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DC Comics

Wednesday is New Comics Day

DC Comics
DC Comics

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. Batman '66 #1

Written by Jeff Parker; art by Jonathan Case
DC Comics

For nearly 50 years, comics (specifically Batman comics) have seemingly been running away from the campy, "Bam! Pow! Zing!" style of the Batman TV show from the '60s, especially now that Christopher Nolan's dark and serious take on Batman in his trilogy of films has finally replaced the image of Adam West's drawn on, arched eyebrows and Burt Ward's tighty greenies in the minds of the mainstream public.

The truth is, however, DC Comics and 20th Century Fox (who produced the original TV show) have been embroiled for years in legal issues surrounding licensing rights to the show that were finally settled last year. The likenesses of these versions of these characters can now be used by DC without fear of legal reprisal. Also, despite years of distancing themselves from it in a desire for legitimacy, most comic book fans really do love that old show and many of today's creators grew up on it.

Jeff Parker and Jonathan Case are two of those creators, and they have seemed to jump at the chance to be the first to bring this version of Batman back to comics. Their approach to this book, as Parker has said in interviews, is to tell stories as if the TV show had an unlimited budget to allow for big, expensive action scenes. Same setting, same dry humor, same villains, but Jonathan Case is free to open up the world beyond the cheap studio settings.

This comic isn't all about looking backwards though. While the first issue hits comic shops this week, it has already been released via Comixology as two separate 99¢ digital comics. They are produced in DC's version of what Marvel has been labeling "Infinite Comics." Basically, panels can appear one beat at a time, and word balloons pop on as you need to read them. In the case of this comic, the effect almost mimics the effects the show used which in turn were meant to mimic the effect of reading a comic. 

This new method is considered the future of digital comics by some, but it still allows the book to be published in print as we see this week. The question will only be, in which format is it a more satisfying read?

2. Super Graphic: A Visual Guide To the Comic Book Universe

By Tim Leong
Chronicle Books

If you think about it, infographics and comic books are related in some way, almost like distant cousins. You only have to look at a Chris Ware comic to see the missing link that binds their lineage. Like comics, infographics have become pretty big on the web over the years, and like comics, they don't often get their due as an artform in and of themselves.

Tim Leong loves both of these art forms and has taken the novel step of combining them into a new book, called Super Graphic, in which he parses the data on such things as the political leanings of various super hero characters, or the kill counts in The Walking Dead and The Punisher, and turns them into colorful and crisply designed charts and graphs. 

This is Leong's first book, but he is no stranger to design or comics. Until recently he was the Director of Digital Design for Wired and previously he had founded the well-regarded comics magazine called Comics Foundry.

The book was officially released on Tuesday and you can order a copy on Amazon here. To get a taste of Super Graphic and other things that make Tim Leong tick, check out his Tumblr and see lots of great historic examples of comics and infographics crossing over.

3. Walrus 

By Brandon Graham
PictureBox

Brandon Graham is currently the writer and creative brains behind the re-imagined sci-fi series Prophet from Image, and is equally known for his own comics, King City and Multiple Warheads. He's one of the most interesting and surprising talents working in comics right now. His style is instantly recognizable: thin lines; unexpected combinations of soft, tinted colors; graffiti-like lettering; rubbery looking people with a sexy, futuristic look; and rolling, intricate, urban landscapes often populated by strange creatures. His work is almost a punk synthesis of Moebius, James Stokoe, Hayao Miyazaki, Paul Pope and Akira Toriyama. It's dense, weird, highly imaginative, and funny (especially if you enjoy puns—Graham sure does).

Picturebox has released a new art book showing Graham's sketchbook process of generating his wild ideas. He has called it Walrus (subtitled Brandon Graham's All Bum Album as well as From Tusk 'Til Drawn, which give you a sense of his playful sense of wordplay), an oddly fitting name for what is sure to be 100-plus pages filled to excess with ideas. If you follow Graham's highly interesting Wordpress blog, he often shares both glimpses of his sketches and examples of the various things that are influencing him at the time. The blog itself is likely a glimpse at what you might expect from the book, but for a more explicit glimpse check out the PictureBox site with preview.

4. Goddamn This War!

By Jacques Tardi with contributions by Jean-Pierre Verney
Fantagraphics

Fifteen years ago, Jacques Tardi wrote and illustrated what is considered his masterpiece, It Was The War Of The Trenches, a dark and wrenching examination of the horrors of World War I. Trenches only appeared in English for the first time just a few years ago, in an exquisitely designed hardcover format through Fantagraphics.

This week, Tardi returns to the trenches with Goddamn This War!, a follow-up to the first book—though not a sequel, so it can be read on its own. Tardi is joined by historian and collector Jean-Pierre Verney who helped with the research needed to get all the visual and situational details correct. Verney also provides a text section and visual samples of dozens of photographs and documents from his personal collection.

Tardi is one of the great European cartoonists working today. His way of depicting the horrors of war is unflinching and tragic. Fantagraphics has been building an impressive library of translated hardcover volumes of his work over the years. You can preview a number of pages from this one over on their website.

5. Mercworks

By Dave Mercier
Kickstarter

Mercworks is a strip comic by cartoonist Dave Mercier that has been running as a webcomic since 2011 and has built up enough of an archive that he has taken to Kickstarter to produce his first print collection. The comic generally consists of funny moments loosely based on Mercier's own life and past relationships but with some obvious fictional embellishments. For instance, this funny gag involving a malfunctioning laptop and The Fonz from Happy Days.

Mercier's Kickstarter has just begun and has not reached its goal just yet, so there are lots of pledging options available. He's offering some nice higher-priced incentives like prints and the opportunity to get a digital or hand-drawn portrait of of yourself.

Check out his Kickstarter here or read through the archives of his webcomic over here.

MEANWHILE, IN COMICS NEWS THIS PAST WEEK: 

- The Harvey Award nominations are up. If the Eisner Awards are comics' Oscars, The Harvey Awards are perhaps their Golden Globes. Often a few odd or unexpected nominees appear on the ballot but for the most part there are some great people and books up for awards here.

- Licensed properties being turned into comics seem to be the way to make some bucks in comics these days, but I can't say I expected NBC to start making digital comics out of shows like Punky Brewster, Saved By The Bell and Miami Vice.

- Marvel and writer Matt Fraction are looking to make The Inhumans a major part of the Marvel Universe with a new series focusing on themes of alienation, warring families and inequality.

- San Diego Comic Con, the biggest event of the year for both comics and blockbuster Hollywood films made to appeal to comics fans, begins tomorrow. Most likely, a lot of news and new books will be announced throughout the weekend.

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The Little Known Airport Bookstore Program That Can Get You Half of What You Spend on Books Back
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Inflight entertainment is a necessary evil, but the price can quickly add up without the proper planning. Between Wi-Fi access and TV/movie packages, you can run into all kinds of annoying additional charges that will only increase the longer your flight is. Thankfully, there is one way to minimize the cost of your inflight entertainment that’s a dream for any reader.

Paradies Lagardère, which runs more than 850 stores in 98 airports across the U.S. and Canada, has an attractive Read and Return program for all the books they sell. All you have to do is purchase a title, read it, and return it to a Paradies Lagardère-owned shop within six months and you'll get half your money back. This turns a $28 hardcover into a $14 one. Books in good condition are re-sold for half the price by the company, while books with more wear and tear are donated to charity.

If you haven’t heard of Paradies Lagardère, don’t worry—you’ve probably been in one of their stores. They’re the company behind a range of retail spots in airports, including licensed ventures like The New York Times Bookstore and CNBC News, and more local shops exclusive to the city you're flying out of. They also run restaurants, travel essentials stores, and specialty shops. 

Not every Paradies Lagardère store sells books, though, and the company doesn’t operate out of every airport, so you’ll need to do a little research before just buying a book the next time you fly. Luckily, the company does have an online map that shows every airport it operates out of and which stores are there.

There is one real catch to remember: You must keep the original receipt of the book if you want to return it and get your money back. If you're the forgetful type, just follow PureWow’s advice and use the receipt as a bookmark and you’ll be golden.

For frequent flyers who plan ahead, this program can ensure that your inflight entertainment will never break the bank.

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Musée du Louvre, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain
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How a Notorious Art Heist Led to the Discovery of 6 Fake Mona Lisas
Musée du Louvre, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain
Musée du Louvre, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Human civilization has changed a lot over the past five millennia—but our instinct toward fakery, fraud, and flimflam seems to have remained relatively stable. In their new book Hoax: A History of Deception (Black Dog & Leventhal), Ian Tattersall and Peter Névraumont sift through 5000 years of our efforts to con others with scams and shakedowns of every description, from selling nonexistent real estate to transatlantic time travel. This excerpt reveals a convoluted art heist that netted not one, but six, of Leonardo da Vinci's most famous portrait(s).

Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa is, by a wide margin, the world’s best-known Renaissance painting. The pride of Paris’s Louvre museum, it is hard nowadays for a visitor to get a good look at. Not only do heavy stanchions and a substantial velvet rope keep art lovers at bay, but a jostling horde of phone-pointing tourists typically accomplishes the same thing even more effectively. While you can expect to scrutinize Leonardo’s nearby Virgin and Child with Saint Anne up close and in reasonable tranquility, you are lucky to catch more than a glimpse of the Mona Lisa over the heads of the heaving crowd. And that’s just getting to admire the painting: With elaborate electronic protection and constantly circulating guards, stealing the iconic piece is pretty much unthinkable.

At a time when the standards of security were considerably more lax, around noon on Tuesday, August 22, 1911, horrified museum staff reported that the Mona Lisa was missing from her place on the gallery wall. The Louvre was immediately closed down and minutely searched (the picture’s empty frame was found on a staircase), and the ports and eastern land borders of France were closed until all departing traffic could be examined. To no avail. After a frantic investigation that temporarily implicated both the poet Guillaume Apollinaire and the then-aspiring young artist Pablo Picasso, all that was left was wild rumor: The smiling lady was in Russia, in the Bronx, even in the home of the banker J.P. Morgan.

Two years later the painting was recovered after a Florentine art dealer contacted the Louvre saying that it had been offered to him by the thief. The latter turned out to have been Vincenzo Peruggia, an Italian artist who had worked at the Louvre on a program to protect many of the museum’s masterworks under glass.

Vincent Peruggia, Mona Lisa thief
Vincent Peruggia
Courtesy of Chronicle Books/Alamy

Peruggia reportedly told police that, early on the Monday morning before the theft was discovered—a day on which the museum was closed to the public—he had entered the Louvre dressed as a workman. Once inside, he had headed for the Mona Lisa, taken her off the wall and out of her frame, wrapped her up in his workman’s smock, and carried her out under his arm. Another version has Peruggia hiding in a museum closet overnight, but in any event the heist itself was clearly a pretty simple and straightforward affair.

Peruggia’s motivations appear to have been a little more confused. The story he told the police was that he had wanted to return the Mona Lisa to Italy, his and its country of origin, in the belief that the painting had been plundered by Napoleon—whose armies had indeed committed many similar trespasses in the many countries they invaded.

But even if he believed his story, Peruggia had his history entirely wrong. For it had been Leonardo himself who had brought the unfinished painting to France, when he became court painter to King François I in 1503. After Leonardo died in a Loire Valley château in 1519, the Mona Lisa was legitimately purchased for the royal collections.

So it didn’t seem so far-fetched when, in a 1932 Saturday Evening Post article, the journalist Karl Decker gave a significantly different account of the affair. According to Decker, an Argentinian con man calling himself Eduardo, Marqués de Valfierno, had told him that it was he who had masterminded Peruggia’s theft of the Mona Lisa. And that he had sold the painting six times!

Valfierno’s plan had been a pretty elaborate one, and it had involved employing the services of a skilled forger who could exactly replicate any stolen painting—in the Mona Lisa’s case, right down to the many layers of surface glaze its creator had used. By Decker’s account, Valfierno not only sold such fakes on multiple occasions, but used them to increase the confidence of potential buyers, ahead of the heist, that they would be getting the real thing after the theft.

The fraudster would take a victim to a public art gallery and invite him to make a surreptitious mark on the back of a painting that he had scheduled to be stolen. Later Valfierno would present him with the marked canvas, which had allegedly been stolen and replaced with a copy.

This trick was actually accomplished by secretly placing the copy behind the real painting, and removing it after the buyer had applied his mark. According to Valfierno, this was an amazingly effective sales ploy: So effective, indeed, that by his account he managed to pre-sell the scheduled-to-be-stolen Mona Lisa to six different United States buyers, all of whom actually received copies.

Mona Lisa returned to the Uffizi Gallery in 1913
Museum officials present the (real) Mona Lisa after its return to Florence, Italy's Uffizi Gallery in 1913.
The Telegraph, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Those copies had been smuggled into America prior to the heist at the Louvre, when nobody was on the lookout for them, and the well-publicized theft itself served to validate their apparent authenticity when they were delivered to the marks in return for hefty sums in cash.

According to Valfierno, the major problem in all this turned out to be Peruggia, who stole the stolen Mona Lisa from him and took it back to Italy. Still, when he was caught trying to dispose of the painting there, Peruggia could not implicate Valfierno without compromising his own story of being a patriotic thief, so the true scheme remained secret. Similarly, when the original Mona Lisa was returned to the Louvre, Valfierno’s buyers could assume that it was a copy—and in any case, they would hardly have been in a position to complain.

Decker’s story of Valfierno’s extraordinary machinations caused a sensation, and it rapidly became accepted as the truth behind the Mona Lisa’s disappearance. Perhaps this is hardly surprising because, after all, Peruggia’s rather prosaic account somehow seems a little too mundane for such an icon of Renaissance artistic achievement. The more flamboyant Valfierno version was widely believed, and is still repeated over and over again, including in two recent books.

Yet there are numerous problems with Decker’s Saturday Evening Post account, including the fact that nobody has ever been able to show for certain that Valfierno actually existed (though you can Google a picture of him). Only Peruggia’s role in the disappearance of the Mona Lisa seems to be reasonably clear-cut. Still, although it remains up in the air whether Valfierno faked his account, or whether Decker fabricated both him and his report, the Mona Lisa that hangs in the Louvre today is probably the original.

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