Image Comics
Image Comics

5 Most Interesting Comics of the Week

Image Comics
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. The Sandman: Overture #1

Written by Neil Gaiman; Art by J.H. Williams III
DC Vertigo

This week brings us one of the biggest comic events of the year, as acclaimed writer and novelist Neil Gaiman returns to his signature comics work. The Sandman: Overture is a six issue prequel to the original series that will answer the question of how Morpheus could have been so easily captured when we first meet him at the start of The Sandman #1. It's a question that Gaiman says he always knew the answer to but never got around to telling until now.

If you're not already familiar with The Sandman, it was once DC Comics' best selling title and a flagship of its mature readers Vertigo imprint. It ran from 1989 until the overarching story was completed with the 75th issue in 1996. Centering around a family of beings known as The Endless who personified the forces that make up the universe as we know it, the story's protagonist was the sibling known as Dream, aka Morpheus or The Sandman. 

Twenty-five years after it began, it's still considered one of the high points of the medium. With the literary nature of its stories, The Sandman appealed to a very different audience than was typically reading comics at that time, particularly high school and college-aged women (a target that comics have not gotten much better at hitting since then). Gaiman was catapulted to stardom by its success and, though he still writes the occasional comic (like the recently announced return to another of his early works, Miracleman), he has moved primarily into a successful career as a novelist and is truly one of the most respected and well known names to come out of this industry. 

Joining Gaiman for this mini-series is artist J.H. Williams III, who most recently was writing and drawing DC's Batwoman series. Williams is a perfect choice of artist for this book. His mind-blowingly intricate and ornate page layouts help give his projects a mythical sense of scope, such as he did in the past with Alan Moore's Promethea or Grant Morrison's Seven Soldiers. In addition, original series cover artist Dave McKean will provide alternate covers for the series.

It wouldn't be unreasonable to look at this as another return to the well on DC Comics' part. Last year's Before Watchmen, a prequel to another of their revered classics, Watchmen, sold well despite disapproval from a significant, vocal portion of the fanbase who found the idea to be a desecration of the original book and an insult to its creator. With Gaiman enthusiastically onboard for Sandman, though, this is a pretty controversy-free no-brainer for the publisher and it's safe to say it will be one of the best selling comics of 2013.

2. Revival Vol. 1 Deluxe Hardcover

Written by Tim Seeley; art by Mike Norton; covers by Jenny Frison
Image Comics

With Halloween coming up, there is no shortage of great horror comics out there to choose from, but this week brings a deluxe hardcover edition of one of the surprise hits of the past year, Revival. At first read of the book's description, you may think Revival is yet another zombie comic, lumbering after the unexpected success of fellow Image Comics blockbuster, The Walking Dead. There have been a LOT of zombie comics coming out since The Walking Dead and it doesn't seem like we'd need another one, but writer Tim Seeley has a different take on the dead coming back to life. When the dead come back to life in this one small town in rural Wisconsin, they are not brainless, flesh eating monsters. They are pretty much the same people they were before they died, except they are now dealing with the post-traumatic stress of experiencing their own death. And those around them are now trying to deal with the shocking phenomena of friends and loved ones coming back to life. How is this happening? Is it a religious miracle or an unexplainable nightmare?

Seeley refers to Revival as "rural noir," which perhaps gives you a hint that he's looking to tell a story that's less about horror film plot devices and more about the characters and the complicated choices they make. The cold, Midwestern setting also brings to mind the Coen Brothers' modern crime noir Fargo. Like that film, Revival also focuses on a female police officer as the heart of the story. Officer Dana Cypress has recently been assigned to the Revitalized Citizen Arbitration Division. Her hard-nosed dad is the sheriff and because of a decision that Dana makes, her college-age sister Em dies and becomes a Reviver herself.

Revival is drawn by Mike Norton, who is perhaps best known for his award-winning webcomic Battlepug. He works in a very clean, classic style that may seem too clean for a horror comic but really works in the context of showing the juxtaposition of the supernatural within a mundane setting. Possibly the underappreciated star of this book is Jenny Frison who provides stunning, ethereal covers for every issue. Her work here puts this book into a category usually populated by Vertigo books like the aforementioned Sandman or Fables, where you just know there are people out there buying this comic just for the covers every month.

With 14 issues now released and many of the early issues complete sellouts, Image Comics is giving Revival the deluxe treatment that helped propel The Walking Dead to huge bookstore success in its early years. This special hardcover will collect the first 11 issues, plus a Free Comic Book Day one shot and some behind the scenes bonus material.

3. Uncivilized Books Fall 2013 Subscription

Published by Tom Kaczynski
Uncivilized Books

Cartoonist Tom Kaczynski began Uncivilized Books simply as a "house" name to more easily self-publish his own comics under. Soon he began publishing mini comics made by his friends and in a few short years has turned it into one of the most exciting new publishers in the world of independent literary comics, with books by some great and important cartoonists like Gabrielle Bell and David B.

Uncivilized Books recently announced their new Fall catalog and for a limited time are offering all 5 of these soon-to-be-released books for a discounted price of $65 (US) with free shipping. The highlight of the collection is a new graphic novel from renowned French cartoonist Joann Sfar called Pascin, about the life of the Jewish modernist painter of the same name. In addition there is Sophie Yanow's War of Streets and Houses, a reflection on the military origins of urban planning that she wrote during her participation in the Montreal student strikes in 2012, and That Night, A Fern Monster by Marzena Sowa and Berenika Kołomycka which is an all-ages children's comic about a boy whose mom gets turned into a fern.

The most interesting parts of the Fall catalog however are two books in Uncivilized's new "Critical Cartoons" series that seek to give a platform to new critical voices and let them explore a particular comics subject in thoughtful, provocative, long-form essays. The first is Ed vs. Yummy Fur by Brian Evenson which takes a look at Chester Brown's highly influential one-man anthology comic from the '90s Yummy Fur (which contained the original serialization of his now classic Ed The Happy Clown) and includes a new interview with the cartoonist. The second is Carl Barks' Duck: Your Average American by Peter Schilling Jr, examining Barks' classic 20-year run writing and drawing Donald Duck comics for Disney which, to this day, are considered some of the finest comics ever produced.

When I was a kid, you used to be able to subscribe to a comic like Amazing Spider-man and get every issue that came out mailed to your house (hey, maybe they still do this, who knows). A number of small and boutique publishers like Uncivilized Books have taken a variation of this model and offer "line-wide" subscriptions to pre-order their entire catalog. It's a sure win for the publisher and helps them guarantee a print run, but it's also a great deal for readers that enjoy getting some new and interesting comics in the mail on a periodic basis. In fact, the first 50 subscribers will also get three new mini comics sent to them for free. The offer only lasts until Nov. 15th.

Read more about the books and sign up here.

4. Dogs of War

Written by Sheila Keenan; art by Nathan Fox; colors by Rico Renzi and Guy Major

Scholastic's newest school-friendly graphic novel from their Graphix line is Dogs of War, a collection of three stories showing how canines have been brave and loyal members of the military in battle. While each story is fiction, they are inspired by true events.

The first story is set in the trenches of Belgium during World War I and stars Boots, a medic's dog trained to sniff out survivors in the aftermath of battle. She and the Scottish medic she assists get separated from their unit and taken in by a group of Irish soldiers. The second story takes place during World War II on a US base in Greenland and features a sled dog named Loki who comes in handy with navigating arctic, whiteout conditions when investigating a downed plane. The third story tells about a Vietnam vet who fought with a dog named Sheba that was trained to patrol for booby traps in the jungle.

Sheila Keenan, a writer who has written a number of illustrated non-fiction books for kids, teams with illustrator and comic artist Nathan Fox, most recently known for his cover work for DC's FBP: Federal Bureau of Physics series. Together they have obviously put in a lot of military research for this book. Interestingly, for an all-ages audience, they do not shy away from viscerally depicting the horrors of war and its effects on both people and animals. Particularly in the third chapter about Vietnam, there are some heart-wrenching scenes involving both the war itself and the haunting after-effects it has left the soldier with.

Fox is an amazing artist whose slightly exaggerated figures and ink-heavy brushwork usually lend his work a creepy and psychedelic feeling. It's interesting to see him dial that back a little here with a cleaner, more direct approach, yet the edge that is normally apparent in his previous books like Pigeons from Hell or Fluorescent Black still peeks through, especially when he's drawing battle scenes or simply setting the stage with grungy, muddy and foreboding battlegrounds. 

Dogs of War is available on Amazon now and in many comic shops and bookstores. You can read a pretty extensive preview on Amazon here.

5. Bad Houses

Written by Sara Ryan; art by Carla Speed McNeil
Dark Horse

Bad Houses is a new graphic novel that seems to be getting some really positive early word of mouth around the web. Warren Ellis said it was the best graphic novel he's read all year. Set in a small town in Oregon, it's about two teenagers, Anne and Lewis, who meet at an estate sale. Lewis' mother runs the sales in town, selling off the used junk from homes of deceased owners or that have been foreclosed on, while Anne comes from a family of hoarders. Both are trying not to become just like their parents but over the course of the book they learn a lot about themselves and about the histories of their families and of their town.

Sara Ryan is a novelist of young adult fiction and has won awards for her book Empress of the World and its sequel The Rules for Hearts. She's also very involved in comics, being a member of Portland's Periscope Studios and having written short comics for various anthologies including Hellboy: Weird Tales. This is her first graphic novel and she's paired with artist Carla Speed McNeil, best known for her award-winning series Finder that she has been writing, drawing and self-publishing since the 1990s. McNeil has a really appealing, clean and precise cartooning style. Even when illustrating more sci-fi oriented fare like Finder, her strength is in realistic gestures and expressions, so it makes sense to see her working on a character-driven story like this. For a publisher like Dark Horse that tends to be thought of as producing mostly horror and sci-fi material, it is also nice to see them expanding their line into a more comics-lit territory.

You can read a preview or order it online here.


The Fox #1
Mark Waid and Dean Haspiel team up for a revival of a pulp-era superhero called The Fox that is published through an imprint of Archie Comics, believe it or not. Preview the material here.

Rage of Poseidon
Anders Nilsen's latest graphic novel is about Poseidon in the 21st Century and is drawn all with silhouettes in a horizontal, accordion-style fold out book. Preview it here.

5 Film Transitions Worth Knowing

You see them every day, on TV shows, the news, and in movies, but how well do you know the most oft-used film transitions? Here are the big five:


The dissolve is an editing technique where one clip seems to fade—or dissolve—into the next. As the first clip is fading out, getting lighter and lighter, the second clip starts fading in, becoming more and more prominent. The process usually happens so subtly and so quickly, the viewer isn't even aware of the transition. The above video offers a great overview of the cut, with examples.


This transition is the opposite of the dissolve in that it draws attention to itself. The best example of the wipe is what's known as the Iris Wipe, which you usually find in silent films, like Buster Keaton's or the Merrie Melodies cartoons—the circle getting smaller and smaller. Other wipe shapes include stars, diamonds, and the old turning clock.

The Star Wars films are chock-full of attention-grabbing wipes. Here are two good examples from The Empire Strikes Back. The first shows the clock wipe; the second, the diagonal wipe (pay no attention to the broken blocks at the start of the second clip—that's a technical glitch, not part of the film).


As the name implies, in the basic cutaway, the filmmaker is moving from the action to something else, and then coming back to the action. Cutaways are used to edit out boring shots (like people driving to their destination—why not see what the character is seeing or even thinking sometimes?) or add action to a sequence by changing the pace of the footage. My favorite use of the cutaway is in Family Guy, where the technique is used to insert throwaway gags. Here's a great example:


The L Cut, also called a split edit, is a very cool technique whose name dates back to the old analog film days.

The audio track on a strip of celluloid film runs along the side, near the sprocket holes. In the L Cut transition, the editor traditionally cut the picture frames out of the strip, but left the narrow audio track intact, thus creating an L-shape out of the film. A different camera angle, or scene was then spliced into the spot where the old picture was, so the audio from the old footage was now cut over the new footage.

Of course, with digital editing, one doesn't need to physically cut anything anymore, but the transition is still widely used, and the name has remained the same.

Split edits like these are especially effective in portraying conversations. Imagine how a simple conversation between two people might look if all we ever got was a ping-pong edit back and forth between the two people talking. The L cut allows the viewer to read the emotion on the listener's face, as the dialogue continues over, as we see in this clip from Ferris Bueller's Day Off:


The fade in and fade out usually signal the beginning or end of a scene, especially if the filmmaker is fading to/from black. This is the most common, of course, but fading to white has become trendy, too. The opening title sequence from the HBO series Six Feet Under featured many fades to black and a couple brief fades to white. The very last bit in the sequence fades slowly to white, and is my all-time favorite example of the transition:

King Features Syndicate
11 Things You Might Not Know About Blondie
King Features Syndicate
King Features Syndicate

For close to 90 years, Chic Young’s comic strip Blondie has been a constant in newspapers around the world, reaching an estimated 280 million readers in 55 countries. Despite its title, most readers are probably more familiar with Blondie’s husband, the sandwich-consuming Dagwood. Check out some facts about the comic’s origins, its feature film franchise, and a very unfortunate incident involving a dirty word that rocked Blondie's readership to its core.


An illustration of Blondie and Dagwood Bumstead of 'Blondie' comics fame
IDW/King Features Syndicate

Before Blondie debuted in 1930, cartoonist Chic Young had attempted to create a female-driven strip without a lot of success. Titles like Beautiful Bab and Dumb Dora were some of the more unfortunate ideas, with Young preoccupied by the notion of having a vapid leading lady. For Blondie, Young initially pursued the “dumb blonde” stereotype before dialing down the chauvinism and allowing the single, mingling Blondie Boopadoop to appear at least as intelligent as the succession of boyfriends courting her in the strip. Later, Blondie would become the voice of reason [PDF] to fiance Dagwood Bumstead’s bumbling presence, inverting the gender roles of Young’s previous strips.


For the debut of Blondie, Young’s syndicate, King Features, launched an aggressive mailing campaign in an effort to entice newspaper editors to pick up the strip. Editors first received a letter “announcing” the engagement of Blondie and Dagwood, which was followed by protestations from the Bumstead family and eventually a cardboard suitcase that cautioned them not to peek inside. Naturally, everyone did. Inside was a paper doll cutout of Blondie wearing lingerie, with her “wardrobe” (more paper doll clothing) included.


He might strike you as incapable of tying his own shoes, but there was a time when Dagwood Bumstead carried real potential. Instead of his current working-stiff incarnation, Dagwood was originally heir to his billionaire father’s railroad fortune. But when he married Blondie in 1933, the Bumstead family effectively disowned him, fearing Blondie was only out for his money. The couple’s move to the middle class was Young’s way of acknowledging the fallout of the Great Depression.


With the Bumstead family highly skeptical of Dagwood’s plans to marry Blondie, the would-be groom decided to earn their blessing by going on a hunger strike that played out in real time. For 28 days, Dagwood refused to eat and grew frail until his family finally consented to the marriage. The narrative stunt drew the attention of new readers, raising Blondie’s profile on the comic pages.


A 'Blondie' comic strip with Blondie and Dagwood Bumstead in bed together
King Features Syndicate

For a good portion of the 20th century, it was seen as proper to depict married couples on television or in comics as sleeping in twin beds, eliminating any hint of carnal activities happening off-screen. (Or in this case, off-panel.) But Young thought this was juvenile and insisted that Blondie and Dagwood appear sleeping in the same double bed. Perhaps not coincidentally, the two had their first child, Alexander, in 1934.


While Blondie and Dagwood got along without incident, the same couldn’t be said for another couple featured in the strip’s early years. One of Blondie’s earlier suitors, Hiho, married girlfriend Betty and the two became supporting characters in the strip. Hiho and Betty had what could be considered a tumultuous relationship, with each threatening to punch out the other on a regular basis [PDF]. Young eventually phased the two out, replacing them with far less volatile Bumstead neighbors Herb and Tootsie Woodley.


After the atomic bomb was dropped twice to bring an end to World War II, American citizens understandably grew skittish about the ramifications of wielding such power. To ease their minds, the U.S. military partnered with Young to produce 1949’s Dagwood Splits the Atom, a “fun” booklet that sees the character shrunk down in size to help readers understand atomic power and nuclear fission. Although other comic characters like Popeye appear, it’s Dagwood who has the honors of blowing a neutron into a uranium atom in order to split it.


Although Young’s son Dean had been working on Blondie and was prepared to take over writing duties when his father passed away in 1973, newspapers weren’t so sure. According to Young, more than 600 papers canceled the strip when his father died, fearing it would suffer a drop in quality. Young persevered and eventually won over the naysayers, reclaiming space in the papers and adding several hundred more. (Currently, Young writes the strip and artist John Marshall illustrates.)


In 1938, with Blondie firmly entrenched on the comics pages, King Features and Young agreed to license the strip to Columbia Pictures for a series of live-action feature films. The movies were shot quickly and economically with stars Penny Singleton and Arthur Lake portraying Blondie and Dagwood, respectively. The studio produced 28 features between 1938 and 1950. Attempts to adapt the comic to television were less successful. A 1954 pilot was unaired, while a 1957 series lasted just one season. Another 13-episode iteration was produced in 1968-69, with Bruce Lee appearing as a karate instructor in the last episode.


With their relatively trivial subject matter, comic strips rarely have the potential to offend. A 2004 Blondie entry proved to be an exception. In the strip, a character uses the word “scumbag” to describe a baseball umpire. Readers wrote in to Dean Young to lodge complaints, with Mr. Young and his proofreaders apparently unaware that “scumbag” is a euphemism for a used prophylactic.


A 2005 'Blondie' comic strip featuring a number of other comic characters
King Features Syndicate

Before shared universes were a thing, Blondie’s 75th anniversary strip published September 4, 2005 had a cameo from virtually every notable comic strip character past and present. As Dagwood and Blondie hold up a cake—shaped like a sandwich, naturally—they’re surrounded by Ziggy, Garfield, Beetle Bailey, Hagar the Horrible, Dilbert, and dozens of others. In the weeks leading up to the strip, the comics pages were full of Blondie references and sight gags.


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