Thursday, 1 April 2010

Best of Baltic Comics Magazine š! Issues 2 & 3 (2009)

Joined at the hip: Issues 2 & 3 of š!

It's childish, but I'd be lying if I said that the old reversible book format didn't appeal to me. There's something about the Siamese twin of print media that brings back fond memories of the double-sided digest-sized comics found in petrol stations across the country whilst I was growing up. Fitting then, that one of the themes of the bumper double-edition of of š! is "childhood".

Containing issues 2 and 3, strangely, readers will be happy to find not two but three themes represented in its chunky stapled frame: the first solely focuses on the old Latvian tradition of "Budēļi" (more on that later) and the second is dubbed "The Childhood Issue", although it also has a supplemental motif of "matches". This anomaly was due to a mix-up between the editors and the contributors, and the matches concept was not intended for publication. Spookily, the match-themed strips all cross over into intended theme, regardless. No harm, no foul.

BALTIC COMICS MAGAZINE š! #2: Budēļi (January 2009)

Cover by Anete Melece

Issue 2 contains comics, art and writing on the dying Latvian mask tradition of Budēļi. Similar to Halloween Trick or Treating, Budēļi saw agricultural Latvians dressing in masks and costume, partying door-to-door, tormenting neighbors, all-the-while expecting to be fed by the victims of their pranks. In the words of editor Zane Zajančkauska, "depending on the quality of the meal and the sharpness of the hosts' reaction, the masked people would either praise their generosity and proficiency in housekeeping or... on the opposite - they would slander the hosts, threaten to burn the pubic hair of the hostess and pollute the well.". Yikes. As far as I can remember, nobody's ever threatened to burn anyone's pubic hair whilst trick or treating. Halloween is totally for cowards.

This very simple two page story dares to chronicle the life of Walt Disney's Dumbo before and after his big celluloid break. Like many Hollywood stars, Dumbo's story is about ascension and decline, and the  bullet-points accompanying the images of the elephant and his vanity mirror describe the passage of his career. Starting with "abusive childhood in circus" they move onwards to "fame & awards", before charting the elephantine actor's downwards spiral towards "depressing role in David Lynch's movie", "cocaine" and eventually "rehab".

Astute readers might ask how this cartoon connects to the theme of the Budēļi tradition. Well, let's just say that Dumbo must have access to Disney's costume department, and certainly believes in the old adage "if you can't beat them, join them".

Be You Being Me, Davi Calil (Klil)

Clearly going for the "most excessive use of colour" award is Be You Being Me by Brazillian Davi Calil. In actuality, the hyper-stylized illustration and frenetically-blended dynamic colour palette make this one the most visually striking contribution yet.  

In terms of narrative content, it's a little like Eyes Wide Shut, only set in a maternity ward. (Ok, this isn’t really the case, but there are a lot of masks and I desperately wanted to include that analogy.) In reality, this seven-page strip mixes together the classic post-natal hospital mix-up trope with the theme of self-identity. Anxious mask-wearing fathers-to-be pace back and forth outside the delivery room. Suddenly, the midwife appears, handing a pig-masked newborn to a bear-masked man. Needless to say, a fight breaks out between the confused recipient and a man in (you've guessed it) a pig-mask, leaving the midwife to intervene. 

Using the inherent contortions of his art-style to full effect, Calil creates a story that is funny and charming, and that also touches on more complex ideas of identity and societal hypocrisy. There's something that feels very traditional about it, and it didn't surprise me in the least to read that the creator works for the Brazilian edition of MAD Magazine. Without giving too much away, I can say that the ending is a very satisfying twist that sees a variation on the old "Solomon's Wisdom" archetype.

BALTIC COMICS MAGAZINE š! #3: The Childhood Issue (February 2009)

Beginning with the bold statement of "all our contributing artists once were kids", it's obvious from the outset that "The Childhood Issue" of the anthology has a sense of humor about it, which is just as well, given the previously-mentioned appearance of "match" themed comics within it. Whilst the majority of contributions in the issue are comedic in tone, a darker subtext lies behind several of them. My favourite one, however, was a simple gag strip:

Matches, Līga Koklače

Apparently, nobody ever told Līga Koklače not to play with matches, if this digitally-composed comic of hers is anything to go by. Or, perhaps they did, as the opening to Matches features a parental warning to nine young matchsticks, warning them against the dangers of striking themselves against the side of a matchbox. Undeterred by this danger, the wooden nonet head out into the world pretty much looking for trouble, finding (shock horror) the very thing they were warned against. Immediately falling in love with the six-sided siren, a fight breaks out, leaving only one match standing.

From that point on, the conclusion of the piece isn't hard to guess, but is none the less pleasing. Fortunately, it ties neatly into the intended theme of the issue by offering a harsh reminder of doomed-to-die first love. Okay, maybe it is a little dark, too.

From the indecipherable "It's Doodel Time" by Luca Schenardi

Despite the thematic confusion, š!'s double header is another engaging and varied selection of international creators. Notable mentions go to It's Doodel Time by Luca Schnardi (Switzerland), a collection of photo montages which (we imagine) represent a childhood love of doodling fantastic creatures; and Human Electronics by Aistè Mo (Lithuania), a black comedy featuring a cybernetic super-smart daughter who is resistant to the improper advances of men (spoiler: she has laser eyes!).

š! #2 and #3 are available now (along with all kinds of other good stuff) at the official kuš! webstore for either $5.00 or €3.50, depending on your preference. Please check back with us over the next couple of days to read our "best of" articles on issues 4-5.


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