From Latvia comes kuš! komiksi. A beautiful english publication about comics started by David Schilter. Every issue presents international artists with an emphasis on the Latvian comic scene. Now with 17 issues behind its back, kuš! organizes exhibitions, workshops, comics jams and other events.
Baron: Can you tell about us, about kuš!?
David Schilter: In 2006 I moved from Switzerland to Latvia and, as a lifelong comic book reader, I was surprised not to find any in Latvia. Not even translations of foreign material. So, together with Latvians, we decided to change that and introduce comics to Latvia, hoping to get locals to discover the medium and start creating comics on their own. In the first issue, the only Latvian contribution was the cover painting by Anete Melece. However, we managed to motivate the local artists to contribute their own stories. In the first year, we published six issues of kuš! in Latvian, but then the monopoly distributor didn’t want to carry them anymore. We were already closing the magazine when we found some money and started to publish the smaller kuš! magazine in English and slowly spread them to shops around the world. Our core mission is still to publish and promote Latvian artists, but the magazine now also serves as a platform for experimentation and the worldwide talent of the alternative comics’ scene.
B.: How does that translate to an editorial policy?
D. S.: It’s not so easy to put in words. Pick one of magazines and see for yourself. In general, we’re interested in a lot of alternative comics. We enjoy comics with a certain edge to them, with experimental approaches in the art of storytelling. The best comics usually are loved and hated equally by different readers. Since Latvia has no comics tradition, it is a fertile ground for experimentation, as the artists don’t care about any conventions and basically develop their comic language from scratch.
Here’s our statement from our website:
“Founded in Riga, in 2007, kuš! (pronounced koosh) is the only Latvian comics anthology. Every issue contains comics from both international and Latvian artists, bound together by a certain theme that changes with every new issue. kuš! tries to popularize comics in a country where this medium is practically non-existent, spreading Latvian comics abroad at the same time. kuš! doesn’t only publish comics on paper, but also organizes exhibitions, workshops, comics jams and other comics related events besides travelling to international festivals to spread the Latvian comics fever.”
Giving this a bit more of a personal touch, I can tell that kuš! is basically just me and Sanita Muižniece, who are the art directors of the whole project. We organize everything from our apartment in the suburbs of Riga. We are not artists, but we often involve the local talent in our activities, but they should focus on their art, while we take care of everything that’s going on behind the scene.
B.: Why choose print? What kind of paper do you use and why?
D. S.: I think we’ve never thought that we should discuss whether kuš! should be printed or digital. It was clear from the beginning – we just love real books. Our home library is consistently growing out of our bookshelf whereas the digital books we have can be counted on the fingers of one hand. While everything nowadays is quickly consumed on the Internet and people spend their days in front of a screen (we’re no exception), it’s just nice to sit back and open a book.
Comics printed in a tactile book give a complete different feeling. The physicality of holding the book and turning pages add to the reading experience. We believe the comics we produce look just so much better in print than on screen, and they deserve to be printed on excellent paper. We use Munken Print Cream, it’s an uncoated, rough, slightly creamy yellowish paper, that we believe adds another “dimension” to the comics; and it’s also supposed to be environmentally friendly. kuš! is offset printed locally in Riga. We enjoy minimal design. The comics contain enough information, so the book itself should be as carefully designed as possible.
Monika Grūzīte is precisely in charge of designing the magazines, as you can see on her website: moonika.net. She is wild about typography. The kuš! logo is the responsibility of Zigmunds Lapsa zigmundslapsa.com. We’re very lucky to work with these excellent designers since comics and also graphic design is still slightly underdeveloped here.
B.: What has been the readers’ response?
D.S.: Sanita says, “Everyone likes it, nobody buys it”. I am glad it’s not entirely true, but, at least for Latvia, it is quite accurate. Our events usually are very well attended, if we manage to do the promotion in time and people do seem to enjoy what we produce. Thanks to our rather artistic approach to comics, we also manage to cooperate on different projects with national art institutions such as the Latvian Centre for Contemporary Art, the Latvian Art Academy and even the Latvian National Museum of Art. Quite regularly we also get funding to help cover some part of the printing costs by the Latvian State Culture Capital Foundation. So in the local art scene, we seem to be accepted as curiosum. Most of our sales are done abroad now, though. We ship directly to shops worldwide. The most important breakthrough we probably had, thanks to John Porcellino, who started to distribute kuš! already in 2009, brought the magazine to the attention of many North-American cartoonists and readers. Internationally, the response has been quite exciting and it is very motivating if people abroad start talking about a “new wave of comics from Latvia”. Just last month, we noticed that someone even showed his love for kuš! on her OkCupid profile. This must be the best compliment ever.
B.: Good print mags get a lot of love, but this isn’t always reflected in sales or advertising. How are your sales? What is your advertising philosophy?
D.S.: Oh, we’re very bad when it comes to business… We print about 1500 copies of each book, and sometimes we even sell all of them. It’s hard work to distribute the books, as we do all by ourselves. Now about 30 shops around the world carry kuš! and most of them seem to have no troubles selling them, but it’s always very difficult to find more shops. We do our own advertisement through Tumblr, Facebook and our blog. We also visit a lot of comics festivals, where we directly sell books to old and new readers. It is maybe the most interesting form of advertisement. kuš! itself is basically free of advertisement. The last one we had was three years ago. We don’t really like the look of advertisements, so all the ads we have are designed by our own artists, so it blends right into the magazine.
B.: Any upcoming projects?
D. S.:There are a few. We’re currently planning the release of eight new mini kuš! (little 24 pages books of stories, each by a single artist) and we’re already working on the three upcoming issues of the kuš! anthology, the next one, titled “Sweet Romance”, is coming out real soon. We still have the Argentinean artist Berliac here as comic artist in residence, he did an exhibition and a comics workshop this month. We’re part of a Northern European comics residency project (CUNE) and we plan to continue it next year to have at least two residencies in Riga per year. We’re also involved in a European project called Comix4Equality, its aim is to fight racism and to promote the work of European artists with migrant background. We’re responsible for showing the exhibitions at different festivals around Europe. In May we’ll also cross the ocean for the first time to visit the Toronto Comic Arts Festival (TCAF). We’ll be showing our ongoing exhibition of tiny matchbox-sized drawings: The Last Match. In July, we’re planning a creative comics camp in the Latvian countryside and in September we’ll have a comics poetry show at
the Latvian Poetry Days festival. So that will keep us busy for the next few months…