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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. 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 Facts About Samuel Johnson’s Dictionary
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October 16 is World Dictionary Day, which each year celebrates the birthday of the American lexicographer Noah Webster, who was born in Connecticut in 1758. Last year, Mental Floss marked the occasion with a list of facts about Webster’s American Dictionary of the English Language—the enormous two-volume dictionary, published in 1828 when Webster was 70 years old, that established many of the differences that still divide American and British English to this day. But while Webster was America’s foremost lexicographer, on the other side of the Atlantic, Great Britain had Dr. Samuel Johnson.

Johnson—whose 308th birthday was marked with a Google Doodle in September—published the equally groundbreaking Dictionary of the English Language in 1755, three years before Webster was even born. Its influence was arguably just as great as that of Webster’s, and it remained the foremost dictionary of British English until the early 1900s when the very first installments of the Oxford English Dictionary began to appear.

So to mark this year’s Dictionary Day, here are 10 facts about Johnson’s monumental dictionary.

1. IT WASN’T THE FIRST DICTIONARY.

With more than 40,000 entries, Johnson’s Dictionary of the English Language was certainly the largest dictionary in the history of the English language at the time but, despite popular opinion, it wasn’t the first. Early vocabularies and glossaries were being compiled as far back as the Old English period, when lists of words and their equivalents in languages like Latin and French first began to be used by scribes and translators. These were followed by educational word lists and then early bilingual dictionaries that began to emerge in the 16th century, which all paved the way for what is now considered the very first English dictionary: Robert Cawdrey’s Table Alphabeticall—in 1604.

2. SAMUEL JOHNSON BORROWED FROM THE DICTIONARIES THAT CAME BEFORE HIS.

In compiling his dictionary, Johnson drew on Nathan Bailey’s Dictionarium Britanicum, which had been published in 1730. (Ironically, a sequel to Bailey’s dictionary, A New Universal Etymological English Dictionary, was published in the same year as Johnson’s, and borrowed heavily from his work; its author, Joseph Nicoll Scott, even gave Johnson some credit for its publication.)

But just as Johnson had borrowed from Bailey and Scott had borrowed from Johnson, Bailey, too had borrowed from an earlier work—namely John Kersey’s Dictionarium Anglo-Britannicum (1708)—which was based in part on a technical vocabulary, John Harris’s Universal English Dictionary of Arts and Sciences. Lexicographic plagiarism was nothing new.

3. THE DICTIONARY WASN’T THE ONLY THING JOHNSON WROTE.

Although he’s best remembered as a lexicographer today, Johnson was actually something of a literary multitasker. As a journalist, he wrote for an early periodical called The Gentlemen’s Magazine. As a biographer, he wrote the Life of Mr Richard Savage (1744), a memoir of a friend and fellow writer who had died the previous year. Johnson also wrote numerous poems (London, published anonymously in 1738, was his first major published work), a novel (Rasselas, 1759), a stage play (Irene, 1749), and countless essays and critiques. He also co-edited an edition of Shakespeare’s plays. And in between all of that, he even found time to investigate a supposed haunted house in central London.

4. IT WAS THE FIRST DICTIONARY TO USE QUOTATIONS.

Johnson’s dictionary defined some 42,773 words, each of which was given a uniquely scholarly definition, complete with a suggested etymology and an armory of literary quotations—no fewer than 114,000 of them, in fact.

Johnson lifted quotations from books dating back to the 16th century for the citations in his dictionary, and relied heavily on the works of authors he admired and who were popular at the time—Shakespeare, John Milton, Alexander Pope, and Edmund Spenser included. In doing so, he established a lexicographic trend that still survives in dictionaries to this day.

5. IT TOOK MORE THAN EIGHT YEARS TO WRITE.

Defining 42,000 words and finding 114,000 quotes to help you do so takes time: Working from his home off Fleet Street in central London, Johnson and six assistants worked solidly for over eight years to bring his dictionary to print. (Webster, on the other hand, worked all but single-handedly, and used the 22 years it took him to compile his American Dictionary to learn 26 different languages.)

6. JOHNSON WAS WELL PAID FOR HIS TROUBLES.

Johnson was commissioned to write his dictionary by a group of London publishers, who paid him a princely 1,500 guineas—equivalent to roughly $300,000 (£225,000) today.

7. HE LEFT OUT A LOT OF WORDS.

The dictionary’s 42,000-word vocabulary might sound impressive, but it’s believed that the English language probably had as many as five times that many words around the time the dictionary was published in 1755. A lot of that shortfall was simply due to oversight: Johnson included the word irritable in four of his definitions, for instance, but didn’t list it as a headword in his own dictionary. He also failed to include a great many words found in the works of the authors he so admired, and in several of the source dictionaries he utilized, and in some cases he even failed to include the root forms of words whose derivatives were listed elsewhere in the dictionary. Athlete, for instance, didn’t make the final cut, whereas athletic did.

Johnson’s imposition of his own tastes and interests on his dictionary didn't help matters either. His dislike of French, for example, led to familiar words like unique, champagne, and bourgeois being omitted, while those he did include were given a thorough dressing down: ruse is defined as “a French word neither elegant nor necessary,” while finesse is dismissed as “an unnecessary word that is creeping into the language."

8. HE LEFT OUT THE LETTER X.

    At the foot of page 2308 of Johnson’s Dictionary is a note merely reading, “X is a letter which, though found in Saxon words, begins no word in the English language."

    9. HIS DEFINITIONS WEREN’T ALWAYS SO SCHOLARLY.

      As well as imposing his own taste on his dictionary, Johnson also famously employed his own sense of humor on his work. Among the most memorable of all his definitions is his explanation of oats as “a grain, which in England is generally given to horses, but in Scotland supports the people.” But he also defined monsieur as “a term of reproach for a Frenchman,” excise as “a hateful tax levied upon commodities and adjudged not by the common judges of property but wretches hired by those to whom excise is paid,” and luggage as “anything of more weight than value.” As an example of how to use the word dull, he explained that “to make dictionaries is dull work.”

      10. HE POKED LOTS OF FUN AT HIS OWN OCCUPATION.

      Listed on page 1195 of his dictionary, Johnson’s definition of lexicographer was “a writer of dictionaries; a harmless drudge.”

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      Inside This Pop-Up Book Are a Planetarium, a Speaker, a Decoder Ring, and More
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      Courtesy Chronicle Books

      Designer Kelli Anderson's new book is for more than just reading. This Book Is a Planetarium is really a collection of paper gadgets. With each thick, card stock page you turn, another surprise pops out.

      "This book concisely explains—and actively demonstrates with six functional pop-up paper contraptions—the science at play in our everyday world," the book's back cover explains. It turns out, there's a whole lot you can do with a few pieces of paper and a little bit of imagination.

      A book is open to reveal a spiralgraph inside.
      Courtesy Chronicle Books

      There's the eponymous planetarium, a paper dome that you can use with your cell phone's flashlight to project constellations onto the ceiling. There's a conical speaker, which you can use to amplify a smaller music player. There's a spiralgraph you can use to make geometric designs. There's a basic cipher you can use to encode and decode secret messages, and on its reverse side, a calendar. There's a stringed musical instrument you can play on. All are miniature, functional machines that can expand your perceptions of what a simple piece of paper can become.

      The cover of This Book Is a Planetarium
      Courtesy Chronicle Books

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