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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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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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