Top Shelf
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.

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]


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