Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Mini-Kus! of the Week #14: T.Lehikoinen, E.Ostergren, L.Kenins

mini-Kus! #14: The Pernicious Kiss, by Tiina Lehikoinen. All three of the entries in this review are intensely sad in their own way. Lehikoinen tells the story of a young man who grows up with a horse's head, and she focuses on the dangers of him attempting to kiss a human woman. The comic is grotesque but deeply sad precisely because of Lehikoinen's remarkably exacting specificity and detail when it comes to his teeth, his gums, the shape of his mouth and head, the foam that might form and the pain that could result for his partner. Where Lehikoinen really twists the knife is depicting the anxiety that the horse-headed young man feels with regard to his own natural desire and possibility that he might accidentally devour someone he's kissing. It goes from being a metaphor for any self-perceived flaws and insecurities and dives deep into the specific anxieties unique to the protagonist. The lettering is especially remarkable in this comic, appearing as not just scrawled and immersive, but almost carved into the page, as if it was an act of desperate graffiti. At the same time, the audience is not asked to feel repulsed by or even pity the horse-headed man, but rather to simply empathize with him. If the narrative captions are a little distant at times, it's only to put us a bit further into the shows of this character rather than "other" him.

mini-Kus! #16: Runaway Dog, by Emilie Ostergren. On the one hand, this comic is about the rescue of a sad dog that receives total love and acceptance from his new owner, who also happens to keep an entire family's worth of "rescues" in his tiny forest house. There's a kind of charming, rambling logic to this story that almost completely eschews the use of negative space for an immersive but friendly storytelling style that thrusts the reader into this strange world where the gnome-like lead treats the dog with great kindness, and the other members of the family (who all live in vases and ewers). The dog takes them all for a ride on his back as they talk about retreating from a society where they were constantly afraid, and the dog decries the feeling of being a slave. The dialogue is all a bit odd if heartwarming, until the final panel where the little girl who owned the dog is weeping at his absence. It's Ostergren's clever way of showing the ways in which grief is not an emotion isolated to a single person, but a phenomenon that connects us in ways we often choose to ignore. Was the dog really treated like a slave? Is he truly being treated better now? Are the feelings of the little girl valid or rendered unimportant because of the dog's feelings? Ostergren raises these questions in her cartoony, ratty and expressive line and leaves them to the reader to work out.

mini-Kus! #42: Alien Beings, by Laura Kenins. Working in colored pencil, this is a painful story about conflating a childhood love of unexplained phenomena with events that may have led to her parents' divorce. It's unclear if this is an autobiographical story, but it doesn't really matter because of the emotional authenticity of the narrative. That's especially true because of the slightly crude and expressive quality of the art, which is entirely dependent on color, not line, making it look more like the work of a child than an adult despite the sophistication of the design. That's an intentional effect, as Kenins makes an effort to put the reader into the mindset of the protagonist, down to very era-specific music and (especially) TV shows like The X-Files. She wants to believe that what she perceived as an encounter with strange lights and a UFO had an immediate and negative effect on her parents' relationship instead of it fracturing for other reasons. Steeped in pop culture, she even goes as far to manipulate a situation where her parents "run into each other". Instead of resparking their love, it simply irritates them. This is a comic that sets out to explain the unexplained in a literal way at first, but eventually in a metaphorical fashion as well. Better that aliens caused the breakup than it being her fault (the go-to for children) or worse, it being no one's fault. Kenins perfectly captures that urge of trying to make sense of a strange world with hidden knowledge and an adventurer's spirit, with a feeling of just being a clue or two away from cracking the case.

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