Image Comics
Image Comics

Wednesday is New Comics Day

Image Comics
Image Comics

Every Wednesday, I preview the 5 most interesting new comics hitting comic shops, Comixology, Kickstarter and the web that week. These aren't reviews, just brief highlights. If there's a release you're excited about, let's talk about it in the comments.

This week's comics include: 
- A complex story about family
- A spy comic that will feature a different artist each month
- A comic described as Beavis and Butthead meet James Joyce
- China Miéville's coda to Dial H
- And a superhero who gets his powers from alcohol

1. Household

By Sam Alden

It's understandable if you're not familiar with Sam Alden's work—he's only in his early 20s and has been publishing his comics in a random assortment of Tumblr posts, unrelated websites, and ontributions to StudyGroup Comics. Each is like a discarded clue scattered across the web to help you piece together what this exciting new artist is all about. Almost every comic looks wildly different from the next and they range in genre from autobiography to fantasy. His body of work to date is really worth seeking out and just this past weekend he won a prestigious Ignatz Award for Promising New Talent.

Just before winning that award this past week, Alden released his newest comic both on his Tumblr and as a mini comic at last weekend's Small Press Expo in Bethesda, MD. Household is a short comic about a brother and sister who are reunited in New Orleans after some time apart. Their relationship is shadowed by a troubled childhood that they're each trying in their own way to escape from. Seeing each other again seems to complicate that in a big way.

This is a complex and emotionally harrowing comic that some will find a little too disturbing for them [edit: As noted in the comments below, I should mention that this comic gets very graphic about halfway through and is definitely for mature readers only]. Alden has many strengths as a cartoonist and one of them is knowing how to pull off the emotional gut punch. This story stuck with me for days after reading it. Alden drew it in a quickly pencilled style very similar to his Hawaii 1997 comic. It is unassuming in its rough quality and seems spontaneously drawn, belying the subtle layers of thematic storytelling beneath. You can often see where he he has erased lines of dialogue and his panel borders are wonky and uneven, but, there are so many elements of his cartooning that are more accomplished than you might at first realize. His sense of light and shadow as seen in that title page is beautiful. His realistic gestures (paired with spot-on dialogue) give his characters naturality that is so hard for many people to pull off in comics. And the way he structures his story, with interlocking scenes, sometimes switching back and forth in time from panel to panel, is just masterful.

Sam Alden, as his recent Ignatz Award indicates, is the next big thing. Check him out.

Read "Household" here.

2. Zero

Written by Ales Kot; Art by Michael Walsh, colors by Jordie Bellaire, lettering by Clayton Cowles
Image Comics

A new ongoing series called Zero takes an interesting approach to comics storytelling that may be drawing inspiration from some recent trends in comics publishing. Writer Ales Kot is structuring his first ongoing comic so that each issue tells a standalone story feeding into a larger overall narrative. Each issue will also be drawn by a different artist. 

Set in the near future, Zero is about a spy named Edward Zero who begins to uncover the uncomfortable truth behind the motives of the agency that employs him. Each issue focuses on a different mission and will tell a complete story but will build on the overarching story of Zero and his search for the truth. The first issue is drawn by Michael Walsh, the artist on the new X-Files comic for IDW. He has a gritty, realistic yet simple and clean style that is very reminiscent of Michael Lark (of Image Comics' Lazarus). Future artists will include Mateus Santolouco, Morgan Jeske, Tradd Moore, Will Tempest, and Tonci Zonjic. The consistent glue that will hold them all together is regular colorist Jordie Bellaire and letterer Clayton Cowles.

With the ever increasing popularity of digital comics, which rely more on single issue sales than collected editions, a comic that sells itself as consisting of "done-in-ones" where you can jump in at any point is a smart approach. Meanwhile, a recent comic that has successfully utilized multiple artists to tell different stories within one ongoing story is Brandon Graham's Prophet. The use of fresh talent and their varying art styles is a selling point for that book and fits in with the nature of the story in which the protagonist has multiple clones, each with their own stories to be told. Kot is capitalizing on a similar approach with some new names and rising stars on his roster and a story with changes in settings and time periods that allows for a flexibility in the book's aesthetic. 

You can read an interview with Kot and see some preview pages from Zero here.

3. School Spirits

By Anya Davidson

For those readers that look for comics that push the envelope and experiment a little with form, the best places to look these days are probably out in the wild world of webcomics or within the Picturebox catalog. Started by Dan Nadel, co-editor of The Comics Journal, Picturebox publishes an eclectic mix of art comics and historical comic publications. Their books tend to value things like publication design, artistic experimentation and avant-garde aesthetics that you don't see in even the most independent of indie comics these days. 

This week, Picturebox is releasing a couple of books and the one that most fits (or maybe breaks) the mold of artistic experimentation is Anya Davidson's debut graphic novel School Spirits. Davidson, a Chicago artist and former singer with the underground noise rock band Coughs, has been working on zines and mini comics for a number of years. Her work is very much in that punk frame of reference with loud, clashing color palettes and anything-goes storytelling. At times, her work is very reminiscent of classic, punk-comic provocateurs like Gary Panter but there are shades of many other influences in there including Mayan and Indian artwork, French cartoonist David B. and event a hint of Jack Kirby.

Davidson describes School Spirits as "Beavis and Butthead meets James Joyce's Ulysses," which is about as compelling a "___ meets ___" as I've heard in a while. It consists of four chapters that use different narrative techniques to tell a story involving a high school student named Oola with "an unusual connection to the supernatural."

You can preview some pages of School Spirits here.

4. Justice League 23.3/Dial E #1

Written by China Miéville; art by various
DC Comics

A nice little gem hidden within DC Comics's "Villain Month" (in which all their major superhero books are taken over by villains and temporarily renamed in their honor) is a comic that takes the place of Justice League #23.3 (there are 4 issues per title this month, hence the decimals) and is alternately titled Dial E #1. It is actually a coda to science fiction novelist China Miéville's highly acclaimed but recently cancelled DC comic Dial H.

A reworking of a goofy old DC comic—Dial H for Hero—Miéville's comic took the same concept (a guy finds a phone-like dial and whenever he dials H-E-R-O he turns into a new and different superhero) and added a dark and surreal flavor that calls to mind some of Grant Morrison's early work on Doom Patrol. Here, Mieville gets one last hurrah, but this time out there is an E dial that turns the criminals that find it into super villains.

Similar to the approach we mentioned in #2 with Ales Kot's Zero, Dial E uses an array of different artists within this one issue to differentiate the 20 different, brand new super villains it creates with the E Dial. The list of contributors is an exciting mix of artists that you'd regularly find in a DC Vertigo comic like Jeff Lemire, Brendan McCarthy, Jock and David Lapham as well as lesser known artists that you wouldn't typically see in what is ostensibly a Justice League comic like Tula O'Tay, Emma Rios, Sloane Leong, Annie Wu and many more.

You can see some preview pages here.

5. Buzzkill #1

Written by Donny Cates and Mark Reznicek; Art by Geoff Shaw, colors by Lauren Affe
Dark Horse Comics

We're all familiar with stories that show the devastating effects that alcoholism can have on someone's life. We also have seen how the power and confidence a story's character gets from alcohol is what eventually leads to the devastation. We may even have experienced these things ourselves in real life. However, in Buzzkill, a new 4 issue mini-series from Dark Horse, we meet a superhero whose power is derived from how much alcohol he imbibes. With that power comes blackouts, loss of control and massive amounts of destruction. After many years of this, the hero decides it is time to give it all up, which is exactly what his enemies want.

The creative team behind Buzzkill are all relative newcomers. Donny Cates got his break with Dark Horse with a story called Hunter Quaid that was published in their anthology Dark Horse Presents. Mark Reznicek is new to comics and a member of the band The Toadies who co-wrote the story with his friend Cates. Even artist Geoff Shaw has a short comics resume that's highlight is a 10 page story in a Batman anthology comic. Together they seem to have hit on a unique concept that looks to tell a serious story about addiction but within the larger-than-life trappings of a modern superhero comic. Despite its seemingly solemn take on alcoholism though, a sign that the comic will not take itself too seriously is in the names of some of the other heroes and villains that appear in the book, all with names derived from bands that Reznicek enjoys, i.e. "Panteradactyl."

Read a preview of the first few pages here.


The Brothers James #1
Zero's Michael Walsh has another comic out this week. This one is available through Comixology's Submit program for self-publishers. It's about two brothers driving across the country on a revenge mission to take out the people that killed their parents when they were kids. Preview and buy it through Comixology here

Kinski #3
I haven't yet had the opportunity to mention the digital comic Kinski published by MonkeyBrain Comics and written and illustrated by the amazing Gabriel Hardman (Hulk, Secret Avengers). It's a weird, Hitchcockian story about a traveling businessman who ends up stealing a dog. The third issue goes on sale today for the very affordable price of 99 cents.

Also from Monkeybrain is this new 260+ page anthology consisting of 3 to 5 page stories all done by Brazilian comic creators, some whom have appeared in American anthologies such as Popgun and Dark Horse Presents and others that are most likely brand new to us American readers. Also on sale at Comixology.

Picturebox's other big release of the week (in addition to the previously mentioned School Spirits) is a graphic novel about an artist's assistant living in Pompeii, Italy before the deadly volcanic eruption that destroys the city. Writer and artist Frank Santoro is someone who loves to deconstruct and teach the art of making comics. He has drawn this book in a style that is reminiscent of Roman frescoes and drawings. Preview it here.

Brian Ralph's sitcom-like take on Tezuka-like robot manga gets collected in this new hardcover volume from Drawn & Quarterly.
Peruse the comics here.

Farrin Abbott, SLAC/Flickr // CC BY-NC-SA 2.0
An Ancient Book Blasted with High-Powered X-Rays Reveals Text Erased Centuries Ago
Farrin Abbott, SLAC/Flickr // CC BY-NC-SA 2.0
Farrin Abbott, SLAC/Flickr // CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

A book of 10th-century psalms recovered from St. Catherine’s Monastery on Egypt's Sinai Peninsula is an impressive artifact in itself. But the scientists studying this text at the U.S. Department of Energy's SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory at Stanford University were less interested in the surface text than in what was hidden beneath it. As Gizmodo reports, the researchers were able to identify the remains of an ancient Greek medical text on the parchment using high-powered x-rays.

Unlike the Large Hadron Collider in Switzerland, the Stanford Synchrotron Radiation Lightsource (SSRL) used by the scientists is a much simpler and more common type of particle accelerator. In the SSRL, electrons accelerate to just below the speed of light while tracing a many-sided polygon. Using magnets to manipulate the electrons' path, the researchers can produce x-ray beams powerful enough to reveal the hidden histories of ancient documents.

Scanning an ancient text.
Mike Toth, R.B. Toth Associates, Flickr // CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

In the case of the 10th-century psalms, the team discovered that the same pages had held an entirely different text written five centuries earlier. The writing was a transcription of the words of the prominent Greek physician Galen, who lived from 130 CE to around 210 CE. His words were recorded on the pages in the ancient Syriac language by an unknown writer a few hundred years after Galen's death.

Several centuries after those words were transcribed, the ink was scraped off by someone else to make room for the psalms. The original text is no longer visible to the naked eye, but by blasting the parchment with x-rays, the scientists can see where the older writing had once marked the page. You can see it below—it's the writing in green.

X-ray scan of ancient text.
University of Manchester, SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory, Flickr // CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Now that the researchers know the hidden text is there, their next step will be uncovering as many words as possible. They plan to do this by scanning the book in its entirety, a process that will take 10 hours for each of the 26 pages. Once they've been scanned and studied, the digital files will be shared online.

Particle accelerators are just one tool scientists use to decipher messages that were erased centuries ago. Recently, conservationists at the Library of Congress used multispectral imaging, a method that bounces different wavelengths of light off a page, to reveal the pigments of an old Alexander Hamilton letter someone had scrubbed out.

[h/t Gizmodo]

Lucy Quintanilla
10 Facts about John Knowles's A Separate Peace
Lucy Quintanilla
Lucy Quintanilla

John Knowles’s 1959 novel about a conflicted prep school friendship has become a coming-of-age classic.


Like his protagonists Gene and Finny, who are students at the elite Devon School during World War II, Knowles attended the exclusive Phillips Exeter Academy in New Hampshire in the early 1940s. He then served in the military for a short time before graduating from Yale in 1949. The West Virginian Knowles later wrote that despite the culture clash (and the cold) he fell in love with the school. "The great trees, the thick clinging ivy, the expanses of playing fields, the winding black-water river, the pure air all began to sort of intoxicate me. Classroom windows were open; the aroma of flowers and shrubbery floated in," he wrote. "The summer of 1943 at Exeter was as happy a time as I ever had in my life … Yale was a distinct letdown afterward."


After graduating from Yale, Knowles worked as a drama critic at the Hartford (Conn.) Courant and as a freelance writer. One of his first published short stories, “Phineas,” appeared in Cosmopolitan in 1956 and contained the narrative seeds of A Separate Peace.


In several key scenes in A Separate Peace, Gene and Finny dare each other to jump off the overhanging limb of a huge tree into the river below. In the beginning of the novel, naturally adventurous Finny takes a flying leap off the branch. Gene, who is more reserved, follows his friend's lead, which cements their friendship. Later, Gene loses his balance while standing on the limb, and Finny catches him. Like his characters, Knowles admitted to being in a secret society with an initiation requirement that involved jumping from “the branch of a very high tree” into a river. Knowles did suffer his own fall, which injured his foot and compelled him to use crutches for some time.


His name was David Hackett, and Knowles met him during a six-week summer session at Exeter in 1943. Hackett attended Milton Academy in Massachusetts during the regular school year. There, he was a standout athlete on the hockey, football, and baseball teams. He also quickly befriended the future U.S. attorney general, Robert F. Kennedy, and later served under him in the Justice Department.


At the novel's climax, Gene and Finny decide to jump off the tree branch together. Gene shakes the branch, causing Finny to plunge and break his leg. Though readers have debated Gene's intentions since the book was published, Knowles never said whether Gene meant to cause Finny's fall. Upon the author's death in 2001, his brother-in-law Bob Maxwell said, "John used to say he would never answer that question."


The protagonist in Ernest Hemingway’s 1929 novel A Farewell to Arms, an American soldier fighting in Italy during World War I, grows disillusioned after a disastrous battle and deserts the army. “I had made a separate peace,” he declares. Hemingway also uses the line in his 1925 short story collection In Our Time, with the character Nick saying it to a dying soldier. Knowles may have chosen the title to illustrate the parallel of the collective peace after war and the personal, subjective peace between individuals. In this case, Gene reaches a state of peace after he and Finny reconcile following the accident.


Eleven publishers turned down A Separate Peace. The book first appeared in print in 1959 thanks to the London publisher Secker and Warburg, while the initial U.S. publication took place on leap year day—February 29, 1960. Though the book received mostly positive reviews, it wasn’t an immediate bestseller. But as more and more English teachers discovered A Separate Peace, they brought it into their classrooms, and the book gained a colossal momentum. Knowles’s first published novel would prove by far his most successful one, ultimately selling more than 8 million copies.


Knowles once wrote about serving as the anchor man in a swimming relay race while at Exeter, beating the school’s rival, Phillips Andover Academy. He became “an athletic mini-hero for about 15 minutes.” In A Separate Peace, Finny breaks Devon’s 100-yard freestyle swimming record—but the winning time was unofficial, as Gene, who served as timekeeper, was the sole witness.


Though there was no description of any sexual encounter in the novel, some readers have contended that the book has a gay undercurrent. A handful of critics have objected to this perceived dynamic, including parents in a central New York school district who, in 1980, denounced A Separate Peace as a “filthy, trashy sex novel” that encouraged homosexuality. For what it’s worth, Knowles said, “If there had been homoeroticism between Phineas and Gene, I would have put it in the book, I assure you. It simply wasn't there.”


Fred Segal wrote the screenplay of A Separate Peace; Knowles read through the script and made suggestions for improving it. Directed by Larry Peerce with a largely amateur cast, the movie came out in 1972 to so-so reviews. Knowles was proud of the fact that the production was able to shoot on location at Phillips Exeter Academy, the inspiration for the fictional Devon School.


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