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Fellowship of Reconciliation FORUSA.org
Fellowship of Reconciliation FORUSA.org

5 Most Interesting Comics of the Week

Fellowship of Reconciliation FORUSA.org
Fellowship of Reconciliation FORUSA.org

Every Wednesday, I preview the five 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. Martin Luther King And The Montgomery Story

Written by Alfred Hassler and Benton Resnik; artist unknown
Fellowship of Reconciliation/Top Shelf Comics

Back in August, Top Shelf Comics published March: Book One, a new graphic novel autobiography written by Civil Rights hero and US Congressman John Lewis (along with co-writer Andrew Aydin and artist Nate Powell). What inspired Lewis to tell his story in this format was a comic book published in 1957 called Martin Luther King And The Montgomery Story, a recounting of the bus boycott in Montgomery, Alabama and an introduction to King and his philosophy of non-violent protest. This comic was integral to the rise of the civil rights movement in the U.S. and now is being released for the first time as an official digital comic.

The original comic was produced by a non-profit, civil justice organization called the Fellowship of Reconciliation (FOR) which to this day still distributes the book in pamphlet form, translated into many languages. FOR's Director of Publications at the time, Alfred Hassler, wrote the comic with help from Benton Resnik, a veteran of the then-struggling comic book industry. They worked on it with input from Dr. King himself and Resnik managed the production of the comic, but no credits were printed in the book. To this day it is not known who the artist of the book was. FOR has now partnered with Top Shelf Comics, the publisher of Lewis' graphic novel, to distribute the book in a digital bundle along with March: Book One via the Comixology digital platform for web, tablet and mobile devices. 

The comic tells the story of how the Montgomery Bus Boycott came to be, from Rosa Parks quietly refusing to move to the back of the bus to the Supreme Court ruling bus segregation in Montgomery illegal. It also tells, in Martin Luther King, Jr.'s own words, how the "Montgomery Method" could be used to gain freedom across the nation and how similar methods were used by Mahatma Gandhi. It is very nicely illustrated, and even though it is dated in its comic book style and fairly antiseptic in its portrayal of the uglier parts of the racial struggles of that time, it is still a very compelling and informative read. 

When Dr. King and the Fellowship of Reconciliation were looking for the best way to get the message of the Montgomery story out to African Americans, the idea of producing it as a comic book appealed to them for a number of reasons. Primarily, the use of pictures and words would allow people of all ages and reading abilities to understand what was being told. At the time, many blacks who were found reading books, newspapers or magazines by white employers would see them confiscated and destroyed. Comic books, having been recently decimated as an industry by a panic that targeted them as a cause of juvenile delinquency, were the perfect "low brow" delivery method to fly under the radar of suspicious white segregationists. 

The comic spread far and wide, delivering King's message to those who needed it. It directly inspired peaceful protests across the nation, such as the Woolworth sit-in by The Greensboro Four, and has even inspired similar movements in South Africa and most recently in Egypt where it was translated into Arabic and Farsi. It might possibly be one of the most important comic books ever made and it is now exploring a new avenue via Comixology.

I highly recommend reading this detailed history of the making of the comic, written by March: Book One co-author Andrew Aydin.

At this time, the comic cannot be purchased individually but you can buy it with March Book One for $9.99 on Comixology here and all the proceeds go to the Fellowship of Reconciliation.

2. A Gas Gas Gas

Written by Nate DiMeo; art by Dan Berry
BoingBoing

BoingBoing has become quite the breeding ground for high quality webcomics of late. Branching from the success of Ed Piskor's Hip Hop Family Tree (which is hitting stores this month as a graphic novel from Fantagraphics), they started a new webcomic from Lea Hernandez two weeks ago called Bani Garu, and this past week launched the first of a new series called Memory Palace Comics.

Nate DiMeo is a producer and contributor to various NPR shows like All Things Considered and Morning Edition and is the host of his own podcast The Memory Palace. Each episode of his show tells a true but perhaps little-known story from a broad range of historical subjects presented in the vein of popular storytelling radio programs such as This American Life. DiMeo decided to begin adapting some of these stories visually by partnering with cartoonist Dan Berry to create this new webcomic.

Berry himself is no stranger to podcasts. He is the host of one of my favorite podcasts, Make It Then Tell Everybody, in which he interviews other comic artists and illustrators about their process. He is a British cartoonist who works primarily in pen and watercolor. His charming style, within the creepy but humorous context of this piece, has a bit of an Edward Gorey or Richard Sala vibe to it.

In "A Gas Gas Gas", DiMeo and Berry tell the true story of a mysterious incident in 1944 in which over 20 people in Mattoon, Illinois suddenly and mysteriously were stricken with gas poisoning. Who or what was causing this widespread epidemic? The story unfolds in the way that listeners of shows like This American Life or RadioLab will find familiar and enjoyable, as the narrator attempts to get to the truth of the matter at hand and put it into a little bit of perspective.

You can read "A Gas Gas Gas" here and DiMeo suggests listening to the original podcast here as you read along for added effect. Hopefully, more installments will be added soon.

3. Amazing X-men #1

Written by Jason Aaron; art by Ed McGuiness
Marvel Comics

Nightcrawler, the X-men's adventure-loving, teleporting, demonic-blue elf, died three years ago in the crossover event Second Coming, sacrificing himself to save the so-called "Mutant Messiah" named Hope. Three years is kind of an eternity for any character to be dead in the world of superhero comics. Then again, there has been a darker, more violent version of Nightcrawler from the "Age of Apocalypse" alternate universe that has been hanging out in comics like Uncanny X-Force for most of that time. Also, in Wolverine & The X-men, there have been ongoing appearances by mischievous creatures referred to as "Bamfs" who seems to share Nightcrawler's teleporting ability and the sound effect ("Bamf!") it makes. I guess there's also a Nightcrawler in Marvel's Ultimate Universe of comics which is still chugging along (barely). So, these three years have not been totally devoid of Nightcrawler but, if you've missed the real deal, good news: He's coming back in a new series called Amazing X-men.

Marvel already publishes more X-men books than most people can reasonably keep up with, but this new one is actually replacing the recently ended Astonishing X-men, resulting in no actual net gain of X-books. It is written by Jason Aaron and will act as a companion book to Aaron's popular Wolverine & The X-men. The cast of that book, which centers around the teachers and students of the Jean Grey School For Higher Learning, has grown quickly since it launched in 2011. Aaron and Marvel have decided to move some of the regular non-student cast into this more classic, X-men team adventure comic so that W&TXM can re-focus on being a book about the school. 

In the first arc of this new series, Wolverine receives a message from the afterlife from his old friend Nightcrawler and decides to form a team to help bring him back. The new team consists of Storm, Northstar, Iceman, Beast and Firestar. Yes, that Firestar. Originally from the old Saturday morning cartoon Spider-man and His Amazing Friends, Firestar has been kicking around the Marvel Universe for years without finding a real permanent place. This is the first time she'll be a member of the X-men.

Nightcrawler's death had a big emotional impact on his teammates and his loss has been felt by all of them, but especially Wolverine. One of the reasons Logan has become the headmaster of the Jean Grey School was to try to be a better man in honor of his old friend. It's one of the great things about the X-men as a team book how its large, sprawling cast relates to each other in different ways. Wolverine, especially, seems to have poignant relationships with many of the longtime members in ways that soften his tough guy exterior. These are the kinds of things that  Chris Claremont, the architect of the modern day X-men from the 70s to the 90s, instilled in the DNA of the book. New writers like Jason Aaron come into these books seeking to capture some of that old magic in their new stories.

There's a short preview of the first issue available here.

4. Maria M.

By Gilbert Hernandez
Fantagraphics

Some of my favorite Gilbert Hernandez comics are ones that he wrote to be comic adaptations of fictional B-movies starring his popular and endearing creation, Fritz, the buxom, lispy therapist-turned-actress. So far there have been three: Chance in Hell, The Troublemakers and Love From The Shadows. It's a clever device that allows Hernandez to tell sexy, pulpy stories that are outside yet still connected to the continuity of his usual stories about the immigrants and descendants of the fictional Latin American country of Palomar. He always seems to deftly capture the B-movie quality of films like this in his drawings through his staging of scenes, his "camera angles" and his use of stilted dialogue. The fact that these stories are actually movies made within Hernandez' Palomar continuity is mostly incidental to the reading of the books but they add a fun meta-layer to it for  fans of his work.

In his latest, Maria M., he adds a new layer to the concept. In this "movie", Fritz is starring in an adaptation of the life story of her mother Maria, which Gilbert has previously told in his classic graphic novel Poison River (originally serialized in the long-running, groundbreaking anthology comic he has done with his brother Jaime, Love & Rockets). So, for the record, this one is a comic book adaptation of a fake film adaptation of the fictional life of a comic book character. In the book, we meet Maria as she comes to America and is lured into the world of pornography and crime, eventually marrying a drug lord. 

Fantagraphics has a NSFW 13-page preview here.

5. Alex + Ada #1

Written by Jonathan Luna and Sarah Vaughn; art by Jonathan Luna
Image Comics

The Luna brothers (Jonathan and Joshua) were Image Comics mainstays in the early 2000s, producing three back-to-back high-concept mini-series that combined a Hollywood style of lite comedy and suspenseful drama packaged with polished digitally colored artwork whose use of blurs and lighting effects gave their comics a glossy sheen that makes them look like stills from an animated film. Beginning with Ultra, their super heroine as Sex in the City romance comic followed by Girls, a zombie-horror story in which the "zombies" are beautiful, naked, flesh-eating women, and finally The Sword, a Kill Bill-stye revenge story involving a supernatural sword, the Luna Brothers made fun genre comics, usually starring strong female characters. And then, in 2010, they took some time off from making comics.

This week, one of the brothers, Jonathan, makes his return to comics (without Joshua but the two plan on a new collaboration soon). Coincidentally, he's been gone from comics the same amount of time as Nightcrawler has been dead, and similarly, it feels longer than it's been. This time out, Jonathan has teamed up with writer Sarah Vaughn who is making her debut in print comics after a nerve injury forced her to abandon the drawing of her webcomic co-creation Sparkshooter

Alex + Ada is a 12-issue mini-series set in the near future, in which a lonely, detached young man named Alex is given the gift of a state-of-the art female android named Ada to be his romantic companion. With Luna's cold, emotionless take on this world, think Weird Science directed by Stanley Kubrick. The future Alex lives in is a mere extension of our own, with humans living a very passive existence, telepathically thinking commands to various artificially intelligent devices around their homes and offices ("Unlock door." "Lights on."). A year before, an incident occurred in which the first AI achieved sentience so the lines between humans and robots are blurring, which sets the stage nicely for the story's unnatural romantic pairing. 


You can read a preview as well as an interview with Luna and Vaughn here.

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10 Things We Know About The Handmaid’s Tale Season 2
Hulu
Hulu

Though Hulu has been producing original content for more than five years now, 2017 turned out to be a banner year for the streaming network with the debut of The Handmaid’s Tale on April 26, 2017. The dystopian drama, based on Margaret Atwood’s 1985 book, imagines a future in which a theocratic regime known as Gilead has taken over the United States and enslaved fertile women so that the group’s most powerful couples can procreate.

If it all sounds rather bleak, that’s because it is—but it’s also one of the most impressive new series to arrive in years (as evidenced by the slew of awards it has won, including eight Emmy and two Golden Globe Awards). Fortunately, fans left wanting more don’t have that much longer to wait, as season two will premiere on Hulu in April. In the meantime, here’s everything we know about The Handmaid’s Tale’s second season.

1. IT WILL PREMIERE WITH TWO EPISODES.

When The Handmaid’s Tale returns on April 25, 2018, Hulu will release the first two of its 13 new episodes on premiere night, then drop another new episode every Wednesday.

2. MARGARET ATWOOD WILL CONTINUE TO HELP SHAPE THE NARRATIVE.

Fans of Atwood’s novel who didn’t like that season one went beyond the original source material are in for some more disappointment in season two, as the narrative will again go beyond the scope of what Atwood covered. But creator/showrunner Bruce Miller doesn’t necessarily agree with the criticism they received in season one.

“People talk about how we're beyond the book, but we're not really," Miller told Newsweek. "The book starts, then jumps 200 years with an academic discussion at the end of it, about what's happened in those intervening 200 years. We're not going beyond the novel. We're just covering territory [Atwood] covered quickly, a bit more slowly.”

Even more importantly, Miller's got Atwood on his side. The author serves as a consulting producer on the show, and the title isn’t an honorary one. For Miller, Atwood’s input is essential to shaping the show, particularly as it veers off into new territories. And they were already thinking about season two while shooting season one. “Margaret and I had started to talk about the shape of season two halfway through the first [season],” he told Entertainment Weekly.

In fact, Miller said that when he first began working on the show, he sketched out a full 10 seasons worth of storylines. “That’s what you have to do when you’re taking on a project like this,” he said.

3. MOTHERHOOD WILL BE A CENTRAL THEME.

As with season one, motherhood is a key theme in the series. And June/Offred’s pregnancy will be one of the main plotlines. “So much of [Season 2] is about motherhood,” Elisabeth Moss said during the Television Critics Association press tour. “Bruce and I always talked about the impending birth of this child that’s growing inside her as a bit of a ticking time bomb, and the complications of that are really wonderful to explore. It’s a wonderful thing to have a baby, but she’s having it potentially in this world that she may not want to bring it into. And then, you know, if she does have the baby, the baby gets taken away from her and she can’t be its mother. So, obviously, it’s very complicated and makes for good drama. But, it’s a very big part of this season, and it gets bigger and bigger as the show goes on.”

4. THE RESISTANCE IS COMING.

Just because June is pregnant, don’t expect her to sit on the sidelines as the resistance to Gilead continues. “There is more than one way to resist," Moss said. “There is resistance within [June], and that is a big part of this season.”

5. WE’LL GET TO SEE THE COLONIES.

A scene from 'The Handmaid's Tale'
Hulu

Miller, understandably, isn’t eager to share too many details about the new season. “I’m not being cagey!” he swore to Entertainment Weekly. “I just want the viewers to experience it for themselves!” What he did confirm is that the new season will bring us to the colonies—reportedly in episode two—and show what life is like for those who have been sent there.

It will also delve further into what life is like for the refugees who managed to escape Gilead, like Luke and Moira.

6. MARISA TOMEI WILL APPEAR IN AN EPISODE.

Though she won’t be a regular cast member, Miller recently announced that Oscar winner Marisa Tomei will make a guest appearance in the new season’s second episode. Yes, the one that will show us the Colonies. In fact, that’s where we’ll meet her; Tomei is playing the wife of a Commander.

7. WE’LL LEARN MORE ABOUT THE ORIGINS OF GILEAD.

As a group shrouded in secrecy, we still don’t know much about how and where Gilead began. That will change a bit in season two. When discussing some of the questions viewers will have answered, executive producer Warren Littlefield promised that, "How did Gilead come about? How did this happen?” would be two of them. “We get to follow the historical creation of this world,” he said.

8. THERE WILL BE AT LEAST ONE HANDMAID FUNERAL.

A scene from 'The Handmaid's Tale'
Hulu

While Miller wouldn’t talk about who the handmaids are mourning in a teaser shot from season two that shows a handmaid’s funeral, he was excited to talk about creating the look for the scene. “Everything from the design of their costumes to the way they look is so chilling,” Miller told Entertainment Weekly. “These scenes that are so beautiful, while set in such a terrible place, provide the kind of contrast that makes me happy.”

9. ELISABETH MOSS SAYS THE TONE WILL BE DARKER.

Like season one, Miller says that The Handmaid’s Tale's second season will again balance its darker, dystopian themes with glimpses of hopefulness. “I think the first season had very difficult things, and very hopeful things, and I think this season is exactly the same way,” he told the Los Angeles Times. “There come some surprising moments of real hope and victory, and strength, that come from surprising places.”

Moss, however, has a different opinion. “It's a dark season,” she told reporters at TCA. “I would say arguably it's darker than Season 1—if that's possible.”

10. IT WILL ALSO BE BLOODIER.

A scene from 'The Handmaid's Tale'
Hulu

When pressed about how the teaser images for the new season seemed to feature a lot of blood, Miller conceded: “Oh gosh, yeah. There may be a little more blood this season.”

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The Ohio State University Archives
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The Plucky Teenage Stowaway Aboard the First American Expedition to Antarctica
The Ohio State University Archives
The Ohio State University Archives

Documentary filmmaker and journalist Laurie Gwen Shapiro came across the name "William Gawronski" in 2013 while researching a story about Manhattan's St. Stanislaus, the oldest Polish Catholic church in the U.S. In 1930, more than 500 kids from the church had held a parade in honor of Billy Gawronski, who had just returned from two years aboard the first American expedition to Antarctica, helmed by naval officer Richard E. Byrd.

The teenager had joined the expedition in a most unusual way: by stowing aboard Byrd's ships the City of New York and the Eleanor Bolling not once, not twice, but four times total. He swam across the Hudson River to sneak onto the City of New York and hitchhiked all the way to Virginia to hide on the Eleanor Bolling.

"I thought, 'Wait, what?" Shapiro tells Mental Floss.

Intrigued by Billy's persistence and pluck, Shapiro dove into the public records and newspaper archives to learn more about him. She created an Excel spreadsheet of Gawronskis all along the East Coast and began cold-calling them.

"Imagine saying, 'Did you have an ancestor that jumped in the Hudson and stowed away to the Antarctic in 1928?'" Shapiro says. She got "a lot of hang-ups."

On the 19th call, to a Gawronski in Cape Elizabeth, Maine, an elderly woman with a Polish accent answered the phone. "That boy was my husband," Gizela Gawronski told her. Billy had died in 1981, leaving behind a treasure trove of mementos, including scrapbooks, notebooks, yearbooks, and hundreds of photos.

"I have everything," Gizela told Shapiro. "I was hoping someone would find me one day."

Three days later, Shapiro was in Maine poring over Billy's papers with Gizela, tears in her eyes.

These materials became the basis of Shapiro's new book The Stowaway: A Young Man's Extraordinary Adventure to Antarctica. It's a rollicking good read full of fascinating history and bold characters that takes readers from New York to Tahiti, New Zealand to Antarctica, and back to New York again. It's brimming with the snappy energy and open-minded optimism of the Jazz Age.

Shapiro spent six weeks in Antarctica herself to get a feel for Billy's experiences. "I wanted to reach the Ross Ice barrier like Billy did," she says.

Read on for an excerpt from chapter four.

***

As night dropped on September 15, Billy jumped out of his second-floor window and onto the garden, a fall softened by potatoes and cabbage plants and proudly photographed sunflowers. You would think that the boy had learned from his previous stowaway attempt to bring more food or a change of dry clothes. Not the case.

An overnight subway crossing into Brooklyn took him to the Tebo Yacht Basin in Gowanus. He made for the location he'd written down in his notes: Third Avenue and Twenty-Third Street.

In 1928 William Todd's Tebo Yacht Basin was a resting spot— the spot—for the yachts of the Atlantic seaboard's most aristocratic and prosperous residents. The swanky yard berthed more than fifty staggering prizes of the filthy rich. Railroad executive Cornelius Vanderbilt kept his yacht O-We-Ra here; John Vanneck, his Amphitrite. Here was also where to find Warrior, the largest private yacht afloat, owned by the wealthiest man in America, public utilities baron Harrison Williams; yeast king (and former mayor of Cincinnati) Julian Fleischman's $625,000 twin-screw diesel yacht, the Carmago; General Motors president Alfred P. Sloan's Rene; shoe scion H. W. Hanan's Dauntless; and J. P. Morgan's Corsair III. The Tebo Yacht Basin's clubroom served fish chowder luncheons to millionaires in leather-backed mission chairs.

Todd, a great friend of Byrd's, lavished attention on his super-connected pal with more contacts than dollars. He had provided major funding for Byrd's 1926 flight over the North Pole, and helped the commander locate and refit two of the four Antarctic expedition ships for $285,900, done at cost. Todd loved puffy articles about him as much as the next man, and press would help extract cash from the millionaires he actively pursued as new clients; helping out a famous friend might prove cheaper than the advertisements he placed in upmarket magazines. Throughout that summer, Byrd mentioned Todd's generous support frequently.

Two weeks after the City of New York set sail, the Chelsea, the supply ship of the expedition, was still docked at the Tebo workyard and not scheduled to depart until the middle of September. Smith's Dock Company in England had built the refurbished 170-foot, 800-ton iron freighter for the British Royal Navy at the tail end of the Great War. First christened patrol gunboat HMS Kilmarnock, her name was changed to the Chelsea during her post–Royal Navy rumrunning days.

Not long before she was scheduled to depart, Byrd announced via a press release that he was renaming this auxiliary ship, too, after his mother, Eleanor Bolling. But the name painted on the transom was Eleanor Boling, with one l—the painter's mistake. As distressing as this was (the name was his mother's, after all), Byrd felt a redo would be too expensive and a silly use of precious funds. Reporters and PR staff were simply instructed to always spell the name with two ls.

As Billy eyed the ship in dock days after his humiliation on board the New York, he realized here was another way to get to Antarctica. The old, rusty-sided cargo ship would likely be less guarded than the flagship had been.

As September dragged on, Billy, back in Bayside, stiffened his resolve. No one would think he'd try again! On September 15, once more he swam out during the night to board a vessel bound for Antarctica.

Since his visit two weeks prior, Billy had studied his news clippings and knew that the Bolling was captained by thirty-six-year-old Gustav L. Brown, who'd been promoted weeks earlier from first mate of the New York when Byrd added the fourth ship to his fleet. Billy liked what he read. According to those who sailed under Brown's command, this tall and slender veteran of the Great War was above all genteel, and far less crotchety than the New York's Captain Melville. Captain Brown's education went only as far as high school, and while he wasn't against college, he admired honest, down-to-earth workers. Like his colleague Captain Melville, Brown had begun a seafaring life at fourteen. He seemed just the sort of man to take a liking to a teenage stowaway with big dreams.

Alas, the crew of the second ship headed to Antarctica now knew to look for stowaways. In a less dramatic repeat of what had happened in Hoboken, an Eleanor Bolling seaman ousted Billy in the earliest hours of the morning. The kid had (unimaginatively) hidden for a second time in a locker under the lower forecastle filled with mops and bolts and plumbing supplies. The sailor brought him to Captain Brown, who was well named, as he was a man with a mass of brown hair and warm brown eyes. The kind captain smiled at Billy and praised the cheeky boy's gumption—his Swedish accent still heavy even though he'd made Philadelphia his home since 1920—yet Billy was escorted off to the dock and told to scram.

A few hours later, still under the cover of night, Billy stole back on board and was routed out a third time, again from the “paint locker.”

A third time? The Bolling's third in command, Lieutenant Harry Adams, took notes on the gutsy kid who had to be good material for the lucrative book he secretly hoped to pen. Most of the major players would score book deals after the expedition; the public was eager for adventure, or at least so publishers thought. The catch was that any deal had to be approved by Byrd: to expose any discord was to risk powerful support. Adams's book, Beyond the Barrier with Byrd: An Authentic Story of the Byrd Antarctic Exploring Expedition, was among the best: more character study than thriller, his grand sense of humor evident in his selection of anecdotes that the others deemed too lightweight to include.

Billy was not the only stowaway that September day. Also aboard was a girl Adams called Sunshine, the "darling of the expedition," a flirt who offered to anyone who asked that she wanted to be the first lady in Antarctica. (In the restless era between world wars, when movies gave everyone big dreams, even girl stowaways were not uncommon.) Brown told a reporter that Sunshine had less noble aspirations, and soon she, too, was removed from the Bolling, but not before she gave each crew member a theatrical kiss.

As the early sun rose, Captain Brown called Billy over to him from the yacht yard's holding area where he had been asked to wait with the giggling Sunshine until his father arrived. The captain admired Billy's gumption, but it was time for the seventeen-year-old to go now and not waste any more of anyone's time.

As Lieutenant Adams recorded later, "Perhaps this matter of getting rid of Bill was entered up in the Eleanor Bolling log as the first scientific achievement of the Byrd Antarctic expedition."

*** 

From THE STOWAWAY: A Young Man's Extraordinary Adventure to Antarctica by Laurie Gwen Shapiro. Copyright © 2018 by Laurie Gwen Shapiro. Reprinted by permission of Simon & Schuster, Inc.

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