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Dark Horse Comics

Wednesday is New Comics Day

Dark Horse Comics
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. The Star Wars #1

Written by J.W. Rinzler; art by Mike Mayhew; color by Rain Beredo & Brad Anderson
Dark Horse

Are you already familiar with the story of The Star Wars? The tale of the epic struggle between the Rebels and the Galactic Empire. The evil Darth Vader and the lords of the Sith. General Luke Skywalker, the last of the Jedi-Bendu, and his young padawan, Anniken Starkiller. The green, lizard-like star pilot, Han Solo, who speaks a strange language known as Wookiee. 

Wait a minute, what the hell is going on here?

The Star Wars is a new 8 issue mini-series adapted from George Lucas' original rough draft of the screenplay that would eventually become the film we all know (minus the "The"). While it has some obvious similarities, it also has some huge differences that make this barely recognizable to most fans. 

J. W. Rinzler has written numerous books for Lucas' licensing division, including The Making of Star Wars, which first led to him getting his hands on the original draft. In reading it, he was struck not only by how different they were from the final shooting script, but by how this version of the story could actually work on its own. Rinzler, along with Dark Horse Comics, proposed the comic book idea to Lucas and got his approval on an 8-issue mini-series. Dark Horse is in the last years of a long run producing Star Wars comics before new owner Disney/Marvel takes over. It seems in this end run they are throwing out some interesting spins on the property such as the James Bond inspired Agent of Empire, Brian Wood's new post-Episode IV stories in the simply titled Star Wars series and now this odd and unexpected book.

It's probably a testament to the durability of the appeal of Star Wars that the production of what is obviously a rejected version of the original story would cause any sort of stir. There aren't a lot of other franchises out there with fans that would clamor for something like this to get made. Plus, let's face it, there's a good chance this is going to read like a weird "Elseworlds"-style alternate universe story or a lesser Star Wars knockoff. However, for hardcore fans like myself, the existence of this book strikes a chord and brings to mind all the articles in fan magazines I used to read in the late '70s and early '80s about the making of the saga. In particular, it reminds me of the amazing paintings by the film's concept artist Ralph McQuarrie that I used to study when I was a little kid. Those paintings set the tone and look for Star Wars but it was hard not to focus on the little differences—the ideas that changed a little when they hit the big screen or never made it there at all and seemed to hint at a potential other movie in some alternate universe that we would never see.

You can read the first few pages of The Star Wars here and also check out this video trailer for the book

2. Toormina Video


By Pat Grant
PatGrantArt.com

Pat Grant is an Australian cartoonist whose first graphic novel, Blue, was published by Top Shelf last year. In Blue, he mixed sci-fi with autobiography  to tell a story about aliens, immigration, and the search for a dead body that pulled from experiences from his childhood (not the aliens part). Last week he published a short webcomic called Toormina Video to his website that I presume leans almost squarely into the autobiography grid of storytelling techniques. While relaying a very personal memory of his father, Grant delivers a punch to the gut for anyone reading this who has ever dedicated a substantial part of their life to a particular obsession. Cartoonists, beware. The last two panels of this comic made me want to step away from working on my own comic for a while.

Toormina Video recalls the cartoonist's relationship with his deceased father who often left him on his own while drinking at the pub. At one point he sends young Pat on a bit of a fool's errand to compile a list of movies that Pat has always wanted to see so that one day they could rent them and watch them together. The anecdotes about his father are touching—albeit familiar—tales of parental alcoholism. The way Grant wraps his comic up though is really something special and I won't say anything more about it except to say go read it here.  

3. X-men: Battle of the Atom #1

Written by Brian Michael Bendis; art by Frank Cho 
Marvel Comics

If you've been following Brian Michael Bendis' two X-men books, All New X-men and Uncanny X-men, the story that he's been telling is about to come to a head in a new event that will cross over into all the X-men titles. It begins here with the two issue mini-series X-men: Battle of the Atom.

The X-men books have been the best they have been in years thanks to the star writers Marvel has put in charge of the books (Bendis along with Jason Aaron on Wolverine & The X-men and Brian Wood on X-men). In All New X-men, Bendis has disrupted the status quo by bringing the original X-men (including the deceased Jean Grey) forward in time to the present in order to scare off a young Cyclops from turning into the killer of Professor Xavier and leader of an adversarial school of mutants. It's a nice spin on the X-men's usual dystopian future stories in which it is our present that has become the dark future which must be prevented. However, in this storyline, a new wrinkle in the timeline appears in the form of visitors from our future who are not happy about the damage that the time-hopping young X-men have wreaked on their present.

Bendis is joined by artist Frank Cho on the interiors and classic X-men cover artist Art Adams for the series covers. You can read some preview pages here.

4. Basewood

By Alec Longstreth
Kickstarter

It took Alec Longstreth seven years to complete his graphic novel, Basewood, and he has the beard to prove it (he was clean shaven near the beginning and vowed not to shave again until it was finished). It is a fantasy about a young man with amnesia, searching for his past, who encounters magical creatures and new companions as he journeys through a mysterious forest. He has been publishing it in mini-comic installments over the years in his black and white anthology comic Phase 7 as well as on his website in webcomic form. He has garnered a lot of praise and support for it within the indie comics community and won an Ignatz Award for Outstanding Minicomic for Phase 7 back in 2005. 

Like just about every self-publishing cartoonist these days, Longstreth has taken to Kickstarter to fund the printing of his book. The Kickstarter for Basewood easily made its goal within a few days but it's not too late to support him. Many of the comics we see on Kickstarter are projects that couldn't find a publisher or maybe wisely decided they didn't need one. In the case of Basewood, Longstreth apparently had options (in fact, AdHouse Books has agreed to distribute it through Diamond Retailers as long as the book reached its goal) but chose to go it alone to get the book printed exactly the way he wanted it without having to make compromises for cost reasons. As his Kickstarter video shows, Longstreth drew each page very large and put a lot of detail into his crosshatching, details that could be lost if printed too small or at a lesser quality than is needed. Considering this has been a long undertaking for him, it's understandable he'd want to be as proud as possible with the end result.

Tagging onto the issues raised by Pat Grant's comic in #2 on this list, many people don't realize the time investment required to write, draw and produce a 200 page graphic novel. Longstreth admits that this book is the product of his entire twenties. Back when he started working on Basewood there were probably more opportunities to get signed by a publisher and of course something like Kickstarter didn't exist. Much like the character in his book—waking up in a forest, not sure where he is—Longstreth has emerged from the creation of this comic into a new publishing world that didn't exist when he started and it looks like he's going to figure it all out.

Go ahead and check out the Kickstarter page and be sure to watch the video documenting Longstreth's beard growth over time. 

5. Forever Evil #1

Written by Geoff Johns, art by David Finch and Richard Friend
DC Comics

It's hard to believe that DC Comics have not done a line-wide crossover event since the "New 52" relaunch of all their titles back in 2011. Crossovers are like crack to DC and Marvel. Their resistance was admirable but it ends today with this new seven issue miniseries that will tie into most of the main DC Universe titles. Following up from the events of the "Trinity War" storyline that ran through all three Justice League titles and wrapped up last month (we'll call that a mini-crossover event), the world believes that the Justice League is dead and the Crime Syndicate, their evil counterparts from Earth-3, have stepped in to take their place. That leaves the Justice League's greatest villains, led by Lex Luthor, to defend Earth from these invaders.

DC has gone all in with this crossover by changing the titles of this month's books to the names of the corresponding enemy of that book's hero. They're also temporarily renumbering the issues with #1s all around. Since there are so many villains to choose from, each book is getting multiple weekly villain issues in place of its usual one monthly issue. To balance it out, about two-thirds of the DC line which is not part of this villain switch is simply skipping publication this month. So, for instance, in place of Batman #23 we'll get Joker #1, Riddler #1, Penguin #1 and Bane #1 this month. Oh, and each issue will have a 3D, lenticular "Motion" cover option as well as a plain old 2D option. If you think this is all confusing, imagine what retailers had to go through to when ordering the books. It's been complicated to the say the least.

The Forever Evil series is written by DC Chief Creative Officer and regular writer of both Justice League and Justice League of America Geoff Johns and it is illustrated by Justice League of America artist David Finch. You can read a preview of it here.

HONORABLE MENTIONS

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

Batman: Black and White #1
DC's artist friendly anthology of black and white Batman short stories returns with a new volume featuring Chip Kidd, Sean Gordon Murphy, Michael Cho, Neal Adams, Chris Samnee and more. Preview it here.

DC Universe Vs. The Master of the Universe #1
Superman and the Justice League vs. He-man and the Masters of the Universe? Believe it or not, this isn't the first time these two franchises have crossed over but it has been more than 30 years since it has happened. Place your bets now on who will win each individual matchup.

God is Dead #1
The prolific writer Jonathan Hickman (currently writing two Avengers books and the Infinity mini-series for Marvel in addition to some creator-owned books for Image) launches yet another comic. This time a 6 issue mini-series for Avatar in which the old gods like Zeus and Horus return to stake their claim on Earth.

2000 AD: Prog 1848
Fan favorite Simon Bisley joins co-creator Pat Mills in returning to one of their early creations, Sláine, in this one-shot 8 page story in the latest 2000 AD magazine.

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10 Things You Might Not Know About Little Women
gutenberg.org
gutenberg.org

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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