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5 Most Interesting Comics of the Week

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Fantagraphics

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. Hip Hop Family Tree


By Ed Piskor
Fantagraphics

Growing up an uncool white kid listening to classic rock and transitioning into an uncool adult listening to grunge and shoe gazer indie rock, I don't know all that much about hip hop's early days and its various pioneers. What I've always loved, though, are books that tackle the history of a subject that I'm not that well versed in and one that maybe hasn't been tackled in this way before. If you're not familiar with the early days of hip hop and its rise as a musical art form from the streets and clubs of Queens and the Bronx, you'll be fascinated to read about it in Ed Piskor's new graphic novel Hip Hop Family Tree. If you are already familiar… wow, are you going to love this book.

Ed Piskor's "thing" as a comics creator may be telling the definitive history of subjects that have their roots in underground culture. His last book was the equally fascinating Wizzywig, a fictionalized history of hacking and social engineering. With Hip Hop Family Tree, he's abandoned the device of using a fictional protagonist and instead uses "old school" comic book narration boxes to tell the myriad, interlocking stories of the real people at the forefront of this music revolution – people like Kurtis Blow, DJ Kool Herc, Russell Simmons, Sylvia Robinson and Grandmaster Flash. Piskor aims to draw a parallel between hip hop and comics – two underground, often derided American art forms – by telling this story as if it was a comic book from the same era of the late '70s.

He does this by using the aforementioned caption boxes and halftone dots, and the book itself is printed on paper that's been made to look like browned-out, old comic newsprint. There are some clever uses of printing effects like off-register coloring (a common accident in the old days of printing where the color plates weren't lined up, resulting in a slightly off-center, ghosted double image) to portray the intense vibrations of the bass in the dance club scenes. His art in this book likens itself to the great Marvel Comics artists of the '70s but Piskor's style I think is naturally derived from alternative comics artists like Robert Crumb or Chester Brown which also makes for an interesting underground parallel. In an amusing short comic included at the end of the book, he further enunciates the similarities between rappers and superheroes with their colorful clothes, outlandish names and their epic "battles."

Piskor has a big story to tell and at times it can be a lot to keep up with. He is constantly introducing as well as revisiting various players in the story as he moves from the mid-70s into the early '80s. He shows the rise of early stars like Grandmaster Flash and the Sugarhill Gang and hints at stars to come with frequent appearances by the kids who would one day become Run-D.M.C. He also explores some interesting behind-the-scenes aspects of hip hop's evolution: the record store owners who suddenly found an influx of customers looking for obscure records to pull "breaks" from; the rockers like Debbie Harry who found themselves intrigued and inspired by this new sound; and graffiti artists like Fab Five Freddy who were helping to create the look that went along with the sound, while bridging hip hop with the elite New York art and music scenes.

Hip Hop Family Tree began as a popular, serialized webcomic on BoingBoing and is collected in this first print edition from Fantagraphics. Piskor plans more volumes and is just about finished with the second.

Read more about it here and read a preview.

2. Showa: A History of Japan 1926-1939

By Shigeru Mizuki; translation by Zack Davisson
Drawn & Quarterly

Meanwhile, another definitive history of an even larger and broader subject is Shigeru Mizuki's Showa: A History of Japan, which sees its first American release from Drawn & Quarterly this week. This is the beginning of a multi-volume series that will detail the Showa period that went from 1926 to 1989, corresponding with the reign of Emperor Hirohito.

Mizuki is a manga cartoonist best known for his yōkai horror manga and subsequent anime GeGeGe no Kitarō, but has also written and illustrated WWII-era biographies and memoirs. Similarly to Piskor's approach to telling the history of hip hop, Mizuki embraces the medium of comics and manga in the way he tells Japan's history. Half of the book is illustrated with a detailed, photo-realistic approach while the rest is illustrated in a more whimsical, cartooning style. Mizuki was a child during the years this volume is set in so he uses his own life experiences in autobiographical vignettes set against the historical backdrops. He also uses one of his own fictional characters, Nezumi Otoko from GeGeGe no Kitarō, to narrate the book. Zack Davisson, who translated the work for Drawn & Quarterly, likens this on his blog to "What if Carl Barks had written Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States but done it as a comic book using Donald Duck as the narrator?"

In its original publication in Japan, Showa ran for eight volumes, and this first English volume collects the equivalent of two of them.
This blog has some nice preview pages showing the way Mizuki uses two different drawing styles in this book. Drawn & Quarterly also has a brief preview here.

3. The Tower of Power Part One


By Box Brown
Self-published

Digital comics are becoming more and more of a viable opportunity for independent cartoonists to get their work out to the public and, unlike with webcomics, actually be able to sell them to the readers. When digital comics giant Comixology launched their Submit program for independent creators, it seemed like a boon to this area of the industry, but it has become so popular that creators now have to wait six months for their submitted books to appear in the storefront. There hasn't been a great mechanism for selling downloadable digital files until the web payment startup Gumroad launched last year. This easy-to-use service was created to allow creative people to sell their digital products directly to their audience without a complicated setup or checkout process. A number of cartoonists have begun to flock to this service (as well as professional musicians like Girl Talk and Eminem) to sell PDF copies of their comics. All that seems to be missing now is a mechanism that more easily allows creators and potential readers to find each other.

Box Brown has just released his newest comic, The Tower of Power Part One, as a "pay what you want" PDF comic, sold via Gumroad. Brown has been working on a graphic novel biography of the late professional wrestler Andre The Giant that will be released through First Second next year. As a departure from that research-heavy non-fiction work, he decided to go the opposite direction with an out there, sci-fi comic. The Tower of Power is set in an alternate future where Jones Anthony, the "greatest mind of our generation", commits suicide by driving into the sun, leaving behind a DNA sample and a request not to be cloned. Eventually, a rogue scientist goes against those wishes and the cloned child that is created is adopted by an unsuspecting family.

The story is a fun, crazy read with floating people, wizard senators, sullen, disaffected teenagers and plenty of satirical references to government ineffectiveness, social media and celebrity.  Brown actually created the book during the recent government shutdown and it's partly a reaction to the ridiculousness of those proceedings. His plan is for this to be an ongoing comic that he will add new installments to in between other projects, and release them periodically over the next couple of years.

I always think of Brown's work in terms of black and white, cleanly inked drawings, but with this project and his recent webcomic "Softcore" on the Studygroup website, he's been taking advantage of the digital medium to experiment with some eye-popping color palettes, not having to worry about how they might print.

Check out Box Brown's first installment of The Tower of Power which you can download as a PDF for any price you'd like here.

4. Bandette Vol. 1: Presto!


Written by Paul Tobin; art by Colleen Coover & others
Dark Horse

One of the big success stories in digital comics over the past year has been the new "digital first" publisher Monkeybrain Comics and the crown jewel of their collection, the award-winning Bandette by husband and wife team Paul Tobin and Colleen Coover. Monkeybrain publishers (another husband and wife team) Chris Roberson and Allison Baker have put together a varied catalog of fine comics that they publish directly through Comixology. Being a creator-friendly publisher, they allow the creators to take their comics to other publishers for print editions and even facilitate that relationship. In this case, Bandette is getting a new hardcover treatment through Dark Horse Comics.

Bandette is an utterly charming all-ages book about a cute teenage girl who wears a domino mask and a cape and causes mischief for the police and criminals alike in the streets of Paris. She's aided by a group of teenage street urchins and finds herself both helping and being pursued by the police inspector. It's a fun book with an appealing heroine that young, female readers, especially, would get a kick out of. Coover's wonderful drawing style - with hints of Darwyn Cooke's simple designs and energetic action scenes - is the big sell here. However, this print volume contains some new extra material including a prose piece by Tobin and some short stories with guest art from equally enjoyable artists such as Erika Moen, Steve Lieber, Jonathan Case and Jennifer Meyer.


Dark Horse has a preview and more info on their website.

5. Delusional

By Farel Dalrymple
Adhouse Books

Farel Dalrymple is a cartoonist and illustrator who probably doesn't produce enough comics work to please his fans. He's best known for his work with novelist Jonathan Lethem on Marvel's Omega the Unknown or even for his recent contribution to Brandon Graham's Prophet. In between these larger works, he's contributed to a number of anthologies and magazines as well as posted webcomics online. In this new collection called Delusional, Adhouse Books pulls together a number of these shorter pieces, supplemented by drawings and sketches.

Dalrymple is an award-winning illustrator with an earthy, sketchy drawing style that gives a sense of realness to his work even when he's drawing fantastic imagery like a boy with wings flying in Pop Gun War or a massive spaceship shaped like a man in Prophet. He is the latest artist to get this sort of art showcase treatment from design-focused publisher Adhouse (previously they've published similar books for Paul Pope, Stuart Immonen and others).

Adhouse has an extensive preview of the book online although, knowing Adhouse, I'm sure the production value of the printing will mean you should try to check it out in person.

In fact these photos on Dalrymple's Tumblr may be even more representative.

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The Brain Chemistry Behind Your Caffeine Boost
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Whether it’s consumed as coffee, candy, or toothpaste, caffeine is the world’s most popular drug. If you’ve ever wondered how a shot of espresso can make your groggy head feel alert and ready for the day, TED-Ed has the answer.

Caffeine works by hijacking receptors in the brain. The stimulant is nearly the same size and shape as adenosine, an inhibitory neurotransmitter that slows down neural activity. Adenosine builds up as the day goes on, making us feel more tired as the day progresses. When caffeine enters your system, it falls into the receptors meant to catch adenosine, thus keeping you from feeling as sleepy as you would otherwise. The blocked adenosine receptors also leave room for the mood-boosting compound dopamine to settle into its receptors. Those increased dopamine levels lead to the boost in energy and mood you feel after finishing your morning coffee.

For a closer look at how this process works, check out the video below.

[h/t TED-Ed]

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5 Tips for Becoming A Morning Person
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You’ve probably heard the term circadian rhythm. Your circadian rhythm is an internal clock that influences your daily routine: when to eat, when to sleep, and when to wake up. Our biological clocks are, to some extent, controlled by genetics. This means that some people are natural morning people while others are night owls by design. However, researchers say the majority of us fall somewhere in the middle, which is good news if you want to train yourself to wake up earlier.

In addition to squeezing more hours out of the day, there are plenty of other good reasons to resist hitting the snooze button, including increased productivity. One survey found that more than half of Americans say they feel at their best between 5 a.m. and noon. These findings support research from biologist Christopher Randler, who determined that earlier risers are happier and more proactive about goals, too.

If you love the idea of waking up early to get more done, but you just can't seem to will yourself from out under the covers, here are five effective tips that might help you roll out of bed earlier.

1. EASE INTO THE HABIT.

If you’re a die-hard night owl, chances are you’re not going to switch to a morning lark overnight. Old habits are hard to break, but they’re less challenging if you approach them realistically.

“Wake up early in increments,” Kelsey Torgerson, a licensed clinical social worker at Compassionate Counseling in St. Louis suggests. “If you normally wake up at 9:00 a.m., set the alarm to 8:30 a.m. for a week, then 8:00 a.m., then 7:30 a.m.”

Waking up three hours earlier can feel like a complete lifestyle change, but taking it 30 minutes at a time will make it a lot easier to actually stick to the plan. Gradually, you’ll become a true morning person, just don’t try to force it to happen overnight.

2. EXERCISE IN THE MORNING.

Your body releases endorphins when you exercise, so jumping on the treadmill or taking a run around the block is a great way to start the day on a high note. Also, according to the National Sleep Foundation, exercising early in the morning can mean you get a better overall sleep at night:

“In fact, people who work out on a treadmill at 7:00 a.m. sleep longer, experience deeper sleep cycles, and spend 75 percent more time in the most reparative stages of slumber than those who exercise at later times that day.”

If you don’t have much time in the morning, an afternoon workout is your second best bet. The Sleep Foundation says aerobic afternoon workouts can help you fall asleep faster and wake up less often throughout the night. “This may be because exercise raises your body’s temperature for about four to five hours,” they report. After that, your body’s core temperature decreases, which encourages it to switch into sleep mode.

3. MAKE YOUR BEDROOM IDEAL FOR SLEEP.

Whether it’s a noisy street or a bright streetlight, your bedroom environment might be making it difficult for you to sleep throughout the night, which can make waking up early challenging, as you haven’t had enough rest. There are, however, a few changes you can make to optimize your room for a good night’s sleep.

“Keep your bedroom neat and tidy,” Dr. Nancy Irwin, a Los Angeles-based doctor of psychology on staff as an expert in sleep hygiene at Seasons Recovery Centers in Malibu, suggests. “Waking up to clutter and chaos only makes it more tempting to crawl back in bed.”

Depending on what needs to be improved, you might consider investing in some slumber-friendly items that can help you sleep through the night, including foam earplugs (make sure to use a vibrating alarm), black-out drapes, light-blocking window decals, and a cooling pillow

Another simple option? Ditch the obnoxious sound of a loud, buzzing alarm.

“One great way to adapt to rising earlier is to have an alarm that is a pleasing sound to you versus an annoying one,” Dr. Irwin says. “There are many choices now, whether on your smartphone or in a radio or a freestanding apparatus.”

4. TAKE THE TIME TO PROPERLY WIND DOWN.

Getting up early starts the night before, and there are a few things you should do before hitting the sack at night.

“Set an alarm to fall asleep,” Torgerson says. “Having a set bedtime helps you stay responsible to yourself, instead of letting yourself get caught up in a book or Netflix and avoid going to sleep.”

Torgerson adds that practicing yoga or meditation before bed can help relax your mind and body, too. This way, your mind isn’t bouncing from thought to thought in a flurry before you go to bed. If you find yourself feeling anxious before bed, it might help to write in a journal. This way, you can get these nagging thoughts out of your head and onto paper.

Focus on relaxing at night and stay away from not just exercise, but mentally stimulating activities, too. If watching the news gets your blood boiling, for example, you probably want to turn it off an hour or so before bedtime.

5. GET YOUR DAILY DOSE OF LIGHT.

Light has a immense effect on your circadian rhythm—whether it’s the blue light from your phone as you scroll through Instagram, or the bright sunlight of being outdoors on your lunch break. In a study published in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine, scientists compared the sleep quality of 27 subjects who worked in windowless environments with 22 subjects who were exposed to significantly more natural light during the day.

“Workers in windowless environments reported poorer scores than their counterparts on two SF-36 dimensions—role limitation due to physical problems and vitality—as well as poorer overall sleep quality," the study concluded. "Compared to the group without windows, workers with windows at the workplace had more light exposure during the workweek, a trend toward more physical activity, and longer sleep duration as measured by actigraphy.”

Thus, exposing yourself to bright light during the day may actually help you sleep better at night, which will go a long way toward helping you wake up refreshed in the morning.

Conversely, too much blue light can actually disturb your sleep schedule at night. This means you probably want to limit your screen time as your bedtime looms closer.

Finally, once you do get into the habit of waking up earlier, stick to that schedule on the weekends as much as possible. The urge to sleep in is strong, but as Torgerson says, “you won't want your body and brain to reacclimate to sleeping in and snoozing.”

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