Fantagraphics
Fantagraphics

Wednesday is New Comics Day

Fantagraphics
Fantagraphics

Every Wednesday, I highlight 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. Barnaby Volume One


By Crockett Johnson; Edited by Eric Reynolds & Philip Nel
Fantagraphics

One of the great, hard-to-find, classic comic strips from the mid-20th century is finally getting a modern reprinting with the multi-volume hardcover treatment from publisher FantagraphicsBarnaby was a newspaper strip that ran from 1942 to 1952 and featured a 5-year-old boy who wished for a fairy godmother and instead got a cigar-chomping fairy godfather named O'Malley. It mixed fantasy, satire and political commentary and its humor was often very subtle. So subtle that its popularity was limited compared to most strips of the day. Editors Eric Reynolds and Philip Nel have taken great pains to annotate many of the topical references that were made to help new readers appreciate what Barnaby's small but devoted readership enjoyed at the time.

Creator Crockett Johnson is now perhaps best remembered more for his beloved children's book Harold and the Purple Crayon, but his work on Barnaby inspired cartoonists from Charles Schulz to Dan Clowes, who has art-directed this collection. This is the first of five volumes that will collect every single strip that Johnson created. Previous reprints are so rare now that they have become unaffordable to all but the most avid collectors, but Fantagraphics hopes to make Barnaby more accessible to all fans of the comic strip format.

An interesting thing to note about Barnaby is that the typeset—rather than hand drawn—lettering Crockett used made it stand out from other newspaper strips at the time. In this age of digitally lettered webcomics, maybe it will no longer seem so out of place.

2. Primates: The Fearless Science of Jane Goodall, Dian Fossey, and Biruté Galdikas

Written by Jim Ottaviani; art by Maris Wicks
First Second

Jim Ottaviani, a former nuclear engineer and reference librarian, has made a career for himself writing biographical comics about real-life scientists like Robert Oppenheimer and Richard Feynman. In his latest, Primates, he collaborates with cartoonist Maris Wicks to tell the story of three famous researchers—Jane Goodall, Dian Fossey and Biruté Galdikas—exploring their lives and the important, breakthrough work they achieved studying primates in the wild.

Maris Wicks is an illustrator with what you might call a "cute" style that makes her work accessible and enjoyable to all ages, but especially to younger readers. An underappreciated strength of comics is the way they can be used to teach while also being entertaining. Ottaviani and Wicks aim to do just that here, teaching young readers about three of the most important women scientists of the 20th century while letting them vicariously enjoy primate-watching through the eyes of those scientists.    

3. Brother Lono #1

Written by Brian Azzarello; Art by Eduardo Risso; cover by Dave Johnson.
DC Vertigo

100 Bullets was a series that ran for, yes, 100 issues in the early 2000s. It was part of a wave of books published by DC Comics' Vertigo imprint that helped rejuvenate that brand from being the home of strictly horror titles like Sandman and Hellblazer to being a home for genres of all sorts. 100 Bullets itself was kind of a mix of tough guy crime fiction and complicated conspiracy thriller. The book's style hinged on the individual style of its creators: Brian Azzarello's metaphor-rich, sing-songy dialogue and Eduardo Risso's chiaroscuro-heavy, Frank Miller-influenced cartooning. Not to mention the now iconic covers designed by the great Dave Johnson.

Although a lot of fans of the series felt it ran out of steam toward the end, many of them will no doubt be excited to see Azarello and Risso (and Johnson) return to this world and, in particular, one of the most popular characters from the series whom until now we didn't really know had survived the events of the finale.

Lono was the violent, sadistic and unbelievably tough member of the group of killers known as The Minutemen. After the final events of 100 Bullets, we catch up with Lono—now Brother Lono, apparently—down in Mexico doing the work of God. Until things more than likely go to hell.

4. Crater XV & Heck

By Zander and Kevin Cannon
Top Shelf

Crater XV and Heck are actually two separate books - the first, written and drawn by Zander Cannon; the second by Kevin Cannon (apparently no relation) - that originated from a comic anthology called Double Barrel that they released digitally through Comixology. Double Barrel received a lot of praise for being affordably priced at 99¢ while also being packed with lots of quality content. The Cannons have now separated their contributions into two separate hardcover volumes for bookstore release.

Crater XV is a sequel to Kevin Cannon's Eisner-nominated book Far Arden, a swashbuckling arctic adventure full of equal parts action and humor. It's got pirates, astronauts and even killer walruses.

Meanwhile, Heck is more of a morality tale but also quite a bit of fun as it follows Hector "Heck" Hammarskjöld in his new business venture of traveling into the underworld to settle inheritance disputes. Joined by his pint-size, mummy-like companion, Elliot, things get personal when Heck takes on a case for an old flame.

5. The Guns of Shadow Valley

Written by Dave Wachter and James Andrew Clark; Art by Dave Wachter

The supernatural western webcomic The Guns of Shadow Valley has just launched a Kickstarter to fund the completion and production of a final 200+ hardcover volume. It's already very quickly reached its goal but there's still time to contribute, still rewards to get and of course still stretch goals to achieve.

The comic is set in 1870s Oklahoma Territory and deals with super-powered gunmen facing off against an army of ghost soldiers to protect a mysterious secret. It has elements of horror, science fiction, steampunk and of course gunslinging. It seems to be part of a trend of supernatural westerns that have cropped up over the years like Cullen Bunn and Brian Hurtt's The Sixth Gun.

The real selling point to this comic is the artwork of Dave Wachter. His style is reminiscent of some of the great realist comic book artists of the '70s like Neal Adams, not to mention some of the great artists of classic comic westerns like John Severin. He has a detailed, painterly style that perfectly fits the mood of this type of genre story.

You'll notice the horizontal format of the book shown here and I should note that actually three of the books mentioned here use this atypical graphic novel format for reasons that span the history of comics: one that uses it because it collects horizontal newspaper strips and two that use it because they collect work that were created for the landscape format of a computer (or tablet) screen.

Pledge to the Kickstarter for The Guns of Shadow Valley here.

MEANWHILE, IN COMICS NEWS THIS PAST WEEK:

- Man of Steel had the biggest June opening ever. Bring on the Justice League movie! Oh, they're going to rush it into production for a 2015 release? Yeah, that sounds like enough time to make a quality, special-effets laden movie not to mention time to figure out how to reboot Christopher Nolan's Batman.

- Speaking of Superman, if you've got an itch to read some good Superman comics now, there's still time left on Comixology's 99¢ sale on many of the best Superman comics ever.

- And the Small Press Expo announced that Congressman and civl rights icon John Lewis will be a featured guest at their show in September. He'll be signing the new first volume of the graphic novel biography of his life, March: Book One. He will certainly be the first sitting member of Congress to attend SPX and don't forget that his book sports another comics first: a cover blurb written by a former president (Bill Clinton).

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How Bats Protect Rare Books at This Portuguese Library
iStock
iStock

Visit the Joanina Library at the University of Coimbra in Portugal at night and you might think the building has a bat problem. It's true that common pipistrelle bats live there, occupying the space behind the bookshelves by day and swooping beneath the arched ceilings and in and out of windows once the sun goes down, but they're not a problem. As Smithsonian reports, the bats play a vital role in preserving the institution's manuscripts, so librarians are in no hurry to get rid of them.

The bats that live in the library don't damage the books and, because they're nocturnal, they usually don't bother the human guests. The much bigger danger to the collection is the insect population. Many bug species are known to gnaw on paper, which could be disastrous for the library's rare items that date from before the 19th century. The bats act as a natural form of pest control: At night, they feast on the insects that would otherwise feast on library books.

The Joanina Library is famous for being one of the most architecturally stunning libraries on earth. It was constructed before 1725, but when exactly the bats arrived is unknown. Librarians can say for sure they've been flapping around the halls since at least the 1800s.

Though bats have no reason to go after the materials, there is one threat they pose to the interior: falling feces. Librarians protect against this by covering their 18th-century tables with fabric made from animal skin at night and cleaning the floors of guano every morning.

[h/t Smithsonian]

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12 Facts About James Joyce
Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

June 16, 1904 is the day that James Joyce, the Irish author of Modernist masterpieces like Dubliners and A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, and who was described as “a curious mixture of sinister genius and uncertain talent,” set his seminal work, Ulysses. It also thought to be the day that he had his first date with his future wife, Nora Barnacle.

He was as mythical as the myths he used as the foundations for his own work. So in honor of that June day in 1904—known to fans worldwide as “Bloomsday,” after one of the book’s protagonists, Leopold Bloom—here are 12 facts about James Joyce.

1. HE WAS ONLY 9 WHEN HIS FIRST PIECE OF WRITING WAS PUBLISHED.

In 1891, shortly after he had to leave Clongowes Wood College when his father lost his job, 9-year-old Joyce wrote a poem called “Et Tu Healy?” It was published by his father John and distributed to friends; the elder Joyce thought so highly of it, he allegedly sent copies to the Pope.

No known complete copies of the poem exist, but the precocious student’s verse allegedly denounced a politician named Tim Healy for abandoning 19th century Irish nationalist politician Charles Stewart Parnell after a sex scandal. Fragments of the ending of the poem, later remembered by James’s brother Stanislaus, showed Parnell looking down on Irish politicians:

His quaint-perched aerie on the crags of Time
Where the rude din of this century
Can trouble him no more

While the poem was seemingly quaint, young Joyce equating Healy as Brutus and Parnell as Caesar marked the first time he’d use old archetypes in a modern context, much in the same way Ulysses is a unique retelling of The Odyssey.

As an adult, Joyce would publish his first book, a collection of poems called Chamber Music, in 1907. It was followed by Dubliners, a collection of short stories, in 1914, and the semi-autobiographical A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (in which Clongowes Wood College is prominently featured) in 1916.

2. HE CAUSED A CONTROVERSY AT HIS COLLEGE’S PAPER.

While attending University College Dublin, Joyce attempted to publish a negative review—titled “The Day of the Rabblement”—of a new local playhouse called the Irish Literary Theatre in the school’s paper, St. Stephen’s. Joyce’s condemnation of the theater’s “parochialism” was allegedly so scathing that the paper’s editors, after seeking consultation from one of the school’s priests, refused to print it.

Incensed about possible censorship, Joyce appealed to the school’s president, who sided with the editors—which prompted Joyce to put up his own money to publish 85 copies to be distributed across campus.

The pamphlet, published alongside a friend’s essay to beef up the page-count, came with the preface: “These two essays were commissioned by the editor of St. Stephen’s for that paper, but were subsequently refused insertion by the censor.” It wouldn’t be the last time Joyce would fight censorship.

3. NORA BARNACLE GHOSTED HIM FOR THEIR PLANNED FIRST DATE.

By the time Nora Barnacle and Joyce finally married in 1931, they had lived together for 27 years, traveled the continent and had two children. The couple first met in Dublin in 1904 when Joyce struck up a conversation with her near the hotel where Nora worked as a chambermaid. She initially mistook him for a Swedish sailor because of his blue eyes and the yachting cap he wore that day, and he charmed her so much that they set a date for June 14—but she didn’t show.

He then wrote her a letter, saying, “I looked for a long time at a head of reddish-brown hair and decided it was not yours. I went home quite dejected. I would like to make an appointment but it might not suit you. I hope you will be kind enough to make one with me—if you have not forgotten me!” This led to their first date, which supposedly took place on June 16, 1904.

She would continue to be his muse throughout their life together in both his published work (the character Molly Bloom in Ulysses is based on her) and their fruitful personal correspondence. Their notably dirty love letters to each other—featuring him saying their love-making reminded him of “a hog riding a sow” and signing off one by saying “Goodnight, my little farting Nora, my dirty littlef**kbird!"—have highlighted the NSFW nature of their relationship. In fact, one of Joyce’s signed erotic letters to Nora fetched a record £240,800 ($446,422) at a London auction in 2004.

4. HE HAD REALLY BAD EYES.

While Joyce’s persistent money problems caused him to lead a life of what could be categorized as creative discomfort, he had to deal with a near lifetime of medical discomfort as well. Joyce suffered from anterior uveitis, which led to a series of around 12 eye surgeries over his lifetime. (Due to the relatively unsophisticated state of ophthalmology at the time, and his decision not to listen to contemporary medical advice, scholars speculate that his iritis, glaucoma, and cataracts could have been caused by sarcoidosis, syphilis, tuberculosis, or any number of congenital problems.) His vision issues caused Joyce to wear an eye patch for years and forced him to do his writing on large white sheets of paper using only red crayon. The persistent eye struggles even inspired him to name his daughter Lucia, after St. Lucia, patron saint of the blind.

5. HE TAUGHT ENGLISH AT A BERLITZ LANGUAGE SCHOOL.

In 1904, Joyce—eager to get out of Ireland—responded to an ad for a teaching position in Europe. Evelyn Gilford, a job agent based in the British town of Market Rasen, Lincolnshire, notified Joyce that a job was reserved for him and, for two guineas, he would be told exactly where the position was. Joyce sent the money, and by the end of 1904, he and his future wife, Nora, had left Dublin for the job at a Berlitz language school in Zurich, Switzerland—but when they got there, the pair learned there was no open position. But they did hear a position was open at a Berlitz school in Trieste, Italy. The pair packed up and moved on to Italy only to find out they’d been swindled again.

Joyce eventually found a Berlitz teaching job in Pola in Austria-Hungary (now Pula, Croatia). English was one of 17 languages Joyce could speak; others included Arabic, Sanskrit, Greek, and Italian (which eventually became his preferred language, and one that he exclusively spoke at home with his family). He also loved playwright Henrik Ibsen so much that he learned Norwegian so that he could read Ibsen's works in their original form—and send the writer a fan letter in his native tongue.

6. HE INVESTED IN A MOVIE THEATER.

There are about 400 movie theaters in Ireland today, but they trace their history back to 1909, when Joyce helped open the Volta Cinematograph, which is considered “the first full-time, continuous, dedicated cinema” in Ireland.

More a money-making scheme than a product of a love of cinema, Joyce first got the idea when he was having trouble getting Dubliners published and noticed the abundance of cinemas while living in Trieste. When his sister, Eva, told him Ireland didn’t have any movie theaters, Joyce joined up with four Italian investors (he’d get 10 percent of the profits) to open up the Volta on Dublin’s Mary Street.

The venture fizzled as quickly as Joyce’s involvement. After not attracting audiences due to mostly showing only Italian and European movies unpopular with everyday Dubliners, Joyce cut his losses and pulled out of the venture after only seven months.

The cinema itself didn’t close until 1919, during the time Joyce was hard at work on Ulysses. (It reopened with a different name in 1921 and didn’t fully close until 1948.)

7. HE TURNED TO A COMPLETELY INEXPERIENCED PUBLISHER TO RELEASE HIS MOST WELL-KNOWN BOOK.

The publishing history of Ulysses is itself its own odyssey. Joyce began writing the work in 1914, and by 1918 he had begun serializing the novel in the American magazine Little Review with the help of poet Ezra Pound.

But by 1921, Little Review was in financial trouble. The published version of Episode 13 of Ulysses, “Nausicaa,” resulted in a costly obscenity lawsuit against its publishers, Margaret Anderson and Jane Heap, and the book was banned in the United States. Joyce appealed to different publishers for help—including Leonard and Virginia Woolf’s Hogarth Press—but none agreed to take on a project with such legal implications (and in Virginia Woolf’s case, length), no matter how supposedly groundbreaking it was.

Joyce, then based in Paris, made friends with Sylvia Beach, whose bookstore, Shakespeare and Company, was a gathering hub for the post-war expatriate creative community. In her autobiography, Beach wrote:

All hope of publication in the English-speaking countries, at least for a long time to come, was gone. And here in my little bookshop sat James Joyce, sighing deeply.

It occurred to me that something might be done, and I asked : “Would you let Shakespeare and Company have the honour of bringing out your Ulysses?”

He accepted my offer immediately and joyfully. I thought it rash of him to entrust his great Ulysses to such a funny little publisher. But he seemed delighted, and so was I. ... Undeterred by lack of capital, experience, and all the other requisites of a publisher, I went right ahead with Ulysses.

Beach planned a first edition of 1000 copies (with 100 signed by the author), while the book would continue to be banned in a number of countries throughout the 1920s and 1930s. Eventually it was allowed to be published in the United States in 1933 after the case United States v. One Book Called Ulysses deemed the book not obscene and allowed it in the United States.

8. ERNEST HEMINGWAY WAS HIS DRINKING BUDDY—AND SOMETIMES HIS BODYGUARD.

Ernest Hemingway—who was major champion of Ulysses—met Joyce at Shakespeare and Company, and was later a frequent companion among the bars of Paris with writers like Wyndham Lewis and Valery Larbaud.

Hemingway recalled the Irish writer would start to get into drunken fights and leave Hemingway to deal with the consequences. "Once, in one of those casual conversations you have when you're drinking," Hemingway said, "Joyce said to me he was afraid his writing was too suburban and that maybe he should get around a bit and see the world. He was afraid of some things, lightning and things, but a wonderful man. He was under great discipline—his wife, his work and his bad eyes. His wife was there and she said, yes, his work was too suburban--'Jim could do with a spot of that lion hunting.' We would go out to drink and Joyce would fall into a fight. He couldn't even see the man so he'd say, 'Deal with him, Hemingway! Deal with him!'"

9. HE MET ANOTHER MODERNIST TITAN—AND HAD A TERRIBLE TIME.

Marcel Proust’s gargantuan, seven-volume masterpiece, À la recherche du temps perdu, is perhaps the other most important Modernist work of the early 20th century besides Ulysses. In May 1922, the authors met at a party for composer Igor Stravinsky and ballet impresario Sergei Diaghilev in Paris. The Dubliners author arrived late, was drunk, and wasn’t wearing formal clothes because he was too poor to afford them. Proust arrived even later than Joyce, and though there are varying accounts of what was actually said between the two, every known version points to a very anticlimactic meeting of the minds.

According to author William Carlos Williams, Joyce said, “I’ve headaches every day. My eyes are terrible,” to which the ailing Proust replied, “My poor stomach. What am I going to do? It’s killing me. In fact, I must leave at once.”

Publisher Margaret Anderson claimed that Proust admitted, “I regret that I don’t know Mr. Joyce’s work,” while Joyce replied, “I have never read Mr. Proust.”

Art reviewer Arthur Power said both writers simply talked about liking truffles. Joyce later told painter Frank Budgen, “Our talk consisted solely of the word ‘No.’”

10. HE CREATED A 100-LETTER WORD TO DESCRIBE HIS FEAR OF THUNDER AND LIGHTNING.

Joyce had a childhood fear of thunder and lightning, which sprang from his Catholic governess’s pious warnings that such meteorological occurrences were actually God manifesting his anger at him. The fear haunted the writer all his life, though Joyce recognized the beginnings of his phobia. When asked by a friend why he was so afraid of rough weather, Joyce responded, “You were not brought up in Catholic Ireland.”

The fear also manifested itself in Joyce’s writing. In Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, the autobiographical protagonist Stephen Dedalus says he fears “dogs, horses, firearms, the sea, thunderstorms, [and] machinery.”

But the most fascinating manifestation of his astraphobia is in his stream of consciousness swan song, Finnegans Wake, where he created the 100-letter word Bababadalgharaghtaka-mminarronnkonnbronntonnerronntuonnthunntrovarrhounawnskawntoohoohoordenenthurnuk to represent a symbolic biblical thunderclap. The mouthful is actually made up of different words for “thunder” in French (tonnerre), Italian (tuono), Greek (bronte), and Japanese (kaminari).

11. HE’S THOUGHT OF AS A LITERARY GENIUS, BUT NOT EVERYONE WAS A FAN.

Fellow Modernist Virginia Woolf didn't much care for Joyce or his work. She compared his writing to "a queasy undergraduate scratching his pimples," and said that "one hopes he’ll grow out of it; but as Joyce is 40 this scarcely seems likely."

She wasn't the only one. In a letter, D.H. Lawrence—who wrote such classics as Women in Love and Lady Chatterley’s Loversaid of Joyce: “My God, what a clumsy olla putrida James Joyce is! Nothing but old fags and cabbage stumps of quotations from the Bible and the rest stewed in the juice of deliberate, journalistic dirty-mindedness.”

“Do I get much pleasure from this work? No," author H.G. Wells wrote in his review of Finnegans Wake. “ ... Who the hell is this Joyce who demands so many waking hours of the few thousand I have still to live for a proper appreciation of his quirks and fancies and flashes of rendering?”

Even his partner Nora had a difficult time with his work, saying after the publication of Ulysses, “Why don’t you write sensible books that people can understand?”

12. HIS SUPPOSED FINAL WORDS WERE AS ABSTRACT AS HIS WRITING.

Joyce was admitted to a Zurich hospital in January 1941 for a perforated duodenal ulcer, but slipped into a coma after surgery and died on January 13. His last words were befitting his notoriously difficult works—they're said to have been, "Does nobody understand?"

Additional Source: James Joyce

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