Review: Mini Kuš!

Latvia isn’t necessarily the first place you think of when you think of comics. Publisher Kuš! is trying to change that. Through its comic magazine, it is highlighting home-grown and international talent as well as promoting the art form throughout the country.

With its Mini Kuš! collection, released in December 2010, I think they will quickly become someone to watch. A selection of four 20-page mini-comics, showcases. While two are wordless, the other two are both accessible for English-language readers (one is in English, the other has “subtitles” at the bottom of the page). All four are in full-color and are beautifully designed and printed. I think these would almost be worth having as just objects.

But, fortunately, as comics, they’re diverse and fascinating individually and all together, they form an inventive, progressive collection.

The Story of GardensKuba Woynarowski
In sharp black and white with spots of bright red, Polish creator Kuba Woynarowski brings a graphic designer’s sensibility to this dreamlike look at life after humans. Without a doubt, there is something uncomfortable and apocalyptic about this, but Woynarowski’s gorgeously detailed drawing of plants and insects taking over the world is intense and moving.

Bearslayer ReturnsRuedi Schorno
Swiss creator Ruedi Schorno expands on Lativan folktales of the Bearslayer and updates him to the present day. Here, Bearslayer is just a man who goes about his every-day life, which increasingly begins to feel like a less-than-exciting existence. Less traditional comic and more a series of paintings with captions, Schorno shows a lot of wit and humor in the loose facial expression of his characters juxtaposed with deadpan statements like “He is a skilled driver.” Even though it doesn’t particularly go that deep, it’s both a funny and sympathetic criticism of modern life.

WeedingTill Hafenbrak
This is probably my favorite of the four. German creator Till Hafenbrak creates a tale that’s both cute and a little scary wordlessly. It’s a little hard for me to know exactly what’s happening, but a friendly gardener discovers a horrifying plot involving headless bodies and heads growing like flowers in the basement of a mansion. It’s really more fun than it sounds and is not gory. Our gardener, of course, saves the day (with a bit of help) and even gets the girl. With bold images and a limited color palette of magenta, turquoise, black (although it’s a soft blue-black) and white, this is thrilling and actually pretty sweet.

BeingM?rti?š Zutis
Without a doubt the most philosophical of the four, Latvian creator M?rti?š Zutis meditates on the meaning of myth, truth and existence itself. Zutis’ loose images that switch between detailed pen and ink drawings to sketchy watercolors give this comic an unexpected feel and kept me intrigued about what was coming next. While I respect what Zutis is trying to say here, I’m not sure if it really amounts to much, though. Still, I have to wonder if that was somewhat the point.

While the comics here can be purchased individually, the set is only $11 for all four (they are available here) and I think they all work best with each other. If this is the quality of work Kuš! is nurturing, Latvia may become a comic-producing country to watch.

Review copies provided by the publisher.

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