Friday, 2 April 2010

Best of Baltic Comics Magazine š! Issue 4 (2009)

š! #5, probably just as decipherable as a London transport map for getting about. 

This week, we've been hard at work on our quest to review the first 5 issues of Latvian comics anthology š!. So far, we've seen talking sanitary towels, earthquakes, elephants, pig-masks and love "struck" matches. Intrigued? Read onwards to see just what new tricks the magazine's editors had up their sleeves as we review the fourth edition of this fantastic collection. 

BALTIC COMICS MAGAZINE š! #4: Lost in the City (August 2009)

Cover by Paul Paetzel

Outside of Paul Paetzel's striking wrap-around cover art, the first thing that a reader will notice about š! #4 is how much weightier it feels. Featuring a marked improvement in binding, the issue comes in at 84 pages long, looking more like a miniature graphic novel than a simple magazine. Happily, the contents more than match the quality of its production, making, in my opinion, the most enjoyable issue yet.

The theme this time is "Lost in the City", with no less than 17 comic creators contributing stories that feature everything from flashlight flowers to giant woodwind-playing dogs.

Rudolf: Rising & ShrinkingPaul Paetzel


Cover artist Paul Paetzel’s titular character, Rudolf, is a man who knows how to beat depression: by putting on his sneakers and jogging at night. As the lamps along the pavement broadcast Rudolf’s giant shadow across the city’s buildings, the reader is treated to a pictorial representation of the confidence this gives him. Gigantic and powerful, Rudolf lifts cars and “does what he wants without thinking too much”. This feeling never lasts though, and he figuratively returns to his normal size and mood, or unfortunately, sometimes smaller.

Ostensibly about Rudolf’s coping mechanism, the subtext of the piece seems to be a statement on unattainable autonomy within an industrialised environment. Rudolf feels, unfortunately, like many people in a big city, another insignificant small creature amongst the pigeons.

The Flower, Rokudai Tanaka


When I started reading The Flower, I was concerned that it was going to be a little too cute and whimsical to bear. Whilst there might be an element of cuteness to Japanese creator Rokudai Tanaka's wordless tale of  a girl searching for her kidnapped love, it's just understated enough to help create a genuinely fulfilling six-page wordless narrative. Well and truly subverting the reader's expectations in it's closing panels, it's needless to say that the comic had won a fan by its finish.

Dog Evening, Keisei Kanamachi


Onomatopoeia is central to this left-field comic that centers around a little girl's walk through the city. All manner of noises fill the environment around the tiny traveler as she makes her way through the oppressive urban sector. As she moves closer towards a secret, altogether more magical, part of town, the sounds gradually become more organic. Soon, it becomes clear that she isn't alone: following along in her wake are a modest army of small black dogs.

More of a vignette than an actual story, it's nonetheless the piece that I've found myself revisiting most on subsequent reads of š! 1-5. Every panel is full of small details, and there always seems to be something new to look at. If you're really eagle-eyed, you might just spot a man with the most bodacious moustache in the history of sequential art. Kanamachi's work has been featured in the highly-regarded AX and she has at least one children's book out; I'll definitely be hunting down more of her work in the near future. 

Lost in the City, Laï Tat Tat Wing


Yet another wordless comic! Anyone would think that cities are quiet places. This one has got to be one of my absolute favourites from the whole collection, with it demonstrating all the things the traditional comic form is capable of. Time, space, narrative and theme are expertly blended to create a postmodern tale of a feudal Chinese horseman who encounters a Shih Tzu. Evading the horseman's best efforts to hunt him/her, the dog   somehow leads the human into the 21st century. Finding a copy of the very same issue of š! the reader has in their hands, the horseman finds out that his story is meant to conclude with him being decapitated for heretical talk of this futuristic world to his royal superior.

Although it is worth seeing just for the magnificent way that the Hong Kong-based creator transitions the old world with the new, the part I enjoyed most was the punch line that not only manages to create a satisfying conclusion but also subverts the theme of š! #4 altogether.

Agent Schumacher - Chameleon City

Notable mentions from the issue include the ever-present The Cat, Léo Quievreux's (France) positively narcotic Agent Schumacher -Chameleon City and the Lamelos Collective's (Netherlands) giant-monster themed Kayeko. Loyal readers should all know my feelings on giant monsters by now.

š! #4 is available now (along with all kinds of other good stuff) at the official kuš! webstore for either $6.00 or €4.50, depending on your preference. Please check back with us this weekend to read our final (for now) "best of" article on issue 5.


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