I had a crush on a Latvian-American girl in college. She preferred the stoner surfer guy down the hall. That's the extent of my knowledge of the Baltic country. Earlier this year I received four mini-comics from Latvian publisher kuš! komiksi. Kuš!" (pronounced kush!) puts out the only comics magazine in the Baltics. The aim of "kuš!" is to popularize comics in a country where they claim comics are practically non-existant. That's a worthy goal indeed.
The four mini-comics I received include The Story of Gardens, Weeding, Being, and Bearslayer Returns.
The Story of Gardens by Kuba Woynarowski is a stark, wordless tale of a world without people, overrun by plants and bugs. Kuba is from Poland. it has a real iconic feel to its imagery. Abstraction and patterns. Since it's not really a narrative it's not clear what has happened to people and their world; it's just a snapshot of human artifacts such as buildings, pipes, sidewalks, overrun by other forms of life. It's feels right as a mini – a nice little bit of art.
Bearslayer Returns is by Swiss artist Ruedi Schorno and is supposed to be an update to a Latvian poem from 1887. There's a little afterword squeezed in the last page that helpfully explains this. If the poem is epic, the mini is pedestrian. It's a snapshot of an average schlub who has some good and some bad qualities.
Weeding is by Till Hafenbrak. I liked this one most of all. It's a bit of a bizarre little story, wordless again but with a strong narrative flow to it. Our "hero" seems to be hired to do some yardwork in the first couple panels. The owner of the house is wearing a white turban. As it turns out with all of the strange things going on inside the house, you'd think the owner would take more care in who he hired but I suppose someone has to sweep up. Our "hero" sees a window after watching a bird accidently fly into it. After the hero goes over to investigate the apparently dead bird (it's impaled on a shard of glass!) he sees the bird heal up and fly away. The next thing he sees is human heads growing out of plants in the room inside.
Just stop for a second and think, what would you do if you saw human heads growing in what for all you know could be like an illegal grow room for marijuana or something? Would you (a) crawl in to investigate, or (b) leave the premises immediately? Well our hero chooses "a" and the story just gets weirder.
The art is really cool though – it has a limited color palette and has an almost collage like style as if Hafenbrak cut out pieces of constrution paper and glued them together. If you check out his flickr stream you can see lots more of his work — all in a similar style.
Being is by Mārtiņš Zutis. This one left me a bit cold. I liked some of the art, especially when Zutis layered in watercolor over his ink sketches but the mediation of myth and hero seemed shallow and forced to me.
ComixTalk received free copies of the mini-comics from the publisher for review purposes.