10 Sim Lane by Essi Nieminen (Mini Kus! #102)

The cutaway diagram of the house at 10 Sim Lane quickly pulls out to reveal the protagonist of the story engaging in similar activities as her avatar in the online game simulation. Nieminen employs a clever choice with the palette by showing the simulated activities in vibrant color, while the real-life sequences are in bland black and white. This really upends the line between fantasy and reality, and is a dire reminder that through all the seasons of the game - nay, all the seasons of our lives - we sometimes become so focused on external distractions like games, iPhones, and ephemera, that we can abandon our own internal well-being and the things in life that actually matter. The protagonist is so consumed with the antics of her online avatar, that she seemingly abandons her own base necessities like food, and the ability to have social interactions that aren't fraught with awkward apprehension. The games are, of course, not only how our own little worlds can crumble, but how entire empires can fall without an engaged citizenry. 


Survival Mode by Dileydi Florez (Mini Kus! #101)

In a very high level denouement, Florez reveals that Survival Mode is concerned with the revitalization of the Icelandic ecosystem. The path to get there is more luxurious and more immediately concerned with the mushroom foraging friendship of long lean figures ready for adventure in colorful backgrounds. The friends hail from Portugal, Poland, and Iceland, an odd conglomeration of countries that reminds us of the transcendent global nature of environmentalism. In the plot, the group is quick to showcase the culinary versatility of mushrooms, and the characters revel in the details, sharing knowledge about a subject they enjoy. This is a good example of just living life amid more pressing global concerns. The lush green landscape is very effective at displaying the natural beauty of the dense wooded areas, and while the ultimate message about restoring the balance in nature is a bit on the nose, I really enjoyed the secondary advice about enjoying your existence. It's perhaps best summed up by an early sign in the background that reads: DO MORE OF WHAT MAKES YOU HAPPY. 


Long Live the Witches by Valentine Gallardo (Mini Kus! #100)

If nothing else, Long Live the Witches is deserving of acclaim for the distinction of reaching the century milestone. Yes, it's the 100th mini kus! offered by literally my favorite publisher on the planet. Luckily, Valentine Gallardo's tale of Elsie and her grandmother living on the outskirts with protection spells to ward off the villagers in plague times is worthy of praise based on its own merits. The Plague Doctor warns of the witchcraft from the so-called "wise women," which is a stark reminder that often times those with common sense can offer more aid than those with pious beliefs. The purple color motif showcases these wise women gathering elements from the natural world to form their heady brew, not unlike the process of gathering ideas, skills, and inspiration to make comics. So, yes, Love Live the Witches, but also, Long Live Kus Comics!


Flowers Intertwined by Ema Gaspar (Mini Kus! #99)

Flowers Intertwined uses pastel colors with soft textured edges and free-floating text to tell the story of a girl bound to water a vase. There are visages of angels hidden in the floral backgrounds that provide a clue as to the nature of the themes at play. We're left to wonder if the proverbial devils and angels are watching over us, monitoring these daily mundane tasks and passing some sort of cosmic judgment. Gaspar dives into the notion of our "shadow selves," the faint impulses taking us places, good or bad, and if we can ever break free of those base temptations, establishing some sort of agency of character to reveal our true selves. For me, this notion seems to culminate with the line "...getting to know the darkness in me could transform me into something more beautiful..." which is a lovely moment of self-acceptance. 


World Ceramic Fair by Jooyoung Kim (Mini Kus! #98)

Kim's simple flat figures and restrained ink washes belie the important and direct commentary about racism and xenophobia contained within the pages. While World Ceramic Fair is indeed a whirlwind tour through such an event, it's also quick to display the diverse archetypes of any subculture; in this setting it's those we often associate with creators and consumers. While the consumers may be well-meaning (at best), they're actually severely inept, proffering misunderstandings that provide humorous fuel for the plot and propel the narrative, and their cringe-y antics also serve as stand-ins for creative types to wonder over. Whether you're an artist, writer, sculptor, or critic (ahem) in any medium, we all wonder if we ever occasionally challenge an audience, actually sway an opinion, move the sales needle beyond negligible impact, or just preach to our own loyal little echo chamber.


BLINK by Martin Lopez Lam (Mini Kus! #97)

It would be tempting to dismiss BLINK at first glance as some sort of lazy art school collage exercise, but more careful examination uncovers what is probably one of the best comics of the year. BLINK slowly reveals itself as a wasteland of detritus filled with improbable figures bearing a vaguely Mesoamerican glyph aesthetic. There are subtle pop culture elements, scant few words, and no real dialogue. Yet, the chaotic sensory overload perfectly encapsulates our Modern Age, with skylines, figures, conflict, and culture, from the agrarian to the industrial, it's like a survey of our existence. It somehow perfectly catalogs our innate feelings, scattered thoughts on deities, commerce, subjugation, wordless but not without insight, panic and prescience coalescing toward something you instantly identify with, documenting the zeitgeist of the now. BLINK is just that, a camera frame perfectly capturing a moment in time with the snap of a shutter that reflects our overwhelming reality.


Bridge by Matt Madden (Mini Kus! #96)

Madden's timeless black and white tale is a perfect closed circle. Thematically, it's about the stories we tell ourselves to explain away the feeling of being perpetual outsiders, even amid the flurry of kids, career success, travel, learning, and loss. As we grow, we accumulate wisdom, but become echoes of our former selves, yet those echoes and sage thoughts are able to loop back around and inform the experiences that have come long before with new perspective and understanding. Bridge is carefully plotted so that the turn of each page represents the passage of a decade, chronicling the lives of three individuals who follow that path of growth, wisdom, and reflection. The lady informs the boy. The boy becomes the soldier. The soldier warns the lady. Madden's timeless black and white tale is a perfect closed circle.