Wednesday is New Comics Day


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

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.


- 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).

10 Fascinating Facts About The Scarlet Letter

These days, we tend to think about The Scarlet Letter in relation to high school students struggling with their English papers, but we didn’t always see the book that way. When Nathaniel Hawthorne published the novel on March 16, 1850, it was a juicy bestseller about an adulterous woman forced to wear a scarlet ‘A’ on her chest by a community steeped in religious hypocrisy. Here are 10 things you might not have known about the classic tome.


Hawthorne, who was born in Salem, Massachusetts, was aware of his messy Puritan heritage. His great-great-grandfather William Hathorne came to Salem in 1636. As the Massachusetts Bay delegate, he tried to rid the town of Quakers by having them whipped and dragged through the street half naked. His son, John Hathorne, was even worse. As a magistrate during the Salem witch trials of 1692, he examined more than one hundred accused witches, and found them all guilty. Hawthorne detested this legacy and distanced himself from his ancestors by adding the “W” to the spelling of his name.


Unable to support his family by publishing short stories, Hawthorne took a politically appointed post at the Salem Custom House in 1846. Three years later, he was fired because of a political shakeup. The loss of his job, as well as the death of his mother, depressed Hawthorne, but he was also furious at Salem. "I detest this town so much that I hate to go out into the streets, or to have people see me,” he said.

It was in this mood that he started The Scarlet Letter.


In 1846, Hawthorne's sister-in-law Elizabeth Peabody published the work of Hungarian linguist Charles Kraitsir. Two years later, it was discovered that Kraitsir’s wife had seduced several of his students at the University of Virginia. He left his wife and daughter in Philadelphia and fled to Peabody for help. Peabody responded by going to Philadelphia in an attempt to gain guardianship of the daughter. This didn’t go over so well with the wife. She followed Peabody back to Boston and confronted her husband. In response, Peabody and Kraitsir tried to get her committed to a lunatic asylum. The press got wind of the story and Kraitsir was skewered for looking weak and hiding behind Peabody’s skirts. Hawthorne watched as the scandal surrounding a woman’s affairs played out on the public stage, right as he was starting The Scarlet Letter.


Hawthorne must have known there was historical precedence for The Scarlet Letter. According to a 1658 law in Plymouth, people caught in adultery were whipped and forced “to weare two Capitall letters namely A D cut out in cloth and sowed on theire vpermost Garments on theire arme or backe.” If they ever took the letters off, they would be publicly whipped again. A similar law was enacted in Salem.

In the town of York (now in Maine) in 1651, near where Hawthorne’s family owned property, a woman named Mary Batchellor was whipped 40 lashes for adultery and forced to wear an ‘A’ on her clothes. She was married to Stephen Batchellor, a minister over 80 years old. Sound familiar?


In an 1871 issue of The Atlantic Monthly, editor James T. Fields wrote about being Hawthorne’s champion. Not only did he try to get Hawthorne reinstated in his Custom House post, Fields said he convinced Hawthorne to write The Scarlet Letter as a novel. One day, while trying to encourage the despondent writer ("'Who would risk publishing a book for me, the most unpopular writer in America?' 'I would,' said I"), Fields noticed Hawthorne’s bureau. He said he bet Hawthorne had already written something new and that it was in one of the drawers. Hawthorne, flabbergasted, pulled out a manuscript. “How in Heaven's name did you know this thing was there?” he said. He gave Fields the “germ” of The Scarlet Letter. Fields then persuaded Hawthorne to alter “the plan of that story” and write a full-sized book. The rest is history.

Or is it? Hawthorne’s wife Sophia said of Fields’s claims: “He has made the absurd boast that he was the sole cause of the Scarlet Letter being published!" She added that Edwin Percy Whipple was the one who encouraged Hawthorne.


Hester Prynne is a tall, dignified character who endures her outcast status with grace and strength. Although she has fallen to a low place as an adulteress with an illegitimate child, she becomes a successful seamstress and raises her daughter even though the authorities want to take the child away. As such, she’s a complex character who embodies what happens when a woman breaks societal rules. Hawthorne not only knew accomplished women such as Peabody and Margaret Fuller, he was writing The Scarlet Letter directly after the first women's rights convention in New York in 1848. He was one of the first American writers to depict “women’s rights, women’s work, women in relation to men, and social change,” according to biographer Brenda Wineapple.


As you probably know, Hawthorne hits you in the head with symbolism throughout The Scarlet Letter, starting with the characters’ names—Pearl for an unwanted child, Roger Chillingworth for a twisted, cold man, Arthur Dimmesdale for a man whose education cannot lead him to truth. From the wild woods to the rosebush by the jail to the embroidered ‘A’ itself, it’s easy to see why The Scarlet Letter is the book that launched a thousand literary essays.


In the 87,000-plus words that make up The Scarlet Letter, Hawthorne used “ignominy” 16 times, “ignominious” seven times, and “ignominiously” once. He apparently had affection for the word, which means dishonor, infamy, disgrace, or shame. Either that, or he needed a thesaurus.


While the reviews were generally positive, others condemned The Scarlet Letter as smut. For example, this 1851 review by Reverend Arthur Cleveland Coxe: “Why has our author selected such a theme? … Is it, in short, because a running underside of filth has become as requisite to a romance, as death in the fifth act to a tragedy? Is the French era actually begun in our literature? … we honestly believe that "the Scarlet Letter" has already done not a little to degrade our literature, and to encourage social licentiousness.” This kind of rhetoric didn’t hurt sales. In fact, The Scarlet Letter’s initial print run of 2500 books sold out in 10 days.


The Scarlet Letter made Hawthorne a well-known writer, allowed him to purchase a home in Concord, and insured an audience for books like The House of Seven Gables. However, The Scarlet Letter didn’t make Hawthorne rich. Despite its success in the U.S. and abroad, royalties weren’t that great—overseas editions paid less than a penny per copy. Hawthorne only made $1500 from the book over the remaining 14 years of his life. He was never able to escape the money troubles that plagued him.

Warner Bros.
Pop Culture
Is the True Identity of Voldemort's Pet Snake Hidden in the New Fantastic Beasts Trailer?
Warner Bros.
Warner Bros.

In the Harry Potter series, many of Voldemort's horcruxes were give rich backstories, like Tom Riddle's diary, Marvolo Gaunt's ring, and of course, Harry himself. But the most personal horcrux containing a fragment of Voldemort's soul is also the biggest mystery. Voldemort carries Nagini the snake with him wherever he goes, but we still don't know how the two met or where Nagini came from. Fans may not have to wait much longer to find out: One fan theory laid out by Vanity Fair suggests that Nagini is actually a cursed witch, and her true identity will be revealed in the next Fantastic Beasts movie.

On March 13, the trailer dropped for Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald, the second installment in the Harry Potter prequel series written by J.K. Rowling. The clips include lots of goodies for fans—including a first look at Jude Law as young Dumbledore—but one potential bombshell requires closer examination.

Pay attention at the 1:07 mark in the video below and you'll see Claudia Kim, the actress playing a new, unnamed character in the film. While we don't know much about her yet, Pottermore tells us that she is a Maledictus or “someone who suffers from a ‘blood curse’ that turns them into a beast.” This revelation led some fans to suspect the beast she transforms into is Nagini, the snake destined to be Voldemort's companion.

That isn't the only clue backing up the theory. The second piece of evidence comes in the trailer at the 1:17 mark: There, you can see an advertisement for a "wizarding circus," featuring a poster of a woman resembling Kim constricted a by massive snake.

If Kim's character does turn out to be Nagini, the theory still doesn't explain how she eventually joins forces with Voldemort and becomes his horcrux. Fans will have to wait until the film's release on November 16, 2018 for answers. Fortunately, there are plenty of other Harry Potter fan theories to study up on in the meantime.

[h/t Vanity Fair]


More from mental floss studios