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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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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
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"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."
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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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