One of the great delights of every four-issue batch of Latvian publisher kuš! comics’ mini kuš! range is you never know quite what you’re going to get from its series of eclectic, alt, and largely experimental one-shot stories. A good case in point is mini kuš! #105, Li’l Jormly, by Christopher Sperandio. An issue which combines the funny animal comics of another era with a Harvey Comics visual sensibility, and a good heaping of existential angst in its bleakly humourous pastiche.
After multiple capitalist-influenced armageddons (climate-based, atomic and artificial intelligence-induced) destroyed the world as we knew it, one-eyed mutant pig Li’l Jormly is desperate to find his lost family. In this post-apocalyptic world our anthropomorphised chum must traverse the toxic “wastie land” and avoid numerous perils like giant poisonous radioactive scorpions, monster-sized carnivorous worms, a hunter killer machine, fractures in space and time, and biological weapons. Only you the reader can help him in his quest to find his missing loved ones.
Li’l Jormly mixes comic strips and puzzle pages that the reader must find solutions to if Jormly’s journey is to continue. With a richly cynical wit we’re asked to engage with word games, mazes, dot-to-dot puzzles, mock board games and picture challenges to ensure our protagonist progresses to the end of the comic. All of these, as you can imagine, have a horrifically brutal element to them. The board game takes us on a trip through the gross innards of a giant dead worm, for example, while another poser asks us to name the eleven animals that make up a hideous nuclear mutated hybrid creature.
Sperandio’s combination of jauntily enticing classic cartooning and mimicking of old school printing effects ensures that the incongruity of cutely appealing animal characters moving through devastated, irradiated environments all the more unsettling for their deft contrast than any more realistic treatment would be. We’re desensitised to The Walking Dead-style worlds now after all. But seeing a cyclopean version of Porky Pig, all naive innocence and unlikely optimism, come a cropper as he faces horror after horror is ironically all the more disturbing for it being rooted in an unrealistic world of cartoon characters.
With the bleakest of finales and an unrelentingly doom-laden narrative Li’l Jormly is nonetheless one of the most darkly funny comics I have read in some time. One of my very favourite kuš! offerings to date and, for the alt comics reader yet to discover their catalogue, a perfect example of the self-contained, experimental practice they champion.
Christopher Sperandio (W/A) • kuš! comics, $7.95
Review by Andy Oliver