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Fantagraphics

Wednesday is New Comics Day

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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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P.G. Wodehouse's Exile from England
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You don’t get more British than Jeeves and Wooster. The P.G. Wodehouse characters are practically synonymous with elevenses and Pimm’s. But in 1947, their creator left England for the U.S. and never looked back.

Pelham Grenville Wodehouse, better known as P.G., was living in northern France and working on his latest Jeeves and Wooster novel, Joy in the Morning, when the Nazis came knocking. They occupied his estate for a period of time before shipping him off to an internment camp in Germany, which he later said he found pretty pleasant:

“Everybody seems to think a German internment camp must be a sort of torture chamber. It was really perfectly normal and ordinary. The camp had an extraordinarily nice commander, and we did all sorts of things, you know. We played cricket, that sort of thing. Of course, I was writing all the time.”

Wodehouse was there for 11 months before being suddenly released to a hotel in Berlin where a man from the German foreign office named Werner Plack was waiting to meet him. Wodehouse was somewhat acquainted with Plack from a stint in Hollywood, so finding him waiting didn't seem out of the ordinary. Plack advised Wodehouse to use his time in the internment camp to his advantage, and suggested writing a radio series about his experiences to be broadcast in America.

As Plack probably suspected, Wodehouse’s natural writing style meant that his broadcasts were light-hearted affairs about playing cricket and writing novels, This didn’t sit too well with the British, who believed Wodehouse was trying to downplay the horrors of the war. The writer was shocked when MI5 subjected him to questioning about the “propaganda” he wrote for the Germans. "I thought that people, hearing the talks, would admire me for having kept cheerful under difficult conditions," he told them in 1944. "I would like to conclude by saying that I never had any intention of assisting the enemy and that I have suffered a great deal of mental pain as the result of my action."

Wodehouse's contemporary George Orwell came to his aid, penning a 1945 an essay called “In Defense of P.G. Wodehouse." Sadly, it didn’t do much to sway public opinion. Though MI5 ultimately decided not to prosecute, it seemed that British citizens had already made up their minds, with some bookstores and libraries even removing all Wodehouse material from their shelves. Seeing the writing on the wall, the author and his wife packed up all of their belongings and moved to New York in 1947. They never went back to England.

But that’s not to say Wodehouse didn’t want to. In 1973, at the age of 91, he expressed interest in returning. “I’d certainly like to, but at my age it’s awfully difficult to get a move on. But I’d like to go back for a visit in the spring. They all seem to want me to go back. The trouble is that I’ve never flown. I suppose that would solve everything."

Unfortunately, he died of a heart attack before he could make the trip. But the author bore no ill will toward his native country. When The Paris Review interviewed Wodehouse in 1973, they asked if he resented the way he was treated by the English. “Oh, no, no, no. Nothing of that sort. The whole thing seems to have blown over now,” he said.  He was right—the Queen bestowed Wodehouse with a knighthood two months before his death, showing that all was forgiven.

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The Internet Archive is Making 62 Obscure, Out-of-Print Books Available Online
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Dozens of of obscure, out-of-print books are about to become much more accessible thanks to the Internet Archive, the digital archive of public domain media. But to do it, they’ll have to exploit a loophole in a controversial copyright law, as Ars Technica reports.

The Internet Archive is releasing the Sonny Bono Memorial Collection, a group of books from the 1920s and 1930s that are out of print, but still technically under copyright—meaning they’re extremely difficult to get a hold of.

The Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act was a copyright extension law passed in 1998 to extend copyright protections to works published after 1923 (which would otherwise have already entered the public domain) by 20 years. Unfortunately, while Disney may be happy that Mickey Mouse still falls under copyright protections, that also means that less-famous books that are now out of print can’t be made available to the public. But a provision of the law provides for public access for research, allowing nonprofit libraries to distribute the works if they cannot be found elsewhere for a reasonable price.

A screenshot of an online collection of books from the Internet Archive
Screenshot, Internet Archive

The Internet Archive explains:

We believe the works in this collection are eligible for free public access under 17 U.S.C. Section 108(h) which allows for non-profit libraries and archives to reproduce, distribute, display, and publicly perform a work if it meets the criteria of: a published work in the last 20 years of copyright, and after conducting a reasonable investigation, no commercial exploitation or copy at a reasonable price could be found.

Libraries don’t tend to take advantage of the law because it takes considerable resources to track down which works are eligible. However, the Internet Archive collaborated with Elizabeth Townsend Gard, a Tulane copyright expert, and a pair of interns to find books that could be scanned and uploaded online legally. Gard has released guidelines for libraries based on this work to help other archives do the same.

The Internet Archive is starting out with 62 books published between 1923 and 1941 (meaning they’re within 20 years of their copyright expiring) and plan to release up to 10,000 more in the near future to be downloaded and read by online users. And the collection will grow each January as more books enter that 20-year window.

[h/t Ars Technica]

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