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AdHouse Books

Wednesday is New Comics Day

AdHouse Books
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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12 Smart Book Ideas for Everyone in Your Life
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Books make the perfect gift: they're durable, transportable, and they promise some (hopefully) quality alone time. But what do you get the aunt who loves mystery novels if you're not familiar with the genre? Or the nephew who devours travelogues and goes backpacking around the world? Look no further—we've got them covered, plus 10 other very specific categories.

1. FOR THE VINTAGE COOKBOOK LOVER: LEAVE ME ALONE WITH THE RECIPES: THE LIFE, ART, AND COOKBOOK OF CIPE PINELES, EDITED BY SARAH RICH,‎ WENDY MACNAUGHTON, DEBBIE MILLMAN, AND MARIA POPOVA; $27

Book cover for Leave Me Alone With the Recipes
Amazon

Author Sarah Rich and illustrator Wendy MacNaughton fell in love with the work of Cipe Pineles, the first female art director at Condé Nast, after discovering her recipes at a San Francisco antiquarian book fair. Filled with vibrantly colored illustrations, Leave Me Alone With the Recipes shows the joyful spirit and homespun flair that made Pineles’s work so influential. Alongside the recipes, the book includes contributions from luminaries in the worlds of food and illustration, including artist Maira Kalman and Maria Popova of Brain Pickings renown.

Find It: Amazon

2. FOR ANYONE HAVING SURGERY THIS YEAR: THE BUTCHERING ART: JOSEPH LISTER’S QUEST TO TRANSFORM THE GRISLY WORLD OF VICTORIAN MEDICINE BY LINDSEY FITZHARRIS; $27

Cover of The Butchering Art
Amazon

Back in the bad old days of medicine, a consistently blood-soaked apron was a sign of pride. Surgeons rarely washed them—or their hands, or their operating tools. Joseph Lister, the somewhat reluctant hero of Lindsey Fitzharris's new book The Butchering Art, was the genius who convinced the medical world that germs were not only real but a major cause of mortality in their hospitals. With an eye for vivid details and the colorful characters of 19th century medicine, Fitzharris has crafted a book that will make you thank Lister for his foresight—and make you glad you weren't alive back then.

Find It: Amazon

3. FOR THE GENEALOGY OBSESSIVE: IT’S ALL RELATIVE: ADVENTURES UP AND DOWN THE WORLD’S FAMILY TREE BY A.J. JACOBS; $27

Cover of Its All Relative
Simon & Schuster

What constitutes a "family"? In his latest book, A.J. Jacobs (famed for lifestyle experiments like trying to live an entire year in accordance with the Bible) delves into the world of genetics and genealogy to try and orchestrate the world's largest family reunion. With his trademark humor and insight, he ends up exploring the interconnectedness of all of humankind.

Find It: Amazon

4. FOR THE SOCIALLY AWARE YOUNG ADULT: THE HATE U GIVE BY ANGIE THOMAS; $18

Cover of The Hate U Give
Amazon

Already caught between the conflicting worlds of the poor neighborhood where she lives and her fancy prep school, 16-year-old Starr Carter finds herself in the middle of a tragedy when her childhood best friend is shot and killed by a police officer. As his death becomes a national flashpoint, it becomes clear that she may be the only person alive who can explain what really happened that night. Angie Thomas's writing has earned praise for being gut-wrenching, searing, and deftly crafted; Publishers Weekly called the book "heartbreakingly topical."

Find It: Amazon

5. FOR FANS OF PRESIDENTIAL HISTORY THAT READS LIKE A NOVEL: THE WARS OF THE ROOSEVELTS: THE RUTHLESS RISE OF AMERICA'S GREATEST POLITICAL FAMILY BY WILLIAM J. MANN; $35

You might think you know the Roosevelts, but historian William J. Mann looks beyond the well-worn stories to expose the bitter rivalries that drove its most famous members' quest for power. Along the way, he examines the Roosevelts who were kept away from the limelight, and the secrets they hold—all told in dramatic style.

Find It: Amazon

6. FOR THE INTREPID TRAVELER: ATLAS OBSCURA: AN EXPLORER'S GUIDE TO THE WORLD'S HIDDEN WONDERS, BY JOSHIA FOER, DYLAN THURAS, AND ELLA MORTON; $35

The book cover for Atlas Obscura's book
Amazon.com

An amusement park in a salt mine? Check. A tree so big it has its own pub? Check. A giant hole that's been spouting flames for 40 years? Check. This guidebook is a compendium of the world's strangest and most wonderful places, and it's guaranteed to inspire some serious wanderlust, especially in more adventurous travelers. For the complete experience, you can also get an awesome wall calendar featuring destinations from the book designed as vintage travel posters; there's a page-a-day desk calendar and explorers' journal too.

Find it: Amazon

7. FOR YOUR FRIEND WHO LOVES WEIRD HISTORY: THE PUBLIC DOMAIN REVIEW SELECTED ESSAYS; $20

The Public Domain Review is one of the premier online destination for fans of curious history. If you know someone who enjoys stories about weird medieval medicine treaties, ancient automata, deranged 18th century scientists, and other odd subjects well off the beaten historical path, look no further than this book of essays (the site's fourth).

Find It: The Public Domain Review

8. FOR PEOPLE WHO LOVE A GOOD MYSTERY: THE BIG BOOK OF ROGUES AND VILLAINS, EDITED BY OTTO PENZLER; $25

Cover of the Big Book of Rogues and Villains
Amazon

At the heart of every good mystery is a (usually dastardly) perpetrator, whether it's a Count Dracula or a Jimmy Valentine. With this anthology, Edgar Award winner Otto Penzler has combed through 150 years of literary history to find 72 stories featuring the most famous and entertaining antiheroes authors have ever been able to dream up.

Find It: Amazon

9. FOR PEOPLE WHO KNOW WHAT THE BORSCHT BELT IS: JEWISH COMEDY: A SERIOUS HISTORY BY JEREMY DAUBER; $28.95

Jews and humor go together like challah and Manischewitz (after all, as my bubbie says, if you don't laugh, you'll cry). In this "serious history," Columbia professor Jeremy Dauber considers the origins of Jewish humor in Biblical times through its life on Twitter today; how it's reflected—and even influenced—Jewish history; the production of major archetypes like the Jewish mother; and the prominence of Jewish comedians like Sarah Silverman and Larry David. You don't have to be Jewish to love it, but it may help you understand the in-jokes.

Find It: Amazon

10. FOR YOUR FRIEND WHO LOVES DARK SHORT STORIES: HER BODY AND OTHER PARTIES, BY CARMEN MARIA MACHADO; $16

Book cover for Her Body and Other Parties
Amazon

A story told in the form of Law & Order episode summaries. A strange plague that makes girls go invisible, as narrated by a mall worker. A recollection of romantic encounters with the last of humanity’s survivors. In this collection, Carmen Maria Machado fuses urban legends, dystopian tropes, and heavy helpings of sexuality to create a new kind of magical realism strangely appropriate to our era. The images will haunt you long after you put the book down, if you let them.

Find It: Amazon

11. FOR THE PERSON WHO LOVES BIG-DEAL LITERARY NOVELS AND ALSO ABRAHAM LINCOLN: LINCOLN IN THE BARDO, BY GEORGE SAUNDERS; $18

A meditation on sorrow and the Civil War populated by a rag-tag group of ghosts, Lincoln in the Bardo starts with the real-life death of 11-year-old Willie Lincoln, Abraham's son. In the book, Willie has entered the Bardo—a Tibetan Buddhist term for a transitional limbo—where there's a fierce struggle underway for his soul.

Find It: Amazon

12. FOR THE GENERALIST: A BOOK-OF-THE-MONTH SUBSCRIPTION; $45 FOR THREE MONTHS

A book of the month club subscription box with gift trappings nearby
Book of the Month Club

Can’t decide what to get, but feeling generous? Give your friend who loves to read a new hardcover book of their choice every month. Literary fans who are short on time will love having someone else do the legwork to find the best new novels; plus, there’s early access to new releases. Prices vary depending on the length of the subscription, and there’s a deal right now where you can get a month free when you give a subscription as a gift.

Find It: Book of the Month

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10 Little Facts About Louisa May Alcott
Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons
Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

Born on this day in 1832, Louisa May Alcott led a fascinating life. Besides enchanting millions of readers with her novel Little Women, she worked as a Civil War nurse, fought against slavery, and registered women to vote. In honor of her birthday, here are 10 facts about Alcott.

1. SHE HAD MANY FAMOUS FRIENDS.

Louisa's parents, Bronson and Abigail Alcott, raised their four daughters in a politically active household in Massachusetts. As a child, Alcott briefly lived with her family in a failed Transcendentalist commune, helped her parents hide slaves who had escaped via the Underground Railroad, and had discussions about women’s rights with Margaret Fuller. Throughout her life, she socialized with her father’s friends, including Henry David Thoreau, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and Nathaniel Hawthorne. Although her family was always poor, Alcott had access to valuable learning experiences. She read books in Emerson’s library and learned about botany at Walden Pond with Thoreau, later writing a poem called "Thoreau’s Flute" for her friend. She also socialized with abolitionist Frederick Douglass and women’s suffrage activist Julia Ward Howe.

2. HER FIRST NOM DE PLUME WAS FLORA FAIRFIELD.

As a teenager, Alcott worked a variety of teaching and servant jobs to earn money for her family. She first became a published writer at 19 years old, when a women’s magazine printed one of her poems. For reasons that are unclear, Alcott used a pen name—Flora Fairfield—rather than her real name, perhaps because she felt that she was still developing as a writer. But in 1854 at age 22, Alcott used her own name for the first time. She published Flower Fables, a collection of fairy tales she had written six years earlier for Emerson’s daughter, Ellen.

3. SHE SECRETLY WROTE PULP FICTION.

Before writing Little Women, Alcott wrote Gothic pulp fiction under the nom de plume A.M. Barnard. Continuing her amusing penchant for alliteration, she wrote books and plays called Perilous Play and Pauline’s Passion and Punishment to make easy money. Alcott wrote about cross-dressers, spies, revenge, and hashish. These sensational, melodramatic works are strikingly different than the more wholesome, righteous vibe she captured in Little Women, and she didn’t advertise her former writing as her own after Little Women became popular.

4. SHE WROTE ABOUT HER EXPERIENCE AS A CIVIL WAR NURSE.


Getty Images

In 1861, at the beginning of the U.S. Civil War, Alcott sewed Union uniforms in Concord and, the next year, enlisted as an army nurse. In a Washington, D.C. hotel-turned-hospital, she comforted dying soldiers and helped doctors perform amputations. During this time, she wrote about her experiences in her journal and in letters to her family. In 1863, she published Hospital Sketches, a fictionalized account, based on her letters, of her stressful yet meaningful experiences as a wartime nurse. The book became massively popular and was reprinted in 1869 with more material.

5. SHE SUFFERED FROM MERCURY POISONING.

After a month and a half of nursing in D.C., Alcott caught typhoid fever and pneumonia. She received the standard treatment at the time—a toxic mercury compound called calomel. (Calomel was used in medicines through the 19th century.) Because of this exposure to mercury, Alcott suffered from symptoms of mercury poisoning for the rest of her life. She had a weakened immune system, vertigo, and had episodes of hallucinations. To combat the pain caused by the mercury poisoning (as well as a possible autoimmune disorder, such as lupus, that could have been triggered by it), she took opium. Alcott died of a stroke in 1888, at 55 years old.

6. SHE WROTE LITTLE WOMEN TO HELP HER FATHER.

In 1867, Thomas Niles, an editor at a publishing house, asked Alcott if she wanted to write a novel for girls. Although she tried to get excited about the project, she thought she wouldn’t have much to write about girls because she was a tomboy. The next year, Alcott’s father was trying to convince Niles to publish his manuscript about philosophy. He told Niles that his daughter could write a book of fairy stories, but Niles still wanted a novel about girls. Niles told Alcott’s father that if he could get his daughter to write a (non-fairy) novel for girls, he would publish his philosophy manuscript. So to make her father happy and help his writing career, Alcott wrote about her adolescence growing up with her three sisters. Published in September 1868, the first part of Little Women was a huge success. The second part was published in 1869, and Alcott went on to write sequels such as Little Men (1871) and Jo’s Boys (1886).

7. SHE WAS AN EARLY SUFFRAGETTE.

In the 1870s, Alcott wrote for a women’s rights periodical and went door-to-door in Massachusetts to encourage women to vote. In 1879, the state passed a law that would allow women to vote in local elections on anything involving education and children—Alcott registered immediately, becoming the first woman registered in Concord to vote. Although met with resistance, she, along with 19 other women, cast ballots in a 1880 town meeting. The Nineteenth Amendment was finally ratified in 1920, decades after Alcott died.

8. SHE PRETENDED TO BE HER OWN SERVANT TO TRICK HER FANS.


Orchard House, the Alcott family home. Phillip Capper from Wellington, New Zealand (Flickr) // CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons

After the success of Little Women, fans who connected with the book traveled to Concord to see where Alcott grew up. One month, Alcott had a hundred strangers knock on the door of Orchard House, her family’s home, hoping to see her. Because she didn’t like the attention, she sometimes pretended to be a servant when she answered the front door, hoping to trick fans into leaving.

9. ALCOTT NEVER HAD CHILDREN, BUT SHE CARED FOR HER NIECE.

Although Alcott never married or had biological children, she took care of her orphaned niece. In 1879, Alcott’s youngest sister May died a month after giving birth to her daughter. As she was dying, May told her husband to send the baby, whom she named Louisa in honor of Alcott, to her older sister. Nicknamed Lulu, the girl spent her childhood with Alcott, who wrote her stories and seemed a good fit for her high-spiritedness. Lulu was just 8 when Alcott died, at which point she went to live with her father in Switzerland.

10. FANS CAN VISIT ALCOTT'S FAMILY HOME IN CONCORD, MASSACHUSETTS.

At 399 Lexington Road in Concord, Massachusetts, tourists can visit Orchard House, the Alcott family home from 1858 to 1877. Orchard House is a designated National Historic Landmark, and visitors can take a guided tour to see where Alcott wrote and set Little Women. Visitors can also get a look at Alcott’s writing desk and the family’s original furniture and paintings.

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