26.1.2009. review: album 6/ joanne ruvoli

“anti-capitalism, anti-consumerism, anti-americanism…”

“reading the komikaze comics shows that european artists are still writing critically about the effects of war, poverty, sexual oppression, and corporate americanism.”
/ published by Packingtown review, volume 1, 2009:
/ PDF LINK: https://packingtownreview.files.wordpress.com/2018/06/ptr1.pdf
“last year a friend gave me a copy of komikaze: strip album #6. it’s a print compilation of a web-based comic collective, which includes comic writers and artists from croatia, serbia, macedonia, sweden, portugal, france, england and canada. the book has an alternative, self-taught, do-it-yourself vibe that presents a variety of styles, politics and stories. representing heavy doses of critique and violence, the komikaze collective declares itself part of the underground comics movement. more than any one story, i enjoy the mix of the compilation which features comics in mostly a combination of croatian and english. i found it very uneven, but full of interesting stories and strikingly expressionistic art. i find myself returning to the komikaze website every month or so to check out what new pieces they have posted. the comics feel very raw to me, and angry. i don’t always understand the politics or the language, but i enjoy the strange density of the art. while the compilation is printed in black and white, the website includes comics in color. although i haven’t found another compilation available at the comics shops i visit, the website indicates that they have produced 19 collections over the years. reading the komikaze comics shows that european artists are still writing critically about the effects of war, poverty, sexual oppression, and corporate americanism.”

review of Komikaze: Strip Album #6, 2007

Ehrlemark, Anna and Vančo Rebac, eds.Komikaze: Strip Album #6. 2007.
isbn: 1845-8041. <https://komikaze.hr>.

In a time when the comics of underground American sequential artists are being reprinted in expensive coffee table editions, it seems a little incongruous to be talking about transgressiveness of the comics underground. However, Komikaze has the spirited de ance and raw inconsistency that make underground comics compelling, provocative, and a little tedious. Number six in a series of compilations from the Web-based comics’ collective, Komikaze includes comic writers and artists from Croatia, Serbia, Makedonia, Sweden, Portugal, France, England, and Canada.

Komikaze is uneven but dif cult to put down. The artwork ranges from nely drawn to crudely simplistic but yet, as a whole, the anthology has a captivating energy. The pieces included in the collection are written in Croatian, English, or some combination of the two. Armed with only a Web-based language translator, the subtleties of the Croatian are lost, but the basics are comprehensible. Nearly all of the pieces exude the spirit of resis- tance and rebellion common to underground comics. The imagery is richly textured and expressive of the highly charged emotions and the violence plaguing so many parts of the globe. Shocking and bold, even on a visual level, the sharp black-and-white pages radically break conventional framing structures and show the rough hand-made edges that place comics as an offshoot of colloquial culture. Depicting war and violence, protests and rants, the tradition of underground comics as counter to dominant mainstream complacency is healthy and alive in this collective’s anthology.

Anti-capitalism, anti-consumerism, anti-Americanism, and ripple through this pub- lication and keep alive the underground comics’ tradition of overt political critique. Like the best of the underground writers, some of the work in Komikaze roots the critique in speci c contexts or on speci c facts. The sections that don’t situate the reader solidly produce a generalized alienation with dominant culture that doesn’t offer pointed politi- cal commentary. For classic underground examples, Harvey Pekar’s rants are effective because they are rooted in details about Cleveland. Diane DiMassa’s rampages against consumerism are powerful because of the packages of speci c products coming under the axe in the familiar grocery store aisle. Even Robert Crumb’s LSD inspired Mr. Natural walks through realistically detailed industrial wastelands that clog the background.

While a few of the pieces in Komikaze show these kinds of speci cs, many generalize their details to a attened badlands or dreamscape that creates the raw emotion of alien- ation, but without the bite of critique. Granted, the political environments of the countries in which some of these artists work may lend to the general, symbolic, or abstract quali- ties of the pieces rather than the direct address of the underground scene in the United States. Underground comics readers are happy to indulge in general fear and loathing, but also thrive with a little more explicit information to contemplate.

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The strongest pieces include the selections that experiment visually, depict physically and psychologically oppressive conditions. Nina Bunjevac’s tale of immigration and ex- ploitation, “Opportunity Presents Itself” uses just one frame per page with the gures traversing through darker and darker settings as the events turn increasingly ominous. Her detailed portraits convey the characters’ emotional and psychological states deftly with a brutal beauty that is matched by bleakness rendered in the deteriorated background details of scenes.

In “Big time tee pee,” Constantin Benjamin creates an apocalyptic landscape in car- toon style, littered with bits of skeletons, cacti, rubble, and dead vegetation. The alien- like gure moves across the killing elds in a hovering scooter and tries to identify what happened by examining the bones. With increasing distress, the gure reads the bones with varying degrees of con dence, exclaiming at one point, “oooh. died along side all her l’il babies” and “i have not a clue what that there was” at another. The cartoonish style clashes with the intensity of grief at the end as the gure stumbles upon the skull that it knows. After the detachment of viewing the devastation while oating on the hovering scooter, Benjamin’s nal frame depicts the gure grounded and crying over skull that visually looks the same as the others.

Several of the pieces are poetically understated representations of emotional states. Dunja Jankovic’s “Glave” uses repetition, collage, and texture to show a head experienc- ing panic. Staying in bed on a rainy day is captured in “The Mold Spots” but in Nicoz Balboa’s hands, the rain triggers not a clichéd calm but an anxious obsession with mold that could crumble the narrator’s house. Knife-wielding, hooded, masked gures threaten “existence” in Wostok and Curtis’ “Shadowplay” which becomes a visual metaphor for the dangers all around. The unveiling reveals a lack of anything underneath the mask. The caption below the headless gure warns “The present is well out of hand.”

Anna Ehrlemark’s “Very Scientic Article about the Dicks in South-East-European Underground Comics” stands out in the collection as a send up of comics themselves. Ehrlemark uses mock analysis that cuts deeply to a pointed problem in underground comics: there are too many appearances of the penis. Transforming clichés from pop culture, she discusses the assumption that artistic freedom equals the ability to draw the male sex organ; a blissed-out gure sits under the caption “Free your mind and the cocks will follow!” Ehrlemark bravely broaches the serious accusation that comics are done by individuals who have little training in “style” and “estetics [sic]”—arguably one of the characteristics that makes comics as a genre open to both more participation and more criticism. The result of this discussion—too many penises: “In one such fanzine we counted 76 weaners [sic] in 45 pages!” In her hypothesis about why the male organ occurs so often, she uses iconic images in her crude drawings to blame the phallus-less Disney characters, Freud, Black Magic, and “the small Serbian town Vrsac.” The images and text merge in witty commentary, acknowledging that Ehrlemark’s drawings of the penis proliferate her pages, and are part of the problem.

Ehrlemark’s piece is a light-hearted treatment of a greater issue that is painfully evident in the Komikaze collection as a whole. Unlike Ehrlemark’s graphically humorous penal

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line-up, in underground comics, the penis is usually drawn in action. Violent action, more often then not. Popping up in scenes of physical exploitation, few escape assault, but of the men, women and children represented, statistically it is women who are most often raped, sometimes after being drugged or dismembered. Of the nearly thirty pieces collected in Komikaze, over third of them depict sexual violence against women who are situated in that unspeci ed dreamscape discussed at the beginning of this article. While this element of sexual violence is another characteristic that often appears in underground comics, the traditional justi cation that these representations transgress the sexual con- ventions of society wears thin in the year 2009. When writers include these representa- tions as part of a war landscape, the violence becomes part of the critique; without being tied to a stronger context, such as war or a society where repressed sexuality is shown to cause oppression, the depicted sexual violence can read as gratuitous self-indulgence.

Ultimately, Komikaze is an intriguing example of the current work being produced in underground comics. The experiments in form, style, and content show energy and raw enthusiasm that will make the writers of this collective interesting to watch in the future. Komikaze’s last selection ironically makes a statement about underground comics more generally. “Feeling Angry?” Andre Lemos’ image of a fragmented unshaven oating head asks on the last page. “Hmmm . . . I think I’m more like kind-of-bored.” The best of Komikaze will overcome the ambivalence and is worth a close reading.

Album Komikaze – strip album broj 6