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Fantagraphics

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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Giovanni Rufino - © 2012 The CW Network, LLC. All Rights Reserved
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entertainment
XOXO: 20 Things You Might Not Know About Gossip Girl
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Giovanni Rufino - © 2012 The CW Network, LLC. All Rights Reserved

Ten years ago, Gossip Girl became appointment television for America’s teenagers—and a guilty pleasure for millions more (whether they wanted to admit it or not). Like a new millennium version of Beverly Hills, 90210, the series—which was adapted from Cecily von Ziegesar’s book series of the same name—saw The O.C.’s Josh Schwartz and Stephanie Savage trade in their west coast cool for New York City style as the show followed the lives of a group of friends (and sometimes enemies) navigating the elite world of prep schools and being fabulous on Manhattan's Upper East Side. In honor of the series’ tenth anniversary, here are 20 things you might not have known about Gossip Girl.

1. IT WAS SUPPOSED TO BE A LINDSAY LOHAN MOVIE.

Originally, the plan for adapting Gossip Girl wasn’t for a series at all. It was supposed to be a feature film, with Gilmore Girls creator Amy Sherman-Palladino writing the script and Lindsay Lohan set to star as Blair Waldorf. When those plans fell through, the producers approached Josh Schwartz—who was just wrapping up work on The O.C.—about taking his talent for creating enviable high school worlds to New York City’s Upper East Side.

"The books are a soap opera, and TV makes a lot of sense," executive producer Leslie Morgenstein told Backstage of the decision to go the small-screen route. "When we made the list of writers who would be the best to adapt Gossip Girl for television, Josh was at the top of the list."

2. PENN BADGLEY INITIALLY TURNED DOWN THE ROLE OF DAN HUMPHREY.

Barbara Nitke - © 2012 THE CW Network, LLC. All Rights Reserved.

Though he was hardly a household name when Gossip Girl premiered, Penn Badgley had been acting for nearly a decade—and had a lot of experience working on first season TV shows that never took off—when he was offered the role of Brooklyn outsider Dan Humphrey, and his initial response was: thanks, but no thanks.

“The reason I turned it down initially was because I was just frustrated,” Badgley told Vulture in 2012. “I was frustrated and I was broke and I was depressed and I was like, ‘I cannot do that again. I can't.’ … Stephanie Savage, the creator [of Gossip Girl], she said to me, ‘I know you might not want to do this again, but just take a look at it.’ And I actually was like, ‘I appreciate so much that you thought of me. I just don't want to do this. Thank you for understanding that I wouldn't want to do this.’ And then they couldn't find anybody for it—which is weird, because a million people could play Dan Humphrey—and she came back around, I was about to get a job as a waiter, and I was like, ‘Okay.’”

3. ULTIMATELY, BADGLEY PROBABLY WISHES HE HAD FOLLOWED HIS INITIAL INSTINCT.

Badgley told Vulture that, “I wouldn't be here without Gossip Girl, so I will always be in debt and grateful. And I've said some sh*t that ... I don't regret it, but I'm just maybe too honest about it sometimes.”

But executive producer Joshua Safran had a different view on the situation. “Penn didn’t like being on Gossip Girl, but …. he was Dan,” Safran told Vanity Fair. “He may not have liked it, but [his character] was the closest to who he was.”

4. THE CREATORS GOT THE IDEA TO CAST BLAKE LIVELY FROM THE INTERNET.

According to Vanity Fair, when it came time to casting the show’s main roles, they cruised some of the online message boards related to the Gossip Girl book series to see which actors fans of the books were suggesting. One name they kept seeing for the role of Serena van der Woodsen: Blake Lively, who had starred in The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants. “We didn’t see a lot of other girls for Serena,” Schwartz said. “She has to be somebody that you believe would be sitting in the front row at Fashion Week eventually.”

5. LIKE BADGLEY, LIVELY WAS ON THE VERGE OF QUITTING ACTING.

© 2008 Warner Bros. Television

Like her onscreen (and eventually off-screen) love interest Penn Badgley, Blake Lively was also considering leaving Hollywood when Gossip Girl came calling, so she turned the producers down.

“I said, ‘No, I want to go to college. Thank you, though,’” Lively told Vanity Fair. “Then they said, ‘OK, you can go to Columbia [University] one day a week. After the first year [of the show], it’ll quiet down. Your life will go back to normal and you can start going to school. We can’t put it in writing, but we promise you can go.’ So that’s why I said, ‘OK. You know what? I’ll do this.’”

As for that going back to school and life going back to normal? “When they say, ‘We promise, but we can’t put it in writing,’ there’s a reason they can’t put it in writing,” she said.

6. LEIGHTON MEESTER DYED HER HAIR TO GET THE PART OF BLAIR.

Because Blair Waldorf and Serena van der Woodsen were both best friends and occasional enemies, it was important to the show’s creators that the characters did not look like the same person. That fact almost cost Leighton Meester the role of Blair.

“She came in and she was really funny, and really smart and played vulnerable,” Schwartz recalled of Meester’s audition. “But there was one problem: she was blonde. And Blake was blonde, obviously; Serena had to be blonde. So, [Leighton] went to the sink and dyed her hair. She wanted it.’” (Sounds like something Blair would do.)

7. THE NETWORK WORRIED THAT ED WESTWICK LOOKED LIKE A “SERIAL KILLER.”

Giovanni Rufino - © 2012 THE CW Network, LLC. All Rights Reserved

Ed Westwick, who originally auditioned for the role of Nate Archibald but ended up playing bad boy Chuck Bass, almost didn’t land a role on the show at all. Though the show’s co-creators, Schwartz and Savage, loved the darker edge that Westwick brought to the group of friends, The CW worried “that he looked more like a serial killer than a romantic lead.”

“He's menacing and scary, but there's a twinkle in his eye,” casting director David Rapaport told BuzzFeed. “You want to hate him, but you would also probably sleep with him. He's one of those guys you hate for always getting away with things, but you also want to hang out with him and see what he's up to next. He's the guy that's going to give you a joint for the first time or get you drunk for the first time, so you know he's wrong for you, but he's fun.” Fans clearly agreed.

8. WESTWICK CHANNELED HIS INNER CARLTON BANKS TO PLAY CHUCK BASS.

In order to perfect his posh American accent, Westwick—who was born in London—looked to another iconic American television character for help: The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air’s Carlton Banks (Alfonso Ribeiro). “There’s a slight thing in Carlton Banks,” Westwick told Details Magazine in 2008, “that kind of über-preppy, that I did pick up on.”

9. GRETA GERWIG AUDITIONED FOR THE SHOW … IN OVERALLS.

In 2015, Golden Globe-nominated actress Greta Gerwig—who just wrote and directed Lady Bird, starring Saoirse Ronan—talked to HuffPost Live about the mistakes she made early on in her career as an actress. “I have had moments when I was starting out when I was auditioning for things like Gossip Girl," she said. “And they would look at me like, 'Why are you wearing overalls to this audition?' And I'd be like, 'They said she was from a farm!' and they would be like, 'Well, this is Gossip Girl.’” (The role she was auditioning for, Eva Coupeau—a love interest for Chuck—eventually went to Clémence Poésy, who played Fleur Delacour in the Harry Potter movies.

10. BLAIR WALDORF HAD TWO MOMS.

© 2008 Warner Bros. Television

In Gossip Girl’s pilot episode, Blair’s mom—popular women’s clothing designer Eleanor Waldorf—was played by Florencia Lozano. In episode two, and throughout the rest of the series, Eleanor was portrayed by Margaret Colin.

11. IT WAS ONE OF TELEVISION’S FIRST STREAMING SUCCESS STORIES.

Years before House of Cards changed the way we watch, and even define, “television,” Gossip Girl served as a sort of precursor to the streaming generation. While the show’s Nielsen ratings were mediocre, New York Magazine reported that, “New episodes routinely arrived at the No. 1 most-downloaded spot on iTunes, and then there were the hundreds of thousands who were downloading free week-old episodes on the CW's site. Even executives at Nielsen threw up their hands and admitted that Gossip Girl appeared to be speaking to an audience so young and tech-savvy they hadn't really figured it out just yet.” (Lost and The Office had followed similar tracks.)

12. THE SHOW WAS BANNED BY SOME NEW YORK CITY SCHOOLS.

Giovanni Rufino - © 2012 THE CW Network, LLC. All Rights Reserved.

According to Vanity Fair, some of the elite New York City private schools that might have shared some similarities with the show’s fictional Constance Billard and St. Jude's banned their students from watching it. (Which, the outlet noted, “only served, in all likelihood, to make the students want to watch it more.”)

13. THE SERIES TURNED ITS CRITICISMS INTO A MARKETING CAMPAIGN.

Even by 2007’s standards, Gossip Girl—for a show about high schoolers on what was mainly known as a teen-friendly television network—seemed to relish in pushing the boundaries of what might be acceptable. It didn’t take long for parental advocacy groups like the Parent Television Council to take very public, and vocal, issue with the show's in-your-face sexuality. When it was criticized as being “mind-blowingly inappropriate” and “every parent’s nightmare,” the show turned those critiques into a marketing campaign to help promote viewership.

14. A WRITERS STRIKE HELPED THE SERIES GROW ITS VIEWERSHIP.

While the show struck a chord with certain audiences immediately upon its release, the 2007-2008 Writers Guild of America Strike proved to be a boon to the series. “The CW, because they couldn’t just run repeats or game shows, [Gossip Girl is] all they had,” Schwartz told Vanity Fair. “They kept re-running the show during the strike so more and more people were watching.” Which led to even higher ratings when the show returned for a second season.

15. DESIGNERS WERE BEGGING TO SEE THEIR FASHIONS WORN ON THE SHOW.

Giovanni Rufino - © 2012 THE CW Network, LLC. All Rights Reserved.

Just like New York City itself, the fashions in Gossip Girl essentially served as another character. According to a 2008 article in The New York Times, “Merchants, designers, and trend consultants say that Gossip Girl … is one of the biggest influences on how young women spend."

“When we came back with Season 2, so many designers were lining up and wanting to be a part of it,” the show’s costume designer Eric Daman told Vanity Fair. “They wanted their stuff on either Blake or Leighton.”

16. IT SPAWNED ITS OWN CLOTHING LINE.

To capitalize on the show’s influence in the fashion world, Daman and designer Christine Cybelle (a.k.a. Charlotte Russe) created a Gossip Girl-inspired clothing line.

17. KRISTEN BELL PLAYED AN ESSENTIAL PART OF THE SERIES, BUT WAS NEVER CREDITED.

Though viewers had to watch all 121 episodes of Gossip Girl to learn the identity of the titular tattler, Kristen Bell provided the voice for “Gossip Girl” for all six seasons, without credit. And while she sort of hoped that the finale would have revealed that she was indeed “Gossip Girl” all along, that ending was not meant to be. “I’m sure that it would’ve been really cool had I got to play some vicious part and actually come out as Gossip Girl, but I think it was appropriate for one of the main cast members to have surfaced as Gossip Girl,” she told Perez Hilton.

Though she was a key part of the series, she didn’t learn GG’s true identity until the very end of the show—and she was surprised. “I don’t know that I ever forethought it being Dan,” she admitted. “That was a bit of a shocker!" (If it makes her feel any better, Badgley reportedly didn’t learn Gossip Girl’s identity until that scene was actually shot.)

18. JANUARY 26 IS "GOSSIP GIRL DAY" IN NEW YORK CITY.

© 2008 Warner Bros. Television

At least it was in 2012, when then-Mayor Michael Bloomberg proclaimed January 26 “Gossip Girl Day” in celebration of the show’s 100th episode. “I don’t have a whole lot of time to follow what New York magazine has called ‘The Greatest Teen Drama of our time,’” Bloomberg said. “But I am interested in finding out who the real Gossip Girl is—Serena’s cousin, maybe? And I don’t see how Blair could marry Prince Lewis while she is clearly in love with Chuck, although she and Dan became pretty close when they interned at that fashion magazine. And I just wish that Nate and Vanessa had been able to work things out, I guess Nate was preoccupied with everything that was going on with his father and Jenny and, I mean, it was a tangled web, I guess Dan would have ended up making their relationship impossible anyway, but I’m just a casual fan.” 

Super-fans of the show can still take a Gossip Girl tour of New York City.

19. IVANKA TRUMP AND JARED KUSHNER MADE A CAMEO.

Over the full course of the series, plenty of familiar faces popped up, but two in particular seem kind of funny in retrospect: Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner played themselves in a club scene. (Ivanka was apparently a huge fan of the series.) “They did it for the money,” a chuckling Schwartz told Vanity Fair.

20. IN AN ALTERNATIVE UNIVERSE, SERENA IS A SERIAL KILLER.

In 2002, von Ziegesar published a bloody take on her famed book series with Gossip Girl: Psycho Killer, which she said she’d love to see adapted. "I took the original text of the first book and whenever I saw an opportunity, I layered in this story of Serena coming back from boarding school as this coldblooded psychopath, which, to me makes total sense,” von Ziegesar told Entertainment Weekly. “She’s sort of like the Ryan Gosling of Gossip Girl world. She has that deadpan style, doesn’t seem to have much personality, and she’s really gorgeous, but then underneath she has this kind of scary ability to kill people. So she’s murdered people up at boarding school. She’s always had this dark side and everyone is a little bit scared of her.”

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Natasha Zinko
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This Just In
This Jeans-Inside-Your-Jeans Look Will Cost You $695
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Natasha Zinko

Besides a few updates here and there, the classic style of denim blue jeans hasn’t changed much since the late 19th century. Now, a London-based fashion designer wants to disrupt the wardrobe staple. Their revolutionary new idea? A second waistband sewed on top of the first one.

According to Mashable, these high-waisted double jeans from Natasha Zinko are retailing for $695. Wearing the pants makes it look like you forgot you already had jeans on and put on a second pair on top of them. But buying two pairs of designer jeans to wear at once would probably be less expensive than owning this item. The double jeans are actually one garment, with the high-waisted inner pair stopping at the hips. Boasting seven pockets, they’re not entirely impractical, but having to undo two sets of buttons and zippers sounds like more trouble than it’s worth.

Model wearing double jeans.
Natasha Zinko
There is a market for high-end blue jeans disguised as fashion crimes, as Nordstrom proved earlier this year with their $425 pants covered in fake dirt. The Natasha Zinko double jeans have already sold out on shopbop.com.

[h/t Mashable]

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