The latest quartet of Kuš! minicomics (pronounced "koosh!") offers up yet another excellent sampling of the many and varied comics dished out by this Latvian art-comics publisher. For production value and design, the mini Kuš! series represents the pinnacle of what the minicomic art form can achieve. Of note: it wasn’t until several days after I’d first read them that I realized that all four comics were by women (the mini-Kuš! quartet of issues 30-33 were also all-female creations). Despite this year’s Angouleme debacle, it has become increasingly clear, at least in more enlightened comics circles, that excellent work transcends gender (and sexism). The comics in this quartet, by four different creators from four different countries, encompass a variety of styles and tones, from colorful whimsy to somber realism, with settings in the past, present and future. Whatever their subject matter or stylistic approaches, these little books are further testament to the enduring appeal of the elusive-yet-accessible Kuš! art-comics aesthetic.
Three Sisters by Ingrīda Pičukāne (#38)
Latvian artist Pičukāne employs densely patterned, textured imagery to weave this dark-hued vignette. The titular three sisters are exaggeratedly feminine, with huge, saucer-like eyes, dainty eyelashes, and dressed in long, flowing dresses; when they take a sojourn through a forest, the patterns on their gowns blend in with the various patterns of the leaves, grass and pine cones. Upon their encounter with a drunken naked man lying in the grass, the narrative takes on an elusive, fable-like quality: the collision of cooing, hyper-femininity with coarse, cursing masculinity. The darkness underlying the narrative juxtaposes beautifully with Pičukāne's bright presentation. I love how she depicts the action in panoramic style, eschewing panels, creating a flowing, gliding effect for the reader. The dialogue is in untranslated French (the sisters) and Russian (the man); whatever one's ultimate interpretation of the story, it's hard to resist its beguiling siren song.
Unwell by Tara Booth (#39)
Tara Booth is a young cartoonist originally from Philadelphia, now living in Portland, Oregon. She offers up this simple, lighthearted slice-of-life pantomime comic, made special by her naïve-style visuals. Her heroine's day begins with waking up in the bed of a rather unattractive fellow with whom she obviously spent the night. She beats a hasty retreat and proceeds to go about her day: biking home, showering, making art, drinking beer, and hanging out with her dog and having fun. At one point she also encounters an exhibitionist masturbating right in front of her—and being a self-reliant sort, fixes him but good (which recalls the events in Pičukāne's Three Sisters, actually). Booth's painterly pages recall those of Anna Vaivare’s Swimming Pool (Kuš! mini #24), but with a vivacious wit and colorful charm all their own. Unwell is a perfectly delightful confection and Booth strikes me as a real up-and-comer.
1944 by Hanneriina Moisseinen (#40)
1944 takes place in the summer of that year in Karelia, a vast area of land that is divided by Russia and Finland. As planes invade Finland during the Continuation War, a farming couple prepares to evacuate, but are delayed when one of their cows begins to give birth. The calf is born successfully, but the story does not end there. Moisseinen, a Finnish artist seen in prior issues of š!, renders the story in beautiful, moody pencils that remind me of the work of other European artists such as fellow Finn, Amanda Vähämäki, and Sweden's Joanne Hellgren— though Moisseinen’s visuals are much more realistic than cartoony. Illustrating that the tragedy of war is composed of countless micro-tragedies, 1944 is a wrenchingly sad tale, yet the final images movingly depict the only real option in the aftermath of heartbreak and calamity: picking up and moving on. I understand that 1944 is part of a longer, in-progress work, and I would love to see the rest of it.
Eyez by Aisha Franz (#41)
Another wordless comic, Eyez presents a humorous riff on privacy issues, much like Lala Albert’s R.A.T. (Kuš! mini #32), but with a wild, imaginative sci-fi slant. The story takes place in a “not-so-distant future” where privacy is at a premium, but the power to alter one’s sex and even physiognomy is as easy as pressing a button (I’m being purposely vague about the plot so as not to spoil the story’s twists and turns). German artist Franz, perhaps best known for her 2010 graphic novel Earthling published by Drawn & Quarterly, presents this future world in smooth clean lines and mostly primary colors, with red being a particularly important motif. She also draws a wonderfully weird-looking cat that is only incidental to the story, but so originally conceived it bears mention (at first I thought it was an alien!). The denouement delivers a satisfyingly bizarre twist that fits well with all that has come before: it's thoughtful, curiously charming and rather creepy, all at once. The reader is left to decide whether the measures the lead character takes to escape Big Brother-like scrutiny are clever subversion or a form of acquiescence.
One of the pleasures of reading the Kuš! line on a fairly regular basis is gaining familiarity with its international roster of artists: through them I’ve become a fan of creators previously unknown to me, such as Emilie Östergren, Berliac, Lai Tat Tat Wing, and Jean de Wet, to name just a few. I'll certainly be on the lookout for more from this current crop of creators, particularly Booth and Pičukāne. You can't go wrong with Kuš!.