CLOSE
Boulet
Boulet

Wednesday is New Comics Day

Boulet
Boulet

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. Le Long Voyage


By Boulet

This past week was exciting for fans of webcomics that push the form in new and innovative ways. We saw two major postings that had the internet abuzz with praise. The first came from Gilles Roussel, the artist known as Boulet, one of France's first and most prominent web cartoonists who has been publishing comics at www.bouletcorp.com for nearly 10 years.

Last week, Boulet posted a new comic in which the hero of the story (himself, presumably) crawls down the toilet and descends, seemingly forever, towards the center of the earth. The comic is done with 8-bit pixel art, reminiscent of classic video games. This is a departure from Boulet's usual hand drawn style of cartooning but is wholly appropriate for telling this particular story. It's a fantastic voyage, similar to Alice's trip down the rabbit hole, but these days we associate such quests more with video games than anything else.

What's great about this comic is—as the name suggests—it is long. Tall, actually. It is made up of multiple images, stacked seamlessly on top of each other so that it can be read in one very long, continuous scroll. Scott McCloud, author of the seminal book on comics theory Understanding Comics, coined the phrase "Infinite Canvas" (actually he did it in his 2000 follow up Reinventing Comics) to denote the untapped ability of webcomics to push past the constraints of the typical comic book page. This is a good example of what he was talking about. In many ways, the entire web is now adapting to the infinite canvas idea, especially by embracing the vertical scroll. With wider bandwidth and faster devices to browse with, websites are free to fill their pages with infinite amounts of content and now webcomics are following suit. 

It's been often debated that webcomics should be more horizontally oriented and keep their content sitting above the indiscriminate and mostly imaginary "fold" of the web page. It was believed that scrolling interrupted the reading process and took the reader out of the story. Recently, we've seen a lot of webcomic sites like What Things Do and Study Group Comics display the pages of each comic stacked together on one screen. Especially when read on a tablet or smartphone, vertically scrolling through a comic feels natural and more akin to flipping through a book than clicking though web pages.

Boulet's Le Long Voyage is worth experiencing again and again on different screen sizes to appreciate how well it reads in different formats. If you don't speak French read it again in its translated version and get all the verbal jokes you missed when you were just watching the pictures scroll by.

2. Time

By Randall Munroe
xkcd.com

This week's second notable webcomic actually began its story back on March 25, when Randall Munroe posted the first panel in a new comic called Time on his popular and long running webcomic, xkcd.com. Thirty minutes after that, the panel refreshed into a slightly different panel. Thirty minutes later it changed again, and so on and so on until last week, four months later, the story came to its conclusion at 3,099 panels, taking the concept of serialized storytelling to a brand new level.

As new panels appeared, xkcd loyalists followed closely, creating Wikis and forums devoted to hypothesizing on the true nature of the story. Some sharp eyed readers even examined one scene with a night time sky full of stars to determine that, based on the positioning of the stars and the absence of one particular star, this story was taking place 11,000 years in the future. Some have even devised methods of watching the panels strung together in both click through and self-playing formats.

Time starts out unassumingly sweet and simple as we watch two tiny stick figures build sand castles, making them taller and more elaborate as they go. This goes on for a good 400 panels or so until a slight feeling of dread seeps into the scene and one of the characters remarks, "I don't understand what the sea is doing." The two figures eventually embark on a quest to learn what is out there beyond the sea, which is the only thing that they have ever known. What they find is strange, beautiful and apocalyptic—and just beyond their ability to fully understand.

Xkcd comics are deceptively simple looking, consisting mostly of stick figures and silhouetted landscapes, but conceptually and in terms of character gestures, movement and even world-building, they are some of the most complex and thought out comics out there. Time is one of the finest examples of this.

Wired and Slate recently published articles discussing what Time is really all about. There are a number of ways to view the whole thing, but I enjoyed this piece from GeekWagon. Click through each panel or watch a YouTube video of it.

3. Trillium #1

By Jeff Lemire; with colors by Jose Villarrubia
DC Vertigo

Jeff Lemire is a prolific writer and artist. While currently one of the star creative forces behind a number of DC Comic's superhero titles like Green Arrow and Animal Man, he also finds time for his own personal projects, like last year's Underwater Welder. Lemire works in a fast and loose style that probably allows him to get his ideas down on paper fairly quickly. It also makes his books instantly recognizable as his own.

This week, Lemire returns to DC's Vertigo line (where he previously published his recently completed series Sweet Tooth) with a new 8-issue mini-series called Trillium. It is a tragic sci-fi love story about an English explorer searching for the Lost Temple of the Incas in 1921 and falls in love with a botanist researching a newfound species on the edge of space in the year 3797. Their unlikely love is doomed to bring about the end of the universe.

Lemire paints the entire story himself in watercolor on paper but he is joined by colorist Jose Villarrubia who colors the 1920s section to give that part a slightly different look from the 3797 section. With the story taking place in two different time periods, the first issue is set up as two separate but interlocking stories and formatted as a "flip book" with two covers. One story reads one way; flip the book around and read the other story the other way. Not sure how this might work on digital devices.

You can read an 8 page preview of Trillium here.

4. Moth City

By Tim Gibson
Flying Whities/Comixology Submit

For the past couple of weeks, it seems like I've talked a lot about these new "Guided View" digital comics that are popping up all over the Comixology Comics app. It's a new format that a number of comics companies are experimenting with and it allows for a little more of an active experience on the comics page with panels and word balloons building on the screen as the story progresses. Another example of this is a creator-owned book available through Comixology's Submit program called Moth City. But, enough about the format, let's focus instead on the fact that is is a quality book with  a strong premise and an unusual setting that doesn't need the technological gimmick to make it interesting. 

Set on an island off the coast of China, Moth City is a thriller involving a mysterious WMD developed by an American tycoon (who dresses like a cowboy) and the murder of a scientist that sets off a series of events that may bring this island into a war between Chinese Nationalists and the Communist army. Writer and artist Tim Gibson has set up an intriguing adventure here with an exotic locale, exciting chases, some family drama and a few surprising plot twists. In fact the most recent issue ended with a very unexpected twist that turned the story a little on its head. Gibson comes from the film industry, having done concept illustration work for big Hollywood blockbusters like Tin Tin and Avatar, and he has a great sense of pacing as well as design (as you can see by the cover). 

Moth City #4 is available on Comixology this week and the previous three issues are available there too. Read more about it here on MothCity.com where you can also read the book as a free webcomic as well.

5. Robocop: Last Stand #1

Based on a screenplay by Frank Miller; written by Steven Grant; art by Korkut Öztekin; cover by Declan Shalvey
Boom! Studios

This week's entry in the seemingly ever-growing world of licensed Hollywood and toy properties adapted as comics is the first Robocop comic, published by new license-holder Boom! Studios. This 8 issue mini-series takes an unused screenplay for Robocop 3 that was written by comics legend Frank Miller and gives it to Steven Grant, a veteran comics writer who recently wrote the comic turned Hollywood action flick 2 Guns. Grant is a good choice to work with Miller material. Having written many a Punisher comic, he's no stranger to tough-as-nails heroes dishing out blood-splattered justice.

In the real world, cyborg police officer Alex Murphy is probably not the answer to the recently bankrupt city of Detroit's numerous problems, but in this near future vision of Detroit from the Robocop universe, he is their last hope. The police department has been disbanded and the the Omni-Consumer Products (OCP) mega-corporation is set to transform what's left of old Detroit into its utopian vision of the future, Delta City, forcing many of its under-privileged citizens out of their homes. 

Grant is joined by Korkut Öztekin, a Turkish artist who I believe is turning in his first major comics work here. His style seems to balance the right level of disturbing violence and broad, satirical humor that the material needs. Also, check out that striking cover by Declan Shalvey who has been designing some of the most dramatic covers for a variety of comics over this past year.

Read a preview here.

HONORABLE MENTIONS

Why limit myself to just listing five comics each week? There's so much else out there.

Sidekicks #1
J. Michael Straczynski returns to his patented brutally realistic take on the superhero genre with this new 12 issue mini-series about a goofy kid sidekick whose life hits the skids when his partner and mentor is murdered. Tom Mandrake, who has drawn many a superhero comic in his career, adds some Bronze Age levity to the misery. Here's a preview.

The Bunker #1
Joshua Hale Fialkov and Joe Infurnari just launched this new Digital First series on Comixology about a group of friends who find an abandoned bunker in the woods. Available now on Comixology.

A Bag of Marbles
A graphic novel adaptation Joseph Joffo's autobiography about his experience fleeing from the Nazis as a young boy. Contains beautiful painted artwork by French cartoonist Vincent Bailley. More info here.

Thor by Walt Simonson Vol 1
This is an affordable softcover edition containing part of the recent omnibus collection of Simonson's classic run on Marvel's Thor during the 1980's. It has been recolored to appeal to modern eyeballs.

Satellite Sam #2
I missed talking about issue 1 when it came out last month, but Matt Fraction and Howard Chaykin's crime drama set behind the scenes in a 1950's live sci-fi TV show is off to a great start. You can see a preview here

Questionable Content turned 10
Some of the great long-running webcomics are hitting the decade mark now. Jeph Jacques' popular Questionable Content strip just did it last week. Here's Jacques' understated acknowledgement of the milestone.

nextArticle.image_alt|e
iStock
arrow
Smart Shopping
12 Smart Book Ideas for Everyone in Your Life
iStock
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

nextArticle.image_alt|e
Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons
arrow
literature
10 Little Facts About Louisa May Alcott
Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons
Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

Born on this day in 1832, Louisa May Alcott led a fascinating life. Besides enchanting millions of readers with her novel Little Women, she worked as a Civil War nurse, fought against slavery, and registered women to vote. In honor of her birthday, here are 10 facts about Alcott.

1. SHE HAD MANY FAMOUS FRIENDS.

Louisa's parents, Bronson and Abigail Alcott, raised their four daughters in a politically active household in Massachusetts. As a child, Alcott briefly lived with her family in a failed Transcendentalist commune, helped her parents hide slaves who had escaped via the Underground Railroad, and had discussions about women’s rights with Margaret Fuller. Throughout her life, she socialized with her father’s friends, including Henry David Thoreau, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and Nathaniel Hawthorne. Although her family was always poor, Alcott had access to valuable learning experiences. She read books in Emerson’s library and learned about botany at Walden Pond with Thoreau, later writing a poem called "Thoreau’s Flute" for her friend. She also socialized with abolitionist Frederick Douglass and women’s suffrage activist Julia Ward Howe.

2. HER FIRST NOM DE PLUME WAS FLORA FAIRFIELD.

As a teenager, Alcott worked a variety of teaching and servant jobs to earn money for her family. She first became a published writer at 19 years old, when a women’s magazine printed one of her poems. For reasons that are unclear, Alcott used a pen name—Flora Fairfield—rather than her real name, perhaps because she felt that she was still developing as a writer. But in 1854 at age 22, Alcott used her own name for the first time. She published Flower Fables, a collection of fairy tales she had written six years earlier for Emerson’s daughter, Ellen.

3. SHE SECRETLY WROTE PULP FICTION.

Before writing Little Women, Alcott wrote Gothic pulp fiction under the nom de plume A.M. Barnard. Continuing her amusing penchant for alliteration, she wrote books and plays called Perilous Play and Pauline’s Passion and Punishment to make easy money. Alcott wrote about cross-dressers, spies, revenge, and hashish. These sensational, melodramatic works are strikingly different than the more wholesome, righteous vibe she captured in Little Women, and she didn’t advertise her former writing as her own after Little Women became popular.

4. SHE WROTE ABOUT HER EXPERIENCE AS A CIVIL WAR NURSE.


Getty Images

In 1861, at the beginning of the U.S. Civil War, Alcott sewed Union uniforms in Concord and, the next year, enlisted as an army nurse. In a Washington, D.C. hotel-turned-hospital, she comforted dying soldiers and helped doctors perform amputations. During this time, she wrote about her experiences in her journal and in letters to her family. In 1863, she published Hospital Sketches, a fictionalized account, based on her letters, of her stressful yet meaningful experiences as a wartime nurse. The book became massively popular and was reprinted in 1869 with more material.

5. SHE SUFFERED FROM MERCURY POISONING.

After a month and a half of nursing in D.C., Alcott caught typhoid fever and pneumonia. She received the standard treatment at the time—a toxic mercury compound called calomel. (Calomel was used in medicines through the 19th century.) Because of this exposure to mercury, Alcott suffered from symptoms of mercury poisoning for the rest of her life. She had a weakened immune system, vertigo, and had episodes of hallucinations. To combat the pain caused by the mercury poisoning (as well as a possible autoimmune disorder, such as lupus, that could have been triggered by it), she took opium. Alcott died of a stroke in 1888, at 55 years old.

6. SHE WROTE LITTLE WOMEN TO HELP HER FATHER.

In 1867, Thomas Niles, an editor at a publishing house, asked Alcott if she wanted to write a novel for girls. Although she tried to get excited about the project, she thought she wouldn’t have much to write about girls because she was a tomboy. The next year, Alcott’s father was trying to convince Niles to publish his manuscript about philosophy. He told Niles that his daughter could write a book of fairy stories, but Niles still wanted a novel about girls. Niles told Alcott’s father that if he could get his daughter to write a (non-fairy) novel for girls, he would publish his philosophy manuscript. So to make her father happy and help his writing career, Alcott wrote about her adolescence growing up with her three sisters. Published in September 1868, the first part of Little Women was a huge success. The second part was published in 1869, and Alcott went on to write sequels such as Little Men (1871) and Jo’s Boys (1886).

7. SHE WAS AN EARLY SUFFRAGETTE.

In the 1870s, Alcott wrote for a women’s rights periodical and went door-to-door in Massachusetts to encourage women to vote. In 1879, the state passed a law that would allow women to vote in local elections on anything involving education and children—Alcott registered immediately, becoming the first woman registered in Concord to vote. Although met with resistance, she, along with 19 other women, cast ballots in a 1880 town meeting. The Nineteenth Amendment was finally ratified in 1920, decades after Alcott died.

8. SHE PRETENDED TO BE HER OWN SERVANT TO TRICK HER FANS.


Orchard House, the Alcott family home. Phillip Capper from Wellington, New Zealand (Flickr) // CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons

After the success of Little Women, fans who connected with the book traveled to Concord to see where Alcott grew up. One month, Alcott had a hundred strangers knock on the door of Orchard House, her family’s home, hoping to see her. Because she didn’t like the attention, she sometimes pretended to be a servant when she answered the front door, hoping to trick fans into leaving.

9. ALCOTT NEVER HAD CHILDREN, BUT SHE CARED FOR HER NIECE.

Although Alcott never married or had biological children, she took care of her orphaned niece. In 1879, Alcott’s youngest sister May died a month after giving birth to her daughter. As she was dying, May told her husband to send the baby, whom she named Louisa in honor of Alcott, to her older sister. Nicknamed Lulu, the girl spent her childhood with Alcott, who wrote her stories and seemed a good fit for her high-spiritedness. Lulu was just 8 when Alcott died, at which point she went to live with her father in Switzerland.

10. FANS CAN VISIT ALCOTT'S FAMILY HOME IN CONCORD, MASSACHUSETTS.

At 399 Lexington Road in Concord, Massachusetts, tourists can visit Orchard House, the Alcott family home from 1858 to 1877. Orchard House is a designated National Historic Landmark, and visitors can take a guided tour to see where Alcott wrote and set Little Women. Visitors can also get a look at Alcott’s writing desk and the family’s original furniture and paintings.

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER
More from mental floss studios