Psst! Latvian Komiksi are having their say
David Schilter and Zane Zajančkauska,editors of kuš!
In the end of the 80s and beginning of the 90s, the main Latvian publishing house released three comic books, targeted to children and teenagers, seeking to build up national identity. Latvian artists were invited to draw comics, based on Latvian folk tails as well as other comics about famous venues in Riga and their history. Interestingly enough, these comics were published in 100’000 to 150’000 copies, which means that a large part of Latvian families owned one. The result is still visible today – when showing a copy of album to somebody, aged 20-30, you can observe their eyes starting to glare and they get nostalgic feelings.
Soon after, in the early 90s, the first Latvian comic magazine Klips was released. It made it to four issues, but didn’t attain the popularity of the books mentioned before. The contents of comics moved westward from folk to modern tales about space ships, aliens and superheroes. Still primarily aimed at young teenagers, they featured some alternative stories, created for an older audience.
Another important fact about the symbolic role of comics in the (sub)consciousness of the Latvian nation is that the sexual life of humans was for the first time explicitly explained in the form of comics. In the times when Latvia was still a part of the Soviet Union where “sex didn’t exist” the famous children’s magazine Zīlīte published a special issue in 1989, featuring a comic story (drawn by Māris Putniņš), explaining physical differences between boys and girls and how those differences later on enable them to have babies. In those times and in a country where such subjects were taboo, this step was considered revolutionary.
However, these brave steps were followed by a silence, apart from some cartoon strips printed in dailies - mainly translated (e.g. Garfield), but for a short period also local cartoonists’ work. Despite the silence in the comic scene, there has always existed quite a strong tradition of caricature in Latvia, maintained by a special caricature magazine since 1957.
A new era in the Latvian comic scene was marked when a Swiss came to Latvia. This comic freak (reader, not an author) found himself in a country where comics couldn’t be found at all. It’s no surprise that an idea was born to introduce Latvia to the comic culture and within it especially artistic and avant-garde comics. So in the summer of 2007 the comic magazine kuš! (psst! in Latvian) was born (www.komikss.lv). Unlike the Latvian comic publications from the past, the magazine’s audience are not children. It comes out every second month and publishes alternative foreign and Latvian comics, featuring a different theme with every new issue. Among the published authors well-known names arise such as Charles Burns, Dupuy&Berberian, Mawil, Thomas Ott, Anna Sommer, Olivier Schrauwen, Moki, Tommi Musturi, TeER and Jakob Klemencic. During the first year of kuš!, a real development could be seen in the Latvian scene and from one issue to the other, the magazine was publishing more quality work from Latvian artists.
Apart from publishing, the kuš! team organized other events aiming at fostering the comic culture: a bar exhibition of Swiss fanzine star König Lü. Q., an animation movie night, a workshop with German avant-garde comic artists Henning Wagenbreth and Markus Huber as well as several comic parties that brought together authors and readers. For 2009 a large comic exhibition is planned in Riga, featuring foreign and Latvian comic artists. Some of them have already been published abroad: Anete Melece in the German publication Plus Plus, Martiņš Miķelsons in the Swiss fanzine Hund, Katze, Wurst, Oskars Pavlovskis in the Finnish Kuti, Kaspars Groševs in the last Stripburger. The present issue (of Stripburger) features Anete Melece, Kaspars Groševs and Ingrīda Pičukāne. Alongside kuš! the project komiksi.lv was set up. It is a web-based project aiming to promote comics to the mainstream public. Now we have reason to say that the big silence in Latvian comic scene has been scared away with intense and regular actions. We know that Latvia might not become a new Belgium; nevertheless, there is an increasing number of works to take pride in!