Kus! Week : “Plant Power” (S! #36)

I’ve never had an overwhelming interest in botany, and certainly don’t have much of a green thumb (to the probable chagrin of my neighbors), so if a plant-based comics anthology (I know, I know — the choice of wording on my part there makes it sound more like a meal, or even an honest-to-goodness diet) is going to win me over, well — it’s going to have to work pretty hard. But while the theme may be of little import to me personally, S! Baltic Comics Magazine always is, and so I was more than willing to put my disinterest aside and give the venerable “digest-sized portable art gallery” series’ latest volume, entitled Plant Power, a go — and whaddya know, talk about proof positive that I need to broaden my horizons!

Lote Vilma Vitina, whose recent entry in the Mini Kus! line also focused on nature and our relationship with/to it, provides the beautifully minimalist cover and carries that over into a sparsely poetic interior strip, but it’s not like there’s an editorial remit demanding uniformity in tone and style at work here — anything but, in fact. S! regular contributor Konig Lu Q. serves up a short and charming satirical story, the sublime Daria Tessler offers a mystical/alchemical look at the plant kingdom that’s rich with lavish detail, Patrick Kyle shows his passion for his subject matter in an uncharacteristically formal piece, Anna Sailamaa takes us on a gorgeous trip into a kind of fairy tale world, Jean de Wet lets the plants do the talking in a post-modern cautionary tale, Marlene Krause steps well outside of what I would consider (or maybe that should be assume, since I’ve seen only a little — too little, in fact — of her work) to be her artistic comfort zone with a crisp, tightly-focused offering — by running the gamut, we get a very comprehensive view of what our green friends not only mean to us, but are, human concerns and uses be damned.

As always, there are a number of names who are new to me in this collection — Ingrida Pikucane, Molly Fairhurst, Peony Gent, Pauls Rietums, Simon H, Vivianna Maria Stanislavska, and Valentine Gallardo have all landed on my radar screen for the first time, but their work herein is so strong that I’m hoping to see more of them very soon, while more established artists (to my mind, at any rate) such as Tor Brandt, Ward Zwart, Amandine Meyer, Disa Wallander, and the aforementioned Vitina all contribute strips that meet or, in many cases, exceed the high standards they’ve previously established for themselves. About the only entry that did well and truly nothing for me was Roman Muradov’s, and his body of work is so consistently eclectic that you honestly never know what you’re going to get from him. When he hits, he really hits, it’s true — but when he misses, he can miss by a country mile. His story here is a best classified as a “near miss” in that it’s easy enough to see what he’s going for, but his choices seem incongruous with achieving his aims. I give him big points for attempting something different — hey, he always does — but this particular strip could have done with a bit of a re-think, at least in this critic’s hopefully-humble opinion.

Visually speaking, everything presented between these covers is interesting — much of it’s even hauntingly beautiful — and evokes emotive and heartfelt responses to the subject matter it’s exploring. Not everything is gorgeous — although damn, so much of it is — but it’s all apropos of the central theme, and when you’re talking about an “art comics” anthology, what more can you really ask for?

And that’s actually a question that’s fair to ask of this collection in general — is there anything you’d like to see in an anthology of comics about plants that this edition of S! doesn’t have? I feel like all the thematic bases are well covered here, although given my own pre-disposition, it may be acurate, I suppose, to say that a real “botany nerd” might find these contents lacking in some way, shape, or form — but it’s hard to see where. Or how. Or why.

Color me green, then — and color me very impressed while you’re at it. I was expecting be far less engaged with this material than I typically am with S! offerings, but by the time I was done with it, I found it to be one of their strongest, most coherent, most powerful volumes yet. This is one you don’t want to miss — and I may even give it another considered look after mowing my lawn.

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Plant Power is available for $13.95 (worldwide shipping is free!) from the publisher at http://www.komikss.lv/

Also, please consider supporting my ongoing work by subscribing to 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. The link for that is https://www.patreon.com/fourcolorapocalypse

 

 

Kus! Week : “Bonkers” (S! #35)

The blacklight-and-neon-green cover to Bonkers, issue #35 of S! The Baltic Comics Magazine, a product of the imagination of Norwegian cartoonist Erlend Peder Kvam — who also provides one of the anthology’s strongest strips, a sing-song number that features a trio of anthropomorphic animal/space creature hybrids going about their largely-leisurely business with a spring in their step and a shared “hive-mind” between then — announces that the tightly-focused themes that most volumes of this series tether themselves to is pretty well out the window this time out, and that in its place we have an eclectic gathering of artists from around the globe quite literally letting it all hang out. All well and good, right?

But when you crack that cover open, things by and large get even better, as the “gallery-show-in-the-palm-of-your-hand” editorial remit the title has always lived and died by turns out to lend itself very nicely to an “anything goes” assemblage of “raw feed” direct from the subconscious minds of some very interesting minds indeed. It’s tough, I suppose, to say what would fit within the extremely broad framework of a “bonkers” collection, but you’d know damn well if something didn’t — and to the credit of this edition, there are no sore-thumb standouts, but there are plenty of standouts in the more general sense of that term.

Jason Herr regales us with a finely-detailed-in-its-exaggeration journey into cosmic headspaces, Marko Maetamm channels his inner Greg Stump with a noisy debate between shadow-bathed figures of some sort that are superseded altogether by their own word balloons, Brazil’s Fabio Zimbres serves up a slice of bizarro metafiction that is ultimately about both itself and the act of its own creation, Jul Gordon’s strip is a veritable clinic on use of space on the page and the relationship between time and movement, Latvian siblings Ernests and Andrejs Klavins take us to the darkly satirical heart of a trade show whose “trade” appears to be nothing but empty corporate sloganeering, Emilie Gleason depicts a modern office run from a hot tub that has the kind of company “culture” you’d depressingly surmise such a situation would engender, and stalwarts like Theo Ellsworth, Samplerman, and Zane Zlemesa deliver precisely the sort of material you’d expect from them, which is to say something far beyond the expected. And the explicable.

So, yeah, it’s a solid line-up of talent operating on ground that is far less so. Agate Lielpetere, Anna Mlck, Beatrix Urkowitz, David Ozols, Kameeellah, and Konig Lu Q make up a respectable second tier of creators that have produced work commensurate with their talents, and Olaf Ladousse, white largely missing the mark with his experimental offering, at least keeps things interesting in both narrative and visual terms. Karlina Marta Zvirbule’s “story” is the only one that fell completely flat for me, but even there it’s not like you can’t tell that a hefty amount of work effort into it — sometimes the best intentions just lead you to some rather sorry places.

So, yeah, this one’s all over the map — but most every corner, nook, and cranny of that map is well worth checking out. And even if you get lost — and trust me when I say you will —the “running order” the strips are presented in ensures that you’ll always make it back home safely. Changed, perhaps, sure — but if a dull commitment to conservative formalisn is your bag, I think it’s fair to assume odds are good you’d never buy this collection in the first place, anyway, so your loss is no loss.

While ostensibly competing “prestige” anthologies such as Fantagraphics’ Now have largely taken readers to more valleys than peaks this year, S! just keeps on chugging along, delivering the curious goods largely under the radar. Bonkers doesn’t beg for your attention, but it grabs hold of it firmly once you take notice and never lets go.

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Bonkers retails for $13.95 (worldwide shipping is free!) and is available at http://www.komikss.lv/

Also, please consider supporting my ongoing work by subscribing to 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. The link for that is https://www.patreon.com/fourcolorapocalypse