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Marko Maetamm channels his inner Greg Stump with a noisy debate between shadow-bathed figures of some sort that are superseded altogether by their own word balloons, Brazil’s Fabio Zimbres serves up a slice of bizarro metafiction that is ultimately about both itself and the act of its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/

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Weekly Reading Round-Up : 09/09/2018 – 09/15/2018, The Latest From Mini Kus!

It feels like it’s been awhile since out Latvian friends at Kus! unleashed a new foursome of Mini Kus! releases an an always-undeserving world, but fear not, they’re back with their latest set (#s 67-70, respectively, priced at $6 each — but I’ll hook you up with a link to buy them all together at a package discount price at the end of this Round-Up column), and I was particularly excited to check these out since they’re all by cartoonists whose work I’m more or less entirely unfamiliar with. Let’s see if they managed to make a fan of this grizzled old comics veteran —

First up is Mariana Pita’s Day Tour, an intriguing little story about the joys of doing nothing versus the sheer effort it takes to do even the most simple things sometimes. It’s an ambiguous tale, and in the end you’re left to wonder whether or not the author/protagonist bothered to get dressed, go outside, grab a coffee, catch the subway, etc. — or merely thought the better of it and imagined such an admittedly low-key excursion. The impetus for this possible “adventure”? Someone called our “hero” precisely that on social media, her dog disagreed, and she decided to go out and give some blood to prove her fan right, and her mouthy canine wrong. Treading some similar thematic ground as Tara Booth’s justly-celebrated (and, as of a few hours ago, Ignatz Award-winning) How To Be Alive, but with a technological twist, Pita illustrates this mini in a friendly, welcoming style that plays fast and loose with lines and washes everything in rich, expressive watercolors. A genuine gem.

Leisure, or a rough approximation thereof, is also a central theme in Erlend Peder Kvam’s Weekend, an explosion of bright audacity that sees a cheerful worker drone named Silvan clocking out for the week and spending Saturday and Sunday with his twin children, who want their old man to — critique their latest art projects? Among other things. Not unlike Becca Toobin’s recent Retrofit/Big Planet release Understanding, Kvam’s mini celebrates free time and excess but ultimately shows it to be a kind of harrowing routine in its own right, and one fraught with perils lurking just beneath the celebratory veneer. A fun comic to look at, to be sure, but one that hides deep layers of confusion and foreboding under its aggressively sunny exterior.

Marlene Krause is a deliriously talented cartoonist, but she simply needs more room than a 26-page mini offers to tell the story she wants to tell with Maud, a short-form biography of pioneering female tattooist Maud Wagner. Rendered in lavish colored pencils, the illustrations in this comic are all suitable for framing, but the uber-condensed narrative ends up selling the material short, and what we’re left with is a “Cliffs Notes” version of what appears to have been a truly amazing life. It’s to Krause’s great credit that I wanted more from this story than the strictures of the format allow for, and who knows? Maybe she’ll expand this out to an honest-to-goodness “graphic novel.” Or at least a “graphic novella.” As it is, I can only chalk this up to being a gorgeous experiment that ultimately doesn’t quite achieve its very ambitious goals — although certainly not for lack of trying.

They tell me that life is all about the simple pleasures (like, say, comics), and if that’s true, the nameless, letter-writing hermit that “stars” in Lote Vilma Vitina’s Worms, Clouds, Everything must be the happiest creature alive. A more abstract mini than this I can scarcely imagine — why the reader is being sent this missive, what (if anything) the hermit hopes to achieve by sending it, etc. being left entirely up to you to determine for yourself — but it’s so spectacularly charming in its simplicity that I almost get the feeling that nothing less than the secrets to, as Douglas Adams would put it, “life, the universe, and everything” are hidden here, in plain sight, among the clouds, trees, worms, grass, and mushrooms. Lots and lots and lots of mushrooms. I absolutely loved this gentle, undoubtedly thoughtful, quietly majestic little story — I just wish that I could adequately say why. Or maybe I just did?

All in all, then, the latest quartet of books in the Mini Kus! line offers tremendous variety, strikingly distinct and idiosyncratic visions, and challenging new vistas that are sure to expand your idea of what the comics medium can achieve. Hell, they even give one reason to re-examine their preconceptions of what comics are “all about” in the first place. Some are more successful than others in realizing their aims, but all are worth your time.

Next week’s Reading Round-Up looks pretty well set in stone thanks to some new minis just arrived from good friend of the site Brian Canini, but I may sneak in another item or two, as well, depending on what the USPS has in store for me in the days ahead. In the meantime, if you want to partake in  what is very probably the best “value for money” deal in comics, all four of the new Mini Kus! offerings are available directly from the publisher for the bargain price of $19, which includes free shipping! Check it out here :https://kushkomikss.ecrater.com/p/31180646/mini-ku-67-68-69-70

Okay, that’ll do it here, time to go hit twitter and see who else took home a brick at the Ignatzes this year —