Friday, November 28, 2008

Review: Ganges #2

I finally found the time to read Kevin Huizenga's Ganges numbers one and two (Fantagraphics, 2006 and 2008, 32 pages each, $7.95 each). You may recall that I bought them at this year's SPX, so they've been sitting on my shelf for nearly two months. And I'm glad I finally read them, because they're good comics, well-made and thoughtful. I was particularly taken with the second book because the subject matter struck close to home.

Ganges # 2 is split into two parts. The first is a view of Glenn Ganges' computer screen, as he plays a Japanese fighting game -- think Street Fighter, or Mortal Kombat, except that it's gone bonkers such that the two characters morph and change with every panel, multiplying and growing and dividing and shrinking in a kind of dance that comes close to just being abstract art.


(click to enlarge -- this page comes from early in the battle, before things get really wiggy)

It's weird, it's fun, and it's not the part that I was talking about when I wrote that "the subject matter struck close to home." You remember that sentence, back at the beginning, before we wandered off into foreign-language fighting game laa-laa land.

No, it's the second part that got me. In that part, we flash back to the halcyon days of the dot com boom, when Glenn Ganges spent his days working for a small start-up company (flush with venture capital cash), and his nights in the same cubicle blasting away at his co-workers as they played a networked multiplayer first-person shooter game (think Quake). The story alternates between "real" life, in which the dot com company lumbers into "bust" mode and the money dries up, and Glenn's life inside the game, in which he tells us about how to get the super-huge auto-kill gun on top of the tower, and where to go for a good sniping position. Ultimately, the company dies and everyone moves on, and we return to the present, where Glenn sometimes pines for those happy days when all he wanted to do was play hour upon hour of a computer game against his buddies.

This story affected me because I lived it, pretty much. I worked for a dot com company run by young people where everyone wore whatever they wanted and a Nintendo was in the break room. People enjoyed working there, but the company had no way of making money, and eventually it collapsed and we had a few crummy meetings where the guys from the parent company/investor came in and told everyone that the company was being closed down, happy trails. Unlike Glenn and his buddies, however, I didn't spend my nights playing Quake with my co-workers, but . . .

I'm a gamer, and in my second year of college, I played Warcraft 2 against my friends every hour of every day of the month of January. It was all-encompassing, I went to sleep dreaming about the game, and I loved every minute. It was a gamer's paradise. (Yes, I know Warcraft is not a first-person shooter, but I've played those too, so I also know the thrill of chasing after my friends in a virtual world, blowing people away with lasers and shotguns and chainsaws while you shout at them from across the library's computer center.) Eventually, however, classes started again, people got busy, people graduated, people moved away, etc., and I don't do that anymore.

So, you see, I've been through what Glenn's been through. Like Glenn, I look back fondly and sometimes wistfully on my Warcraft 2 days, and like Glenn, I suffered through that sickening feeling that one gets when the jobs of everyone in the room are going up in a puff of smoke.

I don't know if I can be objective about how good Ganges #2 really is -- and I think it might be really good -- but it sure felt right. Huizenga nails both situations, rolling them up into one big woozy ball of nostalgia and remorse. It was an interesting trip down memory lane for Glenn Ganges and me, sort of enjoyable and sort of nausea-inducing at the same time. So check it out, and see if it works for you.

Also, it's fun to watch Glenn grab the big gun and eradicate a pursuer, only to be whacked by a second opponent shooting through the remains of the dead guy.

You can buy Ganges #2 at Fantagraphics' web site here.

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