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DC Comics

Wednesday is New Comics Day

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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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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
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Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
May 21, 2017
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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva

Jacques Mattheij made a small, but awesome, mistake. He went on eBay one evening and bid on a bunch of bulk LEGO brick auctions, then went to sleep. Upon waking, he discovered that he was the high bidder on many, and was now the proud owner of two tons of LEGO bricks. (This is about 4400 pounds.) He wrote, "[L]esson 1: if you win almost all bids you are bidding too high."

Mattheij had noticed that bulk, unsorted bricks sell for something like €10/kilogram, whereas sets are roughly €40/kg and rare parts go for up to €100/kg. Much of the value of the bricks is in their sorting. If he could reduce the entropy of these bins of unsorted bricks, he could make a tidy profit. While many people do this work by hand, the problem is enormous—just the kind of challenge for a computer. Mattheij writes:

There are 38000+ shapes and there are 100+ possible shades of color (you can roughly tell how old someone is by asking them what lego colors they remember from their youth).

In the following months, Mattheij built a proof-of-concept sorting system using, of course, LEGO. He broke the problem down into a series of sub-problems (including "feeding LEGO reliably from a hopper is surprisingly hard," one of those facts of nature that will stymie even the best system design). After tinkering with the prototype at length, he expanded the system to a surprisingly complex system of conveyer belts (powered by a home treadmill), various pieces of cabinetry, and "copious quantities of crazy glue."

Here's a video showing the current system running at low speed:

The key part of the system was running the bricks past a camera paired with a computer running a neural net-based image classifier. That allows the computer (when sufficiently trained on brick images) to recognize bricks and thus categorize them by color, shape, or other parameters. Remember that as bricks pass by, they can be in any orientation, can be dirty, can even be stuck to other pieces. So having a flexible software system is key to recognizing—in a fraction of a second—what a given brick is, in order to sort it out. When a match is found, a jet of compressed air pops the piece off the conveyer belt and into a waiting bin.

After much experimentation, Mattheij rewrote the software (several times in fact) to accomplish a variety of basic tasks. At its core, the system takes images from a webcam and feeds them to a neural network to do the classification. Of course, the neural net needs to be "trained" by showing it lots of images, and telling it what those images represent. Mattheij's breakthrough was allowing the machine to effectively train itself, with guidance: Running pieces through allows the system to take its own photos, make a guess, and build on that guess. As long as Mattheij corrects the incorrect guesses, he ends up with a decent (and self-reinforcing) corpus of training data. As the machine continues running, it can rack up more training, allowing it to recognize a broad variety of pieces on the fly.

Here's another video, focusing on how the pieces move on conveyer belts (running at slow speed so puny humans can follow). You can also see the air jets in action:

In an email interview, Mattheij told Mental Floss that the system currently sorts LEGO bricks into more than 50 categories. It can also be run in a color-sorting mode to bin the parts across 12 color groups. (Thus at present you'd likely do a two-pass sort on the bricks: once for shape, then a separate pass for color.) He continues to refine the system, with a focus on making its recognition abilities faster. At some point down the line, he plans to make the software portion open source. You're on your own as far as building conveyer belts, bins, and so forth.

Check out Mattheij's writeup in two parts for more information. It starts with an overview of the story, followed up with a deep dive on the software. He's also tweeting about the project (among other things). And if you look around a bit, you'll find bulk LEGO brick auctions online—it's definitely a thing!

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Nick Briggs/Comic Relief
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What Happened to Jamie and Aurelia From Love Actually?
May 26, 2017
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Nick Briggs/Comic Relief

Fans of the romantic-comedy Love Actually recently got a bonus reunion in the form of Red Nose Day Actually, a short charity special that gave audiences a peek at where their favorite characters ended up almost 15 years later.

One of the most improbable pairings from the original film was between Jamie (Colin Firth) and Aurelia (Lúcia Moniz), who fell in love despite almost no shared vocabulary. Jamie is English, and Aurelia is Portuguese, and they know just enough of each other’s native tongues for Jamie to propose and Aurelia to accept.

A decade and a half on, they have both improved their knowledge of each other’s languages—if not perfectly, in Jamie’s case. But apparently, their love is much stronger than his grasp on Portuguese grammar, because they’ve got three bilingual kids and another on the way. (And still enjoy having important romantic moments in the car.)

In 2015, Love Actually script editor Emma Freud revealed via Twitter what happened between Karen and Harry (Emma Thompson and Alan Rickman, who passed away last year). Most of the other couples get happy endings in the short—even if Hugh Grant's character hasn't gotten any better at dancing.

[h/t TV Guide]

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