It was, of all things, the realization that I no longer have my copy of Kevin Huizenga's Curses - which was loaned to someone before I moved states, and which, originally, borrowed from someone else who then moved far, far away; is that the definition of "play it forward"? - that made me realize: I am a sucker for comics that celebrate the weirdness within each and every single one of us.
Okay, so that's not the best way of putting it. But, thinking about Huizenga's "Glenn Ganges" strips, I realized that it reminded me a lot of Nick Abadzis' Hugo Tate, in that both were, in theory, stories about everyday people that continually and wonderfully strayed outside of what that phrase suggested - in Abadzis' case, into a magical and metaphorical place that mixed dreams and supernatural possibilities in a way that always left the possibility open to it all being in Hugo's head, if you were so inclined, and in Huizenga's case, into a existential play that often pushes at the boundaries of the medium. Both strips had/have such... I don't know the best way to say it, but such pure cartooning in them, such interest in doing more than "just" telling a story, if that makes sense - they're just as interested in playing with comics as a medium and seeing what they can do with it as they are getting from Point A to Point B.
(As I write this, I realize that Dave McKean's Cages - one of my favorite comics ever - potentially fits into this category, as well. Hmm.)
(I was reading the infamous Alan Moore interview last week, and that part where he essentially says, "I can't believe no-one's outdone Watchmen in the last 25 years," my immediate reaction wasn't "You don't even read comics by your own admission, so how would you know," but instead, "The majority of really interesting formal play in comics these days is happening away from superheroes, because the audience - and, to an extent, the creators who'd be interested in such things - has fragmented so much, and those who stick with superheroes want something else from their reading experience." I'm not sure it entirely tracks - I still read superheroes, but I'd love for someone to play with the form a bit more, and I doubt I'm alone - but still.)
But despite the formal play and the ambition to be something "more" than just memoir comics, what makes both Abadzis and Huizenga work so well for me is that they never lose track of the humanity no matter where they take their work - There's a vulnerability, curiosity and humor that is ever present, and keeps the more experimental moments grounded in feelings and moments that makes them more than high-falutin' digressions or off-putting theory put into confusing practice. No matter how abstract Huizenga's imagery may become, or how surreal Abadzis may have made his pages, there's always something to hook onto and empathize with. No matter how "out there" their work might seem at times, it's always something very human and understandable at its core, and in making that connection, somehow it reminds the reader - or this reader, at least - of the potential within everyone's imagination and life.
No wonder I love 'em both so much.