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Image Comics

5 Most Interesting Comics of the Week

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Image Comics

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. Pretty Deadly #1

Written by Kelly Sue DeConnick; art by Emma Rios; colors by Jordie Bellaire
Image Comics

If you only read webcomics or even just indie comics of the more literary or young adult flavors, with all the Kate Beatons, Alison Bechdels, and Faith Erin Hicks, you'd be forgiven if you didn't realize that women comic creators are pretty underrepresented in most genre-oriented comics. Of course, that's changing pretty quickly and this week we have a major release from Image Comics—a western/ horror hybrid called Pretty Deadly—that has an all-female creative team. Kelly Sue DeConnick, Emma Rios and Jordie Bellaire (joined by sole male collaborator, letterer Clayton Cowles) begin an epic saga here about Ginny, the natural-born daughter of Death, traveling the western landscape on a mission of vengeance. Two travelers, a blind man named Fox and a teenage girl with a magical "vulture cloak," go around telling the story of Ginny to local townsfolk but soon find themselves caught in her path themselves, and probably not for the first time.

DeConnick has become a mainstay at Marvel Comics of late. She's most often associated with Captain Marvel, a book which has grown an avid fan base for both the character and DeConnick herself. This is her second project with Rios, a Spanish artist who has also worked on various Marvel books. Pretty Deadly has the potential to be a breakout book for both creators. 

Rios constructs elaborate page designs, particularly in an early scene in which the story of Ginny is told by Fox and the girl, while pointing to pictures displayed on a large tapestry. Her style, particularly the way she draws women, is reminiscent of Milo Manera's clean, intricate drawings but with a hint of Paul Pope's earthier inking. Colorist Jordie Bellaire is seemingly coloring every book out there these days. If you notice these things, you'll notice her name in the credits of a lot of books, especially for Image. Her use of bold colors to unify the panels in a page really helps guide the reader through some of Rios' more ambitious layouts.

Supernatural westerns seem to have become a sub genre of their own in recent years, probably since the success of The Sixth Gun. By dealing with the mythology of Death, Pretty Deadly may be aiming for something grander in scope, but fans of both horror and western genres will be pleased with all the targets it hits while getting there.

Read a preview here.

2. Iron Bound

By Brendan Leach
Secret Acres

Brendan Leach's previous book, The Pterodactyl Hunters (in the Gilded City) came out in 2011 and won an Ignatz Award for Outstanding Comic the following year. Somehow, Leach is back already with a hefty, new 250-page graphic novel called Iron Bound which was released last week from independent publisher Secret Acres. 

Set in 1960s Newark, New Jersey, Iron Bound is a crime drama about two leather-jacketed greasers who work as hired muscle for a local, small time mafioso. Benny is a loose cannon. At the start of the book, on a bus from Asbury Park, we see him nearly beat to death a fellow passenger who makes the mistake of telling him to keep his voice down. Eddie is the more level-headed of the two, with ideas about going straight, but he has a lot of blood on his own hands to deal with. The narrative jumps back and forth in time to reveal two violent incidents in the recent past that will have repercussions for both young men. Leach does a fantastic job of building tension, especially in regards to Benny, who is the gun in the story that you just know will go off at any moment with no warning. What makes the book a little different from most street-level crime dramas is the setting and time period. A Jersey boy himself, Leach's stark black and white drawings seem to capture this era of leather jackets, greased-back hair, bowling alleys and skating rinks and embodies it all with a rich level of Jerseyness. It's like The Lords of Flatbush by way of the Jersey Turnpike. Like that film, it has a very '70s vibe to the pacing and feel of the story, even though it's set in the early 1960s. Leach's drawings have a loose immediacy to them that may not appeal to everyone on an aesthetic level, but their sketchbook-like quality makes it feel like he was there, hanging out on Broad Street or on the boardwalk, watching all this go down. His style and seemingly prolific ability to put out books quickly reminds me of Jeff Lemire (who provides an endorsement on the back of the book) but also of the great Italian comic artist Gipi, who is no stranger to crime stories himself.

A fun little bonus is that the book comes with a flexi-disc record with two original songs that act as a soundtrack for a climactic fight scene that breaks out in front of a band called The Newark Wanderers.

Leach has provided the first chapter that you can read on his Tumblr, or you can go over to the Secret Acres website to order the book.

3. Velvet #1

Written by Ed Brubaker; art by Steve Epting; colors by Elizabeth Breitweiser
Image Comics

The great conceit behind the new ongoing series, Velvet, from writer Ed Brubaker is "What if Miss Moneypenny was secretly a deadly spy herself?" The story opens in 1973 as we see a James Bond-like secret agent get gunned down in Paris while pondering what dark secrets he does not yet know about the mysterious Velvet Templeton. 

Looking like a cross between 007's Moneypenny and S.H.I.E.L.D.'s Valentina de la Fontaine, Velvet is the sexy secretarial assistant to the director of Britain's most secret intelligence agency, but for reasons yet unknown she seems to have forsaken a career as a spy herself for a quieter desk job. As the lead female character in an action comic, Velvet perhaps will defy expectations by being a mature woman who appears to be in her late 40s. As the series progresses and we learn more about the dark secrets of her past, Brubaker plans on turning some more expectations of women and their place in the spy genre on their heads.

Ed Brubaker is the modern master of both crime and super-spy comics. With artist Steve Epting, he transformed Captain America from a mediocre, purposeless superhero comic into a twisty thriller that reinvigorated the espionage potential of Marvel's S.H.I.E.L.D. concept. The two have reunited for this long-planned project and have also brought on another Cap-universe alumni from Brubaker's Winter Soldier comic: colorist Elizabeth Breitweiser.

Epting is a cinematic realist and Breitweiser, who, I feel, has one of the more recognizable yet subtle coloring styles in mainstream comics, adds a moody level of gravitas to the book. What's most fun is that the promise of lots of flashbacks throughout the '50s and '60s allows Epting and Breitweiser to play with the fashions and styles of those eras as well as many of the familiar elements of spy fiction from film, novels, newspaper strips and comics.

Some preview pages here.


4. Samurai Jack #1

Written by Jim Zub, art by Andy Suriano
IDW Publishing

I'm not sure what to think of the fact that the nostalgia market is now dipping into material that was produced in the early double aughts, but with the '80s thoroughly exhausted and quality resources from the '90s waning, it only makes sense that we'd get to this point so quickly. This week, we see the highly anticipated first issue of Samurai Jack, a comic that will pick up where the animated series that ran on Cartoon Network from 2001 to 2004 left off. 

Fans of the animated series which focused on a stoic Samurai and his quest to make his way back from the distant future had always hoped for a rumored feature film to continue the story. Instead, as we've seen with other fan-favorite shows like X-Files and Buffy The Vampire Slayer, there can be a place in comics for launching new "seasons" in order to let those shows live on.

IDW has enlisted Jim Zub, a writer popular for his humorous Skullkickers series as well as for his industry-related blog posts about selling creator-owned comics. He's paired with Andy Suriano, an artist who was integral in designing the characters for the original show. Series creator and mastermind behind the show's unique aesthetic, Genndy Tartakovsky, even provides a variant cover for the first issue.

You can read a short preview of the first issue here.

5. Head Lopper 2

By Andrew MacLean
Kickstarter

If you're a fan of the look of Samurai Jack, I can pretty much guarantee you'll enjoy Andrew MacLean's artwork. MacLean draws in a style that blends touches of Tartokovksy's modern, Soviet Constructivism with Mike Mignola's sense of composition and simple, graphic shapes. He has a Cartoon Network kind of "cartoony" feel to his work.

In Head Lopper, Maclean gets to draw over-the-top sword fights with Scottish warriors and lots and lots of decapitations. In fact, the main character, Norgal, travels around with the talking, disembodied head of a blue witch. It's witty, unrealistically violent and made for pretty much anyone who loves stuff like Conan the Barbarian and Quentin Tarantino films. 

MacLean has taken to Kickstarter to fund the production of Head Lopper 2. In addition to the 50+ page story, this second volume will have some amazing-looking guest art from Toby Cypress, James Harren and more.

You can find out more at his Kickstarter page. It has a little over 2 weeks to go and is not funded yet so consider helping him out.

HONORABLE MENTION


Hellboy: Midnight Circus
Pre-adolescent Hellboy may be my favorite kind of Hellboy. This new graphic novel written by Mike Mignola and drawn by Duncan Fegredo tells a story from Hellboy's youth about the time when he read Pinocchio and got inspired to run away from home and join a circus. Fegredo is maybe the next best artist besides Mignola that you'd want drawing a new Hellboy book and the preview art here looks incredible.

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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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Sponsor Content: BarkBox
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8 Common Dog Behaviors, Decoded
May 25, 2017
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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.

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