Monday, April 9, 2018

The Return of mini-Kus!: A.Diaz, P.Franz, F. Lobo, R.Muradov

Let's take a look at the latest from everyone's favorite Latvian comics publisher:

mini-Kus! #63: Nausea, by Abraham Diaz. This story by Mexican native Diaz is grotesque in every sense of the word. The way that Diaz writes about Mexico City is as though it is a single, decaying organism and the people in the story are simply malignant parasites eating away at it from within. There's a miserable convenience store clerk, a sleazy male and female couple, a couple of thugs looking to rob the store, and a cranky single dad just trying to dodge the city's dangers. Like a more lurid version of a Raymond Carver story, their separate narratives cross and have an effect on each other, usually for ill. Diaz's art features sickly color backgrounds, lumpy & cartoony figures that remind me a bit of Peter Bagge's work, made even dingier by a persistent & needling rain. The titular nausea refers to the irrelevance of the actions or intentions of any of the characters. The father makes dinner that seems to have killed him and his daughter by accident. With regard to the lovers, the man constantly imagines himself or his lover to be a rotting corpse, both during and after sex. The only characters left alive are the predatory robbers, who are still miserable and caught out in the rain. This is less a story than a look at a series of ugly wounds, but every page is vivid, riveting and grimly funny. Indeed, Diaz's point of view of all this is ugliness is as something absurd, not tragic.

mini-Kus! #64: Collection, by Pedro Franz. Inspired by a famous bookshop that collected ephemera from artists, this mini is a collection of memories. There's a memory of how a tooth got jagged, because when he drew he constantly put pressure on it. There's a list of being in a bookshop and pulling out a huge stack of great books and comics; instead of drawing the scene, he listed the books as though they were stacked one atop the other. Then there was a series, or almost a museum gallery really, of various physical scars from throughout his life. The action ranged from still lives to comic book sound effects, and the clear through-line is not just a certain carelessness in life, but rather a refusal to listen to platitudes regarding danger that were yammered at him. There's a stop at the bookshop (where the famous "other" in its name is crossed out and replaced by "comics") and finally a lingering look at a photograph from long ago of his father and his then-baby sister. Like everything else in the comic, Franz emphasizes the "thing"-ness of each object. The photo is especially because there's a huge water stain on it, but the image of his father and sister persists. The scars are permanent mementos on the museum of his body. The images are bold and striking, with deep, rich colors that emphasize the concepts that need strong visual representation.

mini-Kus! #65: Master Song, by Francisco Sousa Lobo. This is one of the oddest iterations of mini-Kus!, and that's saying something. It's told in rhyme, as the main character recites it in a sing-song fashion. The panels themselves are in a strict 2x2 grid on every page. Red and blue alternate as the dominant colors in the book, with the narrator (a nanny named Emily) dressed in red. The song is really a cry for a young woman who understood that she was a sub after reading (ugh) Fifty Shades of Grey, yet is unable to find a dominant partner. Then all of a sudden, she reveals how much she hates working for her family, who are Jewish ("their faith I despise"). There are vague allusions to Palestine but nothing more specific to her particular brand of anti-Semitism. A random sexual encounter is of course unsatisfying, because she's unable to convey her needs as a sub. When she talks about the torture of going to synagogue the next day and secretly dreaming of revenge as she blames her employers for Palestine's woes, the odd synergy becomes a little clearer. She is, in effect, torturing herself in all aspects of her life. She works for people she hates and has sex with men she has no interest in. She's a sub without agency of her own, and so inadvertently becomes her own master and doles out punishment to herself. The ouroboros on the back page is a sign that makes this arrangement clearer, as this is a rhyme and a song that will only repeat itself.

mini-Kus! #66: Resident Lover, by Roman Muradov. Well, this is a Roman Muradov comic, which means there will be clever uses of color, shape, line and perspective. There are times when his comics are on the twee side and perhaps too clever for their own sake, but that's certainly not true in this comic. I've found that Muradov's comics work best when they are shortest, and he hit on a series of concepts here that inspired wonder. This is a comic about connections, especially distant and tenuous ones. This is a story within a story, as the narrator (with his lover, and his ex-lover, and his ex-lover's lover) goes to a particular store and then the house owned by a particular pair of women who were the daughters of the owners of the store's founders. He tells a story of them mimicking each other's behavior every day and even sharing the same lover; balance was everything to these women who came to be called sisters.

That played out in the candles they lit atop the department store every night, which they watched to make sure they burned out in a balanced fashion. What is left unsaid at the end is that the narrator stomped on a bunch of the candles at random, and while he did so in no particular pattern, it was left unknown if he upset the balance. Much as the mentioned but unseen is his former lover's lover's lover is a person whose existence perpetuates this kind of infinite progression of connections going outward, the sisters sought to isolate their relationships inward, creating a balance that doesn't really exist in real life, one that's almost hermetically sealed. For them, the patterns of daily life mean something and must be obeyed; for the narrator, it is decoration: line and shape and color that fall to the side in comparison to the complexity and absurdity of human relationships. Muradov allows all this to play out in as straightforward a manner as I've ever seen him deliver in terms of narrative, and it served him well.

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