Kus! Week : Samplerman’s “Bad Ball” (Mini Kus! #54)

As we wrap up Kus! week here in this musty, largely-hidden corner of the blogosphere (does anyone use that term anymore?), I thought I’d avail myself of the opportunity to shed and/or shine some light on a couple favorite Mini Kus! releases from recent years that haven’t received write-ups from yours truly in the past. So, I guess I might be making up for an egregious oversight or two on my part before we put this “theme week” to bed. First up : Yvan Guillo/Samplerman’s Bad Ball, #54 in the Mini Kus! line.

For those unfamiliar with Samplerman’s modus operandi/shtick, he “remixes” extant public domain comics panels — mostly from the so-called “Golden Age” — by digitally manipulating the drawings in various creative ways, inserting some of his own computer-generated (I’m assuming) images, and then shaking the whole thing up in a kaleidoscope and seeing what comes of it all.

I’m making that last part up, of course, but the results are more or less along those lines. And while some of the pages and panels are more successfully-realized than others, it’s no reach to say that they’re all interesting.

In Bad Ball, Samplerman utilizes a standard 2×3 grid to chronicle the exploits of his titular ball, a kind of sentient Silly Putty blob that can pretty much assume any shape, do anything, and end up anywhere. Hijinks ensue — as you’d (correctly, in this case) assume them to, and the retro “comedy of errors” tone brings to mind the sort of Three Stooges/Laurel and Hardy slapstick stuff that was popular concurrently with the comics that are appropriated herein. As far as self-realization goes, then, Bad Ball is in possession of it in spades : this is a very specific sort of work constructed according to a specific (if endlessly surprising) method in order to achieve a specific result. Which is probably a tougher thing to pull off than it sounds.

I’m of a mind that the best way to take a work like this in is fast and furious — it’s a quick read, and lends itself best to a sort of “what the fuck was I just exposed to?” sort of interpretation, its full impact, which isn’t inconsiderable, washing over you  afterwards. A detailed examination of each image is a worthwhile task to apply yourself to, don’t get me wrong, but it’s designed with immediacy in mind, and you cheat yourself out of that by poring over the contents on offer with a fine-toothed comb on first pass-through. I recommend resisting that urge until you open it a second time — even if that second time is right after the first, which it likely will be.

So yeah, much as a certain segment of my readership might be allergic to such a thing on even a conceptual level, this is first and foremost a fun comic, but it’s a fun comic that is in no way disposable, and rewards re-examination once it’s been powered through in short order. Samplerman’s work lends itself well to the mini format, and even if you think clever and inventive gimmicks are a weak foundation to build something upon, give this one a whirl — you only think it’s too slight and “surface level” for your high-fallutin’ standards.

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Bad Ball is available for $6 (with free worldwide shipping!) from the publisher at http://www.komikss.lv/

Also, please consider supporting my ongoing work by subscribing to 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. The link for that is https://www.patreon.com/fourcolorapocalypse

 

 

Kus! Week : “Bonkers” (S! #35)

The blacklight-and-neon-green cover to Bonkers, issue #35 of S! The Baltic Comics Magazine, a product of the imagination of Norwegian cartoonist Erlend Peder Kvam — who also provides one of the anthology’s strongest strips, a sing-song number that features a trio of anthropomorphic animal/space creature hybrids going about their largely-leisurely business with a spring in their step and a shared “hive-mind” between then — announces that the tightly-focused themes that most volumes of this series tether themselves to is pretty well out the window this time out, and that in its place we have an eclectic gathering of artists from around the globe quite literally letting it all hang out. All well and good, right?

But when you crack that cover open, things by and large get even better, as the “gallery-show-in-the-palm-of-your-hand” editorial remit the title has always lived and died by turns out to lend itself very nicely to an “anything goes” assemblage of “raw feed” direct from the subconscious minds of some very interesting minds indeed. It’s tough, I suppose, to say what would fit within the extremely broad framework of a “bonkers” collection, but you’d know damn well if something didn’t — and to the credit of this edition, there are no sore-thumb standouts, but there are plenty of standouts in the more general sense of that term.

Jason Herr regales us with a finely-detailed-in-its-exaggeration journey into cosmic headspaces, Marko Maetamm channels his inner Greg Stump with a noisy debate between shadow-bathed figures of some sort that are superseded altogether by their own word balloons, Brazil’s Fabio Zimbres serves up a slice of bizarro metafiction that is ultimately about both itself and the act of its own creation, Jul Gordon’s strip is a veritable clinic on use of space on the page and the relationship between time and movement, Latvian siblings Ernests and Andrejs Klavins take us to the darkly satirical heart of a trade show whose “trade” appears to be nothing but empty corporate sloganeering, Emilie Gleason depicts a modern office run from a hot tub that has the kind of company “culture” you’d depressingly surmise such a situation would engender, and stalwarts like Theo Ellsworth, Samplerman, and Zane Zlemesa deliver precisely the sort of material you’d expect from them, which is to say something far beyond the expected. And the explicable.

So, yeah, it’s a solid line-up of talent operating on ground that is far less so. Agate Lielpetere, Anna Mlck, Beatrix Urkowitz, David Ozols, Kameeellah, and Konig Lu Q make up a respectable second tier of creators that have produced work commensurate with their talents, and Olaf Ladousse, white largely missing the mark with his experimental offering, at least keeps things interesting in both narrative and visual terms. Karlina Marta Zvirbule’s “story” is the only one that fell completely flat for me, but even there it’s not like you can’t tell that a hefty amount of work effort into it — sometimes the best intentions just lead you to some rather sorry places.

So, yeah, this one’s all over the map — but most every corner, nook, and cranny of that map is well worth checking out. And even if you get lost — and trust me when I say you will —the “running order” the strips are presented in ensures that you’ll always make it back home safely. Changed, perhaps, sure — but if a dull commitment to conservative formalisn is your bag, I think it’s fair to assume odds are good you’d never buy this collection in the first place, anyway, so your loss is no loss.

While ostensibly competing “prestige” anthologies such as Fantagraphics’ Now have largely taken readers to more valleys than peaks this year, S! just keeps on chugging along, delivering the curious goods largely under the radar. Bonkers doesn’t beg for your attention, but it grabs hold of it firmly once you take notice and never lets go.

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Bonkers retails for $13.95 (worldwide shipping is free!) and is available at http://www.komikss.lv/

Also, please consider supporting my ongoing work by subscribing to 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. The link for that is https://www.patreon.com/fourcolorapocalypse

 

Eurocomics Spotlight : Samplerman’s “Fearless Colors”

French cartoonist Yvan Guillo, better known under his nom de plume of Samplerman, has a technique like no other — and it’s one that leaves me in a real quandary. Digitally manipulating pre-existing (primarily Golden Age, and most likely all public domain) comic book illustrations into hitherto-unforeseen, and uniformly bizarre, new shapes and formations and probably even realities is the part I “get,” but what sort of artist does that make Mr. Samplerman? Or, perhaps more specifically, what sort of art is it that he’s making? Is it “found” art? Is it “Pop Art”? Is it collage? Is it Lichtenstein- or Warhol-esque  appropriation/theft?

Eventually, I settled on — re-mixing. What do we all think of that?

If his recently-issued collection,  Fearless Colors (co-published by Kus!, Ediciones Valientes, and MMMNNNRRRG) proves one thing, it’s that some sort of musical comparison is in order, because while the “strips” in this book are a product of modern technology, there’s actually a fair amount of improvisation that not only informs this work, but in a very real sense forms its backbone. I’m not sure whether or not Samplerman “plots out” what he’s going to do in advance — I suppose to some extent he must — but if so, his “stories” are more the result, it seems to me, of teasing out hidden elements in disparate materials already at hand than any sort of overt searching out of specific details, themes, or even similar visual cues. But who knows? I could be entirely wrong.

In any case, the results are entirely unlike anything else out there, and perhaps the most amazing thing about whatever it is that Samplerman is doing is that it never seems to get repetitious or boring. Prior to scoring a copy of this book, my only exposure to his work was in smaller “chunks” in various anthologies, and while it never failed to impress — hell, even inspire a fair degree of awe in — me, I figured that any long-form exposure to it would necessarily yield diminishing returns. After all, how many times can a guy essentially do the same thing and keep flabbergasting readers with it?

As it turns out, he can apparently do it a lot. And the more I think about it, the more that makes sense — I mean, the whole idea of comics as a medium continues to fascinate and enthrall people, and just as there’s no hard and set “limit” to what can be done with words and pictures in juxtaposition, there’s no “limit” on what can be done with words and pictures that are already extant, right? As long as there’s one comics page out there in the world, there’s a page that can, theoretically, be given the “Samplerman treatment.”

Another interesting, and welcome, surprise : despite the fact that these strips appeared in a number of publications over a three- year period (2012-2015, if you’re curious), they’re presented in a “running order” (hey, another musical reference) that gives them not so much (okay, not at all) a sense of narrative, but at least of visual, momentum — there’s a unique and entirely-accidentally-arrived-at rhythm and flow to this work, both within the individual selections themselves, as well as in their overall assemblage, that mimics something akin to storytelling in the same way that the images mimic, and distort, the pages they’re “sampled” from. The overall effect is not unlike what one would probably achieve if they tore (or, better yet, cut) up some old comics to tiny shreds and dropped them into the business end of a kaleidoscope.

So, where does this “momentum” I mentioned come from? Purely from Samplerman’s unmatched ability to absolutely obliterate the concept of “expectations” on even a conceptual level. By taking a bunch of geriatric stories that were no doubt predictable and formulaic in the extreme, fucking with them mercilessly in Photoshop or some related program, and intuitively positioning the results in a manner that draws in both the eye and the imagination, he’s created something utterly unique unto itself : a book where you literally never know what’s coming next — chiefly because you don’t even know what you’re looking at now. With all this in mind, then — and breaking our pattern of musical analogies (hey, I can do this “unpredictable thing,” too!) — I have no hesitation in labeling  Samplerman “the William Burroughs of comics.”

Honestly, though, all my blathering aside, Fearless Colors is something you really need to see, to experience, to process for yourself, and on your own terms. I can imagine this book “hitting” each reader in entirely different ways, and no doubt it will mean something different to each of them, as well. Even if it doesn’t sound like the kind of thing you’d dig, you literally cannot make that decision without, at the very least, checking it out — and once you do, my bet is that you’ll be damn glad you did. It can be ordered directly from Kus!, with shipping included free, at https://kushkomikss.ecrater.com/filter.php?a=1&srn=0