Monday, January 30, 2017

mini-Kus! Of The Week #10: Booger, Lacko, Van Gheluwe

mini-Kus! #48: Nul, by Olive Booger. This is a harrowing account of one young man's crush being swept up in a whirlwind of inexplicable savagery. It follows the diary of a young man who is pursuing a young woman who seems mostly indifferent to his intentions. He starts stalking her and learns that she's left the country for a job. Managing to weasel her Skype address out of her cousin, he is surprised to find how much she seems to miss him on the call--and she invites him to come out to the island where she's working for a job of his own. From there, comedy turns into confusion as he doesn't understand the language and is perplexed at taking tests that ask him seemingly randomly whether a particular thing is cool or "nul" (stupid). Confusion turns into horror when he realizes he will never see his crush, he's assigned a wife, and learns that being considered nul is a license for execution.

Using a ratty line similar to Gary Panter and a nauseating palette that also resembles Panter at his most disturbing, Booger's strict six-panel grid creates a suffocating effect on each page from the very beginning of the comic. It's as though the reader is meant to see the world through the eyes of the protagonist: a paranoid, suffocating world where he's the one doing the oppressing. His world is grotesque and distorted, which is one reason why he only realizes what's happening to him on the island after it's far too late. His is a world of self-delusion driven to insanity from repeated trauma, and when he's reduced to animal status by the end of the story, he barely contests the idea. It's a remarkably dense, powerful attack on conflating obsession with romance and how those who choose to not ask questions inevitably wind up being sacrificed. There's a bit where he's allowed to go back to France in order to become a suicide bomber against "nuls", and all he can focus on is how happy he is to be eating Oreos again. As he descends into savagery and madness, he continues to fixate on those cookies as a symbol of how essentially he misses when his life was cool.

mini-Kus! #49: Call of Cthulhu, by Martin Lacko (adapted from H.P. Lovecraft). Yes, this is indeed a highly abbreviated adaption of the Lovecraft story done in MS Paint. Lacko distills the most essential elements of the story (a group of sailors accidentally letting monstrous elder god Cthulhu out of his crypt), which is important because what Lovecraft is known best for is thousands of words' worth of world building and scene descriptions. Beyond that, he intentionally uses the thickness of his prose as a way of creating this sort of dread mythology of hidden and madness-inducing knowledge becoming visible just very briefly. In many respects, he's the ultimate "tell, don't show" author. What Lacko does is totally demystify that entire process, laying it bare as the silly monster story that it truly is. Cthulhu here is a big, green squid-like monster with a slight grin. The story essentially boils down to a chase scene and an unexpected maneuver that saves the few remaining sailors from the monsters, though as Lovecraft would tell you, they were irrevocably changed. Doing it with the crudeness of MS Paint is not only funny, it was a way for the artist to deliberately handicap himself when drawing Lovecraft's world. In other words, he certainly could have drawn a properly scary and monstrous Cthulhu, but the reality is that no illustration of the monster has ever looked quite right because Lovecraft was deliberate in trying to describe something that could not quite be described or apprehended by the human mind. So rather than attempt to do so, Lacko went in the other direction, with the crudest possible drawings made without even the direct influence of his own hand. It's a good joke and does reveal that there's a lot of suggestion and stylization in Lovecraft and very little substance, but in an odd way it's also strangely reverent to Lovecraft in acknowledging that it takes an alien or artificial hand to depict the reality-bending world of Cthulhu.

mini-Kus! #50: Spectacular Vermacular, by Mathilde Van Gheluwe. This is a lovely story about being in one place in life and feeling tremendous sadness for a time in the past that was very much betwixt and between. Vlad the talking cat is a famous film star who appears on a talk show and was shown an old photo, when he was the mascot of the witch/stage magician Spectacular Vermacular. Van Gheluwe heart-breakingly depicts the moments after the photo was taken, when Vermacular decided to move on with her life and go to Vegas in search of her career. It's a devastating moment because what is left unsaid is how their partnership dissolved and why, but it's clear that Vlad made it big and she didn't. There's a look of guilt and remorse on Vlad's face, but there's something else as well--a look of wistfulness. In a bright and cartoony style, Van Gheluwe uses that cheery quality to get at that sense of wish for a time that is now in the past, and worst of all, wasn't properly appreciated at the time. The level of detail with regard to the hopes, dreams and frustrations of the witch makes the ending especially poignant, even if Van Gheluwe winks at the audience just a bit by going over the top.

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