By Kevin Huizenga
108 pages, black and white, with some color
Published by Drawn & Quarterly
With Kevin Huizenga’s much-praised Gloriana having just being released into a hardcover edition, now seemed a good a time as any to look at one of his earlier, similarly-dimensioned books, The Wild Kingdom. Those looking for a defined narrative line throughout the book might be a bit disappointed, but that doesn’t mean it’s not worth reading. While The Wild Kingdom shares Huizenga’s Glenn Ganges character (these days probably best known from the Ganges comics), it’s a loose, free-form series of shorts that feel more observational than anything else. Many of them focus on interactions or looks at wildlife; one story, for example, lets us see the movements of a bird that lands in the middle of a traffic lane and how danger seems to inch ever closer.
The center section of The Wild Kingdom suddenly shifts to full color, as we get a bizarre and surprisingly funny shift into a series of commercials. They’re nonsensical and great, and I think the complete derailment of the mood of The Wild Kingdom up until that point actually is a plus for this book. It’s so out-of-the-blue that it almost feels startling, and the laughter that results is that much more genuine. And when the book closes out with what seems at first like a sad moment for a single bird and then dominos into something greater, well, it’s the most unexpected ending I’ve seen in a book for quite a while. Add in Huizenga’s stripped down and attractive art, and this is a book that manages to sneak up and surprise you again and again. While I don’t think I’d put The Wild Kingdom up as one of Huizenga’s greatest comics, it is still immensely entertaining. For a book that at a glance feels a bit slight, I’m now kicking myself for taking so long to read it. Wonderfully unpredictable, this is a book I suspect I’ll be re-visiting over the years.