is probably one of the smartest works in comics right now. It's down to earth without being trite or tedious, and its introspective without being boring or contrived. Not only that, it's superbly drawn and a real tour-de-force of what can be done with the comics medium.

It's more-or-less an all ages story, though there might be some course language and I think anyone under the age of 18 or 19 wouldn't be as interested in the stories of adults walking to the library. If you happen to see issue one, be sure and snatch it up and take a peek.

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