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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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 —