Billed by publisher Kus! as either a “visual riddle or rather a sudoku in a comic form,” there’s really nothing that precludes Latvian cartoonist Martins Zutis’ Crime At Babel (released last month as #88 in the long-running Mini Kus! line) from being both, of course — after all, last I checked, a sudoku is, in fact, a type of riddle, and one that’s usually well beyond my meager problem-solving abilities, at that. I know a lot of people have fun with the damn things, but I’m not one of them, and therefore I went into this comic with, at the very least, some nominal misgivings.
Maybe the whole thing will just blow right past me, I thought to myself. Maybe my brain just doesn’t work in a way that will allow me to come to grips with it. Maybe it’ll just be too damn smart for me. These things are known to happen.
As it turns out, I needn’t have worried. There are actually two crimes that take place here — a murder and the absconding of a library book — and Zutis, by means of his colored-pencil illustrations and some formally inventive page layouts that play with both space and time in highly interesting ways, gives us not only all the clues we need to piece together “whodunnit?,” but actually lays out his mystery narrative in relatively straightforward fashion once you understand that he’s playing by an entirely self-created set of rules. All of which is to say — the whole thing only looks confusing.
And only for a short time, at that. The great thing about Zutis’ cartooning is that it’s so inviting that you absolutely don’t mind taking the time necessary to figure out his utterly unique visual language. His pastel-colored hues and multi-faceted approach to exploring space and structure draw you in without a whit of resistance, and before you know it, you’re hooked : looking through see-through walls until everything clicks into place and that “aha!” moment you’ve been waiting for hits like a bolt out of the blue. And red. And yellow. And green.
The good news is that, if you’re patient enough, it will happen : Zutis has constructed a hermetic environment here, it’s true, and folks will “catch on” to how it works in their own good time, but if you’re anything like me — in which case I’m sorry — you’ll feel silly for not figuring out what’s happening a whole lot sooner once you do. But the moment of revelation is not, first and foremost, a “beat yourself up for being stupid” moment, it’s more of a “hey, this is really clever”one. And whether you arrive at it on your first “trip” through these pages or the fourth, trust me : you’ll enjoy it.
And what’s the best part about the whole thing? Why, once everything clicks into place, you get to flip back to the beginning and start all over again, confident in the knowledge that you’re now well familiar with the lay of the land. Zutis has crafted a fiendishly delightful little wordless visual narrative here that’s a true gift that keeps on giving.
Crime At Babel is available for $7.00 from the Kus! webshop at https://kushkomikss.ecrater.com/p/36507492/crime-at-babel-by-mrti-zutis
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