It’s Mini Kus! Time Again : “Man Made Lake” By Aidan Koch (Mini Kus! #94)

While I admit to finding the subject fascinating, I’m by no means on expert on psychotherapy, to say nothing of its more — esoteric offshoots such as hypnotherapy, DBT, so-called “past life regression,” and the like. And while I harbor no doubt that any licensed and educated therapist would be absolutely appalled at me lumping entirely reputable forms of analysis in with stuff that many folks perceive to be sheer quackery, as I just did, for the purpose of discussing the most recent entry (that would be #94, for those keeping score at home) in the Mini Kus! line from our Latvian friends and Kus!, Aidan Koch’s Man Made Lake, it really is necessary to list — or perhaps the right term would be blend — them all together. Rest assured, all will be explained — to the extent I’m capable of doing so.

Which, admittedly, isn’t much, but then that’s the really wonderful thing about both this comic and Koch’s work in general. Always ethereal, mysterious, and just beyond the reach of conscience explanation, her art nevertheless always makes sense — it’s just that it’s a kind of sense that is felt, or even intuited, rather than one that’s arrived at through purely logical means. And it really helps that her evocative, watercolor-style illustration is more than just beautiful, it’s downright enthralling.

Don’t take any of the preceding to mean that there isn’t a story to be found playing itself out here, though — there most certainly is, it’s just a tricky one to summarize. A young man is attending a psychoanalysis session and remembers being a fish, perhaps even more than one kind of fish, and remembers his family members being part of the animal kingdom, as well. Then he — and they — became human, and it all kinda went to shit. Not in any concrete, easy-to-put-your-finger-on way, mind you — but in every single way imaginable, nevertheless.

What out protagonist misses most of all is the feeling, the freedom, the enhanced and no doubt non-hierarchical array of perceptions that the aquatic life afforded him, and who can really blame the guy? This whole primacy of the visual at the expense of the other senses is surely the most insidious tyranny ever devised, and it’s one that not only shapes our reality but necessarily perverts and distorts it — dare I say even cheapens it. And while the evolutionary biologist would no doubt argue that this scenario developed over time as a necessary survival mechanism, we certainly lost a lot of the richness and texture of life along the way. We’ve survived, all right — at the expense of actually living. And the totality of the sensory hierarchy is so all-pervasive now that most people can’t draw a distinction between survival and living, anyway.

Koch, for her past, certainly can — and while she makes any number of other points about the separation between the human and animal worlds, it’s fair to say that they’re all tinged with melancholy, with a sense of having sacrificed much more than we gained when we placed “us” over and above “them.” And the fact that she communicates all of this with an economy of words that is superseded, in a gloriously unforced manner, by a melodic tapestry of gorgeously fluid images? Well, that’s the most impressive thing of all — as well as being thematically appropriate to a degree that’s downright painful in its beauty.

This is a comic to do more than simply “read,” then — let it wash over you and get under your skin in equal measure. You may just find it to be an experience unlike any other — I know I sure did.

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Man Made Lake is available for $7.00 from the Kus! webshop at https://kushkomikss.ecrater.com/p/37507507/man-made-lake-by-aidan

Also, this review — and all others around these parts — is “brought to you” by my Patreon site, where I serve up exclusive thrice-weekly rants and ramblings on the worlds of comics, films, television, literature, and politics for as little as a dollar a month. Subscribing is the best way to support my continuing work, so I’d be very appreciative indeed if you’d take a moment to check it out by directing your kind attention to https://www.patreon.com/fourcolorapocalypse

It’s Mini Kus! Time Again : “Pirate & Parrot” By Lukas Weidinger (Mini Kus! #93)

I’m always hesitant to quote verbatim from a publisher’s promotional copy, but the tag line used by Kus! to describe cartoonist Lukas Weidinger’s Pirate & Parrot, #93 in their Mini Kus! series, is short, sweet, and to the point — as well as being eminently worth responding to. It simply states : “The pirate stands for desire. The parrot stands for opportunity. The fish stands for freedom. What do you stand for?” Very clever. Very cool. And utter hogwash, even if every word of it is true — which it probably is.

Look, I love a good existential brain-buster as much as anyone, but if you’re pondering over symbolism and deep philosophical meaning, you’re missing out on the point of Weidinger’s comic, which is simply this : it’s fun. Not only is there nothing wrong with that, in today’s cluttered comics world, I would even go so far as to argue that a comic that just wants to be fun — and succeeds at being that — is worth more than yet another artistic dissertation on the intractable realities of human existence. Like I said, existential dilemmas are great — but are you always in the mood for one?

I know that I’m not, and if you feel like you could use a break from them yourself, this mini is a great place to come to find relief. Sure, the delicate and frankly lush cover would lead most reasonable people to believe that what we’re in for this one is a subtle and emotive work, but once you flip it open and find an explosion of bright pastels, exaggerated figure drawing, and cornball character designs, you really should be able to get the message that kicking back and enjoying a few laughs is the order of the day here. You can over-think Weidinger’s comic if you wish, sure, but honestly — I wouldn’t recommend it.

For one thing, the fish has more to do with the proceedings than the pirate, who disappears early on and only pops back up at the end — after receiving something of a, shall we say, comeuppance — and he doesn’t even earn a spot in the comic’s title, so if you’re the kind of person who clings to things a bit too tightly (rationality included), you’re going to find yourself flummoxed right out of the gate, and it’ll likely only get worse for you from there. You needn’t completely let go of your standards, please don’t think I’m suggesting that — Weidinger’s cartooning is utterly and weirdly captivating, the pacing of his narrative is solid, his old-school comedic timing more or less impeccable — but you would do well to let go of your preconceptions and your pretense, that’s for sure, because there’s no room for either herein. And thank goodness for that.

I have no doubt that the “rush job” aesthetics of this book are completely deliberate — come on, I’m not naive (or so I think, at any rate) — but just because they’re calculated doesn’t mean they’re not entirely sincere. Weidinger wanted to create a short-form slapstick work, found the best style with which to do so, and proceeded accordingly. As a result, this comic isn’t merely something that “works for what it is,” it works in a general sense : its creator had specific goals in mind, and not only met, but exceeded them — and the largest of those goals was to make something that would have you laughing your ass off without insulting your intelligence. Mission accomplished as far as that all goes, and with aplomb, to boot.

Still, there is that lingering sense that maybe I did miss something here. That in my rush to enjoy something absolutely enjoyable I failed to notice a deep and resonant point that is cleverly hidden in plain sight. But you know what? I could care less. I had a blast with this comic, and if it’s incumbent upon me as a critic to offer a more considered and nuanced view than that, then I’m in the wrong racket.

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Pirate & Parrot is available for $7.00 from the Kus! webshop at https://kushkomikss.ecrater.com/p/37507503/pirate-parrot-by-lukas-weidinger

Also, this review — and all others around these parts — is “brought to you” by my Patreon site, where I serve up exclusive thrice-weekly rants and ramblings on the worlds of comics, films, television, literature, and politics for as little as a dollar a month. Subscribing is the best way to support my continuing work, so I’d be very appreciative if you’d take a moment to check it out by directing your kind attention to https://www.patreon.com/fourcolorapocalypse

It’s Mini Kus! Time Again : “Sufficient Lucidity” By Tommi Parrish (Mini Kus! #91)

I assure you, it’s not a contractual obligation — my decision to cover everything that comes out as part of the long-running Mini Kus! series from Latvian art comics publisher Kus! is entirely voluntary. In fact, not to step too far “out of chracter,” but each new foursome of releases is one of the “events” in the comics world that I look forward to most — as a critic, yes, but even more importantly as a reader. I never know what I’ll find between the covers of one of these minis, but I always know it will be something challenging, something unexpected, and something that not only stands up to, but frankly demands multiple close and considered readings.

Their latest “round,” so to speak, exemplifies this standard perhaps more than any other — seriously, there’s not a misfire in the bunch — so if you’ll permit me (and you will, since I run this joint), the next few days around these parts will be devoted to giving each of these new Mini Kus! books a look, beginning with #91, Tommi Parrish’s Sufficient Lucidity.

No cartoonist working today does interpersonal drama as authentically as Parrish, and while we’re anxiously awaiting their follow-up to The Lie And How We Told It, I have to say this short story packs as big an emotional wallop as that long-form graphic novel did, albeit a less subtle one — and that’s not only fine, it’s great, because this is the tale of a combustible individual coming down from a combustible situation and coming to terms with the fact that their own actions have led them to the spot they find themselves in today, to wit : essentially friendless and alone. It’s also a story about balancing forgiveness with the need for emotional self-care. So, yeah, there’s a lot packed into these 28 pages.

That last statement is, I confess, incomplete, because I really do need to say that these are 28 gorgeously-illustrated pages, Parrish’s trademark blending of relatively simple expressionistic linework with extremely lush and complex colors never seeming more confident or assured than it does in this story. Sure, the dialogue is raw, honest, emotive, but most of “the feels” come from the art here, and that’s never more true than on the last page, where the weight of an ending is silently communicated with such force that you really do need to sit there and take it all in for a good little while before either putting the book away for a bit, or flipping back to the start and reading all over again. I did the latter — and then I did it again.

Parrish splits their narrative between two distinct scenes here, the first being protagonist Andy breaking into their former apartment in an attempt to get their cat back after what I took to be a break-up — although the parameters (if any) of the relationship in question are open to interpretation : Andy’s former lover Emma may have found someone new, all three of them may have previously had a polyamorous thing going, or they may have all merely been friends and roommates. The particulars aren’t especially important, but Andy’s B&E (well, okay, really it’s just an “E,” as the window is open) certainly is, as it precipitates a major life change — and probably a necessary one. When next we see Andy, they (one or more of the characters herein are non-binary, and the extent to which this is simply taken as a given and Parrish doesn’t feel the need to address it beyond pronoun usage is both confident and refreshing) have decamped for a new, presumably sober, existence in the sticks, and when Emma pays a visit to check in and receive some long-overdue apologies, it soon becomes clear that what each hopes to get from this meeting is something entirely different. I’ll say no more, apart from confessing that I fear even that short summation may be me saying too much.

Which means, of course, that there is much about this comic best discovered on your own, not least of which will be your personal reaction to it. I made reference to the last page, and it really is one of the most powerful images in comics this year — but I’d expect no less given that this is one of the most impactful, and beautifully-illustrated, comics on the year in general.

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Sufficient Lucidity is available for $7.00 from the Kus! webshop at https://kushkomikss.ecrater.com/p/37507461/sufficient-lucidity-by-tommi-parrish

Review wrist check – Formex “Essence” brown dial chronometer-certified model riding a Formex blue leather strap.

Weekly Reading Round-Up : 05/19/2019 – 05/25/2019, Mini Kus! #s 75-78

It’s that time again — four more new releases in the Mini Kus! line from our favorite Latvian comics publisher (and, truth be told, one of our favorite publishers, period) , Kus!  This time out the quartet is even more experimental and avant-garde than usual — and “usual” is a word that never applies to these things, anyway. Let’s have a look, shall we?

Alice Socal’s Junior (Mini Kus! #75) flips the tables on human reproduction (not that it features humans, mind you, the female being a cat, the male being — I dunno, is that a dog of some sort?) by having the man of the house wonder what it would like to be pregnant in a dream, only to wake up and find out that he is. Or is he? Or was he ever? And if he was, does he miss it now? Nary an answer to be found in this one, friends, but plenty of intriguing questions, and Socal’s cartooning, while a bit “cutesy” for my tastes, is expressive and inherently witty. If you need your comics to make “sense,” you’re gonna be shit out of luck with this one, but as we shall see, that’s a pattern with this latest crop of releases.

Paula Puiupo’s Maunder (Mini Kus! #76) may be the wildest of a very wild bunch seeing as how it’s part family drama, part complete mindfuck, part purely interpretive meditation on shifting between dimensions or planes of existence purely through the power of thought. By turns deceptively simple and impenetrably dense, Puiupo’s scraggy linework and inventive page layouts are quite pleasing to the eye, but her non-narrative approach to exploring a deliberately confounding subject (or series of subjects) is — well, deliberately confounding, I suppose. As it should be? Sure. As you want it to be? Depends — this is as “your mileage may vary” as comics get, not just from one reader to another, but internally within each reader, as well. I’ve made my way through this one three times, first finding it utterly fascinating, then completely pointless, then a bizarre amalgamation of both. Any work that makes you question it that hard from that many angles is clearly doing something right — but what is that, and toward what end is it being employed? Still working on this one, folks — and I may be doing so for a long time.

Rebeka Lukosus’ Oops (Mini Kus! #77) is Tara Booth-esque in tone, temperament, style, and subject matter — wordless and borderless panels flowing from one to the next as we follow the day-to-day of a woman with six arms who appears to spend most of her time safely ensconced within her own imaginary dreamworld. It’s fun and formally interesting, but in all fairness seems a bit slight to the point of bordering on self-indulgence. As pleased as I was by what I saw in this one, it never made a terribly convincing argument as to why I should need to see it. Falling somewhere between being an agreeable enough use of one’s time and a complete waste of it, I’m finding myself of the opinion that I wanted to like this one more than I actually did.

Hironori Kukuchi’s House To House (Mini Kus! #78) is another one that deliberately gives “readers” the silent treatment as it relates the travails of a fantasy novelist attempting to deliver a book to a bed-ridden reader, only to require — or, in a pinch, be saddled with — assistance of a truly alien variety. The Jim Woodring influence is strong in this one, young Padawan, but Kukuchi offers a novel take on stories of this nature by dint of bright colors and a video game-influenced design sensibility. Not an easy story to follow, but a fun one to attempt making head or tail of, with success being far from guaranteed. There may be some sort of oddball genius at work here — but it sure ain’t me.

I’ll probably find myself returning to this foursome quite a bit as my reactions toward, and appreciation of, each of ’em seems to be developing over time, which means that even if I don’t end up “liking” them all in the traditional sense, I’ll have gotten my money’s worth — as will you, if you order them either separately for $6.00 each, or together at $19.00 for the set. Shipping to the continental US is, as with all items from this publisher, absolutely free. Your link is :https://kushkomikss.ecrater.com/filter.php?sort=date&keywords=&perpage=40

And while we’re tossing out links, please take a moment to consider supporting my work by joining my Patreon. For as little as a dollar a month, you get thrice-weekly updates on the worlds of comics, films, television, literature, and politics. Best bargain around, with plenty of content up for you already. I’d be very pleased to add you to my small-but-loyal legion over there.

Oh yeah, the link. Here is is :https://www.patreon.com/fourcolorapocalypse

 

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.

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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