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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. Itty Bitty Hellboy #1

By Art Baltazar and Franco Aureliani
Dark Horse Comics

Art Baltazar and Franco Aureliani get "all ages" comics. They've previously won awards for their popular and long-running Tiny Titans series, and a couple of years ago, they opened their own comic book shop in Skokie, Illinois called Aw Yeah Comics where they put on comic book-making parties for kids, serving juice boxes and handing out crayons and paper. Their distinctive "animation" style and kid-friendly sense of humor appeals just as much to adults as it does to kids as evidenced by their recent Kickstarter for a new line of "all-reader friendly" comics also called Aw Yeah Comics! that blew past it's $15,000 goal in just a matter of hours.

Their latest project is their much anticipated Aw Yeah Comics! treatment of Mike Mignola's Hellboy universe. Like with Tiny Titans, their approach is part Muppet Babies, part Cartoon Network, part Sunday comics, delivering child versions of popular characters in a light, gag strip format. Baltazar's cartooning takes the essence of characters like Hellboy, Liz Sherman, and Roger the Homunculus and turns them into cute, angular, candy-colored graphical adaptations of Mignola's dark, brooding, shadow-drenched creations.

Itty Bitty Hellboy is a 5 issue mini-series that, should its popularity spawn more Aw Yeah series, would add an unexpected layer to the ever-growing Mignola-verse of stories Dark Horse publishes about Hellboy and his supporting cast of characters.

Here's a great preview from issue #1 and an interesting interview with the Aw Yeah Comics! duo.

2. TEOTFW (The End of the F**king World)

By Charles Forsman
Fantagraphics

Charles Forsman is quite well known these days within indie comics circles as being a major proponent of the mini-comic (generally low print run, self-made, hand stapled DIY comics). He started his own mini-publishing house, Oily Comics, a few years back and has turned it into a successful subscription-based service where readers can get a new mini-comic in the mail from a variety of creators every month. While Oily Comics publishes works from other artists such as Michael DeForge, Warren Craghead and Melissa Mendes, it was also the vehicle for Forsman to put out a 16-part miniseries called The End of the F**king World. It quickly became the talk of the small press comics world and is now being collected in one volume by Fantagraphics.

TEOTFW (the Safe For Bookstores title) is a meditative drama about teen alienation and violence. James and Alyssa are in love and run off together on a road trip to escape their lives and their parents. James, however, is extremely troubled. He's a bit of a sociopath with violent tendencies and an inability to feel emotion or empathy for others. Soon, Alyssa can no longer deny that something isn't quite right with him. This tale of young love is reminiscent of Terrence Malick's classic film Badlands in both its content and its sparse storytelling style. In fact, Forsman's whole low budget approach to making the comic gives it a mood similar to a low budget film despite the deliberate comic strip feel of his cartooning.

I think I first became aware of Forsman's work a couple of years back when he did this EC Segar style adaptation of Raiders of the Lost Ark as well as a Charles Schultz version of Jaws. Even TEOTFW shows the influence of the great newspaper strip cartoonists on his work, but with Forsman's modern storytelling sensibilities adding a different context to the style. He began this story aiming to work on it in a simple style that would allow him to easily knock out pages, releasing it in 8 page installments that he sold for $1 each. The immediate attention it received from both readers and interested publishers like Fantagraphics helped turn what started as a simple mini comics project into a 176 page graphic novel and the biggest release of Forsman's career thus far.

Fantagraphics has a good sized preview of the opening pages of the book here. If you want to know more about Forsman there are two recent interviews with him you can read—One by Matt Seneca and another by Tom Spurgeon.

3. She Died in Terrebonne #1

Written by Kevin Church; art by T.J. Kirsch
Agreeable Comics via Comixology Submit

One really nice advantage of Comixology's Submit program for independent publishers is that it becomes a new platform for webcomics creators to repackage their content for new audiences that maybe weren't aware of it previously or just don't enjoy following longform stories through their web browser. A good example of this is Kevin Church and T.J. Kirsch's popular webcomic She Died In Terrebonne. They first began publishing the webcomic back in 2009 and received a good amount of praise as it ran through to its completion. People like myself, who are not as good as they should be at following serialized webcomics, jumped at the chance to pick up the first issue of this when it hit the Comixology storefront recently, to read it in the more comfortable environment of my iPad. That said, Church and Kirsch originally formatted this story to be delivered in strip-sized chunks, perfect for webcomics, but that formatting becomes mostly invisible when read together this way. 

She Died in Terrebonne is a private eye noir starring Sam Kimimura, a Japanese American detective, searching for a missing girl who turns up dead in a small Pacific Northwest town called Terrebonne. Though that is the end of the case he was hired for, he decides to stick around Terrebonne to see how this all turns out. The story draws on a number of influences, primarily 1970s crime dramas that Kirsch invokes in subtle ways (shaggy hairstyles for sure, but also simple, naturalistic lighting and settings that feel like film and TV of that era). Kirsch has a really appealing style, reminiscent in some ways of Cameron Stewart, and his work in this first issue makes this a very appealing read. 

The first issue of She Died in Terrebonne is on sale on the Comixology app for $1.99 with four more issues presumably soon to come.

4. Henry & Glenn Forever & Ever #1


Written by Tom Neely, art by Igloo Tornado
Microcosm Publishing /IWDY Comics

Tom Neely's cult hit Henry & Glenn Forever & Ever has been floating around for a few years in various forms and is actually up to its third issue in this latest iteration. However, the first issue is getting a much wider release through the comic book direct market this week. It even sports a hilarious alternate cover (shown above) by the great Jim Rugg. 

Henry & Glenn consists of one-page comics, single drawings and even diary entries depicting the fictional domestic partnership of real-life tough guy metal heads Henry Rollins and Glenn Danzig. They watch TV together, paint the bathroom black, argue with each other and worry about each other. They also fret a lot about their missing dog who may or may not have been kidnapped by their overly nice but Satan-worshipping neighbors Hall & Oates. It's no wonder this book is a hit with most people who've read it (Danzig has not officially acknowledged its existence and Rollins claims to have not read it but is cool enough to sign a book from a fan when one is presented to him). It also seems to be growing in popularity over time. In fact, the book has sold extremely well over the years through distribution channels outside of the normal comic-related ones like record stores. Comic book retailers and Diamond Comic Distributors (which controls all distribution to comic book shops) are only catching on to the phenomenon now.

The book is drawn by an artist collective known as Igloo Tornado which consists of the book's writer Tom Neely. His Popeye-like drawing style actually recently landed him a job drawing the new Popeye series for IDW but even that book may not exceed the popularity Henry & Glenn is hitting.

You can find out more about the book and order a copy here.

5. American Vampire Anthology #1



By Various Writers and artists
DC Vertigo

American Vampire was writer Scott Snyder's breakout hit series about vampires living behind the scenes throughout history in the United States. It's the book that put Snyder's name on the comic book map and led to him to becoming the writer for both DC's Batman and Superman Unchained titles. Hence, being a suddenly-in-demand writer, he's had to put American Vampire on hiatus but plans a return later this year.

In the meantime, Snyder has recruited some pretty big names to contribute to this one-shot anthology comic that builds on the world of American Vampire, featuring stories set throughout different eras in American history. Jason Aaron, Becky Cloonan, Gail Simone, Greg Rucka, Gabriel Ba, Fabio Moon, Jeff Lemire and Francesco Francavilla are just some of the people involved. Regular series artist and co-creator Rafael Albuquerque draws one of the stories but also writes a story, working with artist Ivo Milazzo. 

The eight stories contained here range in settings from a "lost" Roanoke colony in the 16th century to 1967, the time period the main series is currently set in. It features some new characters as well as some familiar ones.

You can preview some of the art here and read an interview with Snyder and Albuquerque here.

HONORABLE MENTIONS

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

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 1
If you're following all the moves the Hollywood division of Marvel is making right now then you're well aware of the risk they're taking putting out a movie based on the little-known property Guardians of the Galaxy. As part of the recent Marvel NOW relaunch of all their titles, Brian Michael Bendis and Steve McNiven bring a level of cinematic polish to the series about an oddball pairing of cosmic heroes (plus Iron Man!) that gets its first collection this week. More here.

Rocket Raccoon: Tales from Half World
In related news, the probable breakout star of the Guardians movie, Rocket Raccoon, gets his early adventures collected here. Featuring art by a pre-Hellboy Mike Mignola. More info here.

Helter Skelter: Fashion Unfriendly
A new English language release of a 2004 manga by Kyoko Okazaki about horrors inherent in the women's fashion industry. Okazki is considered one of the pioneers of josei (women's comics) and often told stories about controversial women's issues. Details here.

Federal Bureau of Physics #2
The new Vertigo comic Collider which I've previously highlighted here had a sudden name change and is now called Federal Bureau of Physics which is a title more directly related to the story and potentially avoids some sort of lawsuit issue for DC Comics. Details here.

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10 Things You Might Not Know About Little Women
gutenberg.org
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Louisa May Alcott's Little Women is one of the world's most beloved novels, and now—nearly 150 years after its original publication—it's capturing yet another generation of readers, thanks in part to Masterpiece's new small-screen adaptation. Whether it's been days or years since you've last read it, here are 10 things you might not know about Alcott's classic tale of family and friendship.

1. LOUISA MAY ALCOTT DIDN'T WANT TO WRITE LITTLE WOMEN.


Frank T. Merrill, Public Domain, Courtesy of The Project Gutenberg

Louisa May Alcott was writing both literature and pulp fiction (sample title: Pauline's Passion and Punishment) when Thomas Niles, the editor at Roberts Brothers Publishing, approached her about writing a book for girls. Alcott said she would try, but she wasn’t all that interested, later calling such books “moral pap for the young.”

When it became clear Alcott was stalling, Niles offered a publishing contract to her father, Bronson Alcott. Although Bronson was a well-known thinker who was friends with Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau, his work never achieved much acclaim. When it became clear that Bronson would have an opportunity to publish a new book if Louisa started her girls' story, she caved in to the pressure.

2. LITTLE WOMEN TOOK JUST 10 WEEKS TO WRITE.


Frank T. Merrill, Public Domain, Courtesy of The Project Gutenberg

Alcott began writing the book in May 1868. She worked on it day and night, becoming so consumed with it that she sometimes forgot to eat or sleep. On July 15, she sent all 402 pages to her editor. In September, a mere four months after starting the book, Little Women was published. It became an instant best seller and turned Alcott into a rich and famous woman.

3. THE BOOK AS WE KNOW IT WAS ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN TWO PARTS.


Frank T. Merrill, Public Domain, Courtesy of The Project Gutenberg

The first half was published in 1868 as Little Women: Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy. The Story Of Their Lives. A Girl’s Book. It ended with John Brooke proposing marriage to Meg. In 1869, Alcott published Good Wives, the second half of the book. It, too, only took a few months to write.

4. MEG, BETH, AND AMY WERE BASED ON ALCOTT'S SISTERS.


Frank T. Merrill, Public Domain, Courtesy of The Project Gutenberg

Meg was based on Louisa’s sister Anna, who fell in love with her husband John Bridge Pratt while performing opposite him in a play. The description of Meg’s wedding in the novel is supposedly based on Anna’s actual wedding.

Beth was based on Lizzie, who died from scarlet fever at age 23. Like Beth, Lizzie caught the illness from a poor family her mother was helping.

Amy was based on May (Amy is an anagram of May), an artist who lived in Europe. In fact, May—who died in childbirth at age 39—was the first woman to exhibit paintings in the Paris Salon.

Jo, of course, is based on Alcott herself.

5. LIKE THE MARCH FAMILY, THE ALCOTTS KNEW POVERTY.


Frank T. Merrill, Public Domain, Courtesy of The Project Gutenberg

Bronson Alcott’s philosophical ideals made it difficult for him to find employment—for example, as a socialist, he wouldn't work for wages—so the family survived on handouts from friends and neighbors. At times during Louisa’s childhood, there was nothing to eat but bread, water, and the occasional apple.

When she got older, Alcott worked as a paid companion and governess, like Jo does in the novel, and sold “sensation” stories to help pay the bills. She also took on menial jobs, working as a seamstress, a laundress, and a servant. Even as a child, Alcott wanted to help her family escape poverty, something Little Women made possible.

6. ALCOTT REFUSED TO HAVE JO MARRY LAURIE.


Frank T. Merrill, Public Domain, Courtesy of The Project Gutenberg

Alcott, who never married herself, wanted Jo to remain unmarried, too. But while she was working on the second half of Little Women, fans were clamoring for Jo to marry the boy next door, Laurie. “Girls write to ask who the little women marry, as if that was the only aim and end of a woman’s life," Alcott wrote in her journal. "I won’t marry Jo to Laurie to please anyone.”

As a compromise—or to spite her fans—Alcott married Jo to the decidedly unromantic Professor Bhaer. Laurie ends up with Amy.

7. THERE ARE LOTS OF THEORIES ABOUT WHO LAURIE WAS BASED ON.


Frank T. Merrill, Public Domain, Courtesy of The Project Gutenberg

People have theorized Laurie was inspired by everyone from Thoreau to Nathaniel Hawthorne’s son Julian, but this doesn’t seem to be the case. In 1865, while in Europe, Alcott met a Polish musician named Ladislas Wisniewski, whom Alcott nicknamed Laddie. The flirtation between Laddie and Alcott culminated in them spending two weeks together in Paris, alone. According to biographer Harriet Reisen, Alcott later modeled Laurie after Laddie.

How far did the Alcott/Laddie affair go? It’s hard to say, as Alcott later crossed out the section of her diary referring to the romance. In the margin, she wrote, “couldn’t be.”

8. YOU CAN STILL VISIT ORCHARD HOUSE, WHERE ALCOTT WROTE LITTLE WOMEN.

Orchard House in Concord, Massachusetts was the Alcott family home. In 1868, Louisa reluctantly left her Boston apartment to write Little Women there. Today, you can tour this house and see May’s drawings on the walls, as well as the small writing desk that Bronson built for Louisa to use.

9. LITTLE WOMEN HAS BEEN ADAPTED A NUMBER OF TIMES.

In addition to a 1958 TV series, multiple Broadway plays, a musical, a ballet, and an opera, Little Women has been made into more than a half-dozen movies. The most famous are the 1933 version starring Katharine Hepburn, the 1949 version starring June Allyson (with Elizabeth Taylor as Amy), and the 1994 version starring Winona Ryder. Later this year, Clare Niederpruem's modern retelling of the story is scheduled to arrive in movie theaters. It's also been adapted for the small screen a number of times, most recently for PBS's Masterpiece, by Call the Midwife creator Heidi Thomas.

10. IN 1980, A JAPANESE ANIME VERSION OF LITTLE WOMEN WAS RELEASED.

In 1987, Japan made an anime version of Little Women that ran for 48 half-hour episodes. Watch the first two episodes above.

Additional Resources:
Louisa May Alcott: A Personal Biography; Louisa May Alcott: The Woman Behind Little Women; Louisa May Alcott's Journals; Little Women; Alcott Film; C-Span; LouisaMayAlcott.org.

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6 X-Rated Library Collections
The reading room of the British Library, circa 1840
The reading room of the British Library, circa 1840
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

During the 19th century, some librarians became preoccupied with the morality (or lack thereof) of some of their titles. As a result, a number of libraries created special collections for "obscene" works, to ensure that only readers with a valid academic purpose might access them. Below are six examples, adapted from Claire Cock-Starkey’s new book A Library Miscellany.

1. THE "PRIVATE CASE" // THE BRITISH LIBRARY

At the British Library (or British Museum Library, as it was called then), it was John Winter Jones, Keeper of Printed Books from 1856, who was responsible for the creation of the “Private Case.” Titles that were deemed subversive, heretical, libelous, obscene, or that contained state secrets were kept out of the general catalog, stored in separate shelving, and marked with the shelfmark category “PC” (for private case). By far the majority of books in the private case were pornographic or erotic texts; it's rumored that by the mid-1960s the case contained over 5000 such texts, including George Witt’s collection of books on phallicism and Charles Reginald Dawes’s collection of French erotica from 1880–1930.

What was unusual about the Private Case was that it was so secretive: None of the books were recorded in any catalog, as if the collection didn’t exist. But starting in 1983, all books once in the Private Case have been listed in the catalog, and many have been returned to the main collection—although librarians may still check that a reader has academic reasons for consulting some of the more scandalous titles.

2. L’ENFER // BIBLIOTHEQUE NATIONALE DE FRANCE

General stacks of the Bibliotheque nationale de France
FRANCOIS GUILLOT/AFP/Getty Images

L’Enfer, which translates as “the hell,” was created in 1830 to house the French national library’s large collection of erotica and other books that were considered “contrary to good morals.” Many of the works were obtained by the library through confiscation, but fortunately the librarians had the foresight to preserve these scandalous texts. The collection—which still exists—has been largely kept private and was only fully cataloged in 1913, when about 855 titles were recorded.

Modern pornographic magazines and erotic fiction do not get cast into L’Enfer: It is only for rare works or works of cultural significance, such as a handwritten copy of the Marquis de Sade’s Les Infortunes de la Vertu (1787) and The Story of O by Pauline Réage (1954). In 2007, the library put on a public exhibition of some of the more fascinating (and titillating) texts in L’Enfer, finally granting the public a glimpse of this hidden collection.

3. TRIPLE-STAR COLLECTION // NEW YORK PUBLIC LIBRARY

The New York Public Library Main Reading Room
Drew Angerer/Getty Images

At the New York Public Library, some obscene works were once hand-marked with "***", which indicated that readers who wanted to consult those volumes had to be supervised. (Librarians regularly collected erotica, including from nearby Times Square, as part of their "mandate to collect life as it was lived," according to The New York Times.This system began in the mid-20th century and caused certain titles to be locked in caged shelves; it also meant that the items could only be consulted in a small restricted part of the reading rooms after special permission was granted.

4. PHI COLLECTION // OXFORD'S BODLEIAN LIBRARY

Radcliffe Camera building, part of the Bodleian Library
Oli Scarff/Getty Images

The restricted collection at the Bodleian Library was created by E. W. B. Nicholson, who was head librarian from 1886–1913. No one is quite sure why it was named after the Greek letter phi, but some have suggested it was because it sounds like “fie!” which you might exclaim when asked to retrieve a book from this collection. Or, perhaps it stems from the first letter “phi” of the Greek “phaula” or “phaulos,” meaning worthless, wicked, or base. The collection included pornography alongside works of sexual pathology, and students needed to ask a tutor to confirm their academic need for a book before the librarians would let them consult any texts with a phi shelfmark. Today, many of the books have been reclassified into the general collection, but the phi shelfmark still persists.

5. "XR" COLLECTION // HARVARD’S WIDENER LIBRARY

 Widener Memorial Library at Harvard University
Darren McCollester/Newsmakers

The Widener Library still holds its restricted collection behind a locked copper door in the basement of the library—not because they still want to hide it, but simply because (it's said) no one has the time to redistribute the collection back into main circulation. The collection was thought to have been set up in the 1950s, after a sociology professor complained that many texts he needed for his class were missing or defaced (the Playboy centerfold was apparently always going astray), and thus the restricted collection was created to protect and preserve rather than to censor. The collection was only added to for a 30-year period and is now closed; however, its classification reveals something of the social attitudes of the times towards titles such as The Passions and Lechery of Catherine the Great (1971) and D. H. Lawrence’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover (1928). The X part of the shelfmark does not stand for X-rated but indicates that the books are unusual; the R part stands for “restricted.”

6. THE ARC // CAMBRIDGE UNIVERSITY LIBRARY

Trinity College Library, Cambridge University
Central Press/Getty Images

As library collections are frequently made up of a series of smaller collections donated to the institution, they may often acquire titles that the library may otherwise have not chosen to collect—such as some of the more risqué works. Cambridge University Library felt it had a duty to students to protect them from some of the more offensive books in their collection, and for this reason the Arc (short for arcana—meaning secrets or mysteries) classification was created. As with other restricted collections, Cambridge’s Arc provides a fascinating insight into changing moral attitudes. Some of the highlights included what is considered by some historians as the first gay novel, L’Alcibiade fanciullo a scola (Alcibiades the Schoolboy), published in 1652; a 1922 copy of Ulysses by James Joyce (notable because at that time the book was being burned by UK Customs Officers); and a misprinted copy of the Cambridge Bible.

BONUS: "INFERNO" // THE VATICAN LIBRARY

The Sistine Hall, once part of the Vatican Library
Michal Osmenda, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 2.0

There has always been a rumor that the Vatican Library holds the largest collection of pornographic material in the world, in a collection supposedly known as the “Inferno,” but in fact this honor goes to the Kinsey Institute for Sex Research in Bloomington, Indiana. It is thought that the Vatican Library’s collection was created from the thousands of erotic works that have been confiscated by the Vatican over the years. However, no evidence for the collection has been found, and the (admittedly incredibly secretive) Vatican librarians deny its very existence.

This article is an expanded version of an entry in Claire Cock-Starkey’s A Library Miscellany, published by Bodleian Library Publishing.

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