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Fantagraphics
Fantagraphics

5 Most Interesting Comics of the Week

Fantagraphics
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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entertainment
13 Fascinating Facts About Nina Simone
Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Nina Simone, who would’ve celebrated her 85th birthday today, was known for using her musical platform to speak out. “I think women play a major part in opening the doors for better understanding around the world,” the “Strange Fruit” songstress once said. Though she chose to keep her personal life shrouded in secrecy, these facts grant VIP access into a life well-lived and the music that still lives on.

1. NINA SIMONE WAS HER STAGE NAME.

The singer was born as Eunice Waymon on February 21, 1933. But by age 21, the North Carolina native was going by a different name at her nightly Atlantic City gig: Nina Simone. She hoped that adopting a different name would keep her mother from finding out about her performances. “Nina” was her boyfriend’s nickname for her at the time. “Simone” was inspired by Simone Signoret, an actress that the singer admired.

2. SHE HAD HUMBLE BEGINNINGS.


Getty Images

There's a reason that much of the singer's music had gospel-like sounds. Simone—the daughter of a Methodist minister and a handyman—was raised in the church and started playing the piano by ear at age 3. She got her start in her hometown of Tryon, North Carolina, where she played gospel hymns and classical music at Old St. Luke’s CME, the church where her mother ministered. After Simone died on April 21, 2003, she was memorialized at the same sanctuary.

3. SHE WAS BOOK SMART...

Simone, who graduated valedictorian of her high school class, studied at the prestigious Julliard School of Music for a brief period of time before applying to Philadelphia’s Curtis Institute of Music. Unfortunately, Simone was denied admission. For years, she maintained that her race was the reason behind the rejection. But a Curtis faculty member, Vladimir Sokoloff, has gone on record to say that her skin color wasn’t a factor. “It had nothing to do with her…background,” he said in 1992. But Simone ended up getting the last laugh: Two days before her death, the school awarded her an honorary degree.

4. ... WITH DEGREES TO PROVE IT.

Simone—who preferred to be called “doctor Nina Simone”—was also awarded two other honorary degrees, from the University of Massachusetts Amherst and Malcolm X College.

5. HER CAREER WAS ROOTED IN ACTIVISM.

A photo of Nina Simone circa 1969

Gerrit de Bruin

At the age of 12, Simone refused to play at a church revival because her parents had to sit at the back of the hall. From then on, Simone used her art to take a stand. Many of her songs in the '60s, including “Mississippi Goddamn,” “Why (The King of Love Is Dead),” and “Young, Gifted and Black,” addressed the rampant racial injustices of that era.

Unfortunately, her activism wasn't always welcome. Her popularity diminished; venues didn’t invite her to perform, and radio stations didn’t play her songs. But she pressed on—even after the Civil Rights Movement. In 1997, Simone told Interview Magazine that she addressed her songs to the third world. In her own words: “I’m a real rebel with a cause.”

6. ONE OF HER MOST FAMOUS SONGS WAS BANNED.

Mississippi Goddam,” her 1964 anthem, only took her 20 minutes to an hour to write, according to legend—but it made an impact that still stands the test of time. When she wrote it, Simone had been fed up with the country’s racial unrest. Medger Evers, a Mississippi-born civil rights activist, was assassinated in his home state in 1963. That same year, the Ku Klux Klan bombed a Birmingham Baptist church and as a result, four young black girls were killed. Simone took to her notebook and piano to express her sentiments.

“Alabama's gotten me so upset/Tennessee made me lose my rest/And everybody knows about Mississippi Goddam,” she sang.

Some say that the song was banned in Southern radio stations because “goddam” was in the title. But others argue that the subject matter is what caused the stations to return the records cracked in half.

7. SHE NEVER HAD A NUMBER ONE HIT.

Nina Simone released over 40 albums during her decades-spanning career including studio albums, live versions, and compilations, and scored 15 Grammy nominations. But her highest-charting (and her first) hit, “I Loves You, Porgy,” peaked at #2 on the U.S. R&B charts in 1959. Still, her music would go on to influence legendary singers like Roberta Flack and Aretha Franklin.

8. SHE USED HER STYLE TO MAKE A STATEMENT.

Head wraps, bold jewelry, and floor-skimming sheaths were all part of Simone’s stylish rotation. In 1967, she wore the same black crochet fishnet jumpsuit with flesh-colored lining for the entire year. Not only did it give off the illusion of her being naked, but “I wanted people to remember me looking a certain way,” she said. “It made it easier for me.”

9. SHE HAD MANY HOMES.

New York City, Liberia, Barbados, England, Belgium, France, Switzerland, and the Netherlands were all places that Simone called home. She died at her home in Southern France, and her ashes were scattered in several African countries.

10. SHE HAD A FAMOUS INNER CIRCLE.

During the late '60s, Simone and her second husband Andrew Stroud lived next to Malcolm X and his family in Mount Vernon, New York. He wasn't her only famous pal. Simone was very close with playwright Lorraine Hansberry. After Hansberry’s death, Simone penned “To Be Young, Gifted and Black” in her honor, a tribute to Hansberry's play of the same title. Simone even struck up a brief friendship with David Bowie in the mid-1970s, who called her every night for a month to offer his advice and support.

11. YOU CAN STILL VISIT SIMONE IN HER HOMETOWN.

Photo of Nina Simone
Amazing Nina Documentary Film, LLC, CC BY-SA 4.0, Wikimedia Commons

In 2010, an 8-foot sculpture of Eunice Waymon was erected in her hometown of Tryon, North Carolina. Her likeness stands tall in Nina Simone Plaza, where she’s seated and playing an eternal song on a keyboard that floats in midair. Her daughter, Lisa Simone Kelly, gave sculptor Zenos Frudakis some of Simone’s ashes to weld into the sculpture’s bronze heart. "It's not something very often done, but I thought it was part of the idea of bringing her home," Frudakis said.

12. YOU'VE PROBABLY HEARD HER MUSIC IN RECENT HITS.

Rihanna sang a few verses of Simone’s “Do What You Gotta Do” on Kanye West’s The Life of Pablo. He’s clearly a superfan: “Blood on the Leaves” and his duet with Jay Z, “New Day,” feature Simone samples as well, along with Lil’ Wayne’s “Dontgetit,” Common’s “Misunderstood” and a host of other tracks.

13. HER MUSIC IS STILL BEING PERFORMED.

Nina Revisited… A Tribute to Nina Simone was released along with the Netflix documentary in 2015. On the album, Lauryn Hill, Jazmine Sullivan, Usher, Alice Smith, and more paid tribute to the legend by performing covers of 16 of her most famous tracks.

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NOAA, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain
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Animals
Watch the First-Ever Footage of a Baby Dumbo Octopus
NOAA, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain
NOAA, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Dumbo octopuses are named for the elephant-ear-like fins they use to navigate the deep sea, but until recently, when and how they developed those floppy appendages were a mystery. Now, for the first time, researchers have caught a newborn Dumbo octopus on tape. As reported in the journal Current Biology, they discovered that the creatures are equipped with the fins from the moment they hatch.

Study co-author Tim Shank, a researcher at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts, spotted the octopus in 2005. During a research expedition in the North Atlantic, one of the remotely operated vehicles he was working with collected several coral branches with something strange attached to them. It looked like a bunch of sandy-colored golf balls at first, but then he realized it was an egg sac.

He and his fellow researchers eventually classified the hatchling that emerged as a member of the genus Grimpoteuthis. In other words, it was a Dumbo octopus, though they couldn't determine the exact species. But you wouldn't need a biology degree to spot its resemblance to Disney's famous elephant, as you can see in the video below.

The octopus hatched with a set of functional fins that allowed it to swim around and hunt right away, and an MRI scan revealed fully-developed internal organs and a complex nervous system. As the researchers wrote in their study, Dumbo octopuses enter the world as "competent juveniles" ready to jump straight into adult life.

Grimpoteuthis spends its life in the deep ocean, which makes it difficult to study. Scientists hope the newly-reported findings will make it easier to identify Grimpoteuthis eggs and hatchlings for future research.

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