The Latvian anthology Kus! is so successful that there's a smaller spin-off anthology called S! The 11th issue has the theme of "Artventurous", one that's vague enough for the artists to either totally embrace or ignore. Editors David Schilter and Sanita Muizniece lean heavily on artists from eastern and western Europe, with a smattering of contributors from north and south America. Everything about the anthology is first rate, including the production values and the individual effort from each artist. For many of these artists, it's their first exposure to a wider English-speaking audience, and it's clear that they're doing their best work within the confines of the theme. Schilter & Muizniece have broad tastes, with no particular preference given to artistic styles or fiction vs autobio. The cover, by Latvian artist Leonards Laganovskis, is a beautiful, stunning work that is an intersection of human forms as both functional pieces of furniture and works of art, cascading nonchalantly across the page in a pleasing pastel color scheme.
Some artists, like Martins Zutis, took the theme and reworked epics like The Odyssey into comics form. Betty Liang went in a different mythological direction in her depiction of the Leda and the swan story, which has a very different and grisly outcome in her telling. There's a charming crudeness in the way she uses color, making the pages look constructed as much as they are drawn. Others, like KJ Martinet, ran with the concept and did a story about a distopian future where survivors scavenge and murder in order to "complete" works of art, like adding arms to the Venus de Milo. Nicolo Pelizzon uses a noir style to hint at the conspiracy behind a series of art thefts and forgeries, while Jen Rickert offers up a chilling story of a murderer getting out his madness on canvas. Roman Muradov's "Little Clouds" gets at something else: the idea of aesthetic perfection and aesthetic repulsion and how they can be embodied in the same person when in different environments. There's something appropriately beautiful and elegant about his heavy use of a cartoony clear-line style and the colors red, brown and black.
Aidan Koch unsurprisingly is a standout with her "After The Bath", which is a sequential series of single-page images depicting a form only using colors after a path. It's like looking at a series of paintings done in non-intuitive, bright color patterns, with the watercolors barely coalescing into recognizable forms. Renata Gasiorowska has one of the funniest stories in the book, about a child whose entire family is comprised of artists but has no talents or interest in the arts. Gasiorowska ties the strip back into theme when the child notes that only martial arts interest her, spawning a rant about the uselessness of art. Told at the dinner table, one guest notes how suited she is for performance art, given how "brave and rude" she is! Told in a scrawled line with anthropomorphic characters in black & white, this story stands out from many of the other, slicker entries in the anthology.
Olive Booger details an embarrassing anecdote from his art school days having to do with performance art. A cute girl who shared his studio encouraged him to go to a performance piece where everyone naturally wound up naked and he was tapped to serve as a human table. He (not surprisingly) freaked out over this, causing much humiliation and trauma that obviously continues to trouble him to this day. His garish, grotesque style perfectly captures the awkwardness and strangeness of that situation. Dilraj Mann's take-off on Rear Window has some cheesily exploitative art and a pat narrative, which was unfortunate because his skill at depicting forms and using shadow made the story interesting to look at. Daniel Werneck's "Shoulders of Giants" is a bit too on-the-nose in the way he depicts the constant inspiration of a variety of artists and writers on his work. Much better is Simon Moreton's "Working", a typically restrained story about a man who becomes so obsessed with the beauty of a landscape view that it consumes him until he's able to return at the end of his work week, paints and canvas at the ready as he intensely tries to capture both his feelings and the essence of the environment.
That's a sampling of the pieces that stood out for me, though there are many others that range from gag work to autobio to something close to science-fiction and fantasy. What's most impressive to me is how the editors are able to produce this anthology like clockwork, bringing in new artists for nearly every edition of either S! or Kus!. It's really become the international successor of Mome in terms of spotlighting new and emerging talent across a broad spectrum of styles and influences. It also points to the ways in which art comics are now a truly international phenomenon, with European artists influencing American artists and vice-versa. There are certainly still regional peculiarities and references in some of the stories, but they are all easily recognizable as the kind of art comics that are pushing barriers everywhere. Kus! and S! may not always make a point of spotlighting the most challenging work in every issue, but there's a delicate balance in giving time and attention to cutting edge, avant garde work and more conventional yet still interesting work. This issue is a perfect example of that tension on display, and the way that the stories are sequenced helps heighten that frisson in a manner that works to the benefit of every artist in the book.