Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Mini-Kus! of the Week #15: M.Jordan, Samplerman, L.Kandevica, C.Serrao, J.Pallasvuo

I'm wrapping up the Mini-Kus series (for now), until the next release and/or I fill in the few remaining gaps.

mini-Kus! #18: This No Place To Stay, by Michael Jordan. The German cartoonist is one of my new, recent favorites. His style reminds me a bit of Olivier Schrauwen a bit, in his ability to bring a kind of naturalism to the absurd. There's a wonderful sense of solidity and place in this completely bonkers narrative following a man who comes to a mountain for some kind of treatment. He takes a harrowing journey through his coffee cup and exits the medical facility through a friendly nurse's "stigmata of time". It's a Kafkaesque story, only the protagonist is aide by friendly, if random forces amidst the chaos swirling around him. Jordan captures the strangeness of hospitals and hospital waiting rooms, operating in a language and a reality that seems strange and somewhat heightened. That sense of the familiar and the strange is captured perfectly in the oppressive drabness of the hospital waiting room and the bizarre nature of all those around him. This comic is a meditation on illness, and how it alienates us from our own bodies and forces us to interact with strangers who speak in a confusing, jargon-based language.

mini-Kus! #51: Mirror Stage, by Jaakko Pallasvuo.This is a comic about finding one's purpose as a creator and a person. It's about enjoying traveling because it ensures that we will feel out of place for a good reason, instead of having that feeling of alienation at home. Using a scribbly line for his self-caricature, vivid colors that bleed into each other and the occasional use of collage, Pallasvuo pounds the reader with his existential crisis. The result is candy-colored angst that quickly flips and becomes something else when he encounters himself in a mirror and takes a trip into that world. His mirror consciousness is as settled and peaceful as his real-world consciousness is chaotic and anxious. The key moment of the comic comes when the artist criticizes this comic for lacking a theme even as he's writing it, but quickly moves on from that critique to find something resembling contentment. In the mirror world, even squiggles are just squiggles, even if they talk. It's a neat trick of mental focus, as Pallasvuo is able to convince the reader of his mental state using drawings, no matter what else is going on..
mini-Kus! #52: Acquisition, by Catia Serrao. This Portuguese cartoonist fills up the first few pages with the uncertain energy and delay tactics that surround a major exam of some kind, until the test finally begins. The test begins with a single question: "What does the duck say?"and proceeds to unravel the difference between the signifier and the signified, creating codes built on new alphabets and then designing equations around those codes. The art is deliberately flat and artificial, looking like it was designed in something like MS Paint as something meant to look modern but dated. There's a weird intimacy created between the questioner and the questioned, as the nature of their interaction is more exploratory than didactic. That said, the outcome of the test seems to fall in favor of the questioner, as though it were a zero-sum game between the two of them. It's completely absurd and totally serious at the same time, like all great absurd art. The use of color is disorienting and gratuitous in the sense where the color added no useful information or even decoration; it was there because it was an expected part of the computer's bells and whistles.
mini-Kus! #53: Yellow, by Liva Kandevica. This comic is another existential nightmare, as the protagonist finds himself trapped in a room surrounded by yellow. The story reminds me a little of astronaut Dave Bowman finding himself in a white room at the end of 2001: A Space Odyssey, unsure of what was next other than fulfilling biological needs. There's a terrifying sequence when the man in the room pokes the wall, finds it squishy, and accidentally tears a hole in it, filling the room up with a sickening yellow fluid. The comic then segues to the man cutting up lemons in a close-up (providing the link to the drowning sequence), calmly enjoying a the same room. Which is real? The panic and paranoia of his strange environment, or a sense of everything being normal despite how strange it is? Kandevica provides no answers as she pounds the reader with her use of color and clear, elegant line that nonetheless creates a sense of the grotesque and unusual.

mini-Kus! #54: Bad Ball, by Samplerman. Yvan "Samplerman" Guillo uses public-domain images and merges them with his own drawings, as his pseudonym suggests: like a DJ sampling a song to get certain effects. He often leans on golden age comics, and there's an interesting synthesis between the already-bonkers quality of those comics and his own ideas. This comic, which features the titular Bad Ball, reimagines a character like the Human Torch going on a misunderstood adventure mistaken for a rampage, only it's a ball that stretches, opens up, talks, mutates and creates objects out of thin air. Working a strict 2 x 3 grid, the ball goes through a bizarre series of adventures, with each panel bringing new and delightfully strange images and dangers. There's a few different ways to read this comic: as quickly as possible, letting the images wash over you, and carefully examining each panel. Samplerman packs an incredible amount of detail into the comic, obscured a little by the deliberate flatness of the coloring. Samplerman uses reader expectation as a key aspect of his storytelling, as one's familiarity with what a superhero story of this era should look like is used against the reader when he crams so much bizarre imagery on every page. It has the spectacular, dazzling feel of a great DJ, but it's still very recognizably comics in structure and even emotional tone.

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