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Dark Horse Comics

Wednesday is New Comics Day

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Dark Horse 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. "A Light That Never Goes Out"

By Lucy Knisley

Possibly the most personal and heartwarming comic you'll read this year is a one-page webcomic posted by cartoonist Lucy Knisley this past week. Knisley publishes journal strips twice a month on her webcomic "Stop Paying Attention" and has published two autobiographical books (French Milk and Relish) based on her love of food and her relationship with her parents. This latest journal comic entry, with a title taken from a classic Smiths song, is not about cooking but about her relationship with her ex-boyfriend. I won't get too much into the details here because you should just go and read the comic and let Knisley tell you her story. It's really great.

Beyond the emotional aspect of this comic, what is interesting is Knisley's honesty and reflection within it about the whole idea of writing autobiographical material that I think any of the best memoir writers need to have. She writes about the idea of sharing personal moments in your life with readers and ponders the question of when to edit parts of your life out that are just too painful or even too personal to share. It is often said that all autobiographies are fiction because there is no way to not be selective in what you show. Once you exclude a detail, you are manipulating the "truth." Those reasons for being selective are an interesting part of the storytellng and editing process but they also are rooted in a deeper part of human nature and the needs to share or withhold parts of yourself.

Go read "A Light That Never Goes Out."

2. Fall Guy for Murder And Other Stories by Johnny Craig/Child of Tomorrow and other Stories by Al Feldstein

Collected works from Johnny Craig and Al Feldstein
Fantagraphics

Fantagraphics is dumping a number of reprint collections at once this week and two of the most enticing packages are these volumes, Fall Guy for Murder and Child of Tomorrow, dedicated to the work of two individual cartoonists who were an integral part of the pre-Comics Code days of EC Comics: Johnny Craig and Al Feldstein. 

EC published horror and crime comics that became the focus of congressional committees and concerned parents in the 1950s and led to a self-censorship in the comics industry that persisted through most of the rest of the 20th century. Reprinting those classic comics has become a cottage industry in itself recently with various collections coming out all the time, reintroducing them to audiences that enjoy pulp noir, '50s sci-fi, Twilight Zone-style plot twists, and moral ambiguity. 

Al Feldstein and Johnny Craig were two of the greatest cartoonists working for EC in those years (Feldstein was actually an editor for most of the EC titles as well). Both their inking styles look crisp and clear in these new printings. Craig was on par with the great newspaper strip artists like Al Williamson and Milton Caniff. His brush work is finely detailed and his people are perfect, clean-cut specimens of mid-century America (with of course hints of dark secrets hidden underneath). Feldstein's style is slightly more stylized and weird which was fitting for his stories about aliens and strange creatures, whereas Craig's were more grounded tales of murder and betrayal. These collections show their artwork in black and white as opposed to the originals which were in color allowing you to focus on the beauty of their linework.

Both volumes contain extra material like interviews and historical text.

Read a preview of Child of Tomorrow here.

Read a preview of Fall Guy For Murder here.

3. Sacrifice

Written by Sam Humphries; art by Dalton Rose
Dark Horse

The theme for some of this week's comics appears to be post-punk. With Lucy Knisley taking the title of her comic from a Smiths song, the new graphic novel Sacrifice has a great quote from writer Kieron Gillen describing the story: "What happens when two of history's greatest death cults meet up? Aztecs vs. Joy Division fans." 

Hector is a bit goth, he listens to New Order, wears what looks like probably a Joy Division t-shirt. He also is epileptic, and during one of his seizures he finds himself transported 700 years back to the age of the Aztec empire, just before the fall of their civilization. Sacrifice, written by Sam Humphries and illustrated by Dalton Rose, was a 6 issue series self-published by Humphries and now collected in a hardcover volume by Dark Horse Comics. Since initially writing this, Humphries has risen to major league comics status, now writing Avengers: AI for Marvel. This comic, however, is a very personal one for him. As an epileptic himself who grew up with an obsession with the Aztec civilization, his own life is mirrored a bit here by that of Hector.

Dalton Rose is an artist whose star is also on the rise. His style combines elements of Charles Burns, Marcos Martin, Guy Davis and a dash of Mike Allred. He was right out of college at the Savannah College of Art and Design when Humphries found him to draw Sacrifice. Since then he's been working on his own creator-owned book for Monkeybrain Comics called Phabula. 

You can read a preview of Sacrifice here.

4. Witchling


By Renee Nault
www.reneenault.com

Renee Nault is a Canadian illustrator who paints beautifully rich watercolors. Her paintings are often fantasy-inspired and usually focused on a pretty woman or a young girl as the central figure. There is a solemn, languid, introspective feel to the scenes she creates and she pulls a lot, stylistically, from children's fantasy books and 17th century Japanese Ukiyo-e prints.

Nault has been working on her first graphic novel, Witchling, about a young girl named Jane who has strange dreams about mythical animals and a mysterious man with white hair and black blood dripping from his eyes. When she isn't dreaming, Jane's real life seems just as strange. She can talk to cats and lives in a palace with her adopted royal parents in a world that is not quite our own.

Despite the sound of it, Witchling is a little too grown up to be a children's story, but it seems like it would perfectly appeal to a female teen audience. Jane is an outcast with a mysterious past brought up in a life that is part princess tale, part grown up Eloise (complete with nanny). There are also plenty of horror elements inspired by Japanese film, manga and anime. With Nault's watercolors pulling it all together it's an appealing story so far.

The first chapter of the book is complete and available to read online. New updates will be coming in September. You can also buy a print edition of the first volume for $10 on Nault's website.

Go read Witchling here.

5. Green Lantern Sector 2814 Vol. 2


By Len Wein, Dave Gibbons and others
DC Comics

A new trade collection from DC reprints some classic stories from the early '80s that showcased John Stewart as the new Green Lantern of Earth (known as Sector 2814 to the Guardians of the Universe). Stewart had been previously introduced in the late '70s as a temporary replacement for Earth's usual Green Lantern, Hal Jordan, and continued to pop up here and there as a supporting character in the Green Lantern series. In issue #182 he officially replaces Jordan for a regular stint, mostly collected here, that lasts somewhere around 10 issues, which doesn't sound like much, does it?

It took a little longer than these issues for Stewart to get his due as a strong, African American superhero character. Over the years, he has become more and more of a major character in the DC Universe. In fact, the popular Justice League cartoon that ran on TV from 2001 until 2004 (and then thru 2006 after it changed names to Justice League Unlimited) featured him as the team's GL rather than Jordan. To many people who grew up with that show as their introduction to DC Superheroes, John Stewart is the one and only Green Lantern.

The comics collected here are mostly written by DC and Marvel veteran writer Len Wein and feature artwork from Dave (Watchmen) Gibbons. The last set of stories mark the beginning of Steve Englehart and Joe Staton's run on the series. Shortly after this, the comic would relaunch as Green Lantern Corps with John Stewart working alongside Hal Jordan and a cast of other GLs from other sectors. Being a comics kid from the '80s, Joe Staton's fun, cartoony renderings are actually my definitive version of these characters.

A little more info here.

HONORABLE MENTIONS

Why limit myself to just listing 5 comics each week? There's so much else out there.

The Children of Palomar
This collects stories that originally appeared in Gilbert Hernandez' New Tales of Old Palomar which was published in Fantagraphics' oversized "Ignatz" format. It features characters that have appeared or are related to characters that have appeared in various Hernandez stories from Love & Rockets over the last 30 years.
Preview here

Outliers
This comic about a mute 11 year old and his woodland giant friend has been receiving some strong praise for its artwork and print design. It's the first book by illustrator Erik T. Johnson and it looks pretty impressive.
Preview it here.

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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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Opening Ceremony
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These $425 Jeans Can Turn Into Jorts
May 19, 2017
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Opening Ceremony

Modular clothing used to consist of something simple, like a reversible jacket. Today, it’s a $425 pair of detachable jeans.

Apparel retailer Opening Ceremony recently debuted a pair of “2 in 1 Y/Project” trousers that look fairly peculiar. The legs are held to the crotch by a pair of loops, creating a disjointed C-3PO effect. Undo the loops and you can now remove the legs entirely, leaving a pair of jean shorts in their wake. The result goes from this:

501069-OpeningCeremony2.jpg

Opening Ceremony

To this:

501069-OpeningCeremony3.jpg

Opening Ceremony

The company also offers a slightly different cut with button tabs in black for $460. If these aren’t audacious enough for you, the Y/Project line includes jumpsuits with removable legs and garter-equipped jeans.

[h/t Mashable]

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