Sufficient Lucidity by Tommi Parrish (Mini Kus! #91)

Parrish's use of long languid figures that fully inhabit the panels is just gorgeous. The figures are then placed in very confidently rendered architectural spaces, with the hardscapes and landscapes being neatly arranged with light-sourcing expertly controlled by the artist. Sufficient Lucidity seems initially concerned with the concept of possession in the modern world as an individual attempts to reclaim their cat from former roommates, but it really transcends to become about the strain of failing relationships in a more general sense. We quickly learn that repairing such interpersonal dynamics has to start with an examination of self. Parrish also injects the work with other tensions, such as the differences between communal urban living and rural tranquility ("...stranded in the woods with all these guitar boys and straight people."). It builds to the understanding that by providing contrast between what we're accustomed to, and new surroundings with an altered context, we can achieve these lucid moments of honesty that clarify our own feelings and allow us a platform from which we can successfully engage with others. 


s! #39 (The End)

Baltic Comics Magazine s! #39 is an anthology loosely compiled around the theme of The End, featuring work from Argentina, Brazil, Canada, and the US, to Portugal, Finland, Israel, and Mozambique. As usual, it's a delightful sampling of tried-and-true indie voices and up-and-coming artists basking in the enhanced spotlight. For me, the standout pieces include File History by Heikki Ronkko and the eternal nature of a pyramid standing through various eras of time, The Couple by Janne Marie Dauer which chronicles a Twilight Zone style episode involving a blissfully adrift couple stumbling upon a future version of themselves that manages to be both sweet and chilling. Dauer's use of color pops in the foreground, while using muted colors in the background that provide a somber undercurrent. Italy's Marco Quadri contributes Blind Side, which underscores the notion of not rushing or forcing issues to their conclusion - which can be counterproductive, and letting things unfold naturally. I very much enjoyed Christopher Sperandio's The Motherfucking End, which highlights the ludicrous nature of deposed President Trump's public statements, by juxtaposing actual nonsensical quotes from him with a bumbling seemingly innocent Dennis The Menace-like Sunday newspaper cartoon strip aesthetic. Iris Yan's Ashes to Ashes uses a stark black and white style to examine the end of life proceedings of different cultures and how formal systems and customs process the dead both literally and figuratively. A Bedtime Story by Hans Nissen is an excellent piece that frames a discussion on the nature of death between a father and young daughter, and how we can perceive the passage of time slipping away. The notion of diminishing returns and joyful experiences being diluted really resonates. I adored The End by Katharina Kulenkampff, which is a series of single-panel-page vignettes that uses textured patterns to capture a range of existentialism, from the apocalyptic, to the apocryphal, to the celebratory. Overall, the pieces contained within s! #39 settle on the idea of "The End" being about cyclical renewal, with beginnings building toward endings, and endings signaling new beginnings. Life and Death do not exist without the other, and revolve around the idea of recurrence. Nicole Zaridze's excellent piece Doomsday says as much, showcasing the balance of an eye-popping sun, bathed in warm oranges and yellows, and a shadowed melancholy moon as counterpart, whose fates are forever intertwined.


Banal Complications by Marc Bell (Mini Kus! #90)

Banal Complications is a dense read, and I don't mean that in a pejorative sense. There's a lot of content and entertainment value for the $. Chop Salad is an artist who begins a journey to NYC to reclaim some 50 of his art pieces from solo shows, which appear to be out of favor. Banal Complications is also exactly what the title implies, a tale chronicling the convoluted management of works, from sales to donations, loans, bartering, and reframing all across North America. Bell uses blocks of free-floating text with spot illustrations to also highlight difficulties with living arrangements, spaces, taxable income, and the endless myriad of tasks that talent must contend with and juggle in The Life of an Artist. Bell also shows some of the sample works of art, which adds to the overwhelming volume of mind-numbing details and bizarre nonsensical guidelines emanating from galleries, landlords, and the government. Once you surrender to the chaos magic of the information being shoveled at you and exactly how the sausage is made once you glimpse behind the scenes, Banal Complications enjoyably sells it points. 


Egle and the Snake by Joana Estrela (Mini Kus! #89)

Estrela presents the story with very bold artistic choices, using minimalist imagery that suggests forms, shapes, and actions with the fewest lines and most restrained infusion of color possible. Inspired by Lithuanian folklore, Egle and the Snake is a sharp reminder that life rarely goes according to plan. Egle's chance encounter with the titular Snake asks to what degree we should be open to these new unplanned experiences, and to what degree we should be guarded in the modern world against temptation and those who would seek to take advantage of us. The Snake appears affable and genuine at first, slowly ingratiating himself to Egle, and it becomes a slippery slope of impending trouble. Joana Estrela's work starkly encourages us to find this balance in life, between being open and not stifling ourselves from new experiences, but to develop a kind of situational awareness for the dangers which may lay in wait. 


Crime at Babel by Martins Zutis (Mini Kus! #88)

Zutis smartly employs a vertical orientation to the layouts that bleeds off the page. "Babel" is aptly named considering the artist's fascination with language and meaning and the tower-like structures being played with, be them houses, libraries, or even arrangements in Mother Nature. I enjoyed the abstract representation of the books in particular, where a simple off-kilter line of color is meant to represent a leaning book, in succession with its shelved neighbors. The characters communicate in pictograph emoji-speak, as a mystery unfolds regarding a missing book. Crime at Babel rewards close reading, wherein subtle background clues dance around the page. It forces readers to pay attention to small details to grasp the narrative. Zutis understands that meaning, whether verbalizations or the pictures that represent them, are all just imprecise symbols that approximate and attempt to translate what we're actually thinking and feeling. 


Violent Delights by Hetamoe (Mini Kus! #87)

Violent Delights features haunting shades of death, from anime, to animals in the natural world, to skeletal otherworldly visages floating and then receding into decay. Inspired in part by a sort of stream of consciousness Romeo & Juliet, this is a powerful examination of our fascination with violence, and how it pervades all aspects of culture, popular or otherwise. The splotches of watercolor or ink washes are dashed across the figures on the page, a perfect complement to the sensual and erotic nature of the figures, and the dangerous ideas laid on top of them. It's an intoxicating combination that has a wide ranging impact, from love springing forth eternally to a planet torn asunder, as the Alphas and Omegas of existence. Hetamoe gives Mercutio his due, which is arguably the bard's best creation, for his ability to see the context of the situation he's in and cast aspersions on both of the proverbial houses, even if he's aligned with one. As some of the text suggests, it's easier to imagine the end of the world than the end of capitalism. "O Happy Dagger!" This is one of the very best comics I've read in a long while.


Hero by Harukichi (Mini Kus! #85)

DJ Cat Gosshie is an honest cat with options for every occasion. Gosshie spins the perfect selections for the business man, commuters stuck in traffic, and even a bawling baby. But, the solutions don't stop there; Gosshie is something of a fixer. Gosshie is affable and sly, allowing entry into multiple situations, as the DJ seems to roam the countryside like a Sonic Robin Hood, not only plying music to quell disturbances, but doing benevolent deeds to right wrongs, even physical feats that feature physical prowess, or literal cutting-edge records. Harukichi uses extremely consistent thin-line cross-hatching and stippling, which are not only very satisfying to the eye, but also seem to emphasize the subtle things in life sitting in the background, the ones we don't typically notice, like DJ Cat Gosshie, who act as quiet forces keeping the fabric of society together. 


The Book Fight by Chihoi (Mini Kus! #84)

If most books are about ideas, this one contains ideas about books. For Americans who grew up on the seminal Saturday morning cartoon short "I'm Just A Bill," there's something vaguely familiar about the superficially funny, flat monochromatic stylings that Chihoi uses to impart important messages. This subversive version sees physical manifestations of different book forms clashing and debating their individual merits. There's the accessibility of the DIY zine, bombastic cape comics, pretentious photography books, showy pop-ups, and even self-referential mini-comics join the fray in an effort to display their versatility. While The Book Fight is at times humorous ("Halt this shit of bull!"), the larger message lands squarely, all the book forms are indeed under the general umbrella of Art, and when we get caught up in petty squabbles and infighting, we typically fail to see the larger picture and miss the larger context, evidenced by the meta last page reveal.