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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. Optic Nerve #13

By Adrian Tomine
Drawn & Quarterly

There's typically a couple of years between each release of Optic Nerve, so a new issue is always an event—particularly for those of us who got into indie comics back in the '90s. Adrian Tomine's one-man anthology comic is much like Dan Clowe's Eightball or Chris Ware's Acme Novelty Library in that the artist serializes stories that are later collected in seminal, bookstore-friendly volumes. Over the years, Clowes and Ware have moved away from the comic book format to fill the space between their major releases, but Tomine has embraced it. The previous issue of Optic Nerve saw him move from longer narratives that spanned multiple issues to shorter, complete stories that showed off a versatility in style and storytelling that we hadn't really seen from Tomine before.

He continues in that direction with this new issue. Here he presents three complete stories: a dark comedy about 12-step programs; an illustrated diary of a young Japanese mother; and an autobiographical story that continues a theme we saw in the last issue in which Tomine seems to be unable or unwilling to adapt to modernity.

Tomine is one of the greats working in the industry today. It takes him a long time to produce a single issue of Optic Nerve but it's obvious that he puts it all into every single one.

2. Batman Incorporated #13

Written by Grant Morrison; art by Chris Burnham
DC Comics


It's a lucky week for thirteenth issues. This one is the series conclusion of Batman Incorporated and the concluding chapter to Grant Morrison's seven year run across three different Batman titles (Batman, Batman and Robin, and this one). This last issue will tie up the final storyline while also bringing to a close the larger, overarching story and themes that Morrison has been telling involving Batman, Talia, Leviathan and the global army of international Batmen that Bruce Wayne has incorporated into his grand mission to fight crime. In the coming weeks and months there will no doubt be many interesting analyses written about Morrison's long run on these titles and the mark he has made on the character (if indeed a mark can be made on a character with so much history; the smallest lasting mark is a major accomplishment). Anything he does is typically layered and layered with subtext and hidden meanings and leaves much for the internet to ponder.

This is also the final issue for artist Chris Burnham who has been a consistent presence on this book. His style, reminiscent in a lot of ways of frequent Morrison collaborator Frank Quitely, has been a perfect match for this title and has helped elevate him to a fan-favorite status.

You can read a preview of the final issue over on The New York Post's Parallel Worlds blog.

3. Collider #1

Written by Simon Oliver; Art by Robbi Rodriguez; Colors by Rico Renzi; cover by Nathan Fox
DC Vertigo

The new Vertigo series Collider is set in a world where gravitational and temporal anomalies have become so common that the government has established a Federal Bureau of Physics to deal with them. Adam Hardy is an FBP agent and regular joe who finds himself having to investigate the abnormal—even for this world—problem of a vortex that has ripped open between our dimension and another. 

This is the first collaboration between writer Simon Oliver and artist Robbi Rodriguez, who separately worked on books (The Exterminators and Maintenance, respectively) about blue collar joes trying to fix out-of-this-world stuff, so there is something natural about them coming together on this book. Rodriguez's work on Collider, though, is unrecognizable if you compare it to his work on Maintenance from only three years ago. His style has evolved from a kid-friendly cartoons look with broad, clear lines to line work with a much finer fidelity and sophistication that fits with the current Vertigo look. There is a unique and palpable energy that runs through his layouts and slightly contorted forms. He is on the cusp of being a big star and anyone who has seen his recent creator-owned work on the "acid-western" comic Frankie Get Your Gun already knows this. 

Rodriguez is collaborating with colorist Rico Renzi, whose electric color palette helps make this feel like contemporary, psychedelic sci-fi. Plus, cover artist Nathan Fox's own psychedelic style fits in perfectly as well.

Read a preview of Collider #1.

4. Life Begins at Incorporation

By Matt Bors
Comixology Submit


Matt Bors is part of a dying breed. With the changing landscape of the newspaper publishing industry, the role of the editorial cartoonist has been greatly diminished, even though more and more new, creative and unique voices are finding their place on the web to publish their illustrated opinions and political critiques. Bors is one of those newer voices and, due to his sharp insights and clear, confident cartooning style, he has acheived more success than most. At age 29 he has already had a storied career: youngest cartoonist to have his work syndicated (at 23), first alt-weekly cartoonist to receive the prestigious Herblock Award for Excellence in Cartooning, and a Pulitzer Prize finalist. He's been to Afghanistan, was featured on CNN with Jake Tapper  and once had one of his cartoons used by a Congressman on the House floor to prove a point about the Affordable Care Act.

Life Begins at Incorporation is Bors' first collection containing his best strips from the past four years as well as drawings from his trip to Afghanistan and 15 written essays about various subjects. He is about as left-leaning as you get and he is unforgiving when pointing out the hypocrisy or downright idiocy of his subjects. In this book, he takes on the NRA, homophobia, misogyny, drone warfare, the Occupy movement and his own disappointment in the Obama presidency.

Bors has self-published this book with funding raised via a Kickstarter campaign. He sells the book on his website, but this week he is releasing a digital version through Comixology's Submit program for self-publishers.

Buy it on Comixology here.

5. The Grizzly

by Patrick Dean
Study Group Comics

Softcore

by Box Brown
Study Group Comics

Studygroupcomics.com has been the place to go to read consistently good, surprising and interesting webcomics since it launched in 2012. Run by cartoonist Zack Soto, it updates frequently with an array of artists adding periodic installments to their own individual stories. The website itself is set up in a very appealing way. Drawing inspiration from Jordan Crane's What Things Do webcomic collective, each comic displays all or most of its pages on one long scrolling page with a text link to jump to the newest update. It's very easy to browse the offerings at Study Group and see what has just been updated.

Two of the newest stories to get started in the past week or so are The Grizzly by Patrick Dean and Softcore by Box Brown.

The Grizzly is about a man named George who throws a party at his house one night and wakes up the next morning to find a grizzly bear sleeping next to his bed. Meanwhile, there's been a power outage in town that has gone on for days and the sky starts turning dark in the middle of the day. Strange things are afoot and the constantly perturbed George is walking headlong into it all.

Dean is a very funny writer - there's an amusing sequence in the beginning when George calls up his friends, one by one, to find out who might have left the bear at his house - but he is balancing absurd humor with hints at something bigger and perhaps heavier building up here. 

Softcore is probably as NSFW as it sounds since it deals with a man who hires a woman he finds on the internet to star in a soft core sex video he is filming. The woman shows up with a Russian male companion who seems to cast some sort of spell on the protagonist that seems to mess with his mind.

Box Brown is no stranger to webcomics. He began his first, the autobiographical Bellen, on Livejournal back in 2006 and won Ignatz Awards for his next major comic Everything Dies which he published both in print and on the web. Brown is currently working on a comic biography of Andre the Giant for First Second so I suspect Softcore is evidence of him stretching his cartooning muscles. He pushes his usual style into near geometric abstractions here and uses an eye-burning purple and yellow color palette that suits the strange atmosphere of sex and surrealism this story is taking place in.

Both The Grizzly and Softcore have just started so there are only a handful of "pages" for each to catch up.

Read The Grizzly here.

Read Softcore here.

Browse Studygroup's other offerings here.

MEANWHILE, IN COMICS NEWS THIS PAST WEEK: 

- From the ashes of the now defunct Brooklyn Comics and Graphics Festival comes the first annual Comics Arts Brooklyn festival. Of note is that the festival will feature a discussion between Art Spiegelman, David Mazzuchelli and novelist Paul Auster on their amazing and influential graphic novel City of Glass.

- Mark Waid's Thrillbent Comics announced "download-to-own" digital comics on a pay-what-you-like basis. This is another small step in the direction away from DRM for digital comics.

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Pop Culture
An AI Program Wrote Harry Potter Fan Fiction—and the Results Are Hilarious
Andreas Rentz/Getty Images
Andreas Rentz/Getty Images

“The castle ground snarled with a wave of magically magnified wind.”

So begins the 13th chapter of the latest Harry Potter installment, a text called Harry Potter and the Portrait of What Looked Like a Large Pile of Ash. OK, so it’s not a J.K. Rowling original—it was written by artificial intelligence. As The Verge explains, the computer-science whizzes at Botnik Studios created this three-page work of fan fiction after training an algorithm on the text of all seven Harry Potter books.

The short chapter was made with the help of a predictive text algorithm designed to churn out phrases similar in style and content to what you’d find in one of the Harry Potter novels it "read." The story isn’t totally nonsensical, though. Twenty human editors chose which AI-generated suggestions to put into the chapter, wrangling the predictive text into a linear(ish) tale.

While magnified wind doesn’t seem so crazy for the Harry Potter universe, the text immediately takes a turn for the absurd after that first sentence. Ron starts doing a “frenzied tap dance,” and then he eats Hermione’s family. And that’s just on the first page. Harry and his friends spy on Death Eaters and tussle with Voldemort—all very spot-on Rowling plot points—but then Harry dips Hermione in hot sauce, and “several long pumpkins” fall out of Professor McGonagall.

Some parts are far more simplistic than Rowling would write them, but aren’t exactly wrong with regards to the Harry Potter universe. Like: “Magic: it was something Harry Potter thought was very good.” Indeed he does!

It ends with another bit of prose that’s not exactly Rowling’s style, but it’s certainly an accurate analysis of the main current that runs throughout all the Harry Potter books. It reads: “‘I’m Harry Potter,’ Harry began yelling. ‘The dark arts better be worried, oh boy!’”

Harry Potter isn’t the only work of fiction that Jamie Brew—a former head writer for ClickHole and the creator of Botnik’s predictive keyboard—and other Botnik writers have turned their attention to. Botnik has previously created AI-generated scripts for TV shows like The X-Files and Scrubs, among other ridiculous machine-written parodies.

To delve into all the magical fiction that Botnik users have dreamed up, follow the studio on Twitter.

[h/t The Verge]

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Smart Shopping
12 Smart Book Ideas for Everyone in Your Life
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iStock

Books make the perfect gift: they're durable, transportable, and they promise some (hopefully) quality alone time. But what do you get the aunt who loves mystery novels if you're not familiar with the genre? Or the nephew who devours travelogues and goes backpacking around the world? Look no further—we've got them covered, plus 10 other very specific categories.

1. FOR THE VINTAGE COOKBOOK LOVER: LEAVE ME ALONE WITH THE RECIPES: THE LIFE, ART, AND COOKBOOK OF CIPE PINELES, EDITED BY SARAH RICH,‎ WENDY MACNAUGHTON, DEBBIE MILLMAN, AND MARIA POPOVA; $27

Book cover for Leave Me Alone With the Recipes
Amazon

Author Sarah Rich and illustrator Wendy MacNaughton fell in love with the work of Cipe Pineles, the first female art director at Condé Nast, after discovering her recipes at a San Francisco antiquarian book fair. Filled with vibrantly colored illustrations, Leave Me Alone With the Recipes shows the joyful spirit and homespun flair that made Pineles’s work so influential. Alongside the recipes, the book includes contributions from luminaries in the worlds of food and illustration, including artist Maira Kalman and Maria Popova of Brain Pickings renown.

Find It: Amazon

2. FOR ANYONE HAVING SURGERY THIS YEAR: THE BUTCHERING ART: JOSEPH LISTER’S QUEST TO TRANSFORM THE GRISLY WORLD OF VICTORIAN MEDICINE BY LINDSEY FITZHARRIS; $27

Cover of The Butchering Art
Amazon

Back in the bad old days of medicine, a consistently blood-soaked apron was a sign of pride. Surgeons rarely washed them—or their hands, or their operating tools. Joseph Lister, the somewhat reluctant hero of Lindsey Fitzharris's new book The Butchering Art, was the genius who convinced the medical world that germs were not only real but a major cause of mortality in their hospitals. With an eye for vivid details and the colorful characters of 19th century medicine, Fitzharris has crafted a book that will make you thank Lister for his foresight—and make you glad you weren't alive back then.

Find It: Amazon

3. FOR THE GENEALOGY OBSESSIVE: IT’S ALL RELATIVE: ADVENTURES UP AND DOWN THE WORLD’S FAMILY TREE BY A.J. JACOBS; $27

Cover of Its All Relative
Simon & Schuster

What constitutes a "family"? In his latest book, A.J. Jacobs (famed for lifestyle experiments like trying to live an entire year in accordance with the Bible) delves into the world of genetics and genealogy to try and orchestrate the world's largest family reunion. With his trademark humor and insight, he ends up exploring the interconnectedness of all of humankind.

Find It: Amazon

4. FOR THE SOCIALLY AWARE YOUNG ADULT: THE HATE U GIVE BY ANGIE THOMAS; $18

Cover of The Hate U Give
Amazon

Already caught between the conflicting worlds of the poor neighborhood where she lives and her fancy prep school, 16-year-old Starr Carter finds herself in the middle of a tragedy when her childhood best friend is shot and killed by a police officer. As his death becomes a national flashpoint, it becomes clear that she may be the only person alive who can explain what really happened that night. Angie Thomas's writing has earned praise for being gut-wrenching, searing, and deftly crafted; Publishers Weekly called the book "heartbreakingly topical."

Find It: Amazon

5. FOR FANS OF PRESIDENTIAL HISTORY THAT READS LIKE A NOVEL: THE WARS OF THE ROOSEVELTS: THE RUTHLESS RISE OF AMERICA'S GREATEST POLITICAL FAMILY BY WILLIAM J. MANN; $35

You might think you know the Roosevelts, but historian William J. Mann looks beyond the well-worn stories to expose the bitter rivalries that drove its most famous members' quest for power. Along the way, he examines the Roosevelts who were kept away from the limelight, and the secrets they hold—all told in dramatic style.

Find It: Amazon

6. FOR THE INTREPID TRAVELER: ATLAS OBSCURA: AN EXPLORER'S GUIDE TO THE WORLD'S HIDDEN WONDERS, BY JOSHIA FOER, DYLAN THURAS, AND ELLA MORTON; $35

The book cover for Atlas Obscura's book
Amazon.com

An amusement park in a salt mine? Check. A tree so big it has its own pub? Check. A giant hole that's been spouting flames for 40 years? Check. This guidebook is a compendium of the world's strangest and most wonderful places, and it's guaranteed to inspire some serious wanderlust, especially in more adventurous travelers. For the complete experience, you can also get an awesome wall calendar featuring destinations from the book designed as vintage travel posters; there's a page-a-day desk calendar and explorers' journal too.

Find it: Amazon

7. FOR YOUR FRIEND WHO LOVES WEIRD HISTORY: THE PUBLIC DOMAIN REVIEW SELECTED ESSAYS; $20

The Public Domain Review is one of the premier online destination for fans of curious history. If you know someone who enjoys stories about weird medieval medicine treaties, ancient automata, deranged 18th century scientists, and other odd subjects well off the beaten historical path, look no further than this book of essays (the site's fourth).

Find It: The Public Domain Review

8. FOR PEOPLE WHO LOVE A GOOD MYSTERY: THE BIG BOOK OF ROGUES AND VILLAINS, EDITED BY OTTO PENZLER; $25

Cover of the Big Book of Rogues and Villains
Amazon

At the heart of every good mystery is a (usually dastardly) perpetrator, whether it's a Count Dracula or a Jimmy Valentine. With this anthology, Edgar Award winner Otto Penzler has combed through 150 years of literary history to find 72 stories featuring the most famous and entertaining antiheroes authors have ever been able to dream up.

Find It: Amazon

9. FOR PEOPLE WHO KNOW WHAT THE BORSCHT BELT IS: JEWISH COMEDY: A SERIOUS HISTORY BY JEREMY DAUBER; $28.95

Jews and humor go together like challah and Manischewitz (after all, as my bubbie says, if you don't laugh, you'll cry). In this "serious history," Columbia professor Jeremy Dauber considers the origins of Jewish humor in Biblical times through its life on Twitter today; how it's reflected—and even influenced—Jewish history; the production of major archetypes like the Jewish mother; and the prominence of Jewish comedians like Sarah Silverman and Larry David. You don't have to be Jewish to love it, but it may help you understand the in-jokes.

Find It: Amazon

10. FOR YOUR FRIEND WHO LOVES DARK SHORT STORIES: HER BODY AND OTHER PARTIES, BY CARMEN MARIA MACHADO; $16

Book cover for Her Body and Other Parties
Amazon

A story told in the form of Law & Order episode summaries. A strange plague that makes girls go invisible, as narrated by a mall worker. A recollection of romantic encounters with the last of humanity’s survivors. In this collection, Carmen Maria Machado fuses urban legends, dystopian tropes, and heavy helpings of sexuality to create a new kind of magical realism strangely appropriate to our era. The images will haunt you long after you put the book down, if you let them.

Find It: Amazon

11. FOR THE PERSON WHO LOVES BIG-DEAL LITERARY NOVELS AND ALSO ABRAHAM LINCOLN: LINCOLN IN THE BARDO, BY GEORGE SAUNDERS; $18

A meditation on sorrow and the Civil War populated by a rag-tag group of ghosts, Lincoln in the Bardo starts with the real-life death of 11-year-old Willie Lincoln, Abraham's son. In the book, Willie has entered the Bardo—a Tibetan Buddhist term for a transitional limbo—where there's a fierce struggle underway for his soul.

Find It: Amazon

12. FOR THE GENERALIST: A BOOK-OF-THE-MONTH SUBSCRIPTION; $45 FOR THREE MONTHS

A book of the month club subscription box with gift trappings nearby
Book of the Month Club

Can’t decide what to get, but feeling generous? Give your friend who loves to read a new hardcover book of their choice every month. Literary fans who are short on time will love having someone else do the legwork to find the best new novels; plus, there’s early access to new releases. Prices vary depending on the length of the subscription, and there’s a deal right now where you can get a month free when you give a subscription as a gift.

Find It: Book of the Month

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