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Top Shelf

Wednesday is New Comics Day!

Top Shelf
Top Shelf

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. Creepy presents Steve Ditko

Collected works written by Archie Goodwin with art by Steve Ditko
Dark Horse

After co-creating Spider-man and Dr. Strange, the enigmatic Steve Ditko left Marvel Comics in 1966 (after drawing the 25th issue of Amazing Spider-Man), mostly due to creative differences with writer and editor-in-chief Stan Lee. He went on to Warren Publishing, where he collaborated with writer Archie Goodwin on 16 short stories for Creepy and Eerie magazines that ran from 1966-1967. All 16 of these stories are collected here together for the first time in this hardcover volume from Dark Horse as part of their ongoing reprint series of the classic Warren horror comics.

The infamous congressional hearings in the 1950s that resulted in the creation of the Comics Code Authority—a self-regulatory alternative to government regulation meant to keep "harmful" content out of comic books—caused horror and crime comics to disappear from the comic racks where they were soon replaced by more kid-friendly fare like superheroes. Warren Publishing in the late 1960s found a way to skirt the Comics Code by putting out their horror comics Creepy and Eerie as magazines rather than standard sized, less expensive comic books. Without the need to consider them "comic books" and obey the restrictions of that format, Archie Goodwin and the various artists he worked with were free to create more adult material about taboo subjects like the occult and black magic. 

Ditko is a highly influential artist, but has always been an idiosyncratic one. His superhero comics never looked like anyone else's and often veered into psychedelic and surreal territory. He had pushed against the boundaries of the then still-forming Marvel House Style as much as he could, and at Warren he was free to take it even further. With the higher quality printing of the magazine format, he switched to an ink wash style that really allowed him to play up the dark atmospherics of these weird stories.

From here, Ditko would move on to Charlton comics, where he created characters such as The Question and Blue Beetle, but many feel these Creepy and Eerie stories were classic Ditko at his best.

2. Monster on the Hill 

By Rob Harrell
Top Shelf

Here's a great all-ages choice for the week. Rob Harrell is a cartoonist who has done two syndicated comic strips: Big Top, which ran from 2002 to 2007, and, more recently, the ongoing Adam@Home. Harrell's first book is out this week from Top Shelf and it looks like it's a lot of fun.

Monster on the Hill is set in 1860s England where every town is terrorized by its own monster and the townspeople actually love it, turning the threat into a tourist attraction and something to take pride in. One town, however, is stuck with a depressed little monster named Rayburn who can't seem to pull himself together enough to be frightening. 

With the help of a local doctor and a young street urchin, Rayburn goes on a quest to meet other, scarier monsters to help him find his inner beast.

You can read a 7 page preview on Top Shelf's website and see for yourself that the book is entertaining in a way that reminds me very much of Jeff Smith's Bone

3. The Motorcycle Samurai #0

By Chris Sheridan
Top Shelf

Indie comics publisher Top Shelf has been embracing digital comics these days— notably with the Double Barrel series, in which Zander Cannon and Kevin Cannon serialized two separate graphic novels in some high page count 99¢ digital comics. Now they're debuting a book from a brand new creator named Chris Sheridan and are utilizing the next-generation digital comics technique that Marvel calls "Infinite Comics," DC calls "DC2" and Comixology has given the rather unsexy moniker "Guided View Native." To be fair, the name simply calls attention to the fact that the format is based primarily on Comixology's revolutionary "Guided View" technology that allows readers on mobile devices to easily move from panel to panel within a comic. As I discussed in two other comics here the past two weeks, this way of reading digital comics is more advanced that the original Guided View method and is more integrated into the actual storytelling. Panels build in sequence as you read them, word balloons don't necessarily appear all at once initially, and the "camera" may pan back and forth across a large panoramic scene to reveal individual story beats. 

The Motorcycle Samurai #0 is a preview issue that introduces us to a desolate, ghost-town setting, the kind of cinematic landscape that is tailor-made for an ambush. And that's exactly what happens to the titular motorcycle samurai as she transports a mysterious, masked companion on the back of her bike and stops to get a drink of water. What proceeds is something very reminiscent of a fight scene from Kill Bill and it uses the pans and panel builds of Guided View to its advantage in making this a fun and dynamic read. 

Sheridan's art style is fast and loose in the way he renders characters which some may find rough but others may find energetic. His background is in animation and design and it shows in his sense of tension and pacing. He also seems to have a good sense of how to use this Guided View format to his storytelling advantage.

You can buy the preview issue for only 99¢ on Comixology.

4. Last of the Mohicans

By Shigeru Sugiura

The Last of the Mohicans was a novel written by James Fenimore Cooper in 1826 about the French and Indian War in the America of the 1700s. Modern audiences are more likely familiar with Michael Mann's film adaption from 1992 starring Daniel Day Lewis. Back in 1953, though, Shigeru Sugiura created a children's manga adaptation of the novel that was a big hit in Japan. Shigeru was a popular manga artist who wrote and illustrated many books that were done in a light, humorous style that appealed to kids. 

Through the 1960s, Shigeru's popularity began to wane, so he started to push his style into more surreal, psychedelic territories, aiming his stories more towards older audiences. Then, in 1974, he re-adapted Last of the Mohicans in this new avant-garde approach and created one of the great manga masterpieces of the late 20th century.

American publisher PictureBox, with the help of historian Ryan Holmberg, has translated this book and is releasing it as the first volume in its new "Ten Cent Manga" series (hold your horses, the actual price is $22.95). This series of books will explore the ways Japanese and American cultures influence each other—in this case, how Shigeru adapted this quintessential American story in a way that draws parallels to American westerns and "ten cent" comics of his era while filtering them through the lens of his own culture. 

This will be the first Shigeru book to be released in its entirety in English. You can read more about the book and order it from PictureBox's website and also read more about the Ten Cent Manga series and future installments.

5. A bunch of new comics from MonkeyBrain

Despite the name of this column, comics don't always come out on Wednesdays anymore. Especially not digital comics which seem to come out of nowhere and land on any day of the week they want to. Not needing to be listed in catalogs months beforehand for retailers to pre-order means that more often the comics are being distributed into readers "hands" quicker but without weeks or months of press to call attention to them. This past week, Monkeybrain Comics celebrated completing their first year in business and winning an Eisner Award for Best Online Comic for Paul Tobin and Colleen Coover's excellent Bandette by launching five new titles all at once at last week's San Diego Comic Con. Here are a few of those books that look the most interesting:


Written by Anina Bennett, art by Paul Guinan

Originally published in Dark Horse Presents in the 1990s, this sci-fi series about clones and robots deals with societal issues like food crises and clone rights issues. These stories were widely praised in their time and are being reintroduced to a new audience now.

Avery Fatbottom #1

By Jen Vaughn

Avery Fatbottom: Renaissance Fair Detective is a comic with a very charming title, written and drawn by Jen Vaughn, that aims to have fun with a novel premise—a comedy/mystery about a Ren Fair organizer. This will obviously appeal to anyone who has partaken in the medieval cosplay rituals of the Ren Fair addict but at its heart it's a character-driven comedy with romance, mystery and some bawdy limericks.

Detectobot #0

Written by Peter Timony, art by Bobby Timony

Detectobot #0 is a free preview issue of a fun-looking new series from the Timony Brothers who previously gained recognition for their series Night Owls, which was published on Zuda, DC's early experimentation with webcomics. This one is about a scientist who builds a robot whose sole purpose will be to solve the mad doctor's eventual murder. 


- The San Diego Comic Con was this past weekend. We've all heard the news that was announced about a Batman/Superman team-up film in the works and the next Avengers movie being titled Avengers: Age of Ultron, but there was not a lot of breaking news about actual comic books. That seems to be the case more and more each year at that show. Small press publishers are usually told not to try to break news during SDCC or else you'll be drowned out by the news from the big companies. Maybe now even the big publishers are saving their news for a weekend when they don't have to be overshadowed by news about their own movies.

- Still, the Eisners had their big awards ceremony and there were some real deserving winners showing what a great year in comics it has been.

- Marvel did announce that there would be a new Wolverine Origins book written by Kieron Gillen and Adam Kubert that will pick up where the first book left off in exploring Logan's missing early years. Plus, continuing the trend of mixing and matching their book title adjectives, Marvel also announced a new X-men book called Amazing X-Men.

Darwyn Cooke announced the next book in his series of adaptations of the Parker crime novels.

Chuck Palahniuk announced that he will be doing a sequel to his novel Fight Club and it will be a graphic novel. No word on what artist he is working with or who will publish it but this will be a major release when it eventually comes out.

Build Your Own Harry Potter Characters With LEGO's New BrickHeadz Set

Harry Potter is looking pretty square these days. In a testament to the enduring appeal of the boy—and the franchise—who lived, LEGO has launched a line of Harry Potter BrickHeadz.

The gang’s all here in this latest collection, which was recently revealed during the toymaker’s Fall 2018 preview in New York City. Other highlights of that show included LEGO renderings of characters from Star Wars, Incredibles 2, and several Disney films, according to Inside The Magic.

The Harry Potter BrickHeadz collection will be released in July and includes figurines of Harry, Hermione, Ron, Dumbledore, and even Hedwig. Some will be sold individually, while others come as a set.

A Ron Weasley figurine

A Hermione figurine

A Dumbledore figurine

Harry Potter fans can also look forward to a four-story, 878-piece LEGO model of the Hogwarts Great Hall, which will be available for purchase August 1. Sets depicting the Whomping Willow, Hogwarts Express, and a quidditch match will hit shelves that same day.

[h/t Inside The Magic]

10 Things You Might Not Know About Little Women

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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.”


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.


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.


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;


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