s! #12 (Baltic Comics Magazine)


It’s not hyperbole when I admit I love everything Kus! publishes. The completist in me wishes they’d just send me everything because I want to own their entire catalog. s! is their house anthology and it’s worth noting that previous editions have taken home Alternative Comics Awards at Angouleme. It’s easy to see why. In addition to reeling in some top talent from Europe and North America in this volume, the production values are immaculate. This is a full color, perfect bound publication that manages to avoid so many of the pitfalls common in small press anthologies. It very crisply and cleanly catalogues the titles of the pieces, their corresponding page numbers, and creator bio information in the rear. It manages to maintain a very high level of quality and the size is perfect; it belies the powerful roster of talent contained within. The theme of Comics From The Future, or “Future 2.0” as the subtitle claims, includes Annie Koyama acting as Guest Editor (immediately banking some credibility), Michael DeForge, Ryan Cecil Smith, Charles Forsman, Dustin Harbin, and a whole slew of European talent I recognized from previous Kus! projects, like Martins Zutis, Kuba Woynarowksi, Ernests Klavins, and Leo Quievreux.

My only real criticism of the content is that sometimes the shorts are, well, very short. Some of the pieces end rather abruptly and felt like they didn’t have time to develop and relied on non-sequitur style endings that leave the reader grasping for meaning. While that dynamic can sometimes play obtuse be easily dismissed, it also forces the more adventurous reader to engage with the work, pore over it, and attempt to decipher their own meaning, which is something I appreciate. None of the pieces are easy reads per se, and unlike most mainstream American comics, Kus! comics never insult your intelligence. It was also interesting to see how so many different artists from so many different countries with so many different backgrounds and aesthetics interpreted the theme. “Future 2.0” is a limitless area of creativity. Subsequently, there are very few cliché sci-fi stories contained with s! #12, which is what one might knee-jerk expect upon hearing the theme. Most of the artists took one of two different general approaches, which were a) a literal interpretation of comics *about* the future, which tend to be more revealing about our present, and b) what I can only describe as comics *from* the future, which seemed to upend any notions of conventional storytelling. They were all very enjoyable, and before I dive into my typical quantitative scoring analysis, let’s talk about the work specifically.

Catch Ball by Anja Wicki was a literally playful opener suggesting that time is not linear and the most alien things found are probably those we’re most familiar with. It had warm colors that were a nice segue into the project. Flokar by Maciej Sienczyk was one of my early favorite pieces, with figures reminiscent of Benjamin Marra’s work. There’s an earnestness to the art that matches the serious tone of a traveler from the year 10 Quintillion. Fear of Relapse by Julie Delporte used rudimentary forms and free-floating text and I enjoyed the colorful way it dealt with the ethereal nature of waking dreams and nightmares. Space by Tiina Lehikoinen was full of unique layouts that examined space and the duality of man. There was something akin to static electricity in the art that was deeply moving. Mud Diamonds by Ryan Cecil Smith was another favorite entry, employing a rich density to the art and playing like some kind of teaser to a larger world of strife. I love what Ryan Cecil Smith does with light-sourcing. Fortune Telling by Jane Mai was also one of the strongest pieces in s! #12, about two future youngsters judging culture by sideshow detritus. There were little world-building flourishes in the dialogue, like “little discs” referring to coin currency and emotive colors that reminded me of Jim Rugg and Brian Maruca’s work. Restoration by Nicolas Zouliamis seemed to focus on man’s universal struggle to retard time in an unnatural fashion. There were some sparse beautiful colors that highlighted the evolution of skeletal structure.

Chris Kuzma’s Life Drawing was particularly effective for what it didn’t show. The restraint and camera placement were admirable, but on a couple occasions I felt the basic storytelling mechanics were difficult to follow. Michael DeForge’s Leather Space Friend concerned itself with truly knowing someone. I enjoyed the small figure scale and fact that his dialogue and use of language flowed so incredibly well. Konig Lu.Q.’s Future 2.0; It Is In Your Hands was a simple but effective one-pager. Michael Comeau’s Sir Softly seemed to have trouble with apostrophes and very strange cadence, yet was one of the most interesting pieces in the project. I think it was about experiencing time as a consumer, with digressions to examine pre and post-singularity events, and a type of claustrophobic “claymation” art style that suggested inhaling comics with your eyes and exhaling through the fingers(!). It’s also got a very self-aware kick with lines like “I took a semester of graphic novels at community college.” Dace Sietina’s Eye Power was a sort of visual time capsule of culture with no dialogue. Charles Forsman’s Better Men offered a quick sad evolution of existence. It was striking in its simplicity. Dustin Harbin’s Future Medicine was like some type of hyper-cool version of The Far Side strip, which is an odd comparison to make since I never really liked that strip anyway. I love the panel size and general aesthetic of Harbin’s work here, along with the colors and rich world-building he’s able to squeeze out of so few pages. Paul Paetzel’s Travel Center lends an industrial construct to a future where humans seem to be mysteriously absent.

Prepare Thyself For The Singularity by Jesse Jacobs grabbed my attention with an improbable Mobius Strip and flowed into geometric constructs of a highly evolved creature of the future. If You Read This, You Will Die by Martins Zutis was another favorite piece. It seems to infuse some horror tropes and is all about escaping physical manifestations of death. The cloudy qualities to the beautiful art were one of the most original looks in the book. Letting Go Of What The Future Holds by Luke Ramsey delivered a quick set of crimson time lapse photography. Feelin’ Fine! by Patrick Kyle had downright quirky and strangely appealing figures and colors, concerning itself with the enduring politics of expansion in the far-flung future. Z-E-N-D-O-R by Jon Boam featured a type of biomechanical creature and some diagrammatic effects that reminded me of Chris Ware in places. Little Stump by Ginette Lapalme examined the utility of prayer vis-à-vis Huxley pastels and the power of internal vs. external solutions. The layouts felt vastly different and experimental, which was very welcome. Return To The Moon! by Steve Wilson was another winner, cataloguing imaginative mutated creatures from moon landings. The art style reminded of the pointed precision of Kevin O’Neill. Curious by Oskars Pavlovskis is another contender for single favorite piece in the project. It’s about a surprising Mars mission with a thick and rich painted style. In short, I could use an entire book in this aesthetic style from this creator. Note to Kus!: please publish one!

Jules Karnibal N. 2 by Irkus M. Zeberio delved into an inevitable retreat into virtual reality. The art was a dizzying immersion into a possible future that I hope isn’t a likely one. UPDATE-25034FGGSX by Leo Quievreux chronicled a surreal decline of civilization and the cold rise of automation. Around The Galaxy In 8 Days by Ernests Klavins was a fun tale of the titular attempt to circumnavigate the galaxy in 8 days using nothing but public transportation. Along the way, our eclectic heroes hop prison ships and encounter A.I. that’s subjugated humans. OK? Y/N by John Martz felt like a self-contained Spy Vs. Spy style story with no dialogue that charters the robot afterlife. Baroque by Kuba Woynarowksi used bold iconic imagery and panel transitions that slowly pull out to reveal a familiar monument in a post-apocalyptic world. It was powerful and startling once you realize what you’re looking at. Animals by Melissa Mendes was a great quest story about kids dreaming of long lost animals, and I could definitely envision Mendes crafting some successful children’s books in this style. This is another one of those creators I’d like to see stand-alone feature length work from. Future 3.0 by Anja Wicki wraps things up with a clean visual about literally making this book, which can also be read as making your own future.

From that last piece, I took away the key message that Kus! is making the types of books they’d like to see in the world and becoming that precious agent of change. That’s a terrific way to begin winding down this review, summarizing the accomplishments and collection of raw talent showcased in this book. s! #12 is one of the rare anthologies that is able to maintain a consistent level of quality and I highly recommend checking it out if you’re drawn to the theme or any number of the creators contained within. This also signals some type of quantitative scoring rubric. As is my usual practice, I awarded letter grades to each entry. Out of 30 total entries, I found 15 Grade A’s, 14 Grade B’s, and 1 Grade C. The plus and minus marks essentially cancelled each other out and were a perfect wash. Statistically, this equates to something like an 87% achievement. Even when I throw in an additional point or two for overall production values, we’re still in the collective neighborhood of a very strong Grade B+.


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