Thursday, February 24, 2011

Sequart #140: Insomnia 3, Ganges 2

The Ignatz line continues to be the most impressive of any line of serialized comics. As I noted in my first review of the line, the design and presentation are all top-notch. The artists selected, both familiar and unfamiliar, are all at the top of their games.

I noted in my first review that Matt Broersma's INSOMNIA #3 was the issue I was most anxious to read of any in the line, and it certainly did not disappoint. This last issue of this series continued the overall theme of secrets, loss and the desire to shift identities. In this issue, which like the others can be read as stand-alone stories, we meet a man named Miles Anderson. In the story, he undergoes a series of events that unravel his life. His cushy job as a TV producer is taken away from him, his wife disappears from his life without a trace, and he learns that the birth father he never knew had just died. Anderson is the classic victim of circumstance, manipulated by others right under his nose. His wife and the half-brother he never knew, along with his birth father, all went through periods where they wanted to be someone else. Unlike most people, they actually found a way to do it. The themes of shifting identity, the agonizing nature of memory, the far-fetched hopes that we pin our lives on that ran through the first two issues are recapitulated in the third.

The issue is a bit more straightforward than the first two, lacking the magical realist trappings of the first and the fever-dream nature of the second. Broersma acknowledges this with an anecdote from Miles at the end of the issue, as he relates a dream where he encounters the protagonists of the first two issues in Las Vegas--a city where identities blur and memories fade at the drop of a hat. All three issues center their journeys either through long car rides or quests that take place over a number of years with no real resolution. The third issue is a series of nested stories, as Anderson is telling the story to a prostitute who is not quite what she seems--and who's about to continue the cycle of escaping her identity like so many of the other characters in the story. INSOMNIA's sketchy art and single-wash color scheme help add to its dreamy noir atmosphere, resulting in a series where none of its leading men either get what they want and pay a steep price for the pursuit of their desires. I couldn't have imagined a richer or more satisfying to these stories that were loosely connected in terms of plot but intimately linked in terms of theme.

Kevin Huizenga is one of the most interesting young American cartoonists, and his phenomenological studies of quotidian life that play out with his Glenn Ganges character in GANGES #2 continue to fascinate. This issue begins with an elaborate 11-page fake-out of sorts: a bizarre videogame sequence where a character is chosen to face off against another character in an increasingly elaborate and abstract battle. What the shapes on the screen are actually doing in terms of battle becomes impossible to identify save for their "life-meters" at the bottom of each panel. That segment acts a prologue for Glenn, who is revealed to be the losing player in this game. This story is a fairly straightforward account of Glenn's tenure at a Yahoo-like dotcom start-up in the late 90's that was doomed to failure, where most of the workers stayed after work to play a first-person, interactive shooter game against each other. The game is a metaphor for levels of communication and experience. The nonsense-speak and buzzwords associated with his "work" life had less meaning on a human level than his once-removed interactions with his office-mates playing their shooting game.

Playing the game was almost a sort of therapy to counteract the meaninglessness of his day-to-day working life, though it only served as a substitute for real interaction. That meaninglessness, that sense that this job was just a sophisticated illusion, was embodied in the oily CEO who went to great pains to show just how informal and "cool" he was. The reason why it was so easy for the employees to check out and become video game characters was precisely because they as human beings had no real value to the company--a fact that become quickly evident when the first layoffs started to happen. In the end, the office's virtual community rallied around the first man who was going to get fired on his last night, in an oddly touching scene where every player uses his avatar as a sort of tribute.

Huizenga's comics tend to be about modes of human experience and understanding. This issue took a slightly different route than much of his work, eschewing moment-to-moment phenomenological observations and instead focused on the way video games can alter the way we look at and experience the world. The fascination with the concept of a character avatar, representing you in a different state of being, acts as a sort of interactive, fictive device. This allows a fluidity of identity that in the case of this story became far more compelling than the actual day-to-day lives of the workers--in part because the dot-com bubble was its own sort of fake reality. The video game world was just a fake reality that its users had a degree of control over.

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