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Laura Beck and Jonas Madden-Connor

5 Most Interesting Comics of the Week

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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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The Charming English Fishing Village That Inspired Dracula
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Whitby as seen from the top of the 199 Steps
chris2766/iStock

The train departed King's Cross at 10:25 a.m. on July 29, 1890. Bram Stoker settled wearily into the carriage for the six-hour journey to Whitby, the fashionable and remote seaside village in North Yorkshire. The sooty sprawl of London gave way to green grids of farmland and pasture, and then windswept moors blanketed in heather and wild roses.

Stoker needed this holiday. The 42-year-old manager of London's Lyceum Theatre had just finished an exhausting national tour with his employer, the celebrated but demanding actor Henry Irving. The unrelenting task of running the business side of Irving's many theatrical enterprises for the past decade had left Stoker with little time for himself. When the curtains fell at the end of each night's performance, he may have felt that the energy had been sucked out of him.

Now he looked forward to a three-week getaway where he would have time to think about his next novel, a supernatural tale that harnessed the sources of Victorian anxiety: immigration and technology, gender roles and religion. In ways he didn't foresee, the small fishing port of Whitby would plant the seeds for a vampire novel that would terrify the world. Stoker started out on an innocent and much-deserved vacation, but ended up creating Dracula.

A photo of Bram Stoker
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

As Stoker emerged from the train station in Whitby, the sounds and smell of the sea would have restored him after the long trip. He loaded his trunk into a horse-drawn cab for the journey up the West Cliff, where new vacation apartments and hotels served the crowds of holidaymakers. He checked into a flat at 6 Royal Crescent, a half-circle of elegant Georgian-style townhomes that faced the ocean.

He often felt invigorated by the seashore: "He's finally on a holiday, away from the hustle and bustle of London, the Lyceum Theatre, and Henry Irving's dominance over him," Dacre Stoker, a novelist and the author's great-grandnephew, tells Mental Floss. "The ocean and the seaside play into Bram's life, and, I believe, in stimulating his imagination."

Stoker's wife Florence and their 10-year-old son Noel would join him the following week. Now was his chance to explore Whitby on his own.

The East Cliff with Tate Hill Pier in the foreground
iStock

"A curious blend of old and new it is," wrote a travel correspondent for the Leeds Mercury. The River Esk divided the town into two steep halves known as the West and East Cliffs. Down a tangle of paths from the brow of the West Cliff, Stoker found himself on the town's famed beach, where people gathered to watch the many vessels at sea or walked along the gentle surf. At the end of the beach was the Saloon, the nucleus of Whitby's social whirl.

"The enterprising manager engages the best musical and dramatic talent procurable, whilst on the promenade a selected band of professional musicians gives performances daily," wrote Horne's Guide to Whitby. Holidaymakers could purchase a day pass to the Saloon and enjoy afternoon tea, tennis, and endless people-watching.

Next to the Saloon, the West Pier featured a long promenade parallel to the river and a three-story building containing public baths, a museum with a collection of local fossils, and a subscription library. Shops selling fish and chips, ice cream, and Whitby rock lined the winding streets. Visitors could watch all kinds of fishing vessels discharging their daily catch, and even hop aboard a boat for a night's "herringing" with local fishermen.

Whitby's East Cliff had a more mysterious atmosphere. Across the town's single bridge, tightly packed medieval cottages and jet factories leaned over the narrow cobbled streets, "rising one above another from the water side in the most irregular, drunken sort of arrangement conceivable," the Leeds Mercury reported.

Above the ancient Tate Hill Pier, a stone stairway of 199 steps (which pallbearers used when they carried coffins) led up the cliff to St. Mary's parish church and its graveyard full of weathered headstones. Towering over the whole scene—and visible from nearly any spot in town—were the ruins of Whitby Abbey, a 13th-century pile of Gothic arches that had been built upon the remains of a 7th-century monastery.

"I think [Stoker] was struck by the setting. He's thinking, 'This is perfect. I have the ships coming in, I've got the abbey, a churchyard, a graveyard'," Dacre Stoker says. "Maybe it was by chance, but I think it just became that perfect scene."

Whitby Abbey
Whitby Abbey
Daverhead/iStock

In Dracula, chapters six through eight kick the narrative into frightening action. By then, real estate agent Jonathan Harker has traveled to Transylvania to negotiate Dracula's purchase of a London property and become the vampire's prisoner. His fiancée Mina Murray, her friend Lucy Westenra, and Lucy's mother have traveled to Whitby for a relaxing holiday, but Mina remains troubled by the lack of letters from Jonathan. She confides her worries and records the strange scenes she witnesses in her journal.

On the afternoon of his arrival, according to a modern account compiled by historians at the Whitby Museum, Stoker climbed the 199 Steps to St. Mary's churchyard and found a bench in the southwest corner. The view made a deep impression on Stoker, and he took note of the river and harbor, the abbey's "noble ruin," the houses "piled up one over the other anyhow." In his novel, Mina arrives in late July on the same train as Stoker, mounts the 199 Steps, and echoes his thoughts:

"This is to my mind the nicest spot in Whitby, for it lies right over the town, and has a full view of the harbor ... It descends so steeply over the harbor that part of the bank has fallen away, and some of the graves have been destroyed. In one place part of the stonework of the graves stretches out over the sandy pathway far below. There are walks, with seats beside them, through the churchyard; and people go and sit there all day long looking at the beautiful view and enjoying the breeze. I shall come and sit here very often myself and work."

The churchyard gave Stoker a number of literary ideas. The following day, Stoker chatted there with three leathery old Greenland fisherman who likely spoke in a distinct Yorkshire dialect. They told Stoker a bit of mariner's lore: If a ship's crew heard bells at sea, an apparition of a lady would appear in one of the abbey's windows. "Then things is all wore out," one of the sailors warned.

Stoker ambled between the headstones that sprouted from the thick carpet of grass. Though most of the markers' names and dates had been erased by the wind, he copied almost 100 into his notes. Stoker used one of them, Swales, as the name of the fisherman with a face that is "all gnarled and twisted like the bark of an old tree," who begins talking with Mina in the churchyard. Mina asks him about the legend of the lady appearing in the abbey window, but Swales says it's all foolishness—stories of "boh-ghosts an' barguests an' bogles" that are only fit to scare children.

St. Mary's churchyard
St. Mary's churchyard, which Mina calls "the nicest spot in Whitby."
iStock

For the first few days in August, Stoker was occupied by the summer's social calendar. He likely enjoyed dinner with friends arriving from London, and went to church on Sunday morning. On the 5th, Stoker's wife and son joined him at 6 Royal Crescent. The next several days may have been spent at the Saloon, promenading on the pier, and making social calls, as it was the custom for newly arrived visitors to visit with acquaintances in town.

But Whitby's infamous weather had the ability to turn a sunny day somber in an instant. August 11 was a "grey day," Stoker noted, "horizon lost in grey mist, all vastness, clouds piled up and a 'brool' over the sea." With Florence and Noel perhaps staying indoors, Stoker set off for the East Cliff again and chatted with a Coast Guard boatman named William Petherick. "Told me of various wrecks," Stoker jotted. During one furious gale, a "ship got into harbor, never knew how, all hands were below praying."

The ship was the Dmitry, a 120-ton schooner that had left the Russian port of Narva with a ballast of silver sand. The ship encountered a fierce storm as it neared Whitby on October 24, 1885, and aimed for the harbor.

"The 'Russian' got in but became a wreck during the night," according to a copy of the Coast Guard's log, which Petherick delivered to Stoker. The crew survived. In a picture taken by local photographer Frank Meadow Sutcliffe just a few days after the storm, the Dmitry is shown beached near Tate Hill Pier with its masts lying in the sand.

'The Wreck of the Dmitry' (1885), by Frank Meadow Sutcliffe
The Wreck of the Dmitry (1885), by Frank Meadow Sutcliffe
Courtesy of the Sutcliffe Gallery

Petherick's account gave Stoker the means for his vampire's arrival in England, the moment when the mysterious East disrupts the order of the West. Mina pastes a local newspaper article describing a sudden and ferocious storm that hurled Dracula's ship, the Demeter from Varna, against Tate Hill Pier. The Coast Guard discovered the crew had vanished and the captain was dead. Just then, "an immense dog sprang up on deck and … making straight for the steep cliff … it disappeared in the darkness, which seemed intensified just beyond the focus of the searchlight," the article in Mina's journal reads. The dog was never seen again, but townsfolk did find a dead mastiff that had been attacked by another large beast.

Mina describes the funeral for the Demeter's captain, which Stoker based on scenes from an annual celebration he watched on August 15 called the Water Fete. In reality, thousands of cheerful spectators lined the quays as a local band and choir performed popular songs and a parade of gaily decorated boats sailed up the river, with banners fluttering merrily in the breeze, according to the Whitby Gazette's report. But through Mina, Stoker transformed the scene into a memorial:

"Every boat in the harbor seemed to be there, and the coffin was carried by captains all the way from Tate Hill Pier up to the churchyard. Lucy came with me, and we went early to our old seat, whilst the cortege of boats went up the river to the Viaduct and came down again. We had a lovely view, and saw the procession nearly all the way."

The final week of Stoker's holiday elicited some of the most important details in Dracula. On August 19, he bought day passes to Whitby's museum library and the subscription library. In the museum's reading room, Stoker wrote down 168 words in the Yorkshire dialect and their English meanings from F.K. Robinson's A Glossary of Words Used in the Neighborhood of Whitby, which later formed the bulk of Mr. Swales's vocabulary in his chats with Mina.

One of the words was "barguest," a term for a "terrifying apparition," which also refers specifically to a "large black dog with flaming eyes as big as saucers" in Yorkshire folklore, whose "vocation appears to have been that of a presage of death," according to an account from 1879.

"I do think Stoker meant for that connection," John Edgar Browning, visiting lecturer at the Georgia Institute of Technology and expert in horror and the gothic, tells Mental Floss. "Moreover, he probably would have meant for the people of Whitby in the novel to make the connection, since it was they who perceived Dracula's form as a large black dog."

Downstairs, Stoker checked out books on Eastern European culture and folklore, clearly with the aim of fleshing out the origins of his vampire: Curious Myths of the Middle Ages, a travelogue titled On the Track of the Crescent, and most importantly, William Wilkinson's An Account of the Principalities of Wallachia and Moldovia: with Various Observations Relating to Them.

The library building where Stoker discovered Dracula
The library building where Stoker discovered Dracula
Courtesy of Dacre Stoker

From the latter book, Stoker wrote in his notes, "P. 19. DRACULA in Wallachian language means DEVIL. Wallachians were accustomed to give it as a surname to any person who rendered himself conspicuous by courage, cruel actions, or cunning."

The Wilkinson book gave Stoker not just the geographical origin and nationality for his character, but also his all-important name, redolent of mystery and malice. "The moment Stoker happened upon the name of 'Dracula' in Whitby—a name Stoker scribbled over and over on the same page on which he crossed through [the vampire's original name] 'Count Wampyr,' as if he were savoring the word's three evil syllables—the notes picked up tremendously," Browning says.

By the time Stoker and his family returned to London around August 23, he had developed his idea from a mere outline to a fully fledged villain with a sinister name and unforgettable fictional debut.

"The modernization of the vampire myth that we see in Dracula—and that many contemporary reviewers commented upon—may not have happened, at least to the same degree, without Stoker's visit to Whitby," Browning says. "Whitby was a major catalyst, the contemporary Gothic 'glue', as it were, for what would eventually become the most famous vampire novel ever written."

Bram Stoker visited Whitby only once in his life, but the seaside village made an indelible mark on his imagination. When he finally wrote the scenes as they appear in Dracula, "He placed all of these events in real time, in real places, with real names of people he pulled off gravestones. That's what set the story apart," Dacre Stoker says. "That's why readers were scared to death—because there is that potential, just for a moment, that maybe this story is real."

Additional source: Bram Stoker's Notes for Dracula: A Facsimile Edition, annotated and transcribed by Robert Eighteen-Bisang and Elizabeth Miller

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This Harry Potter Candle Melts to Reveal Your Hogwarts House—and Smells Amazing
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Warner Bros.

As it gets darker and colder outside, the thought of lighting a candle in your room and curling up with a good book becomes more appealing. A sorting hat candle from the Muggle Library Candles Etsy store makes the perfect companion to whatever Harry Potter book you happen to be re-reading for the hundredth time this season. According to the Cleveland news outlet WKYC, the candle slowly reveals your Hogwarts house as it burns.

From the outside, the item looks like a normal white candle. But when lit, the outer layer of plain wax melts away, allowing the colorful interior to poke through. The candles come in one of four concealed colors: red for Gryffindor, blue for Ravenclaw, yellow for Hufflepuff, and green for Slytherin. The only way to know which house you’re destined to match with is by purchasing a candle and putting it to use. According to the label, the scent evokes “excitement, fear, and nervousness.” The smell can also be described as lemon with sandalwood, vanilla, and patchouli.

Due to its viral popularity, the Fort Worth, Texas-based Etsy store has put all orders on hold while working to get its current batch of shipments out to customers. You can follow Muggle Library Candles on Instagram for updates on the sorting candle, as well as other Harry Potter-themed candles in their repertoire, like parseltongue and free elf.

[h/t WKYC]

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