Entropy Editions Round-Up : “Prison” By Liva Kandevica

There are many different types of prisons — those constructed from without and those constructed from within, those that we can escape and those we can’t, those undoubtedly real and those at the very least possibly imagined. One of history’s more infamous convicts, Charles Manson, once said “prison’s in your mind — can’t you see I’m free?,” but the unnamed protagonist of Leipzig, Germany-based cartoonist Liva Kandevica’s Prison, catalogue number EE02 in publisher Justin Skarhus’ Entropy Editions range, apparently didn’t get Charlie’s memo : metaphorically imprisoned by dint of sheer isolation, they suffer, as they live, entirely alone, and largely in silence.

Err — except for the talking (and endlessly taunting) stones, that is.

For the heavily-routinized among us, this critic included, Kandevica’s 24-page mini will no doubt hit home, given that her prisoner is their own jailer, and the bars and walls of their metaphorical cell appear to be constructed entirely of their personal habits, but as most anyone who’s ever found it impossible to break free of their circumstances can tell you, there is a comfort in hewing to one’s norms that is downright insidious — we’ll keep on doing the same shit over and over again even, perhaps especially, when we know said shit is no good for us. “Old habits are hard to break,” “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks” — these cliches didn’t just appear out of nowhere.

Here’s the thing, though — despite how things sound to this point, this comic isn’t all doom and gloom. There are mysteries lurking within it (what those annoying stones symbolize is entirely up to your own independent analysis), sure, but there’s also a deeply existential streak of absurdist humor that runs throughout (and just underneath) the narrative here, one that is as much felt as it is seen, and the “dual track” first-person narration Kandevica employs (see artwork examples) effectively approximates what amounts to a “split-screen” effect between words and pictures, meaning this is a comic where both elements work together in concert and separately. It’s weird, but it’s both effective and affecting — and that’s really not the worst summation of the book itself, either, now that I come to think of it.

What makes it work isn’t, thankfully, all that difficult to quantify — Kandevica’s unique blend of minimalist figure drawing, classically “catroony” environments, and judiciously-placed washes is damn pleasing to the eye, and about as apropos to her subject matter as one can think of or perhaps even hope for. Striking a delicate balance between visual elements is a flat-out necessity when you’re taking readers on a journey this singular, and while there’s no miraculous “jailbreak” to speak of on offer, this is at the very least an aesthetically pleasing prion to be trapped within.

For all that, though, you can’t help but have some sympathy for the poor sap at the center of this tale of self-induced woe. We’ve all been stuck in some ruts in our lives, and to one degree or another most of us have some going right now (got a job? Then I’m referring to you). Escape might not be easy, and in some cases might not even be preferable, but Kandevica reminds us that it’s an option, whether we can see it or not. She’s constructed a story about a solitary and isolated individual that somehow, go figure, speaks to the concerns, even fears, of just about everyone. Whatever she’s serving time for, I say let her off for good behavior.

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Prison is available for $7.00 from the Entropy Editions online shop at https://entropyeditions.bigcartel.com/product/prison

Review wrist check – Seaborne Trading Co. “Sea Venture” in their “Sunset Bezel” variation riding Seaborne’s own “Bondi Blue” NATO strap. If there’s such a thing as a perfect watch for the 97-degree weather we “enjoyed” here in the Twin Cities today, then this is it.

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/

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