Weekly Reading Round-Up : 12/09/2018 – 12/15/2018, Mini Kus! Goes To China

After a couple of weeks off to review all of what’s come before in 2018 for my slate of year-end “Top 10” columns, the Weekly Reading Round-Up is back, and we’ve got a damn interesting slate to look at from our Latvian friends at Kus! this week, as they continue their journey eastward. The last issue of their long-running S! anthology series focused on comics from Japan, and this time out, their latest quartet of Mini Kus! releases spotlights four unique and distinctive cartoonists from China, all presented courtesy of guest-editor R. Orion Martin of Chinese indie/alternative comics publisher Paradise Systems. Let’s get right down to business, shall we?

Doghair by Ganmu is number 71 in the Mini Kus! line and features cold, austere artwork that matches the tone of its protagonist, an obsessive type who pours all of that obsession into the well-being, appearance, and happiness of his dog — to the detriment of everyone else, his wife included. A provocative, if decidedly unsubtle, character study of the sort of person anyone would do well to avoid, but who nevertheless makes for an intriguing individual to spend some (uncomfortable) time with, this mini impresses for its holistic approach rooted in clinical dispassion, its formal execution perfectly reflecting the nature of its subject.

Beyond A Cure by Fenta (Chinese cartoonists sure do love these single-word pen names), which bears the designation of Mini Kus! number 72, also grounds itself firmly in the aesthetics of austerity, sparsely and cleanly delineating an interior landscape of “original sin” minus any sort of religious or supernatural trappings. This comic seems to obliquely suggest that we live in a fallen world because we’re each of us fallen individuals, and while it’s an unmistakably frank read from first page to last, it nevertheless succeeds in leaving a perfectly intentional stain on the conscience without resorting to anything so cheap and easy as cynicism or misanthropy. Abandon hope all ye who enter here and all that, sure, but only because, hey, that’s the way things are and ain’t nothin’ you can do to change it. I was perplexed and challenged by this book, and frankly am a bit envious of how quickly and effortlessly it managed to take my mind to some dark places without manipulating me to get there.

On a lighter note (finally), Mini Kus! number 73, Inkee Wang’s Special K is bright, welcoming, cheerful, even frenetic in terms of its visual language, which plays well considering its narrative is rooted in the world of online gamer culture. When the reigning worldwide champion of a first-person shooter game called “WarLife Battlegrounds” is exposed as a cheater, something truly unexpected happens — disheartened players the world over simply don’t have the energy to kill each other vicariously anymore, and peace and calm descends upon their virtual world by default. I’ve read many a fine Kus!-published mini over the years — this one stands out for its sheer ingenuity, simply and unpretentiously arrived at and articulated, and marks Wang as a talent to watch out for.

Wrapping up our — uhhmmm — wrap-up, we have Mini Kus! number 74, Yan Cong’s UNIQLO Superman, a vibrant, lush, and colorful collection of two stories, the first concerning a thief who targets a UNIQLO clothing store (think a Chinese Gap or Forever 21), the second a rather tender love story between a frog and his —wife? Neither of these yarns is particularly substantial conceptually, but both are innovative enough in terms of execution and presentation to make you either forget, or be totally unconcerned by, the fact that they’re rather slight reads. I’m tempted to say I enjoyed them more than they deserved to be enjoyed, but in truth the mere fact that I did enjoy them is testament to the notion that there’s some powerful craft at work here that is able to transcend what should by rights amount to a self-inflicted critical blow. In these pages, Cong administers a case study in how to elevate mediocre material to a much higher level through sheer talent and technique.

And that does it for this week! Next time up, if all goes to plan, I’ll be introducing you to the work of a cartoonist from right here in the good old US of A who’s bringing the unique perspective of a true auteur to the world of genre storytelling. See you back here in seven short days for that! In the meantime, this foursome of Mini Kus! books can be ordered directly from the publisher for the bargain rate of $19, free shipping included, at https://kushkomikss.ecrater.com/p/31919969/mini-ku-71-72-73-74

 

 

Weekly Reading Round-Up : 01/07/2018 – 01/13/2018, Special “Mini Kus!” Edition

It’s just as well, I think, that pretty much nothing of any interest hit comic store shelves this week, because the other day I received a package from Latvian publisher Kus! (pronounced “Kush,” if you’re wondering) containing their latest “four-pack” of minis, and every single one of these deserves some attention. We’re gonna give them just that, but first, the particulars —

For those either not, or only vaguely, in the know, Kus! has been at it for just over ten years now, producing unique, top-quality, idiosyncratic comics from the best talent, both established and emerging, from around the globe, and their Mini Kus! line is no exception. Forget what you know, in fact, about the production values for standard mini-comics, as these are each 24 pages in length, printed in full and lavish color on superb paper between heavy-duty, cardstock covers. Production values simply don’t come any better than this, and to date Kus! has done an exceptional job of commissioning work from cartoonists whose work absolutely shines in this format. Numbers 59, 60, 61, and 62 in the series were just released at the tail end of last year and they’re all something quite beyond terrific. And now, as promised, I’m going to tell you why —

Share The Love (Mini Kus! #59), illustrated by Paula Bulling with a script by Nina Hoffmann and pictured atop this column, tells the story (or maybe that should be stories, plural) of Philip and Simone, two potential lovers living in Berlin. They engage in highly personal conversation, both with each other and random “third wheels,” as they attempt to negotiate their way through what sounds to be a minefield of possibilities on their way to being together — and change shapes, genders, ages, even species as they change locales. Whether they’re men, women, or “funny animals,” though, certain constants remain — Simone is clearly enamored with Philip (or perhaps simply enamored with the idea of being enamored with him?), while ol’ Phil, for his part, is a bit of a self-obsessed douchebag. You honestly wonder what she sees in him, whether he’s covered in skin or fur. The scene and form transitions give Bulling a chance to experiment with a number of fluid and expressive art styles, each quite apropos, and even emotive, in its own right (the creative partnership here is so simpatico, truth be told, that you’ll think the comic was written and drawn by the same person), but for my money things really take a turn for the fascinating in the book’s last scene, when our protagonists assume the forms of mother and child, and “who” is “who” in the scenario becomes much less clear — in fact, it can be interpreted either way, and doing so makes for  entirely different reading experiences. I won’t kid you, I found myself absolutely enthralled by this story and it haunted my mind for several hours after reading it. Matter of fact, I read it four times the day I got it, and I expect I’ll be going back to it yet again in fairly short order. It’s a confounding comic, to say the least, but utterly captivating, as well. Do you have to let it linger? Oh, yes, you do.

His Last Comic (Mini Kus! #60) by Noah Van Sciver is a more traditional “alt comics” narrative, and a damn fine and fun one, at that. A poor schmuck who’s been self-publishing a bottom-rung superhero comic for 20 years decides this is it — he’s either gonna hit it big with his new issue, or hang it up for good. Fortunately (or is it?) for him, he stumbles into a shop run by an old witch and, through a bizarre set of circumstances worthy of a  1960s Marvel “origin story,” ends up accidentally turning his comic into pure magic. But not due to anything he’s written on drawn. The less said the better at this point since I don’t want to give the game away at all, but “be careful what you wish for” is definitely the overarching theme here. And keep an eye out for stray dogs. As always, Van Sciver’s art is all kinds of terrific to look at and he really outdoes himself with his color palette here. Uh-oh, it’s magic.

Jonah 2017 (Mini Kus! #61) by Tomasz Niewiadomski follows the surreal trials and travails of an erstwhile “man of action” who journeys from the ocean depths to the far-flung reaches of outer space — but may just perhaps be traversing the more unfathomable reaches of his own mind. Loosely based on/extrapolated from the Biblical tale of Jonah and the whale (hence the title), Niewiadomski’s art is a joyous and wholly original thing to behold, rich and vibrant and culled from a place of truly imaginative (dare I say it) genius. Aquatic psychedelia with a “cartoony” twist and a meticulous eye for expressive detail. Is this the real life? Is this just fantasy? Doesn’t matter, I love it either way.

Daughter (Mini Kus! #62) by Aidan Koch purports to be a recounting of genetic-memory visions channeled either to or through (maybe both?) a young girl living on a colony world in the distant future at the tail end of centuries of, as the back cover blurb would have it, “co-existent evolution between humans and other species.” A heady and ambitious premise, to be sure, and one perhaps better suited to a “show, don’t tell” storytelling methodology — so it’s a damn good thing that Koch’s taken the route of guiding us through this literally alien land/mindscape by engaging our eyes and hearts and letting our brains follow. Delicately minimalist watercolor illustrations do the “talking” here, each worth pondering over for hours if you have the time, and the overall sensation one gets is of being overwhelmed with a deep sense of both beauty and isolation. This is a comic you feel, rather than think, your way into, around in, and through — a sensory experience that reveals more of itself every time you read, or perhaps more specifically look at, it. I don’t know what’s waiting for us beyond the realm of our understanding, but I do know that Aidan Koch is channeling forces that soothe and frighten in equal measure, and has produced a work that defies description as surely as it does comparison. 10,000 miles into the atmosphere — my body shakes, is there a welcome here?

So, yeah — Mini Kus! is where some of the most imaginative, expectations-obliterating cartooning is happening these days, and this latest foursome represents, quite possibly, the line’s most considered and accomplished series of works yet. The old “highest possible recommendation” label doesn’t even begin to do justice to these books. I’d say “prepare to be amazed,” but I’m honestly not sure whether or not anything can prepare you for these wholly remarkable creative offerings.

******************************************************************************

Mini Kus! #s 59, 60, 61 and 62 are available directly from the publisher as a set for the flat-out amazing price of $19.00 — and shipping to the US is free! Drop whatever it is you’re doing right now and order them at https://kushkomikss.ecrater.com/p/28807783/mini-ku-59-60-61-62