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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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The Charming English Fishing Village That Inspired Dracula
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Whitby as seen from the top of the 199 Steps
chris2766/iStock

The train departed King's Cross at 10:25 a.m. on July 29, 1890. Bram Stoker settled wearily into the carriage for the six-hour journey to Whitby, the fashionable and remote seaside village in North Yorkshire. The sooty sprawl of London gave way to green grids of farmland and pasture, and then windswept moors blanketed in heather and wild roses.

Stoker needed this holiday. The 42-year-old manager of London's Lyceum Theatre had just finished an exhausting national tour with his employer, the celebrated but demanding actor Henry Irving. The unrelenting task of running the business side of Irving's many theatrical enterprises for the past decade had left Stoker with little time for himself. When the curtains fell at the end of each night's performance, he may have felt that the energy had been sucked out of him.

Now he looked forward to a three-week getaway where he would have time to think about his next novel, a supernatural tale that harnessed the sources of Victorian anxiety: immigration and technology, gender roles and religion. In ways he didn't foresee, the small fishing port of Whitby would plant the seeds for a vampire novel that would terrify the world. Stoker started out on an innocent and much-deserved vacation, but ended up creating Dracula.

A photo of Bram Stoker
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

As Stoker emerged from the train station in Whitby, the sounds and smell of the sea would have restored him after the long trip. He loaded his trunk into a horse-drawn cab for the journey up the West Cliff, where new vacation apartments and hotels served the crowds of holidaymakers. He checked into a flat at 6 Royal Crescent, a half-circle of elegant Georgian-style townhomes that faced the ocean.

He often felt invigorated by the seashore: "He's finally on a holiday, away from the hustle and bustle of London, the Lyceum Theatre, and Henry Irving's dominance over him," Dacre Stoker, a novelist and the author's great-grandnephew, tells Mental Floss. "The ocean and the seaside play into Bram's life, and, I believe, in stimulating his imagination."

Stoker's wife Florence and their 10-year-old son Noel would join him the following week. Now was his chance to explore Whitby on his own.

The East Cliff with Tate Hill Pier in the foreground
iStock

"A curious blend of old and new it is," wrote a travel correspondent for the Leeds Mercury. The River Esk divided the town into two steep halves known as the West and East Cliffs. Down a tangle of paths from the brow of the West Cliff, Stoker found himself on the town's famed beach, where people gathered to watch the many vessels at sea or walked along the gentle surf. At the end of the beach was the Saloon, the nucleus of Whitby's social whirl.

"The enterprising manager engages the best musical and dramatic talent procurable, whilst on the promenade a selected band of professional musicians gives performances daily," wrote Horne's Guide to Whitby. Holidaymakers could purchase a day pass to the Saloon and enjoy afternoon tea, tennis, and endless people-watching.

Next to the Saloon, the West Pier featured a long promenade parallel to the river and a three-story building containing public baths, a museum with a collection of local fossils, and a subscription library. Shops selling fish and chips, ice cream, and Whitby rock lined the winding streets. Visitors could watch all kinds of fishing vessels discharging their daily catch, and even hop aboard a boat for a night's "herringing" with local fishermen.

Whitby's East Cliff had a more mysterious atmosphere. Across the town's single bridge, tightly packed medieval cottages and jet factories leaned over the narrow cobbled streets, "rising one above another from the water side in the most irregular, drunken sort of arrangement conceivable," the Leeds Mercury reported.

Above the ancient Tate Hill Pier, a stone stairway of 199 steps (which pallbearers used when they carried coffins) led up the cliff to St. Mary's parish church and its graveyard full of weathered headstones. Towering over the whole scene—and visible from nearly any spot in town—were the ruins of Whitby Abbey, a 13th-century pile of Gothic arches that had been built upon the remains of a 7th-century monastery.

"I think [Stoker] was struck by the setting. He's thinking, 'This is perfect. I have the ships coming in, I've got the abbey, a churchyard, a graveyard'," Dacre Stoker says. "Maybe it was by chance, but I think it just became that perfect scene."

Whitby Abbey
Whitby Abbey
Daverhead/iStock

In Dracula, chapters six through eight kick the narrative into frightening action. By then, real estate agent Jonathan Harker has traveled to Transylvania to negotiate Dracula's purchase of a London property and become the vampire's prisoner. His fiancée Mina Murray, her friend Lucy Westenra, and Lucy's mother have traveled to Whitby for a relaxing holiday, but Mina remains troubled by the lack of letters from Jonathan. She confides her worries and records the strange scenes she witnesses in her journal.

On the afternoon of his arrival, according to a modern account compiled by historians at the Whitby Museum, Stoker climbed the 199 Steps to St. Mary's churchyard and found a bench in the southwest corner. The view made a deep impression on Stoker, and he took note of the river and harbor, the abbey's "noble ruin," the houses "piled up one over the other anyhow." In his novel, Mina arrives in late July on the same train as Stoker, mounts the 199 Steps, and echoes his thoughts:

"This is to my mind the nicest spot in Whitby, for it lies right over the town, and has a full view of the harbor ... It descends so steeply over the harbor that part of the bank has fallen away, and some of the graves have been destroyed. In one place part of the stonework of the graves stretches out over the sandy pathway far below. There are walks, with seats beside them, through the churchyard; and people go and sit there all day long looking at the beautiful view and enjoying the breeze. I shall come and sit here very often myself and work."

The churchyard gave Stoker a number of literary ideas. The following day, Stoker chatted there with three leathery old Greenland fisherman who likely spoke in a distinct Yorkshire dialect. They told Stoker a bit of mariner's lore: If a ship's crew heard bells at sea, an apparition of a lady would appear in one of the abbey's windows. "Then things is all wore out," one of the sailors warned.

Stoker ambled between the headstones that sprouted from the thick carpet of grass. Though most of the markers' names and dates had been erased by the wind, he copied almost 100 into his notes. Stoker used one of them, Swales, as the name of the fisherman with a face that is "all gnarled and twisted like the bark of an old tree," who begins talking with Mina in the churchyard. Mina asks him about the legend of the lady appearing in the abbey window, but Swales says it's all foolishness—stories of "boh-ghosts an' barguests an' bogles" that are only fit to scare children.

St. Mary's churchyard
St. Mary's churchyard, which Mina calls "the nicest spot in Whitby."
iStock

For the first few days in August, Stoker was occupied by the summer's social calendar. He likely enjoyed dinner with friends arriving from London, and went to church on Sunday morning. On the 5th, Stoker's wife and son joined him at 6 Royal Crescent. The next several days may have been spent at the Saloon, promenading on the pier, and making social calls, as it was the custom for newly arrived visitors to visit with acquaintances in town.

But Whitby's infamous weather had the ability to turn a sunny day somber in an instant. August 11 was a "grey day," Stoker noted, "horizon lost in grey mist, all vastness, clouds piled up and a 'brool' over the sea." With Florence and Noel perhaps staying indoors, Stoker set off for the East Cliff again and chatted with a Coast Guard boatman named William Petherick. "Told me of various wrecks," Stoker jotted. During one furious gale, a "ship got into harbor, never knew how, all hands were below praying."

The ship was the Dmitry, a 120-ton schooner that had left the Russian port of Narva with a ballast of silver sand. The ship encountered a fierce storm as it neared Whitby on October 24, 1885, and aimed for the harbor.

"The 'Russian' got in but became a wreck during the night," according to a copy of the Coast Guard's log, which Petherick delivered to Stoker. The crew survived. In a picture taken by local photographer Frank Meadow Sutcliffe just a few days after the storm, the Dmitry is shown beached near Tate Hill Pier with its masts lying in the sand.

'The Wreck of the Dmitry' (1885), by Frank Meadow Sutcliffe
The Wreck of the Dmitry (1885), by Frank Meadow Sutcliffe
Courtesy of the Sutcliffe Gallery

Petherick's account gave Stoker the means for his vampire's arrival in England, the moment when the mysterious East disrupts the order of the West. Mina pastes a local newspaper article describing a sudden and ferocious storm that hurled Dracula's ship, the Demeter from Varna, against Tate Hill Pier. The Coast Guard discovered the crew had vanished and the captain was dead. Just then, "an immense dog sprang up on deck and … making straight for the steep cliff … it disappeared in the darkness, which seemed intensified just beyond the focus of the searchlight," the article in Mina's journal reads. The dog was never seen again, but townsfolk did find a dead mastiff that had been attacked by another large beast.

Mina describes the funeral for the Demeter's captain, which Stoker based on scenes from an annual celebration he watched on August 15 called the Water Fete. In reality, thousands of cheerful spectators lined the quays as a local band and choir performed popular songs and a parade of gaily decorated boats sailed up the river, with banners fluttering merrily in the breeze, according to the Whitby Gazette's report. But through Mina, Stoker transformed the scene into a memorial:

"Every boat in the harbor seemed to be there, and the coffin was carried by captains all the way from Tate Hill Pier up to the churchyard. Lucy came with me, and we went early to our old seat, whilst the cortege of boats went up the river to the Viaduct and came down again. We had a lovely view, and saw the procession nearly all the way."

The final week of Stoker's holiday elicited some of the most important details in Dracula. On August 19, he bought day passes to Whitby's museum library and the subscription library. In the museum's reading room, Stoker wrote down 168 words in the Yorkshire dialect and their English meanings from F.K. Robinson's A Glossary of Words Used in the Neighborhood of Whitby, which later formed the bulk of Mr. Swales's vocabulary in his chats with Mina.

One of the words was "barguest," a term for a "terrifying apparition," which also refers specifically to a "large black dog with flaming eyes as big as saucers" in Yorkshire folklore, whose "vocation appears to have been that of a presage of death," according to an account from 1879.

"I do think Stoker meant for that connection," John Edgar Browning, visiting lecturer at the Georgia Institute of Technology and expert in horror and the gothic, tells Mental Floss. "Moreover, he probably would have meant for the people of Whitby in the novel to make the connection, since it was they who perceived Dracula's form as a large black dog."

Downstairs, Stoker checked out books on Eastern European culture and folklore, clearly with the aim of fleshing out the origins of his vampire: Curious Myths of the Middle Ages, a travelogue titled On the Track of the Crescent, and most importantly, William Wilkinson's An Account of the Principalities of Wallachia and Moldovia: with Various Observations Relating to Them.

The library building where Stoker discovered Dracula
The library building where Stoker discovered Dracula
Courtesy of Dacre Stoker

From the latter book, Stoker wrote in his notes, "P. 19. DRACULA in Wallachian language means DEVIL. Wallachians were accustomed to give it as a surname to any person who rendered himself conspicuous by courage, cruel actions, or cunning."

The Wilkinson book gave Stoker not just the geographical origin and nationality for his character, but also his all-important name, redolent of mystery and malice. "The moment Stoker happened upon the name of 'Dracula' in Whitby—a name Stoker scribbled over and over on the same page on which he crossed through [the vampire's original name] 'Count Wampyr,' as if he were savoring the word's three evil syllables—the notes picked up tremendously," Browning says.

By the time Stoker and his family returned to London around August 23, he had developed his idea from a mere outline to a fully fledged villain with a sinister name and unforgettable fictional debut.

"The modernization of the vampire myth that we see in Dracula—and that many contemporary reviewers commented upon—may not have happened, at least to the same degree, without Stoker's visit to Whitby," Browning says. "Whitby was a major catalyst, the contemporary Gothic 'glue', as it were, for what would eventually become the most famous vampire novel ever written."

Bram Stoker visited Whitby only once in his life, but the seaside village made an indelible mark on his imagination. When he finally wrote the scenes as they appear in Dracula, "He placed all of these events in real time, in real places, with real names of people he pulled off gravestones. That's what set the story apart," Dacre Stoker says. "That's why readers were scared to death—because there is that potential, just for a moment, that maybe this story is real."

Additional source: Bram Stoker's Notes for Dracula: A Facsimile Edition, annotated and transcribed by Robert Eighteen-Bisang and Elizabeth Miller

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This Harry Potter Candle Melts to Reveal Your Hogwarts House—and Smells Amazing
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Warner Bros.

As it gets darker and colder outside, the thought of lighting a candle in your room and curling up with a good book becomes more appealing. A sorting hat candle from the Muggle Library Candles Etsy store makes the perfect companion to whatever Harry Potter book you happen to be re-reading for the hundredth time this season. According to the Cleveland news outlet WKYC, the candle slowly reveals your Hogwarts house as it burns.

From the outside, the item looks like a normal white candle. But when lit, the outer layer of plain wax melts away, allowing the colorful interior to poke through. The candles come in one of four concealed colors: red for Gryffindor, blue for Ravenclaw, yellow for Hufflepuff, and green for Slytherin. The only way to know which house you’re destined to match with is by purchasing a candle and putting it to use. According to the label, the scent evokes “excitement, fear, and nervousness.” The smell can also be described as lemon with sandalwood, vanilla, and patchouli.

Due to its viral popularity, the Fort Worth, Texas-based Etsy store has put all orders on hold while working to get its current batch of shipments out to customers. You can follow Muggle Library Candles on Instagram for updates on the sorting candle, as well as other Harry Potter-themed candles in their repertoire, like parseltongue and free elf.

[h/t WKYC]

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