Weekly Reading Round-Up : 09/16/2018 – 09/22/2018, “Now” #4 And New Minis From Brian Canini

From the best anthology comic in a decade to the best ongoing mini, this week had plenty to offer yours truly. It’s late as I write this, I’m tired, but I’m also enthused to talk comics, so let’s do just that —

I’m not sure what it is about fourth issues of anthologies, but in much the same way that Kramers Ergot #4 threw down the gauntlet and shouted “this is where comics are now, and this is where comics are going — dare you to stop us!” way back in the halcyon days of 2008, editor Eric Reynolds has assembled the very best of the best of veteran and emerging contemporary cartoonists to make much the same declaration here in 2018 with Now #4, which marks not only the (temporary?) pinnacle of this Fantagraphics series to date, but also something of a high-water mark for the anthology format in general. Anyone who wants to keep up is going to have their work cut out for them, as there’s not a false note on offer here, and the occasional “clunkers” that made their way into the first three issues are literally nowhere to be found. Yes, that’s really me saying that, while some strips in this collection are no doubt more successful than others in terms of achieving their aims, literally every single one of them is at the very least good, and several are bona fide revelations. The pages between Trenton Doyle Hancock’s visceral gut-punch of a cover and Nick Thorburn’s all-too-true back cover are loaded with creativity that ranges from the sublime to the explosive, and if you’re looking for a temperature-gauge of the overall health and vitality of the medium in general, this is evidence that, for all the hand-wringing going on in (and about) comics these days, things have arguably never been better for those willing to travel off the beaten path.

I don’t usually do this, but — “A+” marks  go to Brian Blomerth’s staggeringly inventive visual tour-de-force “Pray For Pianoland,” Julian Glander’s wistful and breathtakingly-realized “Skybaby,” Diego Agrimbau and Lucas Varela’s multi-layered metafictional mind-fuck “The Absolute Truth,” Nathan Cowdry’s two entries, the melancholic “I Thought Of You All The Way Down” and the uniquely acerbic “Kewpie,” Theo Ellsworth’s nightmarish-yet-innocent (and vice-versa) “What Are You Doing?,” Roman Muradov’s gorgeous and devilishly clever “Quarters,” and Tommi Parrish’s searingly understated and achingly human untitled relationship autopsy ; solid “A” grades are awarded Cynthia Alfonso’s minimalist and deeply resonant “From Noise To White,” Walt Holcombe’s refreshingly unpretentious autobiographical paean to the joys of meditation, “I Am Bananas,” Matthias Lehmann’s richly-delineated and thematically complex “The Cave,” Rebecca W. Kirby’s sumptuous and soul-baring “Waves,” and David Alvarado’s crisp, embarrassingly true-to-life “Afterschool Special,” the only “throwback”-style strip in the bunch; and pulling up what passes for the “rear” with “B” grades are John Ohannesian’s lavishly-rendered short humor strip, “30,000 Years Ago,” Maria Medem’s block-color feast of paranoia and apprehension, “Maimed Gaze,” and the second installment of J.C. Menu’s cartoon dream diary, “S.O.S. Suitcases,” which is such a leaps-and-bounds improvement over the one presented “way” back in issue number one that I almost feel like giving him extra points just for surpassing expectations.

Throw in a near-suicidally-generous cover price of $9.99 for 128 pages and what you’ve got here is very probably the “must-buy” comic of the year — or even of the last several. Now has hit a stride few anthologies ever manage in a remarkably short period of time, and is absolutely brimming over with vitality at this point. We are so damn lucky to have this series, and now that Reynolds has his feet firmly under him and has managed to fully differentiate his current project from his earlier (and justly legendary) MOME, all I can say is — watch out. We appear to be in the presence of one of the all-time greats here.

Brian Canini’s Plastic People #6 continues the meticulous world-building that is the backbone of what I’ve made no secret is my favorite ongoing mini. Yeah, this issue is pure “side-step” that doesn’t advance the plot in any appreciable way, focusing as it does on a double-date between our two “surgical police” protagonists and their significant others, but it’s a fun exit off the main narrative’s thoroughfare that adds depth, nuance, and even a little complexity both to the personal lives of the people we’re getting to know, and to the nightmarishly phony future L.A. that they inhabit. You could probably skip this issue and get away with it in terms of keeping up, but at just $1.99 there’s really no reason to do that.

By contrast, Plastic People #7 is easily the weakest chapter in the ongoing saga to date, although we do return to propelling the murder-mystery plot forward in this one and Canini’s cartooning is, as ever, strong, clean, and economical in its precision. Still, when you see “future” residents of Tinseltown still, like, saying “like” all the, like, time — and, even more embarrassingly, still using terms like “amazeballs” — something tells me that not enough thought has gone into extrapolating some type of unique dialect that will surely develop over time. I’m not saying everything’s gotta be as intricately-woven as the visionary sci-fi linguistics that Alan Moore developed for The Ballad Of Halo Jones or Crossed + One Hundred, but seriously — slang terms come and go, and some of the ones we see here are already pretty well on the way out.

Even more annoying : the entire narrative trajectory of this issue is rather cynically constructed in service of a cheap punchline on the last page that you’ll see coming a mile away. It’s not like Canini to be this painfully obvious, and it’s rather disappointing to see, but let’s give him his due — seven issues in with only one misstep is a pretty good ratio, and I see no reason to think this one isn’t an unfortunate aberration that he’ll quickly brush aside. This is still a great series, that just happens to have one pretty damn lousy issue. No reason to jump ship at all, and hey, at least this one is still just two bucks, as well.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again : the law of averages dictates that Canini’s Blirps probably should have been a “one-and-done” deal, but somehow he keeps milking way more fun out of this fairly simple premise than I ever would have thought possible. More four-panel “gag” strips featuring neurotic and obsessive robot monsters are what you get here, and every one of them is damn funny and too charming for its own good. So, ya know, don’t even listen to me anymore, Brian — keep making these as long as you feel like, because they keep on hitting all the right notes. $1.99 for a full-color mini is also a pretty nice buy in today’s comics economy.

And with that, we come to the end of another Round-Up column. Next week’s selections remain entirely up in the air, as I’ve received some very nice-looking stuff in the mail recently, but won’t have much time to start reading any of it until tomorrow evening. What I particularly like, or particularly dislike, we’ll talk about here in seven short days, if that’s cool with you — or even if it’s not. in the meantime —

Now #4 will be hitting your LCS shelves on Wednesday and is, as already stated, the very definition of an essential purchase, while Brain Canini’s minis are, as always,  available via his Drunken Cat Comics imprint, which has a Storenvy site at http://drunkencatcomics.storenvy.com/

 

Mini Kus! Round-Up : “Nausea,” “Collection,” “Master Song,” And “Resident Lover”

For fans of international “art comics,” there’s no more exciting package to receive in the mail than the latest four-pack of minis from Latvian publisher Kus! — you never know what a new batch from them will have to offer, but you can be certain that, one way or another, it’s going to be challenging, thought-provoking, idiosyncratic stuff, so solid is the Kus! track record. And so, with their latest quartet hot off the presses, then (printed, as always, in full and lavish color on top-quality paper stock and featuring heavy cardstock covers), now would pretty much be the perfect time to give ’em all the once-over, would it not? Why don’t we do just that —

Nausea by Abraham Diaz (Mini Kus! number 63) is a wild ride through the socio-economic gutters of Mexico City, infused with a hard-edged immediacy and vulgarity that the lazy might call “punk,” but is probably more accurately described as “nihilistic.” The narrative is linear enough after a fashion, but definitely scattershot, and the same can be said of the art, which certainly calls to mind the early-career works of Gary Panter and Lloyd Dangle, but with a decidedly more dangerous undercurrent. Diaz has been plumbing these sorts of depths for some time in woks like Suicida, and shows no signs of “mellowing out” when it comes to depicting the underside of the underside of the underside of his home city. A visceral gut-punch that’ll leave you reeling — and, frequently, laughing in spite of yourself.

Collection by Pedro Franz (Mini Kus! number 64) is an emotive series of images, with accompanying text, that sees the noted Brazilian cartoonist/fine artist filtering a series of melancholic reminiscences of various childhood injuries through the lens of another set of memories — those of the racks n’ stacks that once populated expat Mexican artist Ulises Carrion’s quasi-legendary Amsterdam books/art/comics shop Other Books and So. Of the four offerings under our metaphorical microscope today, this one is admittedly the most difficult to get a firm “handle” on, so personal is Franz’ vision and methodology, but it more than returns the investment of time you’re willing to put into it by revealing new depths not only of the work itself, but of your own reactions to it, with each successive re-reading. My best advice? Try feeling, rather than thinking, your way through this one and see if the at-first-glance oblique connective tissue holding it together becomes less so as you absorb not only the cartoonist’s offerings, but the intent behind them. This is a comic that may very well mean something entirely different to each reader.

Master Song by Francisco Sousa Lobo (Mini Kus! number 65) is a strictly-formatted (four panels per page) character study of a complex, no-doubt-emotionally-damaged young nanny in London who harbors anti-Semitic views and a deep passion for the risible novel Fifty Shades Of Grey, and if that sounds like a combination for internalized conflict of the most harrowing sort, well — it is. Emily, our protagonist, isn’t what one would call a sympathetic character by any stretch of the imagination, but Lobo does a masterful job of making you feel her emptiness and longing as she seeks fulfillment of her jumbled fantasy life by means of anonymous bar hook-ups that are, of course, doomed to disappoint. The simplicity of the cartooning and text in this comic stands in stark contrast to, while simultaneously drawing out, the depth of the painful self-examination Emily is constantly drifting into/out of, and the clinical dispassion with which she analyzes her own existence is at once disconcerting and, somehow, logical. A work of sparse and haunting beauty delineating a person’s near-complete sense of estrangement from their own life that raises a million probing questions, the most prominent for this reader/critic being — how does one process an alienation so deep-seated that one is even alienated from it? Sosa is a Portuguese talent that I admit to having been unfamiliar with previous to this, but I will be eagerly hunting down whatever works of his I can find in the very near future.

Resident Lover by Roman Muradov (Mini Kus! number 66) is one of those comics that almost manages to leave me at a loss for words — almost. I’ve read this through eight times now, and came away more impressed each time. Ostensibly a story about love that conspicuously never mentions love once, it’s actually something far more than that — a study of duality, symmetry, and identity (or lack thereof) that poses the same query a more youthful version of myself was floored by in the early-days Tears For Fears single Change, “Where does the end of me become the start of you?” Muradov’s cartooning is a mass of beautifully-balanced contradictions : rich yet austere, symbolic yet literal, mechanical yet organic, static yet fluid —- it’s no wonder that this Russian “import” now based in San Francicso has seen his work featured prominently in everything from The New Yorker to Vogue to GQ to The Paris Review. Visual poetry gets no more poignant and absorbing than this — prepare to spend hours poring over its mysteries and magnificence.

Once again, then, our friends at Kus! have outdone themselves with perhaps their strongest slate of new offerings yet, and the only thing better than buying each of them is buying them all together for the bargain price of $19 — with free shipping to the US! No need to hem and haw over this decision, get off my website now and get over to https://kushkomikss.ecrater.com/p/29745014/mini-ku-63-64-65-66