Worth A Thousand Words, Indeed : Aidan Koch’s “House Of Ruin,” Volume II

A few years back, I got a bunch of shit on Twitter for telling a newbie comic critic who said “I’m really not comfortable talking much about art yet” that they had no business reviewing works in this medium until they were. Now, granted, this individual was likely mostly — if not entirely — trying their hand at reviewing “Big Two” stuff, but even still : if all you’re talking about is the writing, then you’re giving short shrift to the person who spends more time than anyone else working on the latest issue of Justice League or The Avengers or whatever. And you wouldn’t have the capacity to review an extraordinary work like Aidan Koch’s House Of Ruin, Volume II at all. The question is — do I?

This new small paperback from Koch is, you see, a collection of drawings and nothing else — but it certainly doesn’t need to be anything other, to say nothing of “more,” than that. In fact, counter-intuitive as it no doubt sounds, this austere pocket-sized publication is certainly as immersive as any sequential art “story,” per se, and may even tell a story of its own — it’s just that you have to parse it out for yourself. What’s not to love about that?

I’m familiar with Koch by way of her thematically and formally experimental art comics, and I’ve seen some of her tattoo work online, but this was my first exposure to her pen-and-ink drawings all by their lonesome, and while the subjects of her artistic eye range from the mystical to the mundane and back again — indeed, they’re often juxtaposed right next to each other — her image placement, intuitive as it no doubt is, guides the observer on a journey that somehow never induces whiplash and indeed retains a sense of conceptual fluidity no matter how drastically different one object/person/creature may be from the one which preceded it. And deciphering how that works — how that even makes sense — is the real key to unlocking the (sorry to drop this term, but) magic herein.

To my mind, the hidden secret Koch taps into and channels in equal measure is oh-so-easy to talk about but oh-so-difficult to practice : simply put, she just plain trusts her instincts. Clearly there is a stylistic through-line that unites these drawings in terms of their creator’s preferences for clean lines, rich shading, and expertly-placed texturing effects, but never does she fall into the traps of being flashy for its own sake or altering her view of things for the sake of meeting the potential expectations of prospective audiences. The statements made here are simple and clear and honest, and the style they’re rendered in is largely the same, and due to that the entire project has a tight and cohesive feel to it even if the “pace” it flows at is decidedly relaxed and invites you to linger for as long as you’d like.

Now, being this is a self-published collection, commenting on its packaging is not only “fair,” it’s absolutely integral to the experience of taking it all in, and on that score Koch also hits all the right notes : the printing is crisp and sharp, the paper just the right thickness and consistency, and the overall minimalist aesthetic in terms of its covers and publication design is pitch-perfect for allowing the work to not just speak for itself, but to modulate the metaphorical volume of its equally-metaphorical voice to the correct level — complete with pitch, tenor, treble, bass, and all that — for each drawing. Again, I can only assume this is the product of her confidence in her own vision and technical prowess both, so in the end what we have here is a showcase of aptitude, yes, but also of intent, delivered without the aid of one single extraneous bell or whistle.

As the image above shows, there’s also a House Of Ruin, Volume I that’s available, and I’m certainly going to have to track that down in fairly short order, but until that shows up in the mail I’m more than happy to spend more time with this second collection, secure in the knowledge that I’ll be freshly amazed all over again each time I open it up.

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House Of Ruin, Volume II is available for $12 from Austin English’s Domino Books distro http://dominobooks.org/houseofruin2.html

Review wrist check – mixing things up a bit by putting my Longines “Legend Diver” on my Ocean Crawler black stingray leather (yes, you read that right) strap.

 

Weekly Reading Round-Up : 01/07/2018 – 01/13/2018, Special “Mini Kus!” Edition

It’s just as well, I think, that pretty much nothing of any interest hit comic store shelves this week, because the other day I received a package from Latvian publisher Kus! (pronounced “Kush,” if you’re wondering) containing their latest “four-pack” of minis, and every single one of these deserves some attention. We’re gonna give them just that, but first, the particulars —

For those either not, or only vaguely, in the know, Kus! has been at it for just over ten years now, producing unique, top-quality, idiosyncratic comics from the best talent, both established and emerging, from around the globe, and their Mini Kus! line is no exception. Forget what you know, in fact, about the production values for standard mini-comics, as these are each 24 pages in length, printed in full and lavish color on superb paper between heavy-duty, cardstock covers. Production values simply don’t come any better than this, and to date Kus! has done an exceptional job of commissioning work from cartoonists whose work absolutely shines in this format. Numbers 59, 60, 61, and 62 in the series were just released at the tail end of last year and they’re all something quite beyond terrific. And now, as promised, I’m going to tell you why —

Share The Love (Mini Kus! #59), illustrated by Paula Bulling with a script by Nina Hoffmann and pictured atop this column, tells the story (or maybe that should be stories, plural) of Philip and Simone, two potential lovers living in Berlin. They engage in highly personal conversation, both with each other and random “third wheels,” as they attempt to negotiate their way through what sounds to be a minefield of possibilities on their way to being together — and change shapes, genders, ages, even species as they change locales. Whether they’re men, women, or “funny animals,” though, certain constants remain — Simone is clearly enamored with Philip (or perhaps simply enamored with the idea of being enamored with him?), while ol’ Phil, for his part, is a bit of a self-obsessed douchebag. You honestly wonder what she sees in him, whether he’s covered in skin or fur. The scene and form transitions give Bulling a chance to experiment with a number of fluid and expressive art styles, each quite apropos, and even emotive, in its own right (the creative partnership here is so simpatico, truth be told, that you’ll think the comic was written and drawn by the same person), but for my money things really take a turn for the fascinating in the book’s last scene, when our protagonists assume the forms of mother and child, and “who” is “who” in the scenario becomes much less clear — in fact, it can be interpreted either way, and doing so makes for  entirely different reading experiences. I won’t kid you, I found myself absolutely enthralled by this story and it haunted my mind for several hours after reading it. Matter of fact, I read it four times the day I got it, and I expect I’ll be going back to it yet again in fairly short order. It’s a confounding comic, to say the least, but utterly captivating, as well. Do you have to let it linger? Oh, yes, you do.

His Last Comic (Mini Kus! #60) by Noah Van Sciver is a more traditional “alt comics” narrative, and a damn fine and fun one, at that. A poor schmuck who’s been self-publishing a bottom-rung superhero comic for 20 years decides this is it — he’s either gonna hit it big with his new issue, or hang it up for good. Fortunately (or is it?) for him, he stumbles into a shop run by an old witch and, through a bizarre set of circumstances worthy of a  1960s Marvel “origin story,” ends up accidentally turning his comic into pure magic. But not due to anything he’s written on drawn. The less said the better at this point since I don’t want to give the game away at all, but “be careful what you wish for” is definitely the overarching theme here. And keep an eye out for stray dogs. As always, Van Sciver’s art is all kinds of terrific to look at and he really outdoes himself with his color palette here. Uh-oh, it’s magic.

Jonah 2017 (Mini Kus! #61) by Tomasz Niewiadomski follows the surreal trials and travails of an erstwhile “man of action” who journeys from the ocean depths to the far-flung reaches of outer space — but may just perhaps be traversing the more unfathomable reaches of his own mind. Loosely based on/extrapolated from the Biblical tale of Jonah and the whale (hence the title), Niewiadomski’s art is a joyous and wholly original thing to behold, rich and vibrant and culled from a place of truly imaginative (dare I say it) genius. Aquatic psychedelia with a “cartoony” twist and a meticulous eye for expressive detail. Is this the real life? Is this just fantasy? Doesn’t matter, I love it either way.

Daughter (Mini Kus! #62) by Aidan Koch purports to be a recounting of genetic-memory visions channeled either to or through (maybe both?) a young girl living on a colony world in the distant future at the tail end of centuries of, as the back cover blurb would have it, “co-existent evolution between humans and other species.” A heady and ambitious premise, to be sure, and one perhaps better suited to a “show, don’t tell” storytelling methodology — so it’s a damn good thing that Koch’s taken the route of guiding us through this literally alien land/mindscape by engaging our eyes and hearts and letting our brains follow. Delicately minimalist watercolor illustrations do the “talking” here, each worth pondering over for hours if you have the time, and the overall sensation one gets is of being overwhelmed with a deep sense of both beauty and isolation. This is a comic you feel, rather than think, your way into, around in, and through — a sensory experience that reveals more of itself every time you read, or perhaps more specifically look at, it. I don’t know what’s waiting for us beyond the realm of our understanding, but I do know that Aidan Koch is channeling forces that soothe and frighten in equal measure, and has produced a work that defies description as surely as it does comparison. 10,000 miles into the atmosphere — my body shakes, is there a welcome here?

So, yeah — Mini Kus! is where some of the most imaginative, expectations-obliterating cartooning is happening these days, and this latest foursome represents, quite possibly, the line’s most considered and accomplished series of works yet. The old “highest possible recommendation” label doesn’t even begin to do justice to these books. I’d say “prepare to be amazed,” but I’m honestly not sure whether or not anything can prepare you for these wholly remarkable creative offerings.

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Mini Kus! #s 59, 60, 61 and 62 are available directly from the publisher as a set for the flat-out amazing price of $19.00 — and shipping to the US is free! Drop whatever it is you’re doing right now and order them at https://kushkomikss.ecrater.com/p/28807783/mini-ku-59-60-61-62