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AdHouse Books

Wednesday is New Comics Day

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AdHouse Books

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. Supermag

By Jim Rugg
AdHouse Books

Jim Rugg is a prolific comics experimenter; he seems to always be poking around and trying new things. Whether it's putting together a zine for the hell of it, pushing the boundaries of what is possible with a ballpoint pen, or making a 32 page black and white sequel to the Rambo films, Rugg's next move is always surprising and never not interesting.

This week, the design-friendly publisher AdHouse Books puts out a magazine format collection of some of Rugg's recent experimentations: beautifully rendered drawings, hilarious humor strips, writings, explorations in typography, and comics drawn in a variety of styles. Rugg seeks to combine his love of both the magazine and comic book formats here, and the result is something akin to a one-man anthology. This will be a must-have for Rugg fans and a good introduction to his work for those who might be curious about him.

2. Astro City #1

Written by Kurt Busiek, art by Brent Anderson, covers by Alex Ross
DC Vertigo

Kurt Busiek and Brent Anderson's much loved Astro City series was one of those books that brought back hope to a creatively and financially bankrupt comics industry when it debuted in the mid-90s. Busiek is an unabashed fan of the great "Silver Age" of comics in which superheroes were sincere symbols of truth and justice, wielding out-of-this-world (and bordering on silly) powers. With this book, he and Anderson sought to tell modern and sophisticated stories within this Silver Age motif. Anderson's artwork (not to mention Alex Ross' painted covers) has a realist bent to it that grounds these stories somewhere between the real and the fantastic.

Astro City has been on hiatus for a number of years and since that time has now moved under DC's Vertigo imprint where it debuts with a new #1 issue. It will tell "done-in-one" single issue stories that will introduce some new characters and re-introduce many that are familiar to fans of the book. The overall story has been moving in real time and 17 years have now passed within the book since these characters were first introduced. Now, in this first issue, we get to check back in with Ben Pullam, a non-superpowered character, and his now grown up children, and see how the passage of time has changed them.

3. Solo Deluxe

Various
DC Comics

The long-awaited hardcover collection of DC Comics' creatively-driven 12-issue anthology series, Solo, which originally ran from 2004 to 2006, is finally hitting bookstores and comics shops this week. This book represented something you don't see often enough in comics published by DC and Marvel: A-list creators at the top of their game being given free rein to do whatever they want with the company's vast library of characters. Each issue was devoted to a single artist and contained numerous short stories from each. There were some amazing contributions: Paul Pope's Eisner Award-winning Robin story "Teenage Sidekick"; Michael Allred's groovy '60s-era Teen Titans story, Teddy Kristiansen and Neil Gaiman collaborating on Deadman; Darwyn Cooke doing a Steve Ditko-inspired Question homage; and much more.

Fans of the series, or those who missed it the first time around, have been asking for years to see it back in print. This new hardcover collects it all in one nice package. Hopefully it will sell really well (as much as a book with a $50 price tag will sell these days) and inspire DC to do something like this again.

4. Abyss

By Saman Bemel-Benrud
See it on GitHub

Webcomics come in all forms and delivery methods these days. Although a blog-based system like Wordpress is probably still the preferred method for longer, narratively driven comics, more and more we're seeing other ways of doing it. Long, scrolling pages displaying each page of a strip. Tumblr comics. Flickr comics. Twitpic comics delivered via Twitter. There are even a few comics that live solely on Instagram. One thing that I've never seen before is a comic that you can follow on GitHub.

If you've never heard of GitHub that's okay. That probably just means you don't work in a field that involves coding for web or app development. It is basically a social network of its own that allows you to post progress on a source code project to share it for feedback, collaboration, testing or just to give it away for free to others who might have use for it. 

Saman Bemel-Benrud (or Trashmoon as he goes by on GitHub and other places) is a cartoonist working on a webcomic called Abyss and has decided to share his progress on GitHub. You can track not only when he adds a new page to the comic but when he makes structural or design changes to the comic's website itself. To those who don't speak in code, checking in on the comic this way is like looking at the source code for a website and trying to figure out where the navigation is. But there's something about webcomics in general that give you a peek inside the artistic process, and following along with a comic this way really makes you focus on the behind-the-scenes effort (even though there's no real artistic process information to glean here). For the rest of us, you can follow Abyss in a variety of other more reasonable places like Tumblr or Saman's website, Trashmoon.

The real reason I'm mentioning Abyss here, though, is because it's really good. Only a few pages have been posted so far, but it's a weird, hypnotic and funny tale of two people looking for a burrito and running into the changing urban landscape of the modern world. Bemel-Benrud drawings are seemingly quickly laid down on paper, but his sense of pacing and the cold emptiness of the environment his characters find themselves in are perfect for the story he is telling.

5. Kick Ass 3 #1

Written by Mark Millar, art by John Romita, Jr.
Marvel

Mark Millar and John Romita's popular Kick Ass series, which has spawned a film and an impending sequel, begins the third and final chapter of its trilogy this week. This may not be the place to begin for the uninitiated (or the squeamish for that matter; this book can be pretty violent) but fans of the books and the movie will be excited to see the characters Kick-Ass and Hit-Girl back in action again. 

The story begins with pint-size Hit-Girl in jail and Kick-Ass leading a team of superheroes to break her out. The hook to the Kick-Ass books is that it imagines what it would be like if real people took to donning superhero costumes and fighting crime in the real world, particularly kids that are roughly the same age as many of the younger comic book heroes like Spider-man who—we take for granted—can handle themselves in these situations. Millar approaches it with a dark sense of humor and a shocking use of violence that is meant to draw a stark comparison to the bloodless fighting of most superhero comics. Though, when it comes to that, a lot of comics from DC and Marvel have gotten increasingly gruesome themselves over the past few years, so maybe that comparison is not that starkly defined anymore.

MEANWHILE, IN COMICS NEWS THIS PAST WEEK:

- AOL sold the popular comics blog, Comics Alliance, that it had recently shut down to Townsquare Media, and now it is back like nothing ever happened.

- The long lost and never reprinted early Grant Morrison comic Zenith will finally see print in a collected edition from Rebellion. The Complete Zenith will arrive this December.

- DC's next big crossover event will involve villains taking over and renaming each book for the month of September. To promote it, they've released these weird and dizzying animated "3D" covers.

HeroesCon is this weekend in Charlotte, NC. It is the biggest comic book convention in the Southern US and is an extremely popular show with families, fans and creators alike. In a shameless bit of self-promotion I should mention that I will have a table there in the "Indie Island" section selling my own comic, Nathan Sorry. I'll also be moderating a panel discussion about design in comics.

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This Harry Potter Candle Melts to Reveal Your Hogwarts House—and Smells Amazing
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Warner Bros.

As it gets darker and colder outside, the thought of lighting a candle in your room and curling up with a good book becomes more appealing. A sorting hat candle from the Muggle Library Candles Etsy store makes the perfect companion to whatever Harry Potter book you happen to be re-reading for the hundredth time this season. According to the Cleveland news outlet WKYC, the candle slowly reveals your Hogwarts house as it burns.

From the outside, the item looks like a normal white candle. But when lit, the outer layer of plain wax melts away, allowing the colorful interior to poke through. The candles come in one of four concealed colors: red for Gryffindor, blue for Ravenclaw, yellow for Hufflepuff, and green for Slytherin. The only way to know which house you’re destined to match with is by purchasing a candle and putting it to use. According to the label, the scent evokes “excitement, fear, and nervousness.” The smell can also be described as lemon with sandalwood, vanilla, and patchouli.

Due to its viral popularity, the Fort Worth, Texas-based Etsy store has put all orders on hold while working to get its current batch of shipments out to customers. You can follow Muggle Library Candles on Instagram for updates on the sorting candle, as well as other Harry Potter-themed candles in their repertoire, like parseltongue and free elf.

[h/t WKYC]

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10 Facts About Samuel Johnson’s Dictionary
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October 16 is World Dictionary Day, which each year celebrates the birthday of the American lexicographer Noah Webster, who was born in Connecticut in 1758. Last year, Mental Floss marked the occasion with a list of facts about Webster’s American Dictionary of the English Language—the enormous two-volume dictionary, published in 1828 when Webster was 70 years old, that established many of the differences that still divide American and British English to this day. But while Webster was America’s foremost lexicographer, on the other side of the Atlantic, Great Britain had Dr. Samuel Johnson.

Johnson—whose 308th birthday was marked with a Google Doodle in September—published the equally groundbreaking Dictionary of the English Language in 1755, three years before Webster was even born. Its influence was arguably just as great as that of Webster’s, and it remained the foremost dictionary of British English until the early 1900s when the very first installments of the Oxford English Dictionary began to appear.

So to mark this year’s Dictionary Day, here are 10 facts about Johnson’s monumental dictionary.

1. IT WASN’T THE FIRST DICTIONARY.

With more than 40,000 entries, Johnson’s Dictionary of the English Language was certainly the largest dictionary in the history of the English language at the time but, despite popular opinion, it wasn’t the first. Early vocabularies and glossaries were being compiled as far back as the Old English period, when lists of words and their equivalents in languages like Latin and French first began to be used by scribes and translators. These were followed by educational word lists and then early bilingual dictionaries that began to emerge in the 16th century, which all paved the way for what is now considered the very first English dictionary: Robert Cawdrey’s Table Alphabeticall—in 1604.

2. SAMUEL JOHNSON BORROWED FROM THE DICTIONARIES THAT CAME BEFORE HIS.

In compiling his dictionary, Johnson drew on Nathan Bailey’s Dictionarium Britanicum, which had been published in 1730. (Ironically, a sequel to Bailey’s dictionary, A New Universal Etymological English Dictionary, was published in the same year as Johnson’s, and borrowed heavily from his work; its author, Joseph Nicoll Scott, even gave Johnson some credit for its publication.)

But just as Johnson had borrowed from Bailey and Scott had borrowed from Johnson, Bailey, too had borrowed from an earlier work—namely John Kersey’s Dictionarium Anglo-Britannicum (1708)—which was based in part on a technical vocabulary, John Harris’s Universal English Dictionary of Arts and Sciences. Lexicographic plagiarism was nothing new.

3. THE DICTIONARY WASN’T THE ONLY THING JOHNSON WROTE.

Although he’s best remembered as a lexicographer today, Johnson was actually something of a literary multitasker. As a journalist, he wrote for an early periodical called The Gentlemen’s Magazine. As a biographer, he wrote the Life of Mr Richard Savage (1744), a memoir of a friend and fellow writer who had died the previous year. Johnson also wrote numerous poems (London, published anonymously in 1738, was his first major published work), a novel (Rasselas, 1759), a stage play (Irene, 1749), and countless essays and critiques. He also co-edited an edition of Shakespeare’s plays. And in between all of that, he even found time to investigate a supposed haunted house in central London.

4. IT WAS THE FIRST DICTIONARY TO USE QUOTATIONS.

Johnson’s dictionary defined some 42,773 words, each of which was given a uniquely scholarly definition, complete with a suggested etymology and an armory of literary quotations—no fewer than 114,000 of them, in fact.

Johnson lifted quotations from books dating back to the 16th century for the citations in his dictionary, and relied heavily on the works of authors he admired and who were popular at the time—Shakespeare, John Milton, Alexander Pope, and Edmund Spenser included. In doing so, he established a lexicographic trend that still survives in dictionaries to this day.

5. IT TOOK MORE THAN EIGHT YEARS TO WRITE.

Defining 42,000 words and finding 114,000 quotes to help you do so takes time: Working from his home off Fleet Street in central London, Johnson and six assistants worked solidly for over eight years to bring his dictionary to print. (Webster, on the other hand, worked all but single-handedly, and used the 22 years it took him to compile his American Dictionary to learn 26 different languages.)

6. JOHNSON WAS WELL PAID FOR HIS TROUBLES.

Johnson was commissioned to write his dictionary by a group of London publishers, who paid him a princely 1,500 guineas—equivalent to roughly $300,000 (£225,000) today.

7. HE LEFT OUT A LOT OF WORDS.

The dictionary’s 42,000-word vocabulary might sound impressive, but it’s believed that the English language probably had as many as five times that many words around the time the dictionary was published in 1755. A lot of that shortfall was simply due to oversight: Johnson included the word irritable in four of his definitions, for instance, but didn’t list it as a headword in his own dictionary. He also failed to include a great many words found in the works of the authors he so admired, and in several of the source dictionaries he utilized, and in some cases he even failed to include the root forms of words whose derivatives were listed elsewhere in the dictionary. Athlete, for instance, didn’t make the final cut, whereas athletic did.

Johnson’s imposition of his own tastes and interests on his dictionary didn't help matters either. His dislike of French, for example, led to familiar words like unique, champagne, and bourgeois being omitted, while those he did include were given a thorough dressing down: ruse is defined as “a French word neither elegant nor necessary,” while finesse is dismissed as “an unnecessary word that is creeping into the language."

8. HE LEFT OUT THE LETTER X.

    At the foot of page 2308 of Johnson’s Dictionary is a note merely reading, “X is a letter which, though found in Saxon words, begins no word in the English language."

    9. HIS DEFINITIONS WEREN’T ALWAYS SO SCHOLARLY.

      As well as imposing his own taste on his dictionary, Johnson also famously employed his own sense of humor on his work. Among the most memorable of all his definitions is his explanation of oats as “a grain, which in England is generally given to horses, but in Scotland supports the people.” But he also defined monsieur as “a term of reproach for a Frenchman,” excise as “a hateful tax levied upon commodities and adjudged not by the common judges of property but wretches hired by those to whom excise is paid,” and luggage as “anything of more weight than value.” As an example of how to use the word dull, he explained that “to make dictionaries is dull work.”

      10. HE POKED LOTS OF FUN AT HIS OWN OCCUPATION.

      Listed on page 1195 of his dictionary, Johnson’s definition of lexicographer was “a writer of dictionaries; a harmless drudge.”

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