In our recent Broken Frontier Awards not only was digest series š! nominated for Best Ongoing Series but we also inducted kuš! comics publishing team David Schilter and Sanita Muižniece into our BF Hall of Fame for their services to our comics community in championing indie artists and bringing international creators to wider readerships. Only fitting then that we find time in the early(ish) part of 2020 to look at the latest issue of their signature title, which this time around is funded by the Australian governments arts funding council and features work from well over 20 Antipodean practitioners.
With this volume’s stories being linked by nationality rather than theme it means the contents are wider-ranging in subject matter than a customary edition of š!. Tommi Parrish’s ‘sepia-tinged, monochromatic ‘Sleep’ (below left) opens the proceedings with a story of a fractious mother-child relationship which signals the shifting power dynamics of their relationship not simply through their bickering interactions but also in their changing physical perspectives in relation to one another.
Eleri Mai Harris’s ‘Pursued by Soldiers’ (above right) brings past and present crashing together as Harris explores themes of vulnerability and pregnancy in contrast to the plight of 19th century Australian historical figure Mary Cockerill. Continuing with a slice-of-life theme, HTMLFlowers (who also contributes the cover) presents a story of a cynical, disruptive presence at a self-care group (below left) with the tight-panelled pages ramping up the sensation of awkwardness and tension as the meeting deteriorates.
Ben Juers gives us some of the experimental comics narrative that kuš!.have become renowned for showcasing in ‘Jobseekers’ (below right), a symbolic sort strip that borders on the abstract and underlines the perfunctory soullessness of the ritual of seeking employment. Leigh Rigozzo’s busy pages also play with our relationship with the page with symbolism and abstraction in an untitled tale that touches on themes of consumerism and exploitation.
Where strips do reflect geography they’re refreshingly diverse in approach. Sam Wallman’s ‘Pine Gap’, for example, is a succinct but excellent example of graphic journalism as Wallman uses the space provided for a damning critique of American foreign policy, centring on the Australian-situated Pine Gap satellite surveillance base. It’s a solid example of comics’ ability to communicate complex issues with brevity and create an instant rapport with the readership. As a complete change of pace, and emphasising the eclectic qualities of the issue, Simon Hanelmann’s Megg and Mogg characters go full-on Aussie stereotype in a bleakly funny and unsurprisingly dark piece (below right).
Indeed this is, as befits a kuš! anthology an impressively broad collection of styles and process. Marc Pearson’s ‘Boticelli Person’ brings existential rumination back to something far more pedestrian with a strangely profound punchline. And there’s a lesson to us all in Michael Fikaris’s ‘Message to a Younger Self’ (above left) that maps the wisdom of hindsight onto more representational imagery. Readers have the chance to discover their own narrative in Eve Cahir’s beautifully impressionistic pages and Emma Jensen provides sequential visual metaphor that is brief in page count but perfectly encapsulates a specific reactive moment.
Guest editor Michael Fikaris’s short essay on the project’s origins can’t really be described as a foreword given that it appears a few strips in but it does give context to the project and its aims. Those wanting to investigate the current Australian indie scene further are advised to check out š! #37 for a vibrant sampling of alt comics work from down under!
Ashley Ronning, Bailey Sharp, Ben Constantine, Ben Hutchings, Ben Juers, David Blumenstein, Eleri Mai Harris, Emma Jensen, Evie Cahir, Haein Kim, HTMLflowers, Kangaroo Lü. Q., Lee Lai, Leigh Rigozzi, Marc Pearson, Michael Fikaris, Michael Hawkins, Nicky Minus, Rachel Ang, Safdar Ahmed, Sam Wallman, Simon Hanselmann, Tim Danko, Tommi Parrish Guest Editor: Michael Fikaris
Review by Andy Oliver