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Wednesday is New Comics Day

DC Comics
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.

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10 Things You Might Not Know About Little Women
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Louisa May Alcott's Little Women is one of the world's most beloved novels, and now—nearly 150 years after its original publication—it's capturing yet another generation of readers, thanks in part to Masterpiece's new small-screen adaptation. Whether it's been days or years since you've last read it, here are 10 things you might not know about Alcott's classic tale of family and friendship.

1. LOUISA MAY ALCOTT DIDN'T WANT TO WRITE LITTLE WOMEN.


Frank T. Merrill, Public Domain, Courtesy of The Project Gutenberg

Louisa May Alcott was writing both literature and pulp fiction (sample title: Pauline's Passion and Punishment) when Thomas Niles, the editor at Roberts Brothers Publishing, approached her about writing a book for girls. Alcott said she would try, but she wasn’t all that interested, later calling such books “moral pap for the young.”

When it became clear Alcott was stalling, Niles offered a publishing contract to her father, Bronson Alcott. Although Bronson was a well-known thinker who was friends with Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau, his work never achieved much acclaim. When it became clear that Bronson would have an opportunity to publish a new book if Louisa started her girls' story, she caved in to the pressure.

2. LITTLE WOMEN TOOK JUST 10 WEEKS TO WRITE.


Frank T. Merrill, Public Domain, Courtesy of The Project Gutenberg

Alcott began writing the book in May 1868. She worked on it day and night, becoming so consumed with it that she sometimes forgot to eat or sleep. On July 15, she sent all 402 pages to her editor. In September, a mere four months after starting the book, Little Women was published. It became an instant best seller and turned Alcott into a rich and famous woman.

3. THE BOOK AS WE KNOW IT WAS ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN TWO PARTS.


Frank T. Merrill, Public Domain, Courtesy of The Project Gutenberg

The first half was published in 1868 as Little Women: Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy. The Story Of Their Lives. A Girl’s Book. It ended with John Brooke proposing marriage to Meg. In 1869, Alcott published Good Wives, the second half of the book. It, too, only took a few months to write.

4. MEG, BETH, AND AMY WERE BASED ON ALCOTT'S SISTERS.


Frank T. Merrill, Public Domain, Courtesy of The Project Gutenberg

Meg was based on Louisa’s sister Anna, who fell in love with her husband John Bridge Pratt while performing opposite him in a play. The description of Meg’s wedding in the novel is supposedly based on Anna’s actual wedding.

Beth was based on Lizzie, who died from scarlet fever at age 23. Like Beth, Lizzie caught the illness from a poor family her mother was helping.

Amy was based on May (Amy is an anagram of May), an artist who lived in Europe. In fact, May—who died in childbirth at age 39—was the first woman to exhibit paintings in the Paris Salon.

Jo, of course, is based on Alcott herself.

5. LIKE THE MARCH FAMILY, THE ALCOTTS KNEW POVERTY.


Frank T. Merrill, Public Domain, Courtesy of The Project Gutenberg

Bronson Alcott’s philosophical ideals made it difficult for him to find employment—for example, as a socialist, he wouldn't work for wages—so the family survived on handouts from friends and neighbors. At times during Louisa’s childhood, there was nothing to eat but bread, water, and the occasional apple.

When she got older, Alcott worked as a paid companion and governess, like Jo does in the novel, and sold “sensation” stories to help pay the bills. She also took on menial jobs, working as a seamstress, a laundress, and a servant. Even as a child, Alcott wanted to help her family escape poverty, something Little Women made possible.

6. ALCOTT REFUSED TO HAVE JO MARRY LAURIE.


Frank T. Merrill, Public Domain, Courtesy of The Project Gutenberg

Alcott, who never married herself, wanted Jo to remain unmarried, too. But while she was working on the second half of Little Women, fans were clamoring for Jo to marry the boy next door, Laurie. “Girls write to ask who the little women marry, as if that was the only aim and end of a woman’s life," Alcott wrote in her journal. "I won’t marry Jo to Laurie to please anyone.”

As a compromise—or to spite her fans—Alcott married Jo to the decidedly unromantic Professor Bhaer. Laurie ends up with Amy.

7. THERE ARE LOTS OF THEORIES ABOUT WHO LAURIE WAS BASED ON.


Frank T. Merrill, Public Domain, Courtesy of The Project Gutenberg

People have theorized Laurie was inspired by everyone from Thoreau to Nathaniel Hawthorne’s son Julian, but this doesn’t seem to be the case. In 1865, while in Europe, Alcott met a Polish musician named Ladislas Wisniewski, whom Alcott nicknamed Laddie. The flirtation between Laddie and Alcott culminated in them spending two weeks together in Paris, alone. According to biographer Harriet Reisen, Alcott later modeled Laurie after Laddie.

How far did the Alcott/Laddie affair go? It’s hard to say, as Alcott later crossed out the section of her diary referring to the romance. In the margin, she wrote, “couldn’t be.”

8. YOU CAN STILL VISIT ORCHARD HOUSE, WHERE ALCOTT WROTE LITTLE WOMEN.

Orchard House in Concord, Massachusetts was the Alcott family home. In 1868, Louisa reluctantly left her Boston apartment to write Little Women there. Today, you can tour this house and see May’s drawings on the walls, as well as the small writing desk that Bronson built for Louisa to use.

9. LITTLE WOMEN HAS BEEN ADAPTED A NUMBER OF TIMES.

In addition to a 1958 TV series, multiple Broadway plays, a musical, a ballet, and an opera, Little Women has been made into more than a half-dozen movies. The most famous are the 1933 version starring Katharine Hepburn, the 1949 version starring June Allyson (with Elizabeth Taylor as Amy), and the 1994 version starring Winona Ryder. Later this year, Clare Niederpruem's modern retelling of the story is scheduled to arrive in movie theaters. It's also been adapted for the small screen a number of times, most recently for PBS's Masterpiece, by Call the Midwife creator Heidi Thomas.

10. IN 1980, A JAPANESE ANIME VERSION OF LITTLE WOMEN WAS RELEASED.

In 1987, Japan made an anime version of Little Women that ran for 48 half-hour episodes. Watch the first two episodes above.

Additional Resources:
Louisa May Alcott: A Personal Biography; Louisa May Alcott: The Woman Behind Little Women; Louisa May Alcott's Journals; Little Women; Alcott Film; C-Span; LouisaMayAlcott.org.

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6 X-Rated Library Collections
The reading room of the British Library, circa 1840
The reading room of the British Library, circa 1840
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

During the 19th century, some librarians became preoccupied with the morality (or lack thereof) of some of their titles. As a result, a number of libraries created special collections for "obscene" works, to ensure that only readers with a valid academic purpose might access them. Below are six examples, adapted from Claire Cock-Starkey’s new book A Library Miscellany.

1. THE "PRIVATE CASE" // THE BRITISH LIBRARY

At the British Library (or British Museum Library, as it was called then), it was John Winter Jones, Keeper of Printed Books from 1856, who was responsible for the creation of the “Private Case.” Titles that were deemed subversive, heretical, libelous, obscene, or that contained state secrets were kept out of the general catalog, stored in separate shelving, and marked with the shelfmark category “PC” (for private case). By far the majority of books in the private case were pornographic or erotic texts; it's rumored that by the mid-1960s the case contained over 5000 such texts, including George Witt’s collection of books on phallicism and Charles Reginald Dawes’s collection of French erotica from 1880–1930.

What was unusual about the Private Case was that it was so secretive: None of the books were recorded in any catalog, as if the collection didn’t exist. But starting in 1983, all books once in the Private Case have been listed in the catalog, and many have been returned to the main collection—although librarians may still check that a reader has academic reasons for consulting some of the more scandalous titles.

2. L’ENFER // BIBLIOTHEQUE NATIONALE DE FRANCE

General stacks of the Bibliotheque nationale de France
FRANCOIS GUILLOT/AFP/Getty Images

L’Enfer, which translates as “the hell,” was created in 1830 to house the French national library’s large collection of erotica and other books that were considered “contrary to good morals.” Many of the works were obtained by the library through confiscation, but fortunately the librarians had the foresight to preserve these scandalous texts. The collection—which still exists—has been largely kept private and was only fully cataloged in 1913, when about 855 titles were recorded.

Modern pornographic magazines and erotic fiction do not get cast into L’Enfer: It is only for rare works or works of cultural significance, such as a handwritten copy of the Marquis de Sade’s Les Infortunes de la Vertu (1787) and The Story of O by Pauline Réage (1954). In 2007, the library put on a public exhibition of some of the more fascinating (and titillating) texts in L’Enfer, finally granting the public a glimpse of this hidden collection.

3. TRIPLE-STAR COLLECTION // NEW YORK PUBLIC LIBRARY

The New York Public Library Main Reading Room
Drew Angerer/Getty Images

At the New York Public Library, some obscene works were once hand-marked with "***", which indicated that readers who wanted to consult those volumes had to be supervised. (Librarians regularly collected erotica, including from nearby Times Square, as part of their "mandate to collect life as it was lived," according to The New York Times.This system began in the mid-20th century and caused certain titles to be locked in caged shelves; it also meant that the items could only be consulted in a small restricted part of the reading rooms after special permission was granted.

4. PHI COLLECTION // OXFORD'S BODLEIAN LIBRARY

Radcliffe Camera building, part of the Bodleian Library
Oli Scarff/Getty Images

The restricted collection at the Bodleian Library was created by E. W. B. Nicholson, who was head librarian from 1886–1913. No one is quite sure why it was named after the Greek letter phi, but some have suggested it was because it sounds like “fie!” which you might exclaim when asked to retrieve a book from this collection. Or, perhaps it stems from the first letter “phi” of the Greek “phaula” or “phaulos,” meaning worthless, wicked, or base. The collection included pornography alongside works of sexual pathology, and students needed to ask a tutor to confirm their academic need for a book before the librarians would let them consult any texts with a phi shelfmark. Today, many of the books have been reclassified into the general collection, but the phi shelfmark still persists.

5. "XR" COLLECTION // HARVARD’S WIDENER LIBRARY

 Widener Memorial Library at Harvard University
Darren McCollester/Newsmakers

The Widener Library still holds its restricted collection behind a locked copper door in the basement of the library—not because they still want to hide it, but simply because (it's said) no one has the time to redistribute the collection back into main circulation. The collection was thought to have been set up in the 1950s, after a sociology professor complained that many texts he needed for his class were missing or defaced (the Playboy centerfold was apparently always going astray), and thus the restricted collection was created to protect and preserve rather than to censor. The collection was only added to for a 30-year period and is now closed; however, its classification reveals something of the social attitudes of the times towards titles such as The Passions and Lechery of Catherine the Great (1971) and D. H. Lawrence’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover (1928). The X part of the shelfmark does not stand for X-rated but indicates that the books are unusual; the R part stands for “restricted.”

6. THE ARC // CAMBRIDGE UNIVERSITY LIBRARY

Trinity College Library, Cambridge University
Central Press/Getty Images

As library collections are frequently made up of a series of smaller collections donated to the institution, they may often acquire titles that the library may otherwise have not chosen to collect—such as some of the more risqué works. Cambridge University Library felt it had a duty to students to protect them from some of the more offensive books in their collection, and for this reason the Arc (short for arcana—meaning secrets or mysteries) classification was created. As with other restricted collections, Cambridge’s Arc provides a fascinating insight into changing moral attitudes. Some of the highlights included what is considered by some historians as the first gay novel, L’Alcibiade fanciullo a scola (Alcibiades the Schoolboy), published in 1652; a 1922 copy of Ulysses by James Joyce (notable because at that time the book was being burned by UK Customs Officers); and a misprinted copy of the Cambridge Bible.

BONUS: "INFERNO" // THE VATICAN LIBRARY

The Sistine Hall, once part of the Vatican Library
Michal Osmenda, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 2.0

There has always been a rumor that the Vatican Library holds the largest collection of pornographic material in the world, in a collection supposedly known as the “Inferno,” but in fact this honor goes to the Kinsey Institute for Sex Research in Bloomington, Indiana. It is thought that the Vatican Library’s collection was created from the thousands of erotic works that have been confiscated by the Vatican over the years. However, no evidence for the collection has been found, and the (admittedly incredibly secretive) Vatican librarians deny its very existence.

This article is an expanded version of an entry in Claire Cock-Starkey’s A Library Miscellany, published by Bodleian Library Publishing.

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