Mainstream Comics You Should Be Paying Attention To : “Billionaire Island”

Count me among those who were more than a bit unimpressed with Second Coming, the highly-touted series from writer Mark Russell and artists Richard Pace and Leonard Kirk that was scuttled at Vertigo due to its purported “sacrilegious” content before finding a new home at Ahoy Comics. Far from taking any sort of pot-shots at organized religion, the “Jesus-meets-Superman-analogue” premise actually reinforced tired Christian dogma at the end of the day and Russell’s usually-sharp satirical wit was uncharacteristically blunted by a chickenshit desire to play it safe and offend as few people as possible. Hell, by the time all was said and done, this was such a milquetoast offering that even the most fervent evangelical nutcase wouldn’t find much worth objecting to in it apart from some vaguely liberal “be kind to one another” politics. And let’s remember — evangelicals claim to believe in that sort of thing themselves, even though their actions frequently indicate otherwise.

So, yeah, when I heard Russell was doing another project with Ahoy I was kinda “ho-hum” about the whole thing. But when I heard he was going to once again be teaming up with his collaborator on the brilliant DC re-launch of Hanna-Barbera’s The Flintsones, versatile veteran artist Steve Pugh, and that their new four-issue series, Billionaire Island, was going to be wearing its “class war” politics on its sleeve — well, suddenly I became very interested. And to date, that interest has been handsomely rewarded.

So, our setting is the near future, where one asshole billionaire (is there any other kind?) has set up an offshore “tax haven” island for other asshole billionaires to live out their lives in even more ease and luxury than they enjoy today, while the rest of the world effectively toils away at cleaning up the mess this wealth disparity has created. Fortunately for us, there’s an undercover hero looking to bring the island down — but unforuntely for her, others have tried to expose the evil and corruption afoot on the island before, and they’re still trapped there. And she’s about to get to know them all very well.

Russell is back in prime form with this one, balancing his razor-barbed class critique with a light, humanizing touch of humor, and throwing nifty ideas (like a net-worth screening device at the island’s airport) at readers at a mile-a-minute pace. There’s a lot to keep up with conceptually, but the story is about as straightforward as it gets, and quite a bit of fun, to boot, sending up any number of “reality” TV tropes as it goes. If you don’t like this, then you don’t like having a good time, plain and simple.

Either that, of you’re a right-winger, and odds are that if you fit that unfortunate description, you already gave up on this site a long time ago. But honestly, I think that anybody of any political leaning would find something in here worth both chuckling at and thinking about, given that it’s all presented without any sort of preachiness or sanctimony, with Russell opting instead to confidently just work his point of view into the metaphorical “DNA” of his premise and take it from there. That’s how you craft a good story and blunt any criticism of it all in one fell swoop.

As for Pugh, he plays it fairly straight and it works — his lines are clean, his facial expressions and body language are exaggerated just enough, and his “slick” illustrations do a great job of both conveying and parodying OTT excess. This is the whole package, and with two issues down and two left to go I can already tell we’re looking at something both timely and memorable here.

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This review — and all others around these parts — is “brought to you” by my Patreon site, where I serve up exclusive thrice-weekly rants and ramblings on the worlds of comics, films, television, literature, and politics for as little as a dollar a month. Subscribing is the best way to support my continuing work, so I’d be very appreciative indeed if you’d take a moment to check it out and, should you feel so inclined, join up.

Oh, and I suppose a link would come in handy. Here you go : https://www.patreon.com/fourcolorapocalypse

Mainstream Comics You Should Be Paying Attention To : “King Of Nowhere”

As is generally known, I’m not one of those “too cool for school” types who dismisses out of hand everything produced by the major comics publishers. In fact, until the industry shutdown engendered by COVID-19 took hold, I ran a “Weekly Reading Round-Up” column on this very site that mainly concerned itself with examining whatever mainstream titles this nominal “Wednesday warrior” had picked up during the previous seven-day span — and I imagine I’ll get back to it before too long here. That being said —

Shipping schedules are still pretty light, even though most comic shops are, in fact, open again, and this means that most weeks since “the return” haven’t seen enough interesting stuff hit shelves to warrant me devoting an entire column to reviewing them. It’s just a fact : most recent weeks have seen me leaving the shop with two, maybe three comics, and while that’s welcome news for my bank balance, it means the “Round-Up” has remained dormant. That being said —

There’s still some stuff coming out of the mainstream that’s well worth your time and attention, and I kinda miss talking about it, so I figure why not shine a light on some of these books until the “Round-Up” returns? And so, lo and behold, we’ve got ourselves a running theme for the next week or two — although I still want to keep at least a bit off the beaten path, so we’ll be training our focus here on titles you’re less likely to be following than, say, Al Ewing and Joe Bennett’s The Immortal Hulk, Simon Spurrier and Aaron Campbell’s John Constantine, Hellblazer, or any other books that everybody already more or less knows are great. First up, then : a fun, smart, “trippy” little series from writer W. Maxwell Prince (Ice Cream Man), line artist Tyler Jenkins, and color artist Hilary Jenkins (both of Grass Kings and Black Badge renown) published by Boom! Studios called King Of Nowhere.

Our ostensible “hero” in this five-parter is a no-count drifter/loser named Denis who wakes up after a bender on the outskirts of a town called — you guessed it — Nowhere, with no idea how he got there, or even what and “there” even is.  And three issues in, those questions still loom large — but I get the feeling this book is at least every bit as much about the journey as it is about the resolution.

Which is absolutely as it should be, of course, even if it means there’s some pressure on Prince, in particular, to really stick the landing. He’s crafted a fairly likable protagonist with Denis, though, and you never know what sort of deformed or mutated person or anthopomorphic animal he’s going to meet next, nor what sort of significance these encounters are going to end up having when it comes to piecing together the delightfully-scrambled overall picture. The really interesting thing? There doesn’t seem to be a traditional “villain” anywhere on offer in this story.

Not that one is all that necessary, mind you, Denis being a pretty classic example of someone who’s his own worst enemy. Still, there’s hints of a conspiratorial undercurrent running through Nowhere, and he may just be the guy to get to the bottom of it, not least because the entire place might be a figment of his own subconscious. Or it might not. We’ll see.

Being a full-on “mindfuck,” the script calls for an endless array of inventively-designed characters, and Jenkins never fails to disappoint on that score, but in a larger sense his loose, free-form style is perfect for bringing a necessarily “otherworldly” atmosphere to life — and speaking of life, his better half’s watercolor-style hues breathe a ton of it into these pages. Everything looks vaguely recognizable, but distinctly “off” — and that goes for the tones of the sky, the ground, the water, the buildings. Jenkins and Jenkins do a superb job of creating an environment that’s distinctly alien without being alienating, and that right there makes all the difference.

Sure, with two issues left to go, this whole thing could still fall completely apart, but you know what? These creators have managed to steer a pretty circuitous path with remarkable aplomb so far, and there’s no reason to believe they won’t deliver the goods when it comes time to make sense of this whole thing. I. for one, will be looking forward to seeing how they pull that off — even as I’ll probably be just as sorry to see it end.

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Review wrist check – shaking things up a bit with my Formex “Essence” brown dial model today by swapping out its factory-issue brown “croco structure” strap for a blue one, also made by Formex. Their quick-release straps and, even better, quick-release carbon fiber clasp make changing things up on this watch a breeze, and it’s as fun as it is fast to shuffle the deck and play with some different looks for this chronometer-certified timepiece.

Also, this review — and all others around these parts — is “brought to you” by my Patreon site, where I serve up exclusive thrice-weekly rants and ramblings on the worlds of comics, films, television, literature, and politics for as little as a dollar a month. Subscribing is the best way to support my continuing work, so I’d be very appreciative if you’d take a moment to give it a look by directing your kind attention to https://www.patreon.com/fourcolorapocalypse

Mini Kus! Catch-Up : “Banal Complications” By Marc Bell (Mini Kus! #90)

For the final entry (that being #90) in their latest foursome of Mini Kus! releases, Latvian publisher Kus! turns to the always-reliably-inventive Canadian cartoonist Marc Bell, whose work I’ll go out on a limb and assume most readers of this site are already well-familiar with. Or, at the very least, really should be. And in the pages of Banal Complications, he does what he does best, which is — his own kind of thing altogether.

This is a “meta” narrative, with Bell’s protagonist Chop Salad (always with these names, I tell ya!) pretty clearly standing in for the artist himself, so if that kind of thing annoys you, just check out now — but if you’re down for a fun and inventive take on a premise that really isn’t either one most of the time anymore? Then you’ve come to the right place. Maybe even the only place. Or, at the very least, this place — which is rather unlike any other place.

Also, fair warning : this isn’t a “comic” per se so much as it’s an illustrated short story about what sure seems like a real-life series of, well, banal complications that strike our guy Chop Salad as he tries to get his apartment rented out, and artwork either sold or stored away, prior to a temporary move south of the border to my hometown of Minneapolis. It’s all very perfunctory stuff, sure, but Bell interprets the everyday though a stream-of-consciousness filter that ends up giving the whole thing a feel probably not unlike, I dunno, David Tibet reading aloud his daily “to-do” list. It’s weird, sure — and this “story” takes a turn for the even more weird when some of the artwork in question is reproduced on the page juxtaposed next to new text and art referring to it (art about situations dealing with art that already exists? Only Bell can get away with that) — but none of it seems alien or even terribly unusual in and of itself on paper. It’s all, as they say, in the delivery.

And, of course, nobody delivers the goods like Bell. I’ve always detected just a hint of Mark Beyer at the margins of his work — and I doubt I’m the only one — but by and large, if there’s one thing he’s done over the years, it’s invent a constantly-evolving visual language all his own and then make the de facto “teaching” of it to readers an entirely approachable and involving exercise.  His world is his world, but it’s just close enough to yours for you to be able to relate to — yet also just different enough to seem, well, pretty damn far out.

Of special note is how perfect the title for this particular project is : yes, the shit’s all kinda complicated, fair enough, but in total it represents the kind of “one thing after another” slog that we’ve all dealt with in relation to major (or even semi-major) life changes — so while this might qualify as complimenting Bell on a truly minor detail, in point of fact the accumulation of minor details is what this book is all about, so there you have it. Also, Bell’s lettering — again, generally considered a minor detail by most — is really crisp and unique and solid, too, and given that there’s so much of it (this being a very text-heavy piece), this also plays a key role. Top to bottom, then, inside and out, this book is as well-constructed as it is singularly-constructed.

Look, who are we kidding? Chances are that if you know Bell, you know you want this regardless of what some critic has to say. I’m just here, I guess, to tell you that you’re right. So, hey, congratulations — you’re right.

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Banal Complications is available for $7.00 from the Kus! webshop at https://kushkomikss.ecrater.com/p/36507498/banal-complications-by-marc-bell

Also, this review — and all others around these parts — is “brought to you” by my Patreon site, where I serve up exclusive thrice-weekly rants and ramblings on the worlds of comics, films, television, literature, and politics for as little as a dollar a month. Subscribing is the best way to support my continuing work, so I’d be very appreciative if you’d take a moment to check it out by directing your kind attention to https://www.patreon.com/fourcolorapocalypse

 

Mini Kus! Catch-Up : “Egle And The Snake” By Joana Estrela (Mini Kus! #89)

Casting far and wide for both talent and subject matter, Mini Kus! #89 from Latvia’s eclectic “art comics” publishing house Kus! features a Portuguese cartoonist, Joana Estrela, telling a decidedly contemporary version of an ancient Lithuanian fable in Egle And The Snake, which sees the serpent cast in its traditional role as schemer but our woman protagonist, while perhaps a little too polite for her own good (up to a point, at any rate), assuming a great deal more agency and self-determination than, say, the biblical Eve. It’s about time, sure — but there’s also something quite timeless about what this comic has to say about relationships and gender roles and power dynamics.

Egle is young — high-school age, according to the narrative — but wise enough to smell a rat (errr, snake) and to know when to say when. But damn if this story isn’t a perfect short-form encapsulation of sleazy male-engineered manipulation that often leads to tragic results : first he strikes up conversation with her based on the band t-shirt she’s wearing. Then the friends he’s supposedly waiting on don’t show up. Then he regales her with empty compliments. Then he offers to drive her home. Then, hey, why don’t they go by his place? Then — you get the idea.

Estrela’s figure drawings are agreeably simple — not such a tricky thing, I guess, when one of your two characters is a snake — but her use of color is exciting and unpredictable, her pastel-shaded pinks, greens, blacks, whites, and blues deployed with a kind of intuitive nonchalance that I’m sure actually belies a great deal of deliberative thinking. There’s a stylistic through-line to the book that gives it a necessary consistency, but the emotive choice of dominant hues on each page makes every one of them feel like a unique experience that conveys a singular mood within the larger narrative framework. Done incorrectly, this kind of approach could feel really disjointed — fortunately, it’s not just done correctly here, it’s done perfectly.

And, of course, the story itself couldn’t be more timely even if it’s ancient. In this day and age where men are finally being taken to task — not insignificantly within the comics community itself — on behavior that’s sleazy, manipulative, and inherently exploitative, Estrela finds a way to communicate something we’re hearing about with depressing frequency in a way that’s imaginative, rife with tension, and ultimately celebratory of women’s autonomy. Her characters are drawn in broad strokes both literally and metaphorically, sure, but they feel real and so does the situation itself. A parable for the ages, indeed.

Actually, though, it might not be fair to tag this with the label of “parable” at all. Yeah, you’re not gonna run into a talking snake down at the beach — unless you’ve got access to some really good hallucinogenics — but otherwise, this is a fairly classic example of the old “came to visit, decided to stay” sort of angling that a lot of creepy guys try to work on women they consider vulnerable on any given night of the week. Or any given day. At any given bar. Or club. Or school. Or workplace. Or online — geez, you get the point.

Anyway, this is sequential storytelling that’s as powerful as it is basic, and better yet it understands that and derives its power from its simplicity and universality. I urge you not to miss it.

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Egle And The Snake is available for $7.00 from the Kus! webshop at https://kushkomikss.ecrater.com/p/36507494/egl-and-the-snake-by-joana

Review wrist check – back to the Monta “Atlas” blue dial model, this time riding a Hirsch “Birch” strap from their “performance” series. A nice balance between dressy and casual that works either way, you could do this combo up with a button-up shirt and a tie as easily as you could with short sleeves and jeans. I opted, of course, for the latter.

Mini Kus! Catch-Up : “Crime At Babel” By Martins Zutis (Mini Kus! #88)

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.

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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

Also, this review — and all others around these parts — is “brought to you” by my Patreon site, where I serve up exclusive thrice-weekly rants and ramblings on the worlds of comics, films, television, literature, and politics for as little as a dollar a month. Subscribing is the best way to support my continuing work, so I’d be very appreciative if you’d take moment to check it out by directing your kind attention to https://www.patreon.com/fourcolorapocalypse

 

Mini Kus! Catch-Up : “Violent Delights” By Hetamoe (Mini Kus! #87)

I’ve reviewed some pretty “far out” comics in my time — and some of the most “far out” have been part of the Mini Kus! line from Latvian publisher Kus! — but Portuguese cartoonist Hetamoe’s Violent Delights (which was just released last month as Mini Kus! #87) probably takes the cake as the most experimental, borderline-indescribable work I’ve ever tried to wrap my head around in full view of my readership. I won’t do you the disservice of saying that I’ve completely figured this one out yet, and to be honest I’m not sure that I ever will, but maybe that’s not even the point here. This is complex, challenging, at times even taxing stuff — and where it takes you, as well as how it gets you there, is going to vary a great deal from reader to reader. I’ll even go so far as to say that I’m not yet at the point where I can fairly determine whether I “like” this book or not — and frankly the question itself seems entirely irrelevant.

So why read it at all, then? That’s a natural enough question, and by way of answering, I’ll state for the record that Hetamoe does offer a central thesis worth exploring — I’m just undecided as to whether or not using Shakespeare’s Romeo And Juliet as a springboard for examining society’s propensity for inflicting violence on a mass scale is necessarily all that effective. There’s an anime-style opening sequence that keeps the violence interpersonal, and that registered with me quite strongly, but when we get to the midpoint of the comic and we’re seeing deliberately-obfuscated verses from The Bard juxtaposed with deliberately-obfuscated climate change statistics, we go right from first gear to third, right from “why are we so mean to each other?” to “we’re absolutely fucked” — and one can be forgiven for feeling a fair amount of whiplash.

That being said, Hetamoe does nothing if not keep you absolutely engaged in the proceedings. From esoteric symbolism to slap-dash “rough” cartooning to pixellated computer imagery to scientific graphs to Gothic script, there’s a frenetic energy to all of this, a sense that anything really does go — even if it’s utilized in service of a premise that posits that eveyrthing is already as good as gone. Which brings us to nihilism, I suppose, but I think that’s either too reductive or, even worse, just a cop-out.

I’m not entirely comfortable saying that Hetamoe advances the notion that creativity is the way out of our death spiral, so don’t hold me to that as a hard-and-fast opinion, but it certainly seems like that might be the message here. Or one of the messages, at any rate.  It’s not stated clearly enough to rise above some of the visual “noise” in this comic on a first pass through it, but that’s immaterial; you know before you’re finished reading this that you’re going to have no choice but to go though it multiple times before you can even begin the process of forming something like a coherent reaction to it. And trust me when I say that’s not likely to be a terribly straightforward process, either. Nothing here is.

No harm in that, of course — quite the reverse. Comics that make you think — hell, comics that make you work — are kind of our bread and butter around these parts. But in this case, be prepared for that work day not to end. If that sounds exciting to you, then you’re really going to dig this book, but if some kind of resolution is important to you — even if it’s only a tentative one, and one largely arrived at under your own steam — then this may be that metaphorical “bridge too far” that all your years of exposure to “avant-garde” art have been leading toward.

Like I said, I’m not totally sure where I stand with it for my own damn self yet — but I’m in no way ready to walk away from this work and call it a day, either. I keep feeling like that major revelatory moment is just around the corner — and even if it turns out that it’s not, the search for it feels worth the effort. In that respect, then, Hetamoe has created one of the most genuinely immersive comics I’ve ever come across. And isn’t that preferable to merely being “good” or “bad,” anyway?

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Violent Delights is available for $7.00 from the Kus! webshop at https://kushkomikss.ecrater.com/p/36507448/violent-delights-by-hetamo

Review wrist check – I said my Raven “Solitude” gray dial model was one of my favorite everyday “beater” watches, and I wasn’t kidding — this thing gets a lot of wrist time. Here it is again, showing off its versatility by riding a Zodiac caoutchouc rubber NATO-style strap in burnt orange for a perfect casual summer look.

 

Mini Kus! Catch-Up : “(extra) Ordinary” By Roberts Rurans (Mini Kus! #86)

For number 86 in their Mini Kus! series, Latvian publisher Kus! didn’t have to venture beyond their borders to find home-grown talent Roberts Rurans, whose work you may recall from some of their anthology publications and who more than proves up for the challenge of carrying a 28-page publication all on his own. In fact, if anything, (extra) Ordinary demonstrates that he could’ve used a bit more space.

Not for narrative, mind you — as far as story goes this is plenty “decompressed,” even threadbare, as is — but his Tommi Parish-esque compositions are so lush, so colorful, and so imaginative that 10-12 more pages of them wouldn’t be objectionable in the least. His tale herein is ostensibly about a young girl seeking escape from boredom, and to say it’s never boring in the least is an understatement of pretty significant, even borderline-criminal, proportions.

Now, whether our nameless protagonist finds that escape in her mind or in consensus physical reality I leave very much up yo you to determine for yourself — I lean toward the latter, yet that’s almost neither here nor there — but either way, the circus is in town, and it’s a circus of delirium and delight. If you’re one of those people who likes to be surprised on every page, you’ll be satisfied to a flat-out ridiculous degree here, as the vaguely-linear series of images shift and flow from one entirely unexpected thing to the next, each and every one of them a brightly-colored showcase for Rurans’ mastery of form and shape, his energetic transference of emotion and imagination into expressive abstractions and then into recognizable animals and objects. It’s a veritable clinic, and that’s no lie.

No less than Walter Mitty himself would be proud of this young dreamer as she creates excitement and wonder out of thin air and everyday objects, everything that crosses her path or enters her line of sight a potential conscript in her war against the lifeless and mundane. Yes, this is an “art-first “comic, but it still tells one hell of a fun little story that you’ll hate to see end.

I don’t think it’s any secret that we live in trying and turbulent times — if you disagree, then you clearly haven’t been paying attention to, well, anything — and reminders that things are good are hard to come by. Rurans does more than that, though — he reminds us that life is, or at least can be, flat-out wonderful and amazing. And while it’s tempting to add the caveat of “as long as you’re willing to imagine that it is,” in truth the message here is deeper, more significant, more profound, more potentially revelatory : it’s wonderful and amazing because you imagine it is.

At a time when so many of us are stuck at home — and not without very good reason, rest assured I’m not one of these “anti-lockdown” blowhards in their MAGA hats — there’s probably no more important a thing to be reminded of that that. And there’s no better-presented a reminder than that which Rurans conveys in these immersive, deliriously gorgeous pages.

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extra (Ordinary) is available for $7.00 from the Kus! webshop at https://kushkomikss.ecrater.com/p/35759368/extra-ordinary-by-roberts-rrns#

Also, this review — and all others around these parts — is “brought to you” by my Patreon site, where I serve up exclusive thrice-weekly rants and ramblings on the worlds of comics, films, television, literature, and politics for as little as a dollar a month. Subscribing is the best way to support my continuing work, so I’d be very appreciative if you’d take a moment to check it out by directing your kind attention to https://www.patreon.com/fourcolorapocalypse

 

 

Mini Kus! Catch-Up : “Hero” By Harukichi (Mini Kus! #85)

I know just about nothing in regards to Japanese cartoonist and experimental musician Harukichi, but that’s one of the sublime joys of the long-running Mini Kus! line from Latvian “art comics” publisher Kus! — its introduces you to new voices from around the globe whose work likely wouldn’t come across your radar otherwise. And when it comes to Harukichi’s Hero — number 85 in the Mini Kus! series — I’m damn glad it did.

Apparently, our protagonist in this one — a cat named Gosshie who “works” as a DJ — is a recurring character in Harukichi’s stories, and his gift appears to be the ability to find exactly the right song for every occasion. Not a bad skill to have, to be sure, and in this comic he cleverly deploys one apropos track after another for situations ranging from the everyday to the extraordinary as he makes his way through town with his little wagon full of LPs. It’s cute as hell, gently humorous, and exceptionally well-drawn — and really, what more are you looking for in a comic than that?

Rendered in colored pencils (I’m fairly sure, at any rate) and inks, this is vibrant, intricately-detailed stuff that establishes a kind of timeless environment, or perhaps one outside of time altogether, and while Harukichi is a bona fide maestro when it comes to drawing people, places, and things, it’s the subtleties of expression displayed on Gosshie The CJ Cat’s face here that steal the shower and will instantly register with any feline-lover : quizzical, determined, intuitive, but always at least slightly unimpressed by anything other than himself, this is the kind of cat we all know about very well indeed. And yeah, you can’t help but love the little bastard.

Not that he loves you back, of course — there’s always somewhere else to be, something else to do, some new track to spin. He’s not exactly out to help or anything, he’s just there to do his part. To evaluate what’s happening and find something that fits the mood, whether that’s pleasantry or peril or something in between. He’s a cat. He’s gonna do his thing. Now get out of the way and let him do it.

As with any creative creature, he’s found a way to make a living at it, too, passers-by tossing Yen his way for his records, and his entrepreneurial skills are one more reason he wins you over so effortlessly. In a pinch, I suppose, Gosshie might look a little like Garfield to the very casual reader, but there’s nothing lazy, cynical, or boring about this little furball. He’s the coolest of cool cats, and he does it all without breaking his suitably confident stride. I think I might just have a new hero — and I’m kinda thinking that’s why Harukichi chose that title for this book. It’s as good a theory as any other.

As far as short-form comics stories go, the simple fact is that they just don’t come much better than this one. Harukichi’s art is incredibly distinctive without being “showy,” his visual storytelling is fundamentally sound without relying on any crutches, and his humor is well-timed without being forced or feeling even moderately shoe-horned. If you don’t like this, you don’t like comics.

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Hero is available for $7.00 from the Kus! webshop at https://kushkomikss.ecrater.com/p/35759366/hero-by-harukichi

Also, this review — and all others around these parts — is “brought to you” by my Patreon site, where I serve up exclusive thrice-weekly rants and ramblings on the worlds of comics, films, television, literature, and politics for as little as a dollar a month. Subscribing is the best way to support my continuing work, so I’d be very appreciative if you’d take a moment to give it a look by directing your kind attention to https://www.patreon.com/fourcolorapocalypse

 

 

Mini Kus! Catch-Up : “The Book Fight” By Chihoi (Mini Kus! #84)

Talk about a step out of the old “comfort zone” — Hong Kong-based cartoonist Chihoi is best known for delicate, lushly-rendered graphite illustration that’s equal parts emotive, subtle, and expressive, but with his latest mini, The Book Fight, he takes off the gloves — even if his literal Comic Book protagonist does, in fact, wear a pair of them. Boxing gloves, to be precise. And he definitely punches well above his weight class.

Rendered in sub-garish oranges, yellows, and whites, Chihoi’s book — which “weighs in” at number 84 in the long-running Mini Kus! line — contains plenty of visual bang for your buck, sure, complete with Kirby-esque flair, flourish, and (crucially) impact, but underneath all the admittedly self-aware bombast is a point well taken, namely : the hierarchy of “art book” publications is complete bullshit, and there’s nothing to preclude you from enjoying a well-constructed children’s pop-up book every bit as much as, if not more than, some fancy (to say nothing of expensive) coffee table monstrosity apart from “too cool for school” appearances. It’s an obvious point, to be sure — so obvious that it may as well be taken as a given — but then, being subtle and/or beating around the bush in any way, shape, or form would fly directly in the face of what Chihoi is going for here.

So, yeah, this comic is a fun one, a nifty little “battle of the books” premise taken to extremes as absurd as they are logical, it’s got just enough to say to maintain your interest without necessarily belaboring the point, and it’s joy to look at. There may not be a whole hell of a lot more to it than that, but I think the idea that there really doesn’t need to be is central to Chihoi’s thesis here — and no sooner do I type that than I feel like a snooty asshole for even using the term “thesis” in regards to this thing in the first place. As well I probably should. Over-analysis is soooo tired at this point; can’t we just take things at face value?

Well, yeah, we can, even if there’s an entire industry predicated upon doing anything but — and I’m part of it. But we in the critical community all need to re-familiarize ourselves with the location of our “off” switch sometimes, and just know when it’s time to kick back and enjoy a cool little comic book — even, maybe especially, when that cool little comic book is about a cool little comic book that enjoys being a cool little comic book and ain’t ashamed to admit it.

I think we’re all well past the point where we feel the need to “defend” comics as a “real” art form — or at least we damn well should be — but it’s equally true that most comics are still trashy, juvenile, disposable fun, and admitting that there’s nothing wrong with that is a further step that’s long overdue. Chihoi has found a pitch-perfect method by which to express that sentiment, and he’s done so without resorting to anything more than good, old-fashioned fisticuffs. That’s pretty creative. That’s pretty clever. And it’s the kind of “creative” and “clever” that can only work in the comics medium.

When you really sit down and think about it, there aren’t many works of art that demand to be taken for precisely what they are — no less, no more, and nothing other than. This is one of them, so enjoy it for what it is — and only for what it is. Which is a much more glowing recommendation than it probably sounds like.

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The Book Fight is available for $7.00 from the Kus! webshop at https://kushkomikss.ecrater.com/p/35759365/the-book-fight-by-chihoi

Also, this review — and all others around these parts — is “brought to you” by my Patreon site, where I serve up exclusive thrice-weekly rants and ramblings on the worlds of comics, films, television, literature, and politics for as little as a dollar a month. Subscribing is the best way to support my continuing work, so I’d be very appreciative if you’d take a moment to give it a look by directing your kind attention to https://www.patreon.com/fourcolorapocalypse

 

Mini Kus! Catch-Up : “Chapter Two” By Keren Katz (Mini Kus! #83)

Confession time : I hate “Secret Santa.” Not out of some general antipathy toward the Holiday Season in general — although that plays a part — but more because the “exchange” either forces you to view somebody you likely don’t really know all that well as a generic, interchangeable type of figure (“I’ll get them a pair of ugly Christmas socks! That’ll be fun!”), or to actually get to know more about them than you care to in order to pick out a gift they might genuinely like. But what the hell do I know? Consistently-fascinating cartoonist Keren Katz (covered most recently around these parts in my review of her latest full-length book, The Backstage Of A Dishwashing Webshow) says it’s her favorite game, and she’s found a unique way to express her love of it in her latest mini, Chapter Two, which is number 83 in the venerable Mini Kus! line from Latvian publisher Kus!

And by “a unique way to express her love for it,” I think I mean “it sure looks like she hates it.” In fact, the whole exercise comes off as downright frightening here in this rapid-fire work, which reminds one of O. Henry’s classic The Gift Of The Magi on at least four tabs of bad acid. The setting is esoteric and ephemeral, though vaguely rooted in reality — as is typical for Katz — and the same is true for the characters, who seem to ramp up natural human desires and impulses to extremes, and as a result end up taking what’s ostensibly a harmless Christmas tradition and escalating it to levels of depravity right out of the pages of J.G. Ballard’s High-Rise. Whereas Ballard’s cast inflicted their one-upmanship on the environment and people around them, though, Katz’s tight ensemble embark on individual paths of self-destruction, with predictably tragic results.

And while we’re talking about results, I suppose I should come clean right now and let all you fine prospective readers know that this comic wraps up with an ironic “twist” ending, which could understandably be a deal-breaker for some — that “some” including me, on most occasions — but actually really works in the context of this narrative; not because it hits out of the blue, but because Katz has so meticulously and precisely set the stage for it from the outset. In fact, for a book that trades so heavily in the poetic both visually and narratively, the tightness of its plot construction is really impressive.

That being said, this work is nothing if not admirably fluid. Katz’s collage-influenced imagery takes a unique and even playful approach to form, figure, and texture, adapting to meet each individual moment with little to no regard for dull, physical “reality.” This is highly expressive stuff, each discrete single-or double-page “splash” coalescing into an unbreakable, though not necessarily definable, whole. It might sound pretentious to say that there’s an inherent musicality to this entire comic, but I’ll be goddamned if it’s not the truth, regardless.

As with many of the best contemporary “art” comics, there’s an interpretive quality to this, as well, the dance between people and objects — as well as people and each other — being open to any number of valid analyses depending on the point of view of any given reader. There’s a holistic sense of inter-connectedness to all of it, no question, but in a very real sense, each figure dances alone, too. A relatively “straightforward” story typically isn’t this challenging, but this one is, and for that we should all be grateful.

This one gets a strong “buy” recommendation from this critic, then, and if you can’t fit it into your budget, who knows? I may just send you a copy as a “Secret Santa” gift come the Holidays. Or not.

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Chapter Two is available for $7.00 from the Kus! webshop at https://kushkomikss.ecrater.com/p/35759362/chapter-two-by-keren-katz

Review wrist check – I was wearing my Squale “1521,” classic blue dial model, as I wrote this one, riding the Marlin “seat belt-style” strap from BluShark’s “AlphaShark” collection. On a scorching summer day, this is a tough combination to beat with shorts and a short-sleeve shirt.