Editor/translator/curator/publisher R. Orion Martin is doing some seriously extraordinary things with his Paradise Systems imprint, bringing the best in contemporary “alternative” cartooning from China to these shores is sumptuously-formatted and impeccably-designed packages. These are some of the most utterly unique comics on the planet (no exaggeration), and well worth your time and money. Four of my favorite recent releases follow —
Friendship Forever by Inkee Wang occupies some bizarre middle ground between Simon Hanselmann and Austin English, with pliable, gelatinous, bulbous characters toiling away at a dark approximation of what, I guess, passes for “friendship.” But mostly they’re just assholes to each other because, hey, it relieves the tedium of droll, everyday existence. Laugh-out-loud funny in a “guilty pleasure” sort of way, this collection of strips and sketches has a real and unforced fluidity to it, even if it ultimately, in dry parlance, “goes nowhere.” A triumph of color, design, and questionable intentions that offers good value for money at eight bucks, seeing as how you’ll return to it again and again just to make sure you really understand what the fuck it is that you’re witnessing.
Electrocat & Lightning Dog by Bu Er Miao is a riso-printed explosion of color, motion, and energy that charts the exploits of strawberry-farming anthropomorphic animals Mr. Meow and Mr. Woof (need I specify the species of each?), who lead near-shut-in lives until a genie living in a cream-filled strawberry grants the kitty a wish that sends him in search of his (apparently) first-ever girlfriend. There are lots of comics about nights out clubbing and the like, but none like this. A little steep at $15, it’s true, but nevertheless a lot of fun and a legit visual marvel packed with plenty of riotously absurd humor.
Ellipsis by Diane Zhou is another surreal mini-masterpiece, tracking the “evolution” of a duck egg farmer who finds herself elevated to goddess status after being knocked on the noggin by a hailstone. Perhaps the most formally experimental comic of our foursome here — now that’s really saying something! — Zhou’s bright hues, inspired page layouts, and even the characters themselves, are all extrapolated from interpretations of old family photos run through an Optical Character Recognition software program. Supremely inventive stuff that plays entirely by its own set of rules, and a veritable steal at $8.
Captivity by Xiang Yata is, from this critic’s perspective, the crown jewel of this ridiculously impressive foursome, a handsomely-oversized publication of wistful and sublime power, loaded from edge to edge with some of the most hauntingly beautiful, richly-textured graphite illustrations your eyes have ever set upon, ingeniously assembled into a near-wordless poetic reminiscence on longing, infatuation, romantic fixation, and anything and everything else that holds our hearts in bondage. A genuine show-stopper of a book that, like the woman it centers around, arrives as a quiet storm and never lets you go. You need this a whole lot more than you need the ten dollars it costs to purchase it, that’s just a fact.
Any or all of these comics are available for purchase individually on the Paradise Systems website, and for the budget-conscious among you (which, I’m assuming, means everybody), Martin has also put together a package deal featuring all of his company’s offerings — another of which, Yan Cong’s Cry, was reviewed on this site just yesterday, with at least one more coming up in the next day or two here — for $65. Check it all out at https://paradise-systems.com/