CLOSE
Original image
DC Comics

Wednesday is New Comics Day

Original image
DC Comics

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. Superman Unchained #1

Written by Scott Snyder, art by Jim Lee and Scott Williams
DC Comics

You may have heard there's a movie called Man of Steel hitting theaters this weekend. If you follow the ins and outs of the comics industry, you may also be aware of talk that the box office returns from this weekend's opening could either send DC Comics and its parent company, Time Warner, into an organizational tailspin (even more so than they already seem to be in) or launch their original superhero back into his rightful place at the top of the sales charts (although it's debatable whether successful comic book movies lead to noticeable increases in comic book sales, anyway). In anticipation, DC is moving some pieces into position this week to try to capitalize on a best case scenario.

That best case scenario involves having good, accessible Superman comics ready the minute moviegoers step out of the theaters, adjust their eyes to the sunlight, and seek out their nearest comic book shop. There haven't been a lot of those recently, but DC hopes Superman Unchained #1 will be that comic and they've put their most popular writer with their most popular artist on it to make it so.

Jim Lee has drawn Superman before. but writer Scott Snyder, who is currently in charge of the flagship Batman book, is getting his first chance at the character now. He has said that he's approached this comic as if he only has time to tell one Superman story—the best one he can possibly tell—before he "gets booted out of comics forever." 

So, if everything clicks into place, you may have the opportunity to experience two great Superman stories this week.

Preview the first couple of pages here.

2. The True Lives of the Fabulous Killjoys #1

Written by Gerard Way and Shaun Simon; art by Becky Cloonan
Dark Horse Comics

Yes, Gerard Way was the lead singer of the now defunct rock band, My Chemical Romance. And yes, Danger Days: The True Lives of the Fabulous Killjoys was the name of their last album. This is a comic book sequel of sorts to that album that will bring an end to that story. But what you need to understand is that Gerard Way once went to art school, and he wanted to make comics long before he got into the music business. In fact, this story started as an idea for a comic.

Way also wrote a comic back in 2007 called The Umbrella Academy that was one of the most unique and enjoyable superhero comics to come out in the last 10 years and has solidified his credibility as a comic book writer to watch for. Now that My Chemical Romance has broken up, Way is refocusing his attention on making comics.

This six-issue mini-series brings to an end Way's story about a war between the Killjoys and a "megacorporation" called Better Living Industries. Caught in between is The Girl, who is the only one that can stop them both.

Way is joined by superstar artist Becky Cloonan who is most recently known for her run on Conan and her exquisitely drawn fantasy comics "Wolves" and "The Mire." Being from a similar school of aesthetics as Way's Umbrella Academy collaborator Gabriel Bá, Cloonan is a perfect choice for this book, not to mention that at this point in her career, everything she does is worth checking out.

You can read a 6 page preview here.

3. The Sleep of Reason: An Anthology of Horror

Edited by C. Spike Trotman; various writers and artists
Kickstarter

The Sleep of Reason is a new horror comic anthology that has just launched a Kickstarter to raise funds for production. They're already more than halfway to their goal at the time of this writing and have plenty of time to go, but they have a number of stretch goals for backers and a nice bonus program for each contributing artist that increases by $50 for each extra $5000 that is raised.

The anthology is being edited and organized by cartoonist C. Spike Trotman, best known for her long-running webcomic Templar, Arizona. Trotman is a well-known figure in the webcomics community and is no stranger to Kickstarter (The Sleep of Reason is her third project). She's pulled together an impressive list of contributors including Evan DahmGabby SchulzKC GreenMeg Gandy, and Carla Speed McNeil. Not to mention a cover by Michael DeForge. The hook behind the anthology is that it will be a collection of horror stories that avoids the usual tropes of the genre: no vampires, no zombies, no "easy solutions," nothing that could possibly be considered familiar. 

You can watch the creepy video and read more about the project on its Kickstarter page.

4. Six-Gun Gorilla

Written by Simon Spurrier, art by Jeff Stokely
Boom! Entertainment 

Either this book has you at the title and cover image (by the amazing Ramon Perez) or it doesn't. If gun-toting gorillas are your thing, read on.

Six-Gun Gorilla is actually a long-lost pulp character from 1930s British magazine Wizard and is now in the public domain. In fact, no one even knows who originally wrote and came up with this character. Writer Si Spurrier pounced on the opportunity to take him and put his own spin on the concept. 

In its original incarnation, Six-Gun Gorilla was a weirdo western about a gorilla whose master is murdered by an outlaw gang, so he takes his master's Colt pistol and goes off seeking revenge. Spurrier, with artist Jeff Stokely, bring the gorilla into the future—the 22nd Century to be precise—and to another planet, colonized by humans and battered by civil war. Spurrier has gotten a lot of critical acclaim for his work on the recent X-men: Legacy book for Marvel. He excels at weird sci-fi concepts and this six-issue mini-series looks to be pretty out there.

There's an extensive preview here and you can read Spurrier's thoughts about the comic on his Tumblr here.

5. Tiny Tiny Stories

Written by Sloane Leong with various artists
Tumblr 

Sloane Leong is an illustrator, colorist and webcomic creator who recently started a Tumblr where she collaborates with various artists to produce these "tiny" short stories. Some are as short as one strip, others not much longer than three. They seem to often follow a theme of a journey being interrupted by conflict. Each reads like a little poem but the real attraction is the breathtaking way they are illustrated by the artists she is working with. Contributions by Ryan Andrews and Charles Huettner (both posted above) with their pointed use of otherworldly coloring just pop off the screen, not to mention other fantastic contributions from Brian Fukushima, Rosie Liao, Steve LeCouilliard, and Emily Carroll.

It's an interesting format that they are all working in and perfect for the Tumblr platform where beautiful, sharable images thrive and get reblogged forever and ever. There's only two pages of strips so far as they've only been going for about a month now. Go read them here.

MEANWHILE, IN COMICS NEWS THIS PAST WEEK: 

Marvel announced a new Mighty Avengers comic title that shows one of the most diverse casts of characters we've probably seen in a major superhero team.

- Heidi MacDonald at The Beat addresses a few of the most recent gender issues that have come up in the comics industry with an article titled "The Week in Women: Do We Write About Gender Issues Too Much?"

- The case of comics writer Gary Friedrich vs. Marvel Comics over the right to claim ownership over the character of Ghost Rider took an unexpected turn when a Second Circuit Court judge ruled there is "a genuine dispute" over the ownership of that character, overruling a previous decision. 

- Voting for the Eisner Awards ends at midnight tonight. If you work in the comics industry, you can vote online here.

Original image
Kevork Djansezian, Stringer, Getty Images
arrow
Pop Culture
LeVar Burton Is Legally Allowed to Say His Reading Rainbow Catchphrase
Original image
Kevork Djansezian, Stringer, Getty Images

It’s hard to imagine the original Reading Rainbow without LeVar Burton, but in August, the New York public broadcasting network WNED made it very clear who owned the rights to the program. By saying his old catchphrase from his hosting days, “but you don’t have to take my word for it” on his current podcast, WNED claimed Burton was infringing on their intellectual property. Now, Vulture reports that the case has been settled and Burton is now allowed to drop the phrase when and wherever he pleases.

The news came out in an recent interview with the actor and TV personality. “All settled, but you don’t have to take my word for it,” he told Vulture. “It’s all good. It’s all good. I can say it.”

The conflict dates back to 2014, when Burton launched a Kickstarter campaign to revive the show without WNED’s consent. Prior to that, the network and Burton’s digital reading company RRKidz had made a licensing deal where they agreed to split the profits down the middle if a new show was ever produced. Burton’s unauthorized crowdfunding undid those negotiations, and tensions between the two parties have been high ever since. The situation came to a head when Burton started using his famous catchphrase on his LeVar Burton Reads podcast, which centers around him reading short fiction in the same vein as his Reading Rainbow role. By doing this, WNED alleged he was aiming to “control and reap the benefits of Reading Rainbow's substantial goodwill.”

Though he’s no longer a collaborator with WNED, Burton can at least continue to say “but you don’t have to take my word for it” without fearing legal retribution. WNED is meanwhile "working on the next chapter of Reading Rainbow" without their original star, and Burton tells Vulture he looks “forward to seeing what they do with the brand next."

[h/t Vulture]

Original image
chris2766/iStock
arrow
literature
The Charming English Fishing Village That Inspired Dracula
Original image
Whitby as seen from the top of the 199 Steps
chris2766/iStock

The train departed King's Cross at 10:25 a.m. on July 29, 1890. Bram Stoker settled wearily into the carriage for the six-hour journey to Whitby, the fashionable and remote seaside village in North Yorkshire. The sooty sprawl of London gave way to green grids of farmland and pasture, and then windswept moors blanketed in heather and wild roses.

Stoker needed this holiday. The 42-year-old manager of London's Lyceum Theatre had just finished an exhausting national tour with his employer, the celebrated but demanding actor Henry Irving. The unrelenting task of running the business side of Irving's many theatrical enterprises for the past decade had left Stoker with little time for himself. When the curtains fell at the end of each night's performance, he may have felt that the energy had been sucked out of him.

Now he looked forward to a three-week getaway where he would have time to think about his next novel, a supernatural tale that harnessed the sources of Victorian anxiety: immigration and technology, gender roles and religion. In ways he didn't foresee, the small fishing port of Whitby would plant the seeds for a vampire novel that would terrify the world. Stoker started out on an innocent and much-deserved vacation, but ended up creating Dracula.

A photo of Bram Stoker
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

As Stoker emerged from the train station in Whitby, the sounds and smell of the sea would have restored him after the long trip. He loaded his trunk into a horse-drawn cab for the journey up the West Cliff, where new vacation apartments and hotels served the crowds of holidaymakers. He checked into a flat at 6 Royal Crescent, a half-circle of elegant Georgian-style townhomes that faced the ocean.

He often felt invigorated by the seashore: "He's finally on a holiday, away from the hustle and bustle of London, the Lyceum Theatre, and Henry Irving's dominance over him," Dacre Stoker, a novelist and the author's great-grandnephew, tells Mental Floss. "The ocean and the seaside play into Bram's life, and, I believe, in stimulating his imagination."

Stoker's wife Florence and their 10-year-old son Noel would join him the following week. Now was his chance to explore Whitby on his own.

The East Cliff with Tate Hill Pier in the foreground
iStock

"A curious blend of old and new it is," wrote a travel correspondent for the Leeds Mercury. The River Esk divided the town into two steep halves known as the West and East Cliffs. Down a tangle of paths from the brow of the West Cliff, Stoker found himself on the town's famed beach, where people gathered to watch the many vessels at sea or walked along the gentle surf. At the end of the beach was the Saloon, the nucleus of Whitby's social whirl.

"The enterprising manager engages the best musical and dramatic talent procurable, whilst on the promenade a selected band of professional musicians gives performances daily," wrote Horne's Guide to Whitby. Holidaymakers could purchase a day pass to the Saloon and enjoy afternoon tea, tennis, and endless people-watching.

Next to the Saloon, the West Pier featured a long promenade parallel to the river and a three-story building containing public baths, a museum with a collection of local fossils, and a subscription library. Shops selling fish and chips, ice cream, and Whitby rock lined the winding streets. Visitors could watch all kinds of fishing vessels discharging their daily catch, and even hop aboard a boat for a night's "herringing" with local fishermen.

Whitby's East Cliff had a more mysterious atmosphere. Across the town's single bridge, tightly packed medieval cottages and jet factories leaned over the narrow cobbled streets, "rising one above another from the water side in the most irregular, drunken sort of arrangement conceivable," the Leeds Mercury reported.

Above the ancient Tate Hill Pier, a stone stairway of 199 steps (which pallbearers used when they carried coffins) led up the cliff to St. Mary's parish church and its graveyard full of weathered headstones. Towering over the whole scene—and visible from nearly any spot in town—were the ruins of Whitby Abbey, a 13th-century pile of Gothic arches that had been built upon the remains of a 7th-century monastery.

"I think [Stoker] was struck by the setting. He's thinking, 'This is perfect. I have the ships coming in, I've got the abbey, a churchyard, a graveyard'," Dacre Stoker says. "Maybe it was by chance, but I think it just became that perfect scene."

Whitby Abbey
Whitby Abbey
Daverhead/iStock

In Dracula, chapters six through eight kick the narrative into frightening action. By then, real estate agent Jonathan Harker has traveled to Transylvania to negotiate Dracula's purchase of a London property and become the vampire's prisoner. His fiancée Mina Murray, her friend Lucy Westenra, and Lucy's mother have traveled to Whitby for a relaxing holiday, but Mina remains troubled by the lack of letters from Jonathan. She confides her worries and records the strange scenes she witnesses in her journal.

On the afternoon of his arrival, according to a modern account compiled by historians at the Whitby Museum, Stoker climbed the 199 Steps to St. Mary's churchyard and found a bench in the southwest corner. The view made a deep impression on Stoker, and he took note of the river and harbor, the abbey's "noble ruin," the houses "piled up one over the other anyhow." In his novel, Mina arrives in late July on the same train as Stoker, mounts the 199 Steps, and echoes his thoughts:

"This is to my mind the nicest spot in Whitby, for it lies right over the town, and has a full view of the harbor ... It descends so steeply over the harbor that part of the bank has fallen away, and some of the graves have been destroyed. In one place part of the stonework of the graves stretches out over the sandy pathway far below. There are walks, with seats beside them, through the churchyard; and people go and sit there all day long looking at the beautiful view and enjoying the breeze. I shall come and sit here very often myself and work."

The churchyard gave Stoker a number of literary ideas. The following day, Stoker chatted there with three leathery old Greenland fisherman who likely spoke in a distinct Yorkshire dialect. They told Stoker a bit of mariner's lore: If a ship's crew heard bells at sea, an apparition of a lady would appear in one of the abbey's windows. "Then things is all wore out," one of the sailors warned.

Stoker ambled between the headstones that sprouted from the thick carpet of grass. Though most of the markers' names and dates had been erased by the wind, he copied almost 100 into his notes. Stoker used one of them, Swales, as the name of the fisherman with a face that is "all gnarled and twisted like the bark of an old tree," who begins talking with Mina in the churchyard. Mina asks him about the legend of the lady appearing in the abbey window, but Swales says it's all foolishness—stories of "boh-ghosts an' barguests an' bogles" that are only fit to scare children.

St. Mary's churchyard
St. Mary's churchyard, which Mina calls "the nicest spot in Whitby."
iStock

For the first few days in August, Stoker was occupied by the summer's social calendar. He likely enjoyed dinner with friends arriving from London, and went to church on Sunday morning. On the 5th, Stoker's wife and son joined him at 6 Royal Crescent. The next several days may have been spent at the Saloon, promenading on the pier, and making social calls, as it was the custom for newly arrived visitors to visit with acquaintances in town.

But Whitby's infamous weather had the ability to turn a sunny day somber in an instant. August 11 was a "grey day," Stoker noted, "horizon lost in grey mist, all vastness, clouds piled up and a 'brool' over the sea." With Florence and Noel perhaps staying indoors, Stoker set off for the East Cliff again and chatted with a Coast Guard boatman named William Petherick. "Told me of various wrecks," Stoker jotted. During one furious gale, a "ship got into harbor, never knew how, all hands were below praying."

The ship was the Dmitry, a 120-ton schooner that had left the Russian port of Narva with a ballast of silver sand. The ship encountered a fierce storm as it neared Whitby on October 24, 1885, and aimed for the harbor.

"The 'Russian' got in but became a wreck during the night," according to a copy of the Coast Guard's log, which Petherick delivered to Stoker. The crew survived. In a picture taken by local photographer Frank Meadow Sutcliffe just a few days after the storm, the Dmitry is shown beached near Tate Hill Pier with its masts lying in the sand.

'The Wreck of the Dmitry' (1885), by Frank Meadow Sutcliffe
The Wreck of the Dmitry (1885), by Frank Meadow Sutcliffe
Courtesy of the Sutcliffe Gallery

Petherick's account gave Stoker the means for his vampire's arrival in England, the moment when the mysterious East disrupts the order of the West. Mina pastes a local newspaper article describing a sudden and ferocious storm that hurled Dracula's ship, the Demeter from Varna, against Tate Hill Pier. The Coast Guard discovered the crew had vanished and the captain was dead. Just then, "an immense dog sprang up on deck and … making straight for the steep cliff … it disappeared in the darkness, which seemed intensified just beyond the focus of the searchlight," the article in Mina's journal reads. The dog was never seen again, but townsfolk did find a dead mastiff that had been attacked by another large beast.

Mina describes the funeral for the Demeter's captain, which Stoker based on scenes from an annual celebration he watched on August 15 called the Water Fete. In reality, thousands of cheerful spectators lined the quays as a local band and choir performed popular songs and a parade of gaily decorated boats sailed up the river, with banners fluttering merrily in the breeze, according to the Whitby Gazette's report. But through Mina, Stoker transformed the scene into a memorial:

"Every boat in the harbor seemed to be there, and the coffin was carried by captains all the way from Tate Hill Pier up to the churchyard. Lucy came with me, and we went early to our old seat, whilst the cortege of boats went up the river to the Viaduct and came down again. We had a lovely view, and saw the procession nearly all the way."

The final week of Stoker's holiday elicited some of the most important details in Dracula. On August 19, he bought day passes to Whitby's museum library and the subscription library. In the museum's reading room, Stoker wrote down 168 words in the Yorkshire dialect and their English meanings from F.K. Robinson's A Glossary of Words Used in the Neighborhood of Whitby, which later formed the bulk of Mr. Swales's vocabulary in his chats with Mina.

One of the words was "barguest," a term for a "terrifying apparition," which also refers specifically to a "large black dog with flaming eyes as big as saucers" in Yorkshire folklore, whose "vocation appears to have been that of a presage of death," according to an account from 1879.

"I do think Stoker meant for that connection," John Edgar Browning, visiting lecturer at the Georgia Institute of Technology and expert in horror and the gothic, tells Mental Floss. "Moreover, he probably would have meant for the people of Whitby in the novel to make the connection, since it was they who perceived Dracula's form as a large black dog."

Downstairs, Stoker checked out books on Eastern European culture and folklore, clearly with the aim of fleshing out the origins of his vampire: Curious Myths of the Middle Ages, a travelogue titled On the Track of the Crescent, and most importantly, William Wilkinson's An Account of the Principalities of Wallachia and Moldovia: with Various Observations Relating to Them.

The library building where Stoker discovered Dracula
The library building where Stoker discovered Dracula
Courtesy of Dacre Stoker

From the latter book, Stoker wrote in his notes, "P. 19. DRACULA in Wallachian language means DEVIL. Wallachians were accustomed to give it as a surname to any person who rendered himself conspicuous by courage, cruel actions, or cunning."

The Wilkinson book gave Stoker not just the geographical origin and nationality for his character, but also his all-important name, redolent of mystery and malice. "The moment Stoker happened upon the name of 'Dracula' in Whitby—a name Stoker scribbled over and over on the same page on which he crossed through [the vampire's original name] 'Count Wampyr,' as if he were savoring the word's three evil syllables—the notes picked up tremendously," Browning says.

By the time Stoker and his family returned to London around August 23, he had developed his idea from a mere outline to a fully fledged villain with a sinister name and unforgettable fictional debut.

"The modernization of the vampire myth that we see in Dracula—and that many contemporary reviewers commented upon—may not have happened, at least to the same degree, without Stoker's visit to Whitby," Browning says. "Whitby was a major catalyst, the contemporary Gothic 'glue', as it were, for what would eventually become the most famous vampire novel ever written."

Bram Stoker visited Whitby only once in his life, but the seaside village made an indelible mark on his imagination. When he finally wrote the scenes as they appear in Dracula, "He placed all of these events in real time, in real places, with real names of people he pulled off gravestones. That's what set the story apart," Dacre Stoker says. "That's why readers were scared to death—because there is that potential, just for a moment, that maybe this story is real."

Additional source: Bram Stoker's Notes for Dracula: A Facsimile Edition, annotated and transcribed by Robert Eighteen-Bisang and Elizabeth Miller

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER
More from mental floss studios