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