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Marvel Comics

Wednesday is New Comics Day

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Marvel 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. Mighty Avengers #1


Written by Al Ewing; art by Greg Land, Jay Leisten and Frank D'Armata
Marvel Comics

Fifty years and a day after the very first issue of Marvel Comics' The Avengers and spinning out of the events of the recent Infinity crossover event, comes a new volume of Mighty Avengers featuring a new, more racially diverse team than we've ever seen in a major Marvel book. Granted, the team that Jonathan Hickman has assembled over in the main Avengers title has added a number of women and "superheroes of color" to the roster, but here we have a team that is comprised mostly of African American and Hispanic heroes with just a couple of white characters rather than the other way around. On this new team, we see heroes like Luke Cage (formerly known as Power Man), Monica Rambeau (formerly Captain Marvel and now using the name Spectrum), a new Power Man (Victor Alvarez, empowered by "the spiritual ferocity of five boroughs"), White Tiger (Ava Ayala, the first Puero Rican superhero), and The Falcon (Sam Wilson, longtime Avenger and sometimes partner to Captain America). Filling out the ranks is She-Hulk, Spider-man (who, if you've been following the Superior Spider-man comic, is actually Spidey's old nemesis Doctor Octopus in the body of Peter Parker) and a mysterious character wearing a garish Spider-man Halloween costume.

With the regular Avengers team lost on the other end of the universe and Thanos taking advantage of their absence to attack Earth, this new Avengers team forms to hold back the invasion. However, this first issue introduces us to these new characters as they're mostly fighting B- and C-list villains which sets them up as more of a rag-tag, street-level team of heroes. This isn't too far removed from what Brian Michael Bendis used the the New Avengers comic for during his run which also included Luke Cage and Spider-man. That said, their first mission is to take on the most cosmic of all villains, Thanos, and characters like Spectrum are pretty up there in terms of power levels compared to most other superheroes.

There are a number of reasons for people to get excited. Certainly, we haven't really seen a major team book from either Marvel or DC with a cast of characters that is this racially diverse but also with the balance of diversity leaning away from the white, male heroes. There's also the inclusion of some real fan favorite characters like Cage but especially Monica Rambeau who has been an underused character since Warren Ellis brought her off the shelf to be the team leader for his Nextwave series in 2006. Also, British writer Al Ewing has done a number of highly regarded stories for 2000 AD and Judge Dredd and his fans have been waiting for him to finally get a shot at a major superhero comic. Early word on this book says he knocks it out of the park. You can read a preview here.

2. RASL


By Jeff Smith; color by Steve Hamaker
Cartoon Books

RASL is Jeff Smith's post-Bone graphic novel which he began releasing in black and white, 32-page installments back in 2008. Bone, one of the most cherished and influential all-ages fantasy comics of our time, was completed in 2004 and made Smith into the kind of creator whose next move everyone would be anticipating. Like many artists who become associated with a particular, highly successful individual work, Smith decided to push away from certain aspects of Bone with his new book, notably making it a story geared more towards adult readers.

A dark, noirish tale about an inter-dimensional art thief, RASL deals with heavy sci-fi topics like string theory, parallel universes and the works of Nikola Tesla. It also treads in violence and sex, making it a definite departure from the Scholastic-friendly work Smith is known for. After studying the physics of string theory and spending two weeks out in the desert of the American Southwest back in 2000, he developed the idea that would become RASL, a work that would take him most of the next decade to complete. 

Now, for the first time, RASL is being published in one complete edition, but it is also appearing in color for the first time. Much like Bone, which was initially published in black and white and eventually released in successful color editions, Smith has brought in colorist Steve Hamaker to add a new level of richness to his line work. RASL has won numerous awards and has garnered glowing reviews during its serialized run. Now, it can finally stand alone on a book shelf as Smith's next great completed work.

You can see a 10 page preview of the full color pages here.

3. Boxers & Saints


By Gene Luen Yang
First Second

Boxers and Saints is a set of two separate graphic novels that tell two sides of the same story. They can be bought separately or together in a slipcase edition but each stands on its own. Set during the Boxer Rebellion in late 19th century China, both stories look at the conflict between Chinese villagers and Western Christian missionaries. Boxers focuses on a young boy named Bao whose village is destroyed by Western invaders and joins the uprising against them. In Saints, a young girl named Vibiana is taken in by the missionaries and finds herself caught between her loyalties to Christianity and to her native land.

Both books are written and illustrated by Gene Luen Yang, the award-winning creator of 2006's American Born Chinese which also used overlapping and connected narratives, albeit in a different approach. Yang became a big star in the "bookstore comics" world after the success of American which has since been used in schools to help struggling and disabled readers find ways to relate personally to books. Yang has been very active in advocating for the use of graphic novels as teaching tools and this book, with its historical perspective and themes involving young persons finding their place in their own world, will surely be considered another potential resource for instructors.

You can see more about these two books here.

4. The Best of Milligan & McCarthy


By Peter Milligan and Brendan McCarthy
Dark Horse

The creative partnership of writer Peter Milligan and artist Brendan McCarthy produced some of the craziest, psychedelic, thought-provoking and ultimately influential comics of the 1980s that most people have probably never read. Dark Horse is now collecting a number of their comics, many long out of print and one that was immediately banned upon release, in this new hardcover collection.

Milligan is pretty active in the American comics scene these days, most recently writing Red Lantern and Justice League Dark for DC. He's perhaps best known for his run on Marvel's X-Statix in the early 2000s or his Vertigo series Shade The Changing Man in the '90s. His American comics always have a strange, satirical edge to them but his early comics for 2000 AD and Eclipse are just plain out there and weird. Especially when he was collaborating with McCarthy whose hallucinatory layouts and overactive imagination made for some hard to comprehend but downright intriguing comics.

The work collected here includes: Paradax, a superhero story, of sorts, about a man who can walk through walls and objects while wearing a bright, yellow spandex suit; Rogan Gosh, a mind-bending story of "Indian science fiction"; Freakwave, a post-apocalpytic tale where the world is submerged by water (a story that Milligan and McCarthy shopped around to Hollywood at one point only to later see a very similar story appear in the form of Kevin Costner's Waterworld); and Skin a story about a thalidomide baby turned skinhead that the book's original publisher found too disturbing to actually print.

You can see more about this book and read a preview of Paradax here.

5. S.H.I.E.L.D. by Steranko: The Complete Collection



By Jim Steranko and various
Marvel Comics

Continuing the theme of rare psychedelic comics becoming more readily available, Jim Steranko's classic run from the late '60s on Nick Fury Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D., as well as the run on Strange Tales that started it all, is being collected together for the first time in S.H.I.E.L.D by Steranko: The Complete Collection. With Marvel's new S.H.I.E.L.D TV show about to air this month, we're likely to see a flood of the market with related bookstore merchandise. However, these comics probably bear little resemblance to what Joss Whedon will be doing on that series. Instead, they stand as a treasury of the early groundbreaking work of one of Marvel Comic's most interesting creators.

Jim Steranko is the comics world's own Most Interesting Man. If you follow him on Twitter (@iamsteranko) he tends to hop on late at night and regale his followers with incredible, multiple-tweet tales about his early days as an illusionist and escape artist or the time he "bitch-slapped" Batman creator (or credit-stealer, if you will) Bob Kane. Back in 1968, he was working in advertising and moonlighting at Marvel when he took WWII character Sgt. Nick Fury and brought him into the future as a James Bond-style secret agent. Steranko was one of the few auters working at Marvel in those days where he wrote and drew his own stories and was mostly left alone enough by the publisher to try new things in sequential storytelling. He used photographic backgrounds, psychedelic patterns and designs, unexpected wordless scenes (pretty unfashionable in comics at the time) and even a sequence extended to a 4-page spread (the first time this had probably been done in comics). His work on this series is considered some of the finest comics of its era and has enjoyed a recent resurgence in popularity, particularly among comic book artists and designers who still find themselves influenced by the visual tricks Steranko performed here.

HONORABLE MENTIONS

Kings Watch #1
Jeff Parker and Marc Laming bring together Flash Gordon, Mandrake the Magician and the Phantom for this new book from Dynamite. Parker (recently named the new writer for Aquaman) is everywhere these days and artist Marc Laming is a star on the rise. His detailed, realistic style is the kind of thing most fans of superhero and genre comics just eat up. Some preview images are here.

Heroic Tales: The Bill Everett Archives
Another one of these collections devoted to one particular artist from the early days of comics. This one is all Bill Everett, creator of the Sub-Mariner and co-creator of Daredevil. This reprints a number of rarities from the '30s and '40s that have never been reprinted before. Preview it here.

Cyborg 009
The original Cyborg 009 was a 1960s manga series by Shotaro Ishinomori that was recently redistributed on Comixology's platform. This new series is a Western adaptation of the material for Archaia by F.J. DeSanto, Bradley Cramp and Marcus To. It's about a team of 9 heroes turned into cyborgs who rebel against the nefarious arms dealer who created them. An interview with the creators and some preview images are here.

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literature
5 Things You Should Know About Chinua Achebe
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ABAYOMI aDESHIDA/AFP/Getty Images

Often referred to as the “father of African literature,” author Chinua Achebe was born in Ogidi, Nigeria on this day in 1930. Though he passed away in 2013, Google is celebrating what would be his 87th birthday with a Google Doodle. Here are five things you should know about the award-winning writer.

1. HE HAD PLANNED TO BE A DOCTOR.

Though he was always an avid reader and began learning English at the age of eight, Chinua Achebe hadn’t always planned to become a beacon of the literary world. After studying at Nigeria’s prestigious Government College (poet Christopher Okigbo was one of his classmates), Achebe earned a scholarship to study medicine at University College in lbadan. One year into the program he realized that writing was his true calling and switched majors, which meant giving up his scholarship. With financial help from his brother, Achebe was able to complete his studies.

2. JOYCE CARY’S MISTER JOHNSON INSPIRED HIM TO WRITE, BUT NOT IN THE WAY YOU MIGHT THINK.

While storytelling had long been a part of Achebe’s Igbo upbringing in Nigeria, that was only part of what inspired him to write. While in college, he read Mister Johnson, Irish writer Joyce Cary’s tragicomic novel about a young Nigerian clerk whose happy-go-lucky demeanor infects everyone around him. While TIME Magazine declared it the “best book ever written about Africa,” Achebe disagreed.

“My problem with Joyce Cary’s book was not simply his infuriating principal character, Johnson,” Achebe wrote in Home and Exile. “More importantly, there is a certain undertow of uncharitableness just below the surface on which his narrative moves and from where, at the slightest chance, a contagion of distaste, hatred, and mockery breaks through to poison his tale.” The book led Achebe to realize that “there is such a thing as absolute power over narrative,” and he was inspired to take control of it to tell a more realistic tale of his home.

3. HE DIDN’T THINK THAT WRITING COULD BE TAUGHT.

Though he studied writing, Achebe wasn’t all too sure that he learned much about the art in college. In an interview with The Paris Review, he recalled how the best piece of advice he had ever gotten was from one of his professors, James Welch, who told him, “We may not be able to teach you what you need or what you want. We can only teach you what we know.”

I thought that was wonderful. That was really the best education I had. I didn’t learn anything there that I really needed, except this kind of attitude. I have had to go out on my own. The English department was a very good example of what I mean. The people there would have laughed at the idea that any of us would become a writer. That didn’t really cross their minds. I remember on one occasion a departmental prize was offered. They put up a notice—write a short story over the long vacation for the departmental prize. I’d never written a short story before, but when I got home, I thought, Well, why not. So I wrote one and submitted it. Months passed; then finally one day there was a notice on the board announcing the result. It said that no prize was awarded because no entry was up to the standard. They named me, said that my story deserved mention. Ibadan in those days was not a dance you danced with snuff in one palm. It was a dance you danced with all your body. So when Ibadan said you deserved mention, that was very high praise.

I went to the lecturer who had organized the prize and said, You said my story wasn’t really good enough but it was interesting. Now what was wrong with it? She said, Well, it’s the form. It’s the wrong form. So I said, Ah, can you tell me about this? She said, Yes, but not now. I’m going to play tennis; we’ll talk about it. Remind me later, and I’ll tell you. This went on for a whole term. Every day when I saw her, I’d say, Can we talk about form? She’d say, No, not now. We’ll talk about it later. Then at the very end she saw me and said, You know, I looked at your story again and actually there’s nothing wrong with it. So that was it! That was all I learned from the English department about writing short stories. You really have to go out on your own and do it.

4. HE WAS WARY OF MACHINES.

Though typewriters, followed by computers, were ubiquitous, Achebe preferred a “very primitive” approach. “I write with a pen,” he told The Paris Review. “A pen on paper is the ideal way for me. I am not really very comfortable with machines; I never learned to type very well. Whenever I try to do anything on a typewriter, it’s like having this machine between me and the words; what comes out is not quite what would come out if I were scribbling. For one thing, I don’t like to see mistakes on the typewriter. I like a perfect script. On the typewriter I will sometimes leave a phrase that is not right, not what I want, simply because to change it would be a bit messy. So when I look at all this … I am a preindustrial man.”

5. HIS DEBUT NOVEL REMAINS ONE OF THE MOST TAUGHT PIECES OF AFRICAN LITERATURE.

Achebe’s status as the “father of African literature” is no joke, and it’s largely due to his debut novel, Things Fall Apart. Published in 1958, the book—which follows the life of Okonkwo, an Igbo leader and wrestling champion—has gone on to sell more than 10 million copies and has been translated into 50 different languages. Even today, nearly 60 years after its original publication, it remains one of the most taught and dissected novels about Africa.

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science
10 Award-Winning Optical Illusions and Brain Puzzles
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"The Spinning Disks Illusion"
Used by permission of Johannes Zanker

When the new book Champions of Illusion: The Science Behind Mind-Boggling Images and Mystifying Brain Puzzles arrived at the Mental Floss offices, we couldn't flip through it—and flip our brains out—fast enough.

Created by Susana Martinez-Conde and Stephen Macknik, professors of ophthalmology, neurology, physiology, and pharmacology at SUNY Downstate Medical Center in Brooklyn, New York, the book is a fascinating compilation of award-winning images from the Best Illusion of the Year contest, which Martinez-Conde and Macknik first created for a neuroscience conference in 2005. Since then, the contest has produced some truly mind-bending mind tricks that challenge our sense of perception of the world around us. As the authors write:

Your brain creates a simulation of the world that may or may not match the real thing. The "reality" you experience is the result of your exclusive interaction with that simulation. We de­fine "illusions" as the phenomena in which your perception differs from physical reality in a way that is readily evident. You may see something that is not there, or fail to see something that is there, or see something in a way that does not reflect its physical properties.

Just as a painter creates the illusion of depth on a flat canvas, our brain creates the illusion of depth based on information arriving from our essentially two-dimensional retinas. Illusions show us that depth, color, brightness, and shape are not absolute terms but are subjective, relative experiences created actively by our brain's circuits. This is true not only of visual experiences but of any and all sensory perceptions, and even of how we ponder our emotions, thoughts, and memories. Whether we are experiencing the feeling of "redness," the appearance of "square­ness," or emotions such as love and hate, these are the result of the activity of neurons in our brain.

Yes, there is a real world out there, and you perceive events that occur around you, however incorrectly or incompletely. But you have never actually lived in the real world, in the sense that your experience never matches physical reality perfectly. Your brain instead gathers pieces of data from your sensory systems—some of which are quite imprecise or, frankly, wrong.

It's never been so fun to be wrong. Here are 10 of our favorite images from Champions of Illusion, accompanied by explanations from the book of how and why they work.

1. "THE COFFER ILLUSION," ANTHONY NORCIA, SMITH-KETTLEWELL EYE RESEARCH INSTITUTE, U.S.A., 2007 FINALIST

coffer illusion by Anthony Norcia, Stanford University
Used by permission of Anthony Norcia, Stanford University

Information transmitted from the retina to the brain is constrained by physical limitations, such as the number of nerve fibers in the optic nerve (about a million wires). If each of these fibers was responsible for producing a pixel (a single point in a digital image), you should have lower resolution in your everyday vision than in the images from your iPhone camera, but of course this is not what we perceive.

One way our visual system overcomes these limitations—to present us with the perception of a fully realized world, despite the fundamental truth that our retinas are low-resolution imaging devices—is by disregarding redundant features in objects and scenes. Our brains preferentially extract, emphasize, and process those unique components that are critical to identifying an object. Sharp discontinuities in the contours of an object, such as corners, are less redundant—and therefore more critical to vision—because they contain more information than straight edges or soft curves. The perceptual result is that corners are more sa­lient than non-corners.

The Coffer Illusion contains sixteen circles that are invisible at first sight, obscured by the rectilinear shapes in the pattern. The illusion may be due, at least in part, to our brain's preoccupation with corners and angles.

2. "THE ROTATING SNAKES ILLUSION," AKIYOSHI KITAOKA, RITSUMEIKAN UNIVERSITY, JAPAN, 2005 FINALIST

"The Rotating Snakes Illusion" by Akiyoshi Kitaoka
Used by permission of Akiyoshi Kitaoka

This illusion is a magnificent example of how we perceive illusory motion from a stationary image. The "snakes" in the pattern appear to rotate as you move your eyes around the figure. In reality, nothing is moving other than your eyes!

If you hold your gaze steadily on one of the "snake" centers, the motion will slow down or even stop. Our research, conducted in collaboration with Jorge Otero-Millan, revealed that the jerky eye motions—such as microsaccades, larger saccades, and even blinks—that people make when looking at an image are among the key elements that produce illusions such as Kitaoka's Rotating Snakes.

Alex Fraser and Kimerly J. Wilcox discovered this type of illusory motion effect in 1979, when they developed an image showing repetitive spiral arrangements of luminance gradients that appeared to move. Fraser and Wilcox's illusion was not nearly as effective as Kitaoka's il­lusion, but it did spawn a number of related effects that eventually led to the Rotating Snakes. This family of perceptual phenomena is characterized by the periodic placement of colored or grayscale patches of particular brightnesses.

In 2005, Bevil Conway and his colleagues showed that Kitaoka's illusory layout drives the responses of motion-sensitive neurons in the visual cortex, providing a neural basis for why most people (but not all) perceive motion in the image: We see the snakes rotate because our visual neurons respond as if the snakes were actually in motion.

Why doesn't this illusion work for everyone? In a 2009 study, Jutta Billino, Kai Ham­burger, and Karl Gegenfurtner, of the Justus Liebig University in Giessen, Germany, tested 139 subjects—old and young—with a battery of illusions involving motion, including the Rotating Snakes pattern. They found that older people perceived less illusory rotation than younger subjects.

3. "THE HEALING GRID," RYOTA KANAI, UTRECHT UNIVERSITY, THE NETHERLANDS, 2005 FINALIST

healing grid illusion by Ryota Kanai
Used by permission of Ryota Kanai

Let your eyes explore this image freely and you will see a regular pattern of intersecting horizontal and vertical lines in the center, flanked by an irregular grid of misaligned crosses to the left and right. Choose one of the intersections in the center of the image and stare at it for 30 seconds or so. You will see that the grid "heals" itself, becoming perfectly regular all the way through.

The illusion derives, in part, from "perceptual fading," the phenomenon in which an unchanging visual image fades from view. When you stare at the center of the pattern, the grid's outer parts fade more than its center due to the comparatively lower resolution of your peripheral vision. The ensuing neural guesstimates that your brain imposes to "reconstruct" the faded outer flanks are based on the available information from the center, as well as your nervous system's intrinsic tendency to seek structure and order, even when the sensory in­put is fundamentally disorganized.

Because chaos is inherently unordered and unpredictable, the brain must use a lot of energy and resources to process truly chaotic information (like white noise on your TV screen). By simplifying and imposing order on images like this one, the brain can reduce the amount of information it must process. For example, because the brain can store the image as a rectilinear framework of white rows and columns against a black background—rather than keeping track of every single cross's position—it saves energy and mental storage space. It also simplifies your interpretation of the meaning of such an object.

4. "MASK OF LOVE," GIANNI SARCONE, COURTNEY SMITH, AND MARIE-JO WAEBER, ARCHIMEDES LABORATORY PROJECT, ITALY, 2011 FINALIST

mask of love by Gianni Sarcone, Courtney Smith, and Marie-Jo Waeber
Courtesy of Gianni Sarcone, Courtney Smith, and Marie-Jo Waeber. Copyright © Gianni A. Sarcone, giannisarcone.com. All rights reserved.

This illusion was discovered in an old photograph of two lovers sent to Archimedes' Laboratory, a consulting group in Italy that specializes in perceptual puzzles. Gianni Sarcone, the leader of the group, saw the image pinned to the wall and, being nearsighted, thought it was a single face. After putting on his eyeglasses, he realized what he was looking at. The team then superimposed the beautiful Venetian mask over the photograph to create the final effect.

This type of illusion is called "bistable" because, as in the classic Face/Vase illusion, you may see either a single face or a couple, but not both at once. Our visual system tends to see what it expects, and because only one mask is present, we assume at first glance that it surrounds a single face.

5. "AGE IS ALL IN YOUR HEAD," VICTORIA SKYE, U.S.A., 2014 FINALIST

age is all in your head illusion by Victoria Skye
Used by permission of Victoria Skye

The magician, photographer, and illusion creator Victoria Skye was having a hard time taking a picture of a photo portrait of her father as a teen. The strong overhead lighting was ruining the shot, so she tilted the camera to avoid the glare, first one way and then the other. As she moved her camera back and forth, she saw her father morph from teen to boy and then to adult.

Skye's illusion is an example of anamorphic perspective. By tilting her camera, she created two opposite vanishing points, producing the illusion of age progression and regression. In the case of age progression, the top of the head narrows and the bottom half of the face expands, creating a stronger chin and a more mature look. In the case of age regression, the opposite happens: the forehead expands and the chin narrows, producing a childlike appearance.

Skye thinks that her illusion may explain why, when we look at ourselves in the mirror, we sometimes see our parents, but not always. "I wonder if that is what happens to me when I look in the mirror and see my mom. Do I see her because I tilt my head and age myself just as I did with the camera and my dad?" she asked.

6. "THE ROTATING-TILTED-LINES ILLUSION," SIMONE GORI AND KAI HAMBURGER

rotating tilted lines illusion by Simone Gori and Kai Hamburger
Used by permission of Simone Gori and Kai Hamburger

To experience the illusion, move your head forward and backward as you fixate in the central area (or, alternatively, hold your head still and move the page). As you approach the image, notice that the radial lines appear to rotate counterclockwise. As you move away from the image, the lines appear to rotate clockwise. Vision scientists have shown that illusory motion activates brain areas that are also activated by real motion. This could help explain why our perception of illusory motion is qualitatively similar to our perception of real motion.

7. "PULSATING HEART," GIANNI SARCONE, COURTNEY SMITH, AND MARIE-JO WAEBER, ARCHIMEDES LABORATORY PROJECT, ITALY, 2014 FINALIST

Pulsating Heart illusion by Gianni Sarcone, Courtney Smith, and Marie-Jo Waeber
Courtesy of Gianni Sarcone, Courtney Smith, and Marie-Jo Waeber. Copyright © Gianni A. Sarcone, giannisarcone.com. All rights reserved.

This Op Art–inspired illusion produces the sensation of expanding motion from a completely stationary image. Static repetitive patterns with just the right mix of contrasts trick our visual system's motion-sensitive neurons into signaling movement. Here the parallel arrangement of opposing needle-shaped red and white lines makes us perceive an ever-expanding heart. Any other outline delimited in a similar fashion would also appear to pulsate and swell.

8. "GHOSTLY GAZE," ROB JENKINS, UNIVERSITY OF GLASGOW, UK, 2008 SECOND PRIZE

ghostly gaze illusion by Rob Jenkins
Used by permission of Rob Jenkins

Not knowing where a person is looking makes us uneasy. That's why speaking with somebody who is wearing dark sunglasses can be awkward. And it is why someone might wear dark sunglasses to look "mysterious." The Ghostly Gaze Illusion, created by Rob Jenkins, takes advantage of this unsettling effect. In this illusion, twin sisters appear to look at each other when seen from afar. But as you approach them, you realize that the sisters are looking directly at you!

The illusion is a hybrid image that combines two pictures of the same woman. The overlapping photos differ in two important ways: their spatial detail (fine or coarse) and the direction of their gaze (sideways or straight ahead). The images that look toward each other contain only coarse features, whereas the ones that look straight ahead are made up of sharp details. When you approach the pictures, you are able to see all the fine detail, and so the sisters seem to look straight ahead. But when you move away, the gross detail dominates, and the sisters appear to look into each other's eyes.

9. "ELUSIVE ARCH," DEJAN TODOROVIC, UNIVERSITY OF BELGRADE, SERBIA, 2005 FINALIST

Elusive Arch illusion by Dejan Todorovic
Used by permission of Dejan Todorovic

Is this an image of three shiny oval tubes? Or is it three pairs of alternating ridges and grooves?

The left side of the figure appears to be three tubes, but the right side looks like a corrugated surface. This illusion occurs because our brain interprets the bright streaks on the figure's surface as either highlights at the peaks and troughs of the tubes or as inflections between the grooves. Determining the direction of the illumination is difficult: it depends on whether we consider the light as falling on a receding or an expanding surface.

Trying to determine where the image switches from tubes to grooves is maddening. In fact, there is no transition region: the whole image is both "tubes" and "grooves," but our brain can only settle on one or the other interpretation at a time. This seemingly simple task short-circuits our neural mechanisms for determining an object's shape.

10. "FLOATING STAR," JOSEPH HAUTMAN / KAIA NAO, 2012 FINALIST

floating star illusion by Joseph Hautman, aka Kaia Nao
Used by permission of Joseph Hautman, aka Kaia Nao. Copyright © Kaia Nao

This five-pointed star is static, but many observers experience the powerful illusion that it is rotating clockwise. Created by the artist Joseph Hautman, who moonlights as a graphic designer under the pseudonym "Kaia Nao," it is a variation on Kitaoka's Rotating Snakes Illusion. Hautman determined that an irregular pattern, unlike the geometric one Kitaoka used, was particularly effective for achieving illusory motion.

Here the dark blue jigsaw pieces have white and black borders against a lightly colored background. As you look around the image, your eye movements stimulate motion-sensitive neurons. These neurons signal motion by virtue of the shifting lightness and darkness boundaries that indicate an object's contour as it moves through space. Carefully arranged transitions between white, light-colored, black, and dark-colored regions fool the neurons into responding as if they were seeing continual motion in the same direction, rather than stationary edges.

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