Laura Beck and Jonas Madden-Connor
Laura Beck and Jonas Madden-Connor

5 Most Interesting Comics of the Week

Laura Beck and Jonas Madden-Connor
Laura Beck and Jonas Madden-Connor

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

1. Can't Lose: A Friday Night Lights Fanzine   


Edited by Melissa Mendes with various creators
Self-published

Trust me, you are not alone out there in your undying love for Friday Night Lights, the television show about high school football in Dillon, Texas that, despite its cancellation, continues to find new, devoted fans through Netflix. One such fan, cartoonist Melissa Mendes, decided that the high school crush feeling that FNL gave her would best be paid back with a loving fanzine collecting cartoons, collages and pinups from other devoted fans.

After posting a call for submissions through social media, Mendes received contributions from cartoonists like Dan Zettwoch, Laura Beck, Henry Eudy, Sean Ford, Derik Badman and more. Mendes' boyfriend, cartoonist Charles Forsman, created the cover. Can't Lose: A Friday Night Lights Fanzine was born.

The contributions consist mostly of comics such as Thien Pham and Mark Miyaki's story about forgotten season 2 character Santiago. There is a photo-based contribution about an FNL-themed marriage proposal. Jesse Lucas created a flyer for Landry's garage band Crucifictorius. The highlight of the book may be Laura Beck and Jonas Madden-Connor's Tim Riggins paper doll which you can see at the top of this page. It's printed on thicker paper so that it can be cut out and assembled.

Mendes is considering doing a followup issue in the future since she continues to find creative people out there that are big fans of the show. If you're one of those people, hop on over to her website and tell her you want to contribute to the next one. In the meantime, go and order a copy of Can't Lose for only $5.

2. Sex Criminals #1

Written by Matt Fraction; art by Chip Zdarsky
Image Comics

The comic that you will be most wary to pick up based on the title alone this week is Sex Criminals #1. However, the contents of the book actually may not be as prurient as it sounds. It certainly got your attention though, didn't it?

Marvel Comics mainstay and writer of books like Hawkeye and the upcoming Inhumans, Matt Fraction has lately been balancing his superhero output with more original work through creator-friendly publisher Image Comics. In this new book he's working with artist Chip Zdarsky who has a couple of cult favorite comics to his name like Prison Funnies and Monster Cops but mostly does really fun illustrations for the Canadian National Post under his real name, Steve Murray, and entertains his followers on Twitter with his absurdist wit. This is his first major release comic book series and Zdarsky fans everywhere are rejoicing.

Sex Criminals starts by introducing us to a high school girl named Suzie who is discovering her sexuality and trying to understand what is normal and what isn't. For her, whenever she has an orgasm, time literally stops around her, colors bleed into each other and she is left free to walk around in an ethereal stillness she calls The Quiet. Eventually, as an adult, Suzie meets Jon, who has the same sexual affliction, and together they run off to use their…superpower?… to rob banks.

Fraction and Zdarsky describe the book as a "sex comedy" equivalent in tone to an R-rated Judd Apatow film. At least to start, the scenes we've seen so far in previews suggest it is a sweet, coming of age story that eventually leads into morally shady sci-fi territory reminiscent of Nicholson Baker's 1994 novel The Fermata.

Read some SFW preview pages here and a hilarious interview with the creators here.

3. Sin Titulo

By Cameron Stewart
Dark Horse Comics

Cameron Stewart's award-winning webcomic Sin Titulo was very influential among webcomic creators (myself included) looking to do long form narratives in a medium that usually just rewards short form content. Started as an exercise in loosening up his drawing style in order to produce a story quickly, Stewart worked in an improvisatory manner without an exact idea of where some elements of the story would take him. It very quickly turned into a compelling mystery that had readers anticipating its weekly updates, clamoring for answers. This week, the long-awaited print edition of the webcomic hits stores courtesy of Dark Horse Comics.

Sin Titulo (which means "No Title" in Spanish) is part surreal thriller, part autobiography. Stewart began writing the story after learning about the death of his grandfather and incorporates various personal memories into this story about a man who goes on a search for a mysterious woman in a photograph that he finds among his late grandfather's possessions. The improvised nature of the story gives it a dream-like atmosphere much like the work of David Lynch. 

This comic was a turning point in Stewart's career. His work on comics for DC like Batman Inc. and Catwoman have made him a popular artist over the years, but this was his first time writing and drawing his own story. Having won an Eisner Award for the webcomic, he has reached a point that many working comics creators aspire to: readers are anticipating his next personal work just as much, if not more, than his next work-for-hire comic.  

Dark Horse has an 8 page preview of the book here. The webcomic is also still up at SinTituloComic.com to read.

4. Fantasy Basketball

By Sam Bosma
Self-published

Sam Bosma released his new comic Fantasy Basketball at the Small Press Expo last week and completely sold out while he was there. The beauty of this new modern age, however, is that he will never sell out of the digital comic. He's offering a PDF edition for the suggested price of $2 through the Gumroad service.

Fantasy Basketball is a 40 page comic about two adventurers searching for a key in an ancient temple who find they must defeat the "boss" in a game of basketball in order to proceed. It's part video game, part manga, part inspirational sports flick. It's also beautifully drawn. If you're not familiar with Bosma, he's an award-winning illustrator whose work has appeared in places such as The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Tor and Muse Magazine. His comics work has been scant so far but he has become widely appreciated on the internet for his amazing prints and lovingly rendered fan drawings of Lord of the Rings and A Song of Ice And Fire characters.

This is an accomplished piece of comics work and it is also a blast to read. The flow of the action during the basketball scenes are a delight but the dialogue is also quite funny, particularly from the skeletal English-accented referee/temple guard. You can tell that Bosma enjoyed every minute of drawing it.

Buy a copy here.

5. Judge Dredd Complete Case Files

By various writers and artists
2000 AD

For over 30 years now, Judge Dredd has been laying down the law in a dystopian future where judges perform arrests, sentencing and executions of violent criminals at the scene of the crime. It is the longest running comic in the British sci-fi magazine 2000 AD, having begun in 1977 and it continues to run to this day.

2000 AD is now selling 20 volumes of the Judge Dredd Case Files through their iOS app. Each volume sells for $9.99 and together they comprise every Dredd comic published over the past three decades. These stories are credited to some of the greatest British comics creators working in the industry such as John Wagner, Garth Ennis, Brian Bolland, Grant Morrison, Brendan McCarthy, Mark Millar, Dave Gibbons, Alan Grant and more.

Being a magazine, the 2000 AD app actually shows up in the iOS Newstand application after you install it, unlike the Comixology app or other comics-related apps. Through that free app you can purchase various other collections of some of the best sci-fi comics ever produced.

Here's a direct link to download the free app. Look for the Judge Dredd Case Files collections within. A 21st volume is on the way, too.

HONORABLE MENTIONS

Empowered Special: Nine Beers with Ninjette
Adam Warren's fun, sweet and cheesecakey super heroine comic Empowered focuses on secondary character Ninjette in this new special and features guest art by Takeshi Miyazawa, a manga-influenced artist from Canada who is perhaps best known for some comics for Marvel like Runaways and Spider-man Loves Mary JanePreview it here.

Rebetiko
Set in Greece in 1936, this graphic novel by French artist David Prudhomme is a beautiful looking story about jazz musicians living in the shadow of a dictatorship. Some preview images here.

Tropic of the Sea
The major manga release of the week from Vertical by the late Satoshi Kan, originally published in 1990, about the changes the modern world has on a fishing village that has for generations had a ritual involving an egg it receives from a mermaid. More info here.

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Central Press/Getty Images
Ernest Hemingway’s Guide to Life, In 20 Quotes
Central Press/Getty Images
Central Press/Getty Images

Though he made his living as a writer, Ernest Hemingway was just as famous for his lust for adventure. Whether he was running with the bulls in Pamplona, fishing for marlin in Bimini, throwing back rum cocktails in Havana, or hanging out with his six-toed cats in Key West, the Nobel and Pulitzer Prize-winning author never did anything halfway. And he used his adventures as fodder for the unparalleled collection of novels, short stories, and nonfiction books he left behind, The Sun Also Rises, A Farewell to Arms, Death in the Afternoon, For Whom the Bell Tolls, and The Old Man and the Sea among them.

On what would be his 119th birthday—he was born in Oak Park, Illinois on July 21, 1899—here are 20 memorable quotes that offer a keen perspective into Hemingway’s way of life.

ON THE IMPORTANCE OF LISTENING

"I like to listen. I have learned a great deal from listening carefully. Most people never listen."

ON TRUST

"The best way to find out if you can trust somebody is to trust them."

ON DECIDING WHAT TO WRITE ABOUT

"I never had to choose a subject—my subject rather chose me."

ON TRAVEL

"Never go on trips with anyone you do not love."


Ernest Hemingway Photograph Collection, John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston. [1], Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

ON THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN INTELLIGENCE AND HAPPINESS

"Happiness in intelligent people is the rarest thing I know."

ON TRUTH

"There's no one thing that is true. They're all true."

ON THE DOWNSIDE OF PEOPLE

"The only thing that could spoil a day was people. People were always the limiters of happiness, except for the very few that were as good as spring itself."

ON SUFFERING FOR YOUR ART

"There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed."

ON TAKING ACTION

"Never mistake motion for action."

ON GETTING WORDS OUT

"I wake up in the morning and my mind starts making sentences, and I have to get rid of them fast—talk them or write them down."


Photograph by Mary Hemingway, in the Ernest Hemingway Photograph Collection, John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston., Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

ON THE BENEFITS OF SLEEP

"I love sleep. My life has the tendency to fall apart when I'm awake, you know?"

ON FINDING STRENGTH 

"The world breaks everyone, and afterward, some are strong at the broken places."

ON THE TRUE NATURE OF WICKEDNESS

"All things truly wicked start from innocence."

ON WRITING WHAT YOU KNOW

"If a writer knows enough about what he is writing about, he may omit things that he knows. The dignity of movement of an iceberg is due to only one ninth of it being above water."

ON THE DEFINITION OF COURAGE

"Courage is grace under pressure."

ON THE PAINFULNESS OF BEING FUNNY

"A man's got to take a lot of punishment to write a really funny book."


By Ernest Hemingway Photograph Collection, John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston. - JFK Library, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

ON KEEPING PROMISES

"Always do sober what you said you'd do drunk. That will teach you to keep your mouth shut."

ON GOOD VS. EVIL

"About morals, I know only that what is moral is what you feel good after and what is immoral is what you feel bad after."

ON REACHING FOR THE UNATTAINABLE

"For a true writer, each book should be a new beginning where he tries again for something that is beyond attainment. He should always try for something that has never been done or that others have tried and failed. Then sometimes, with great luck, he will succeed."

ON HAPPY ENDINGS

"There is no lonelier man in death, except the suicide, than that man who has lived many years with a good wife and then outlived her. If two people love each other there can be no happy end to it."

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Marvel Entertainment
10 Facts About Robert E. Howard’s Conan the Barbarian
Marvel Entertainment
Marvel Entertainment

Nearly every sword-wielding fantasy hero from the 20th century owes a tip of their horned helmet to Robert E. Howard’s Conan the Barbarian. Set in the fictional Hyborian Age, after the destruction of Atlantis but before our general recorded history, Conan's stories have depicted him as everything from a cunning thief to a noble king and all types of scoundrel in between. But beneath that blood-soaked sword and shield is a character that struck a nerve with generations of fantasy fans, spawning adaptations in comics, video games, movies, TV shows, and cartoons in the eight decades since he first appeared in the December 1932 issue of Weird Tales. So thank Crom, because here are 10 facts about Conan the Barbarian.

1. THE FIRST OFFICIAL CONAN STORY WAS A KULL REWRITE.

Conan wasn’t the only barbarian on Robert E. Howard’s resume. In 1929, the writer created Kull the Conqueror, a more “introspective” brand of savage that gained enough interest to eventually find his way onto the big screen in 1997. The two characters share more than just a common creator and a general disdain for shirts, though: the first Conan story to get published, “The Phoenix on the Sword,” was actually a rewrite of an earlier rejected Kull tale titled “By This Axe I Rule!” For this new take on the plot, Howard introduced supernatural elements and more action. The end result was more suited to what Weird Tales wanted, and it became the foundation for future Conan tales.

2. BUT A “PROTO-CONAN” STORY PRECEDED IT.

A few months before Conan made his debut in Weird Tales, Howard wrote a story called "People of the Dark" for Strange Tales of Mystery and Terror about a man named John O’Brien who seemed to relive his past life as a brutish, black-haired warrior named … Conan of the reavers. Reave is a word from Old English meaning to raid or plunder, which is obviously in the same ballpark as barbarian. And in the story, there is also a reference to Crom, the fictional god of the Hyborian age that later became a staple of the Conan mythology. This isn't the barbarian as we know him, and it's certainly not an official Conan tale, but the early ideas were there.

3. ROBERT E. HOWARD NEVER INTENDED TO WRITE THESE STORIES IN ORDER.

Howard was meticulous in his world-building for Conan, which was highlighted by his 8600-word history on the Hyborian Age the character lived in. But the one area the creator had no interest in was linearity. Conan’s first story depicted him already as a king; subsequent stories, though, would shift back and forth, chronicling his early days as both a thief and a youthful adventurer.

There’s good reason for that, as Howard himself once explained: “In writing these yarns I've always felt less as creating them than as if I were simply chronicling his adventures as he told them to me. That's why they skip about so much, without following a regular order. The average adventurer, telling tales of a wild life at random, seldom follows any ordered plan, but narrates episodes widely separated by space and years, as they occur to him.”

4. THERE ARE NUMEROUS CONNECTIONS TO THE H.P. LOVECRAFT MYTHOS.

For fans of the pulp magazines of the early 20th century, one of the only names bigger than Robert E. Howard was H.P. Lovecraft. The two weren’t competitors, though—rather, they were close friends and correspondents. They’d often mail each other drafts of their stories, discuss the themes of their work, and generally talk shop. And as Lovecraft’s own mythology was growing, it seems like their work began to bleed together.

In “The Phoenix on the Sword,” Howard made reference to “vast shadowy outlines of the Nameless Old Ones,” which could be seen as a reference to the ancient, godlike “Old Ones” from the Lovecraft mythos. In the book The Coming of Conan the Cimmerian, editor Patrice Louinet even wrote that Howard’s earlier draft for the story name-dropped Lovecraft’s actual Old Ones, most notably Cthulhu.

In Lovecraft’s “The Shadow of Time,” he describes a character named Crom-Ya as a “Cimmerian chieftain,” which is a reference to Conan's homeland and god. These examples just scratch the surface of names, places, and concepts that the duo’s work share. Whether you want to read it all as a fun homage or an early attempt at a shared universe is up to you.

5. SEVERAL OF HOWARD’S STORIES WERE REWRITTEN AS CONAN STORIES POSTHUMOUSLY.

Howard was only 30 when he died, so there aren’t as many completed Conan stories out in the world as you’d imagine—and there are even less that were finished and officially printed. Despite that, the character’s popularity has only grown since the 1930s, and publishers looked for a way to print more of Howard’s Conan decades after his death. Over the years, writers and editors have gone back into Howard’s manuscripts for unfinished tales to doctor up and rewrite for publication, like "The Snout in the Dark," which was a fragment that was reworked by writers Lin Carter and L. Sprague de Camp. There were also times when Howard’s non-Conan drafts were repurposed as Conan stories by publishers, including all of the stories in 1955's Tales of Conan collection from Gnome Press.

6. FRANK FRAZETTA’S CONAN PAINTINGS REGULARLY SELL FOR SEVEN FIGURES.

Chances are, the image of Conan you have in your head right now owes a lot to artist Frank Frazetta: His version of the famous barbarian—complete with rippling muscles, pulsating veins, and copious amounts of sword swinging—would come to define the character for generations. But the look that people most associate with Conan didn’t come about until the character’s stories were reprinted decades after Robert E. Howard’s death.

“In 1966, Lancer Books published new paperbacks of Robert E. Howard's Conan series and hired my grandfather to do the cover art,” Sara Frazetta, Frazetta's granddaughter owner and operator of Frazetta Girls, tells Mental Floss. You could argue that Frazetta’s powerful covers were what drew most people to Conan during the '60s and '70s, and in recent years the collector’s market seems to validate that opinion. In 2012, the original painting for his Lancer version of Conan the Conqueror sold at auction for $1,000,000. Later, his Conan the Destroyer went for $1.5 million.

Still, despite all of Frazetta’s accomplishments, his granddaughter said there was one thing he always wanted: “His only regret was that he wished Robert E. Howard was alive so he could have seen what he did with his character.”

7. CONAN’S FIRST MARVEL COMIC WAS ALMOST CANCELED AFTER SEVEN ISSUES.

The cover to Marvel's Conan the Barbarian #21
Marvel Entertainment

Conan’s origins as a pulp magazine hero made him a natural fit for the medium’s logical evolution: the comic book. And in 1970, the character got his first high-profile comic launch when Marvel’s Conan The Barbarian hit shelves, courtesy of writer Roy Thomas and artist Barry Windsor-Smith.

Though now it’s hailed as one of the company’s highlights from the ‘70s, the book was nearly canceled after a mere seven issues. The problem is that while the debut issue sold well, each of the next six dropped in sales, leading Marvel’s then editor-in-chief, Stan Lee, to pull the book from production after the seventh issue hit stands.

Thomas pled his case, and Lee agreed to give Conan one last shot. But this time instead of the book coming out every month, it would be every two months. The plan worked, and soon sales were again on the rise and the book would stay in publication until 1993, again as a monthly. This success gave way to the Savage Sword of Conan, an oversized black-and-white spinoff magazine from Marvel that was aimed at adult audiences. It, too, was met with immense success, lasting from 1974 to 1995.

8. OLIVER STONE WROTE A FOUR-HOUR, POST-APOCALYPTIC CONAN MOVIE.

John Milius’s 1982 Conan movie is a classic of the sword and sorcery genre, but its original script from Oliver Stone didn’t resemble the final product at all. In fact, it barely resembled anything related to Conan. Stone’s Conan would have been set on a post-apocalyptic Earth, where the barbarian would do battle against a host of mutant pigs, insects, and hyenas. Not only that, but it would have also been just one part of a 12-film saga that would be modeled on the release schedule of the James Bond series.

The original producers were set to move ahead with Stone’s script with Stone co-directing alongside an up-and-coming special effects expert named Ridley Scott, but they were turned down by all of their prospects. With no co-director and a movie that would likely be too ambitious to ever actually get finished, they sold the rights to producer Dino De Laurentiis, who helped bring in Milius.

9. BARACK OBAMA IS A FAN (AND WAS TURNED INTO A BARBARIAN HIMSELF).

When President Barack Obama sent out a mass email in 2015 to the members of Organizing for Action, he was looking to get people to offer up stories about how they got involved within their community—their origin stories, if you will. In this mass email, the former Commander-in-Chief detailed his own origin, with a shout out to a certain barbarian:

“I grew up loving comic books. Back in the day, I was pretty into Conan the Barbarian and Spiderman.

Anyone who reads comics can tell you, every main character has an origin story—the fateful and usually unexpected sequence of events that made them who they are.”

This bit of trivia was first made public in 2008 in a Daily Telegraph article on 50 facts about the president. That led to Devil’s Due Publishing immortalizing the POTUS in the 2009 comic series Barack the Barbarian, which had him decked out in his signature loincloth doing battle against everyone from Sarah Palin to Dick Cheney.

10. J.R.R. TOLKIEN WAS ALSO A CONAN DEVOTEE.

The father of 20th century fantasy may always be J.R.R. Tolkien, but Howard is a close second in many fans' eyes. Though Tolkien’s work has found its way into more scholarly literary circles, Howard’s can sometimes get categorized as low-brow. Quality recognizes quality, however, and during a conversation with Tolkien, writer L. Sprague de Camp—who himself edited and touched-up numerous Conan stories—said The Lord of the Rings author admitted that he “rather liked” Howard’s Conan stories during a conversation with him. He didn’t expand upon it, nor was de Camp sure which Conan tale he actually read (though it was likely “Shadows in the Moonlight”), but the seal of approval from Tolkien himself goes a long way toward validation.

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