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Wednesday is New Comics Day

Marvel
Marvel

Every Wednesday, I'll be highlighting the five most exciting comic releases of the week. The list may include comic books, graphic novels, digital comics, and webcomics. I'll even highlight some Kickstarter comics projects on occasion. There's more variety and availability in comics than there has ever been, and I hope to point out just some of the cool stuff that's out there. If there's a release you're excited about, let's talk about it in the comments.

1. X-Men #1

Written by Brian Wood, art by Olivier Coipel
Marvel

About 6 months after Marvel relaunched (but not quite rebooted) all of their major titles, the long-awaited first issue of Brian Wood's X-Men is here. There are no shortage of X-men comics out there, but what makes this one different is that Marvel and Wood have chosen to put together an all-female team of mutants. With another writer in charge this might have had the stink of T&A gimmickery, but Wood's track record of writing strong, progressive women makes him one of the best choices to write this comic. Plus, he's been putting out top-selling work recently for Dark Horse Comics on licensed properties like Conan and Star Wars, which makes this a good time in his career to be put in charge of one of Marvel's most high profile books.

This X-team will be led by Storm, once again sporting her tough, '80s mohawk. She'll be joined by Kitty Pryde, Rogue, Jubilee, Psylocke and Rachel Grey. Fan favorite artist Olivier Coipel will be on board for the first four issues until a new art team takes over. Wood, in interviews, has promised lots of sci-fi action, Sentinels, an orphaned baby, an apocalyptic threat, and a challenge to the double standards of how comic book heroes and heroines' sex lives are portrayed.

2. In The Kitchen With Alain Passard: Inside the World (and Mind) of a Master Chef

By Christophe Blain
Chronicle Books

You may not know it, but culinary comics are actually a thing. Comics about chefs and cooking have their own category in Japanese manga, cartoonist Lucy Knisley has done a couple of books about her love of food, and now, available for the first time in English, cartoonist Christophe Blain has written and illustrated the first graphic novel about the life and work of a master chef.

Over the course of three years, Blain shadowed celebrated French chef Alain Passard, giving us a peek into his everyday life and cooking philosophy. Passard caused a stir in 2001 when he decided to no longer serve meat and instead only vegetables grown organically from his own garden at his renowned, three star Paris restaurant, L'Arpége. Blain shows how Passard grows and picks vegetables from his garden and then prepares them in the kitchen. And yes, there are many illustrated recipes included.

3. The Wake

Written by Scott Snyder, art by Sean Gordon Murphy
DC Vertigo

The Wake is a new 10 issue limited series set in a post-apocalpytic future where a marine biologist named Lee Archer is brought to the Arctic by Homeland Security for help in dealing with a shocking underwater discovery.

Both writer Scott Snyder and artist Sean Gordon Murphy are relative newcomers that have first made their mark via DC's Vertigo imprint. Snyder, who is now the writer for DC's flagship Batman title, got his big break writing Vertigo's highly acclaimed, bestselling American Vampire series. Murphy came to most readers' attention with the Grant Morrison written mini-series Joe The Barbarian and more recently with Punk Rock Jesus, a mini-series he both wrote and drew about a rebellious clone of Jesus Christ.

These days, Vertigo seems like it has become less the home of great, long-running original epics like Preacher, Y: The Last Man and Scalped and more a safe place for short-run creative projects by DC loyalists like Snyder and Jeff Lemire, who has a new mini-series launching this year as well.

4. A Squeak from the Void

By Mimi Pond
Webcomic here

Mimi Pond has been a cartoonist and illustrator for over 30 years. She is also a screenwriter who has written for a number of television shows, most notably she wrote the first full-length episode of The Simpsons. This is her first webcomic, which she posted to her Typepad blog last week (yes, I too was surprised that there are still Typepad blogs out there). It's a quick read—it will take you all of 5 minutes—but it might stick with you a bit.

It starts out unassumingly enough as Mimi, her teenage daughter, and a couple of cartoonist friends decide to take a drive out to see a "hamster Show" whatever that might be. In the end it invokes some reflection on our culture of snark and irony and how it can unfairly victimize those who are sincerely devoted to a subject the rest of us just don't get. Give it a read.

5. Thor God of Thunder Vol. 1: The God Butcher

Written by Jason Aaron, art by Esad Ribic and Dean White
Marvel

While Brian Wood's X-Men may just be starting this week, a lot of the Marvel NOW books have reached the 6 month period where they get collected into hardcover format. One of the best comics of that first wave of relaunches is Jason Aaron and Esad Ribic's Thor: God of Thunder. Aaron takes the novel approach of telling a story that spans three eras of Thor's very long lifetime as a creature referred to as the "God Butcher" pops up repeatedly, bringing with it the threat of extinction to gods of all kinds. In the age of vikings, we see Thor as a young, brash and hedonistic warrior. In the present we see Thor as the spacefaring Avenger and noble hero. And in the distant future, we see old, bearded, one-eyed Thor as the last living Asgardian, holding back the god-killing demons that are scratching at the walls of his kingdom.

Ribic's artwork, aided by Dean White's pastel-rich colors, is breathtaking with its epic sense of scale. This is possibly the most exciting Thor has been in comics since Walt Simonson reinvigorated and redefined the character back in the 1980s.

MEANWHILE, IN COMICS NEWS THIS PAST WEEK:

- Did you hear about the guy who found a copy of Action Comics #1 inside the wall of a house he was fixing up?

- Blue is the Warmest Color became the first film based on a graphic novel (Julie Maroh's Le Bleu set Une Couleur Chaude) to win the Palme d'Or at Cannes.

- The Reuben Awards were held on May 25 to honor outstanding cartoonists working in areas of the field such as television animation, newspaper comic strips, greeting cards, comics, webcomics and more. Brian Crane of Pickles and Rick Kirkman of Baby Blues shared the award for Cartoonist of the Year.

- Long running and much revered comics and illustration blog, Drawn!, shut down after 8 years of many great contributors showcasing art and artist discoveries from across the web. Founder John Martz explains that the time has passed for blogs of the content curation type in an age where said content is already spreading rapidly via Twitter and Tumblr. It's a sad but familiar theme in the blog world these days but I'm not convinced that blogs like that no longer have their place.

- And finally, there's a Kickstarter for a new coffee-table book about comics great Jack Kirby that is being organized by his son, Jeremy. It's already well beyond its goal but it's not too late to contribute.

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The Truth Is In Here: Unlocking Mysteries of the Unknown
chartaediania, eBay
chartaediania, eBay

In the pre-internet Stone Age of the 20th century, knowledge-seekers had only a few options when they had a burning question that needed to be answered. They could head to their local library, ask a smarter relative, or embrace the sales pitch of Time-Life Books, the book publishing arm of Time Inc. that marketed massive, multi-volume subscription series on a variety of topics. There were books on home repair, World War II, the Old West, and others—an analog Wikipedia that charged a monthly fee to keep the information flowing.

Most of these were successful, though none seemed to capture the public’s attention quite like the 1987 debut of Mysteries of the Unknown, a series of slim volumes that promised to explore and expose sensational topics like alien encounters, crop circles, psychics, and near-death experiences.

While the books themselves were well-researched and often stopped short of confirming the existence of probing extraterrestrials, what really cemented their moment in popular culture was a series of television commercials that looked and felt like Mulder and Scully could drop in at any moment.

Airing in the late 1980s, the spots drew on cryptic teases and moody visuals to sell consumers on the idea that they, too, could come to understand some of life's great mysteries, thanks to rigorous investigation into paranormal phenomena by Time-Life’s crack team of researchers. Often, one actor would express skepticism (“Aliens? Come on!”) while another would implore them to “Read the book!” Inside the volumes were scrupulously-detailed entries about everything from the Bermuda Triangle to Egyptian gods.

Inside a volume of 'Mysteries of the Unknown'
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Mysteries of the Unknown grew out of an earlier Time-Life series titled The Enchanted World that detailed some of the fanciful creatures of folklore: elves, fairies, and witches. Memorably pitched on TV by Vincent Price, The Enchanted World was a departure from the publisher’s more conventional volumes on faucet repair, and successful enough that the product team decided to pursue a follow-up.

At first, Mysteries of the Unknown seemed to be a non-starter. Then, according to a 2015 Atlas Obscura interview with former Time-Life product manager Tom Corry, a global meditation event dubbed the "Harmonic Convergence" took place in August 1987 in conjunction with an alleged Mayan prophecy of planetary alignment. The Convergence ignited huge interest in New Age concepts that couldn’t be easily explained by science. Calls flooded Time-Life’s phone operators, and Mysteries of the Unknown became one of the company’s biggest hits.

"The orders are at least double and the profits are twice that of the next most successful series,'' Corry told The New York Times in 1988.

Time-Life shipped 700,000 copies of the first volume in a planned 20-book series that eventually grew to 33 volumes. The ads segued from onscreen skeptics to directly challenging the viewer ("How would you explain this?") to confront alien abductions and premonitions.

Mysteries of the Unknown held on through 1991, at which point both sales and topics had been exhausted. Time-Life remained in the book business through 2003, when it was sold to Ripplewood Holdings and ZelnickMedia and began to focus exclusively on DVD and CD sales.

Thanks to cable and streaming programming, anyone interested in cryptic phenomena can now fire up Ancient Aliens. But for a generation of people who were intrigued by the late-night ads and methodically added the volumes to their bookshelves, Mysteries of the Unknown was the best way to try and explain the unexplainable.

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Trash Collectors in Turkey Use Abandoned Books to Build a Free Library
Adem Altan, AFP/Getty Images
Adem Altan, AFP/Getty Images

A stack of books abandoned on the sidewalk can be a painful sight for bibliophiles. But in Ankara, Turkey, garbage collectors are using books left to be discarded to build a free library. As CNN reports, their library of salvaged literature is currently 6000 titles strong.

The collection grew gradually as sanitation workers began saving books they found on their routes, rather then hauling them away with the rest of the city’s trash. The books were set aside for employees and their families to borrow, but eventually news of their collection expanded beyond the sanitation department. Instead of leaving books on the curb, residents started donating their unwanted books directly to the cause. Soon the idea arose of opening a full library for the public to enjoy.

Man reading book at shelf.
Adem Altan, AFP/Getty Images

With support from the local government, the library opened in the Çankaya district of Ankara in September 2017. Located in an abandoned brick factory on the sanitation department’s property, it features literature for children, resources for scientists, and books for English and French speakers. The space also includes a lounge where visitors can read their books or play chess. The loan period for books lasts two weeks, but just like at a regular library, readers are given the option to renew their tomes.

People reading books in a library.
Adem Altan, AFP/Getty Images

The experiment has proven more successful than anyone anticipated: The library is so well-stocked that local schools, prisons, and educational programs can now borrow from its inventory. The Turkish sanitation workers deserve high praise, but discarded book-loving pioneers in other parts of the world should also get some recognition: For decades, José Alberto Gutiérrez has been using his job collecting garbage to build a similar library in Colombia.

[h/t CNN]

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