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Nobrow Press

5 Most Interesting Comics of the Week

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Nobrow Press

Every Wednesday, I preview the 5 most interesting new comics hitting comic shops, Comixology, Kickstarter and the web. If there's a release you're excited about, let's talk about it in the comments.

1. Freud

Written by Corinne Maier; art by Anne Simon
Nobrow Press

It's a little surprising there haven't been more comics devoted to Sigmund Freud considering that his life's work centered around dreams, free association, and the unconscious—all of which are ripe for a cartoonist's visual treatment. Nobrow Press, a London-based publisher that focuses on high quality art books and graphic novels, has just released an English translation of Corrinne Maier and Anne Simon's 2012 French graphic album (as they're called in France) titled simply Freud, which shows just how perfect comics can be for illustrating and explaining a concept like psychoanalysis.

At a mere 55 pages, Freud is a cursory run-through of the legendary figure's life, allotting just as much space on explaining the theories he originated and illustrating some of the cases that defined his work as it does to particular milestones in his biography. It is purposefully breezy, with Freud himself presented as the amusing cartoon narrator to his own life, traipsing from one vignette to another—whether they be real-life settings like his home in Vienna or Dali-esque dreamscapes—puffing on his cigar and pondering his own career. As a character in his own story, he is opinionated and at times flippant. He is also reflective and sometimes inconclusive about his own ideas.

It's probably worth noting that this book was made by two women, and Freud's own complicated relationship with women and feminism is at times addressed in the book, showing him wrestling with trying to understand how the female mind works. He labels them "the dark continent of psychoanalysis" while shown separated by a continental rift from a group of naked and perturbed women. The book is never fully critical or sympathetic when dealing with subjects like this; instead it presents him as a conflicted and complicated thinker who may not have all the answers.

Corinne Maier is a psychoanalyst herself and has written over 15 books on a diverse range of subjects. Two of her best selling books in France conveyed the type of controversial opinions sure to raise the cockles of American talk show punditry. One was about how hard work doesn't pay off and the other outlined 40 reasons why you shouldn't have kids. The real star of this book, however, is Anne Simon. A winner of the 2004 "New Talent" award at the Angoulême Festival, Simon has worked on a number of children's comics for European publishers, but her work has been little seen in the States. She draws in a whimsical style reminiscent of the classic French gag cartoonists like Jean-Jacques Sempé, bringing humor and an easy accessibility to Freud's work. She uses a very modern and striking color palette that changes with each vignette, and the quality of printing Nobrow has lent to this makes her work here just a pleasure to look at.


Some preview images and info from the publisher here.

2. Woman Rebel: The Margaret Sanger Story

By Peter Bagge
Drawn & Quarterly

Peter Bagge is one of the popular indie comics creators who rose to prominence in the early '90s, due primarily to his satirical grunge/slacker comic Hate. In recent years he's been as prolific as ever with comics like 2012's Reset, about a washed up comedian who participates in a virtual reality experiment to relive past events, as well as his ongoing essays and comics for the libertarian magazine Reason

In somewhat of an unexpected step for someone who is known mostly for his biting humor, Bagge's latest graphic novel, Woman Rebel: The Margaret Sanger Story, is a biography of an important figure in American feminism. Margaret Sanger, the birth control activist and founder of the Planned Parenthood movement, fought tirelessly to educate and provide birth control options to the economically underprivileged in the early 20th century. She was instrumental in the legalization of contraception in the United States and opened the first birth control clinic in the U.S., preaching the use of contraception to give women the choice of when they should have children. She was opposed to abortions and fought to prevent unsafe, back-alley procedures. 

Sanger was a controversial political figure, and Bagge himself is no stranger to controversial political opinions, yet his rubbery, Warner Brothers-influenced art style seems at first incongruous with the serious subject matter of Sanger's life story. However, like with Anne Simon's cartoony take on Sigmund Freud, Bagge's use of humor here brings an approachability to the biography and to the "character" of Margaret Sanger that you wouldn't necessarily get from a written biography. In one scene, as Sanger heads off to the Lower East Side of New York to work as a nurse, her children protest that "other mommies don't work!" With a furrowed brow she leans forward and heads out the door retorting "Yes, well, THIS ONE does…You'll just have to get used to it." She very much becomes a Bagge character and a principled, driven person that you want to learn more about.



Drawn & Quarterly has a preview on the website here. This book looks like it will be getting a lot of praise in the coming months.

3. "Our Toyota Was Fantastic"


Boulet
Bouletcorp.com

France's most popular webcomic creator has done it again. It wasn't that long ago that I featured Boulet's long, vertically scrolling "Le Long Voyage" on this list and already he's back on it with "Notre Toyota Était Fantastique" ("Our Toyota Was Fantastic"). That's not to say he hasn't done a number of comics in between "Voyage" and "Toyota"; he's even done a few since posting this one last week.

In this beautiful webcomic, Boulet revisits a childhood memory that many of us can probably relate to—riding in the backseat of his parent's car while dozing off to sleep. He conveys many precious details—the pulsing glow of his father's cigarette from the front seat, the abrupt flood of light from passing through a tunnel—and presents them through poetic first person narration, charmingly rendered drawings, and the best use of animation I've seen in a webcomic.

Many comic purists balk at seeing animation in a comic. So much of the power of a good comic comes from the reader's own imagination when reading the story and some feel that adding motion crosses the line from comics into something else entirely, something where the reader becomes more of a passive participant. All of the lackluster attempts at what are called "Motion Comics" have fallen into this trap and produced something that is less effective than the "still" version. Plus, adding motion to still imagery can often result in an awkwardness that actually makes the drawings seem less alive, the opposite of its intent. 

With clever use of animated gifs, Boulet shows how adding motion to a comic is done here. Although this story might be just as effective and poignant without it, the little bits of movement he adds (passing reflections, shimmering lights and shadows, even the gentle flickering of the hand drawn lettering) is done with true purpose and it brings the reader right into the backseat of that car, helping to evoke their own similar memories.

Give the comic a read here and marvel at how gorgeous it looks.

4. Best American Comics 2013


Edited by Jeff Smith with series editors Jessica Abel and Matt Madden
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Well, this is probably a no-brainer inclusion for a column about notable comics. The latest edition of the Best American Comics series contains short comics and excerpts from longer comics from North American cartoonists that were published last year and, as it has done since 2006, gives you an eye-opening tour of the wide range of staggeringly good comics that are out there. The series to date has been shepherded by cartoonists and comics educators Jessica Abel and Matt Madden, who, every year, pool together over 100 of the best comics they can and bring in a guest editor to select the cream of the crop (this year it's Jeff Smith of Bone and RASL fame). This will be the last volume of BAC that Abel and Madden edit, as they step down to focus on their own work while on extended residency in Angoulême, France (there is a definite French connection running through most of this week's books, if you haven't noticed). 


Among the comics that Abel, Madden and Smith have selected this year are:
- Becky Cloonan's horror fantasy The Mire (one of the best mini comics I read last year)
- An excerpt from Darywn Cooke's latest Parker graphic novel, The Score
- The initial chapters from Charles Forsman's teenage angst/killers on the run mini comic The End of The F***king World
- Matt Forsythe's wordless adaptation of a Korean folk tale Jinchalo
- Laura Terry's Overboard (I picked this book up at SPX last year and it is gorgeous)
- Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez' Locke & Key one shot "Open The Moon"
- Jeff Jensen and Jonathan Case's award-winning true crime story Green River Killer
- An excerpt from Jeff Lemire's haunting graphic novel about a father and son, Underwater Welder
- Ramon Perez' Eisner award winning adaptation of a Jim Henson screenplay Tales of Sand
- Ben Towle's swashbuckling webcomic Oyster War
- The latest chapter in Jason Lutes' long running Berlin

And many, many more. In fact you can just peruse the whole list here.

For those that teach comics, there's also a lesson plan for this this book that you can find here.

[EDIT: As I noted in the comments below, I mistakenly listed selections that were part of the "Notable" list but not the actual book. The actual list of comics in the book edition are here. ]

5. SPX '13 Journal


by Jared Cullum
JaredLovesToDraw.com

For many independent cartoonists, The Small Press Expo in Bethesda, Maryland is the biggest event of the year. It's an inspiring and creatively validating experience where up-and-coming cartoonists can be in the same room with indie comic superstars, everyone selling their handmade mini comics or self-published graphic novels to the same crowd of fans who are eager to discover what's new in this creatively burgeoning sector of comics publishing. Cartoonists being cartoonists, it's not unusual to find many of them in the weeks after the show making comics about their SPX experience as a way of processing it.

One that stood out to me recently is by newcomer Jared Cullum (whom I've had the pleasure of meeting on a couple of occasions). After attending his second SPX this year, Cullum painted this beautiful 8 page watercolor comic depicting himself and the other attendees as cute, anthropomorphic animals. If you are familiar enough with the small press scene you'll recognize a number of the cartoonists depicted here like Jim Rugg, Dustin Harbin, Rob Ullman, Ed Piskor and more. And if you are a cartoonist, you may be able to relate to Cullum's experience and his feelings about it. As a part-time cartoonist myself, I know I sure did. 

This little comic gives a great insight into some common insecurities cartoonists have about themselves and their place among other artists, while also showing how motivating the social aspect of a show like SPX can be for them. Making comics is a time-consuming, often isolating profession, yet the act of making something personal and selling it to strangers requires a level of comfort with publicness that conflicts with that isolation. Cullum taps into this very well here.  He also shows off some impressive watercolor skills and a keen sense of comedic timing that has me excited to see what he'll do next.

He says he plans to do more of these anthropomorphic journal comics in the future so follow his Tumblr and read this comic here.

HONORABLE MENTIONS

Blue is the Warmest Color
French week continues as Julie Maroh's 2010 graphic novel about lesbian love and youthful rebellion, originally called Blue Angel, is released in English with a title that matches its 2013 film adaptation, the winner of the coveted Palme d'Or at the Cannes Film Festival. Preview here.

Fran
Jim Woodring's latest graphic novel involving his long-running character Frank is actually about Frank's soul-mate, Fran. Somewhat of a sequel to 2011's Congress of Animals, though you're also encouraged to read this first and Congress second. Preview here.

Love and Rockets: New Stories #6
It's that time of year when the annual release of new stories from Jaime and Gilbert Hernandez arrives in the digest-sized form of a new Love and Rockets book. Gilbert returns to one of his most famous characters, Luba, while Jaime continues to explore one of his newer characters, Tonta. Preview pages.

The Art of Charlie Adlard
The Walking Dead fans are well aware of the greatness of artist Charlie Adlard. He's been the artist on that book since issue #7 and has been consistently outstanding. This oversized hardcover takes a look at his career, providing lots of behind the scenes extras.
More info here.

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

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8 Common Dog Behaviors, Decoded
May 25, 2017
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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.

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