CLOSE
Original image
Dean Trippe

5 Most Interesting Comics of the Week

Original image
Dean Trippe

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. Something Terrible

By Dean Trippe
Self-published

Superhero comics are often labelled "escapist fantasy" but sometimes the therapeutic power of reading (and making) comics can be underestimated. In this incredibly personal comic, Something Terrible, Dean Trippe reveals his own struggle growing up as a victim of sexual abuse and how the stigma and the often cited statistics of abuse victims growing up to be abusers themselves had caused him to live with an invisible gun pointed at his own head for most of his life.

Trippe is one of the biggest fans of Batman (and the inherent goodness of the character, which often gets lost today) that I've ever met. He draws in an immaculate, kid-friendly style that is very much inspired by the look of Bruce Timm's Batman animated series from the '90s. In Something Terrible he recounts just how important the character of Batman and other fictional, heroic characters have been to him over the years as he tried to deal with his own dark secret.

This is a really moving comic that, in the span of just 14 pages, is both agonizing and triumphant. I can only imagine how difficult it was for Trippe to confront these memories through the act of making this comic. I can also imagine how helpful it could be for people who have been through a similar situation to read his account, especially when Trippe dispels the myth of the abuse cycle and shows how he himself has overcome it. 

Trippe is selling Something Terrible for only 99¢ as downloadable PDF and CBZ files.

2. Fairy Tale Comics

Edited by Chris Duffy
First Second/Macmillan Books

For art fans, you can't beat the lineup on this new anthology: Gilbert and Jaime Hernandez, Jillian Tamaki, Luke Pearson, Emily Carroll, Craig Thompson, David Mazzuchelli, Raina Telgemeier, Karl Kerschl, Emily Carroll, Vanessa Davis, and more. Also, that wonderfully fun cover by Eleanor Davis. A sequel of sorts to 2011's Nursery Rhyme Comics also published by First Second and edited by Chris Duffy, Fairy Tale Comics takes 17 classic fairy tales like "Hansel & Gretel" and "Little Red Riding Hood" as well as lesser known stories like "The Bremen Town Musicians" and "Give Me The Shudders" and lets the artists put their own spin on them.

Though it's hard to pick just one of these great cartoonists to highlight, it may be most noteworthy to call out the presence of David Mazzuchelli, who is contributing his first new comics work since his groundbreaking 2009 graphic novel Asterios Polyp. Mazzuchelli, who has proven in the past to be able to work in a variety of styles, channels early newspaper strips similar to Winsor McKay in his contribution, "Give Me The Shudders." 

In addition, The Abominable Charles Christopher's Karl Kershl gets to draw animals in a different style than we've seen on his award-winning webcomic. Craig Thompson, fresh off his 700 page graphic novel Habibi, tackles an 11th century Spanish tale originally called "The King and His Story-teller." And Emily Carroll applies her rich, watercolor approach to an array of medieval costumes and gowns in The Brothers Grimm's "12 Dancing Princesses".

Read more about the book here and read some in depth interviews and reviews focusing on individual contributors like Emily CarrollGilbert HernandezDavid Mazzuchelli and Craig Thompson.

3. Fantomex Max #1

Written by Andrew Hope; art by Shawn Crystal; covers by Francisco Francavilla
Marvel Comics

It's hard to believe that the character Fantomex has been around for over 10 years now. Originally created by Grant Morrison during his run on New X-men in the early 2000s, he's gained more popularity in recent years thanks to being a team member of the popular Uncanny X-Force. He's now getting his own four-issue mini-series in Marvel's mature readers MAX line, which is a big moment in the spotlight for this character. 

Fantomex is an anomaly in many ways. Not only are there not a whole lot of new characters getting their own books from DC or Marvel these days (or being created in the first place for that matter), but Fantomex's origin and character traits are just hard to explain. He was created by the Weapon Plus program (the same people who brought us Wolverine) as a result of impregnating a human woman with nano-machines, and was then raised in a synthetic micro-environment dubbed The World. He believes himself to be French and speaks with a "faux-French accent" (what that actually sounds like is up to the reader's imagination). He also believes himself to be a mutant although Weapon Plus created him to be a "super-sentinel" meant to kill mutants. His power is misdirection which means stories with Fantomex often involve events that may or may not be really happening to those who cross paths with him (including us readers). He's very Morrisonian in a lot of ways.

Derived from the Italian comic book and film character Diabolik and the early 20th century detective from French crime novels Fantômas, Fantomex is a fun, weird, stylish character with a growing cult following. This new series is a sexy, violent thriller with a '60s, secret agent vibe, as the cover by Francisco Francavilla suggests. Marvel's MAX line allows creators to go heavy on the violence, cursing and sexual situations, so expect plenty of that here.

Read an interview with artist Shawn Crystal including some preview pages.

4. In The Dark

Edited by Rachel Deering
Kickstarter

By the time this article is posted, In The Dark will have easily reached its Kickstarter goal with many days still to go. It doesn't take long to scroll through the main project page and realize that this is going to be a high quality horror anthology with a great lineup for writers and artists involved.

Rachel Deering is no stranger to horror or to Kickstarter. She writes a comic called Anathema which has three issues available through Comixology's Submit program and was originally funded through as successful Kickstarter. She was also a writer and letterer for the Womanthology project which was a huge crowd funding success a few years back. As the editor for this new anthology she has recruited an array of writers and artists that are all either new stars in the comics world (like Cullen Bunn, Paul Tobin, Tradd Moore, Tim Seely) or just on the cusp of stardom (Christopher Sebela, Andy Belanger, Christian Wildgoose, Thomas Boatwright). 

At over 250 pages, this hardcover book will contain 20 short stories with each creative team telling the type of horror story they want to tell. Deering is a vocal cheerleader for horror in comics and with the rise in popularity of that genre in comics today, this Kickstarter is hitting a good time. In addition to the comics there will be a historical piece, about the rise and decline of horror comics from the EC days to today, written by historian Mike Howlett.

Although In The Dark will easily reach its funding goal and IDW Publishing is helping out with the printing and distribution, the creators are working on this with no money up front and any money that exceeds the goal will be divvied up among them.

Read more about the In The Dark anthology and pledge your support.

5. The Witching Hour

By various
DC Vertigo

It's anthology week it seems. But wait, it's even another horror anthology. The Witching Hour is an 80 page one-shot published by DC's Vertigo line featuring 9 stories of supernatural "Vertigo-ness." The lineup for this one includes some big names like Kelly Sue Deconnick, Fables' Mark Buckingham, the highly underrated Tula Lotay and Emily Carroll (who we just mentioned in one of this week's other anthologies, Fairy Tale Comics). Perhaps most notable is a story called "Mars To Stay" illustrated by Cliff Chiang and written by Brett Lewis who we haven't seen enough in comics since his highly acclaimed mini-series The Winter Men about former decommissioned super humans in post-Cold War Russia. 

There are some preview images here and Cliff Chiang recently posted a preview page from his story with Lewis here.

Original image
iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
technology
arrow
Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
May 21, 2017
Original image
iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva

Jacques Mattheij made a small, but awesome, mistake. He went on eBay one evening and bid on a bunch of bulk LEGO brick auctions, then went to sleep. Upon waking, he discovered that he was the high bidder on many, and was now the proud owner of two tons of LEGO bricks. (This is about 4400 pounds.) He wrote, "[L]esson 1: if you win almost all bids you are bidding too high."

Mattheij had noticed that bulk, unsorted bricks sell for something like €10/kilogram, whereas sets are roughly €40/kg and rare parts go for up to €100/kg. Much of the value of the bricks is in their sorting. If he could reduce the entropy of these bins of unsorted bricks, he could make a tidy profit. While many people do this work by hand, the problem is enormous—just the kind of challenge for a computer. Mattheij writes:

There are 38000+ shapes and there are 100+ possible shades of color (you can roughly tell how old someone is by asking them what lego colors they remember from their youth).

In the following months, Mattheij built a proof-of-concept sorting system using, of course, LEGO. He broke the problem down into a series of sub-problems (including "feeding LEGO reliably from a hopper is surprisingly hard," one of those facts of nature that will stymie even the best system design). After tinkering with the prototype at length, he expanded the system to a surprisingly complex system of conveyer belts (powered by a home treadmill), various pieces of cabinetry, and "copious quantities of crazy glue."

Here's a video showing the current system running at low speed:

The key part of the system was running the bricks past a camera paired with a computer running a neural net-based image classifier. That allows the computer (when sufficiently trained on brick images) to recognize bricks and thus categorize them by color, shape, or other parameters. Remember that as bricks pass by, they can be in any orientation, can be dirty, can even be stuck to other pieces. So having a flexible software system is key to recognizing—in a fraction of a second—what a given brick is, in order to sort it out. When a match is found, a jet of compressed air pops the piece off the conveyer belt and into a waiting bin.

After much experimentation, Mattheij rewrote the software (several times in fact) to accomplish a variety of basic tasks. At its core, the system takes images from a webcam and feeds them to a neural network to do the classification. Of course, the neural net needs to be "trained" by showing it lots of images, and telling it what those images represent. Mattheij's breakthrough was allowing the machine to effectively train itself, with guidance: Running pieces through allows the system to take its own photos, make a guess, and build on that guess. As long as Mattheij corrects the incorrect guesses, he ends up with a decent (and self-reinforcing) corpus of training data. As the machine continues running, it can rack up more training, allowing it to recognize a broad variety of pieces on the fly.

Here's another video, focusing on how the pieces move on conveyer belts (running at slow speed so puny humans can follow). You can also see the air jets in action:

In an email interview, Mattheij told Mental Floss that the system currently sorts LEGO bricks into more than 50 categories. It can also be run in a color-sorting mode to bin the parts across 12 color groups. (Thus at present you'd likely do a two-pass sort on the bricks: once for shape, then a separate pass for color.) He continues to refine the system, with a focus on making its recognition abilities faster. At some point down the line, he plans to make the software portion open source. You're on your own as far as building conveyer belts, bins, and so forth.

Check out Mattheij's writeup in two parts for more information. It starts with an overview of the story, followed up with a deep dive on the software. He's also tweeting about the project (among other things). And if you look around a bit, you'll find bulk LEGO brick auctions online—it's definitely a thing!

Original image
iStock
Sponsor Content: BarkBox
arrow
8 Common Dog Behaviors, Decoded
May 25, 2017
Original image
iStock

Dogs are a lot more complicated than we give them credit for. As a result, sometimes things get lost in translation. We’ve yet to invent a dog-to-English translator, but there are certain behaviors you can learn to read in order to better understand what your dog is trying to tell you. The more tuned-in you are to your dog’s emotions, the better you’ll be able to respond—whether that means giving her some space or welcoming a wet, slobbery kiss. 

1. What you’ll see: Your dog is standing with his legs and body relaxed and tail low. His ears are up, but not pointed forward. His mouth is slightly open, he’s panting lightly, and his tongue is loose. His eyes? Soft or maybe slightly squinty from getting his smile on.

What it means: “Hey there, friend!” Your pup is in a calm, relaxed state. He’s open to mingling, which means you can feel comfortable letting friends say hi.

2. What you’ll see: Your dog is standing with her body leaning forward. Her ears are erect and angled forward—or have at least perked up if they’re floppy—and her mouth is closed. Her tail might be sticking out horizontally or sticking straight up and wagging slightly.

What it means: “Hark! Who goes there?!” Something caught your pup’s attention and now she’s on high alert, trying to discern whether or not the person, animal, or situation is a threat. She’ll likely stay on guard until she feels safe or becomes distracted.

3. What you’ll see: Your dog is standing, leaning slightly forward. His body and legs are tense, and his hackles—those hairs along his back and neck—are raised. His tail is stiff and twitching, not swooping playfully. His mouth is open, teeth are exposed, and he may be snarling, snapping, or barking excessively.

What it means: “Don’t mess with me!” This dog is asserting his social dominance and letting others know that he might attack if they don’t defer accordingly. A dog in this stance could be either offensively aggressive or defensively aggressive. If you encounter a dog in this state, play it safe and back away slowly without making eye contact.

4. What you’ll see: As another dog approaches, your dog lies down on his back with his tail tucked in between his legs. His paws are tucked in too, his ears are flat, and he isn’t making direct eye contact with the other dog standing over him.

What it means: “I come in peace!” Your pooch is displaying signs of submission to a more dominant dog, conveying total surrender to avoid physical confrontation. Other, less obvious, signs of submission include ears that are flattened back against the head, an avoidance of eye contact, a tongue flick, and bared teeth. Yup—a dog might bare his teeth while still being submissive, but they’ll likely be clenched together, the lips opened horizontally rather than curled up to show the front canines. A submissive dog will also slink backward or inward rather than forward, which would indicate more aggressive behavior.

5. What you’ll see: Your dog is crouching with her back hunched, tail tucked, and the corner of her mouth pulled back with lips slightly curled. Her shoulders, or hackles, are raised and her ears are flattened. She’s avoiding eye contact.

What it means: “I’m scared, but will fight you if I have to.” This dog’s fight or flight instincts have been activated. It’s best to keep your distance from a dog in this emotional state because she could attack if she feels cornered.

6. What you’ll see: You’re staring at your dog, holding eye contact. Your dog looks away from you, tentatively looks back, then looks away again. After some time, he licks his chops and yawns.

What it means: “I don’t know what’s going on and it’s weirding me out.” Your dog doesn’t know what to make of the situation, but rather than nipping or barking, he’ll stick to behaviors he knows are OK, like yawning, licking his chops, or shaking as if he’s wet. You’ll want to intervene by removing whatever it is causing him discomfort—such as an overly grabby child—and giving him some space to relax.

7. What you’ll see: Your dog has her front paws bent and lowered onto the ground with her rear in the air. Her body is relaxed, loose, and wiggly, and her tail is up and wagging from side to side. She might also let out a high-pitched or impatient bark.

What it means: “What’s the hold up? Let’s play!” This classic stance, known to dog trainers and behaviorists as “the play bow,” is a sign she’s ready to let the good times roll. Get ready for a round of fetch or tug of war, or for a good long outing at the dog park.

8. What you’ll see: You’ve just gotten home from work and your dog rushes over. He can’t stop wiggling his backside, and he may even lower himself into a giant stretch, like he’s doing yoga.

What it means: “OhmygoshImsohappytoseeyou I love you so much you’re my best friend foreverandeverandever!!!!” This one’s easy: Your pup is overjoyed his BFF is back. That big stretch is something dogs don’t pull out for just anyone; they save that for the people they truly love. Show him you feel the same way with a good belly rub and a handful of his favorite treats.

The best way to say “I love you” in dog? A monthly subscription to BarkBox. Your favorite pup will get a package filled with treats, toys, and other good stuff (and in return, you’ll probably get lots of sloppy kisses). Visit BarkBox to learn more.

SECTIONS
BIG QUESTIONS
BIG QUESTIONS
WEATHER WATCH
BE THE CHANGE
JOB SECRETS
QUIZZES
WORLD WAR 1
SMART SHOPPING
STONES, BONES, & WRECKS
#TBT
THE PRESIDENTS
WORDS
RETROBITUARIES