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Dark Horse Comics

The Most Interesting Comics of the Week

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Dark Horse Comics

Every Wednesday, I preview the 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.

The Fifth Beatle: The Brian Epstein Story

Written by Vivek J. Tiwary; art by Andrew Robinson and Kyle Baker
Dark Horse M Press

There have been many books written about the legend of the Beatles over the years, but even the peripheral figures who were there during the Fab Four's rise to fame have interesting stories. Some of the people telling these stories have taken to the graphic novel format, perhaps so they can capitalize on the iconic imagery associated with the band. A couple of years back we saw a beautifully illustrated graphic novel about the tragic love story between former Beatle Stu Sutcliffe and photographer Astrid Kirchherr called Baby's in Black. This week brings another gorgeously produced book, this time about the Beatles' manager and the man responsible for making them famous, Brian Epstein.

In The Fifth Beatle, Vivek Tiwary has extensively researched the life of Brian Epstein, a project that has taken him over ten years to complete and has utilized the amazing artistic talents of Andrew Robinson to make this one of the most visually compelling graphic novels of the year. Tiwary is a Broadway and film producer who has never written a graphic novel before. He seems to have plans to bring this story to film as evidenced by the mysterious "The Film" tab on the book's official website. As someone who bridges the business and creative sides of entertainment himself, the story of The Beatles' intrepid manager seemed to be one he could attach his own feelings and aspirations to pretty readily.

The real star of this book, however, is Robinson, who has done mostly cover work since making an initial splash with his creator-owned sci-fi western Dusty Star back in 1997. His work here is simply stunning. He uses a combination of watercolor, marker and ink to create caricatured, yet realistically detailed drawings that feel like Mad magazine's Mort Drucker combined with the cinematic sheen of a beautiful animated film. Robinson's page designs are like wonderful, fully rendered paintings without feeling stationary, especially when he uses a number of widescreen, double page spreads. The only thing missing is a soundtrack. In one sequence he uses a superimposed image of the 45 record of "Love Me Do" over scenes of Epstein and company tracking the single's climb up the charts. It's done in a way that reminds you of a film montage set to a rollicking hit song. 

Robinson is joined by legendary cartoonist and animator Kyle Baker, who takes over the book for a sequence in which Epstein and the Beatles go on an adventurous trip to the Philippines. Baker's cartooning style is much looser and crazier than Robinson's, and he gives the scene the feel of a dreamy interlude, even though much of the core story is already peppered with imaginary elements.

Epstein's story is fascinating both for his managerial skills and because he was a gay man (as well as a Jew) living in the U.K. when homosexuality was still illegal. Despite his success, his life was lonely and tragic until his sudden death from a drug overdose in 1967 at the age of 34. Seeing how Epstein had to struggle and hide in a less enlightened era prompts you to reflect on how far we have come, and how far we still need to go.

Tiwary is admittedly very loose with the facts in this book and even has Epstein say, "You can't believe everything you read. Especially when it comes to myself and the Beatles." There are a number of hallucinatory scenes, and at least one character that is a fictional construct. This may turn off some readers who prefer strictly factual biographies, but maybe this book is about the bigger picture and the beautiful pictures it brings with it.

Dark Horse has a preview of the book on their website. Or you can find out more at the book's official website.

Meet The Somalis

By Benjamin Dix and Lindsay Pollock
Open Society Foundations

Journalist Benjamin Dix and cartoonist Lindsay Pollock spent six months this year interviewing Somali immigrants living in seven European cities – Amsterdam, Copenhagen, Helsinki, Leicester, London, Malmo, and Oslo – about the experiences they and their families have been through since fleeing their homeland and assimilating in Europe. Dix and Pollock have turned their hours of interviews into 14 first-person accounts that Pollock has illustrated into emotionally engaging and personal stories they've called Meet The Somalis.

Reading through these comics I was struck by how many similar unfortunate scenarios seem to play themselves out in multiple stories: the refugees whose lives are put on hold for years while being forced to explain their escape over and over to officials looking for a reason to send them back; the young men arrested because their skin color or religious garb make them a suspect; the guilt and longing for family back in Somalia and the lives they had before war ravaged their home. I mention these similarities not to say the stories are repetitive (they are definitely not) but to underscore the sense of shared experiences that have affected a large group of people in different ways. Each account is unique and fascinating, and each makes for a captivating little story on its own. Pollock does an outstanding job bringing these stories to life, relaying the personality and character of each Somali she and Dix have interviewed. 

Each of these stories really stuck with me after reading them. Some are emotionally wrenching, but some are heartwarming and uplifting as well. In the span of just a few pages each, they manage to give you such a clear sense of the struggles these men and women and their families have faced that you are rooting for them to achieve as much of their dreams as is possible. In some cases, these dreams are hopefully achievable goals like earning enough money to send home to their family, doing well enough in school to get into the university of their choice, making new friends in their new European community. In other cases the dreams are seemingly hopeless: returning to the Somalia they once loved, being reunited with their families, escaping bigotry and suspicion from the white Europeans that now surround them.

I found out about Meet The Somalis via a blog post by comics critic Zainab Ahktar who writes a very heartfelt review of it here. I'm not aware of other cartooning work that Pollock had done, but her work here is impressive, especially if it is a debut. The nature of this piece and her cartoony, crosshatching style is very reminiscent of the great comics journalist Joe Sacco. Hopefully we will see more projects like this from her.

The Meet The Somalis comic was made possible by the Open Society Foundations' At Home in Europe Project whose mission is to advance equality for groups that find themselves excluded from civic, political and cultural life in Europe. They have made the comic available on their website here. I would recommend downloading and reading it via the PDF link in the sidebar rather than the web interface they've provided.

Harley Quinn #0

Written by Jimmy Palmiotti and Amanda Conner; art by various
DC Comics

If you were ever a fan of Batman: The Animated Series from the '90s, you are no doubt familiar with Harley Quinn, the Joker's right hand woman. An original character from that series, she eventually became a supporting villain in the Batman comics. Her personality on the show, with her "Girl Friday" moxie and over-the-top Brooklyn accent, made her extremely popular with fans, and she has been a staple of the comics convention cosplay circuit ever since. This week, DC launches her own ongoing series with an issue 0 illustrated by seventeen high profile artists.

Harley Quinn has courted some controversy recently. The "New 52" version (after the 2012 reboot of the DC Universe) has seen her represented as more psychotically violent and scantily clad than fans of the character's original rendition appreciated. Her appearances in Suicide Squad have been lumped in with numerous examples of DC representing their female characters as sexual objects. In the lead-up to this series, DC promoted a contest for up-and-coming artists to draw a page in this opening issue. The scene DC chose to promote the contest required artists to draw her on the verge of electrocuting herself while naked in a bathtub. In fairness, the character is often steeped in outlandish, consequence-free violence like something out of an old Warner Bros. cartoon. Without that context though, the contest seemed tone-deaf, and DC had to issue an apology.

We'll see how that scene works and who the winning artist is in this star-studded issue featuring artists such as Darwyn Cooke, Becky Cloonan, Jim Lee, Walt Simonson, Harley Quinn creator Bruce Timm, and the series' ongoing artist, Chad Hardin. 

Jimmy Palmiotti and Amanda Connor will be writing the series. They have some history with taking an overly sexualized DC character and giving her some personality after they pulled off the trick with Power Girl back in the mid-2000s. In that short-lived but critically acclaimed series, they brought a sense of humor and some modern sensibility to a character that had become known only for her cleavage. Harley Quinn is a different kind of character, and it looks like Palmiotti and Connor will play up the humor but steer clear of reality. This issue frequently breaks the fourth wall with characters and comic creators interacting on the page.

Here's a preview of a few pages and another preview here.

Violenzia

By Richard Sala
Fantagraphics

Venerable comics publisher Fantagraphics made news last week by launching a Kickstarter to crowd fund their next season of books to stay afloat. They easily reached their goal within a week in what may end up being a game changer in terms of the public perception of publishers using Kickstarter to offset some of their risk. It was an unexpected move for Fantagraphics, a publisher more associated with reprinting classic comic strips than actively engaging in modern Internet-related networks.

This week they've made another unexpected first. At the urging of cartoonist Richard Sala, they are releasing his latest comic as a "digital first" release through Comixology before it is available in print. Sala is a veteran of the comics industry (as well as animation) having gotten his start back in Art Spiegelman's RAW magazine in the '80s. He has a number of horror and mystery graphic novels to his name such as Peculia and Delphine. His whimsical, almost children's-book drawing style, mixed with black humor and frightening violence, has influenced many of today's up and coming artists such as Emily Carroll.

In Violenzia, Sala introduces a new female heroine who stoically disrupts ritualistic sacrifices and Appalachian meth labs with two handguns and an endless supply of bullets. The violence is mostly bloodless but with a Tarantino-level body count. It's a light read and a nice low cost entry into discovering Sala's work.

You can buy Violenzia on Comixology for $4.99.

Hawaii

By Jed McGowan
www.jedmcgowan.com

Jed McGowan released a new webcomic this week called simply "Hawaii" that tackles the "life story" of the islands, beginning with their volcanic birth at the bottom of the ocean 500,000 years ago and ending with their last rocky remains crumbling back into the sea 20,000,000 years from now. It's a wordless and wonderful exploration of geographic cycles at an extreme macro level.

McGowan describes himself as a "science nerd." Not only did the depiction of what happens when a volcanic island is formed appeal to him, but the way he has depicted it is a visual homage to "pre-digital age" science illustrations from the mid-20th century. While scrolling through the panels of the comic on his website, you get the feeling that you are looking at scans from an old magazine or text book from the 1950s. He achieved this look by drawing in charcoal on paper and then digitally coloring and manipulating the image. The effect makes it feel both retro and brand new at the same time. Perhaps because the subject is such a classic tourist destination, I also got the feeling of looking at an old travel brochure despite the fact that human life makes only the barest of cameo appearances in these pictures. 

You can read "Hawaii" on McGowan's website where he also has some of his previous comics for sale, including his graphic novel Lone Pine which won a prestigious Xeric Grant in 2010. You can also read his webcomic called "Voyager" from earlier this year, where you can see he first worked out some of the techniques and themes he plays with in "Hawaii."

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11 Popular Quotes Commonly Misattributed to F. Scott Fitzgerald
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F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote a lot of famous lines, from musings on failure in Tender is the Night to “so we beat on, boats against the current” from The Great Gatsby. Yet even with a seemingly never-ending well of words and beautiful quotations, many popular idioms and phrases are wrongly attributed to the famous Jazz Age author, who was born on this day in 1896. Here are 11 popular phrases that are often misattributed to Fitzgerald. (You may need to update your Pinterest boards.)

1. “WRITE DRUNK, EDIT SOBER.”

This quote is often attributed to either Fitzgerald or his contemporary, Ernest Hemingway, who died in 1961. There is no evidence in the collected works of either writer to support that attribution; the idea was first associated with Fitzgerald in a 1996 Associated Press story, and later in Stephen Fry’s memoir More Fool Me. In actuality, humorist Peter De Vries coined an early version of the phrase in a 1964 novel titled Reuben, Reuben.

2. “FOR WHAT IT’S WORTH: IT’S NEVER TOO LATE OR, IN MY CASE, TOO EARLY TO BE WHOEVER YOU WANT TO BE.”

It’s easy to see where the mistake could be made regarding this quote: Fitzgerald wrote the short story “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” in 1922 for Collier's Magazine, and it was adapted into a movie of the same name, directed by David Fincher and starring Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett, in 2008. Eric Roth wrote the screenplay, in which that quotation appears.

3. “OUR LIVES ARE DEFINED BY OPPORTUNITIES, EVEN THE ONES WE MISS.”

This is a similar case to the previous quotation; this quote is attributed to Benjamin Button’s character in the film adaptation. It’s found in the script, but not in the original short story.

4. “YOU’LL UNDERSTAND WHY STORMS ARE NAMED AFTER PEOPLE.”

There is no evidence that Fitzgerald penned this line in any of his known works. In this Pinterest pin, it is attributed to his novel The Beautiful and Damned. However, nothing like that appears in the book; additionally, according to the National Atmospheric and Oceanic Association, although there were a few storms named after saints, and an Australian meteorologist was giving storms names in the 19th century, the practice didn’t become widespread until after 1941. Fitzgerald died in 1940.

5. “A SENTIMENTAL PERSON THINKS THINGS WILL LAST. A ROMANTIC PERSON HAS A DESPERATE CONFIDENCE THAT THEY WON’T.”

This exact quote does not appear in Fitzgerald’s work—though a version of it does, in his 1920 novel This Side of Paradise:

“No, I’m romantic—a sentimental person thinks things will last—a romantic person hopes against hope that they won’t. Sentiment is emotional.” The incorrect version is widely circulated and requoted.

6. “IT’S A FUNNY THING ABOUT COMING HOME. NOTHING CHANGES. EVERYTHING LOOKS THE SAME, FEELS THE SAME, EVEN SMELLS THE SAME. YOU REALIZE WHAT’S CHANGED IS YOU.”

This quote also appears in the 2008 The Curious Case of Benjamin Button script, but not in the original short story.

7. “GREAT BOOKS WRITE THEMSELVES; ONLY BAD BOOKS HAVE TO BE WRITTEN.”

There is no evidence of this quote in any of Fitzgerald’s writings; it mostly seems to circulate on websites like qotd.org, quotefancy.com and azquotes.com with no clarification as to where it originated.

8. “SHE WAS BEAUTIFUL, BUT NOT LIKE THOSE GIRLS IN THE MAGAZINES. SHE WAS BEAUTIFUL FOR THE WAY SHE THOUGHT. SHE WAS BEAUTIFUL FOR THE SPARKLE IN HER EYES WHEN SHE TALKED ABOUT SOMETHING SHE LOVED. SHE WAS BEAUTIFUL FOR HER ABILITY TO MAKE OTHER PEOPLE SMILE, EVEN IF SHE WAS SAD. NO, SHE WASN’T BEAUTIFUL FOR SOMETHING AS TEMPORARY AS HER LOOKS. SHE WAS BEAUTIFUL, DEEP DOWN TO HER SOUL.”

This quote may have originated in a memoir/advice book published in 2011 by Natalie Newman titled Butterflies and Bullshit, where it appears in its entirety. It was attributed to Fitzgerald in a January 2015 Thought Catalog article, and was quoted as written by an unknown source in Hello, Beauty Full: Seeing Yourself as God Sees You by Elisa Morgan, published in September 2015. However, there’s no evidence that Fitzgerald said or wrote anything like it.

9. “AND IN THE END, WE WERE ALL JUST HUMANS, DRUNK ON THE IDEA THAT LOVE, ONLY LOVE, COULD HEAL OUR BROKENNESS.”

Christopher Poindexter, the successful Instagram poet, wrote this as part of a cycle of poems called “the blooming of madness” in 2013. After a Twitter account called @SirJayGatsby tweeted the phrase with no attribution, it went viral as being attributed to Fitzgerald. Poindexter has addressed its origin on several occasions.

10. “YOU NEED CHAOS IN YOUR SOUL TO GIVE BIRTH TO A DANCING STAR.”

This poetic phrase is actually derived from the work of philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, who died in 1900, just four years after Fitzgerald was born in 1896. In his book Thus Spake ZarathustraNietzsche wrote the phrase, “One must have chaos within to enable one to give birth to a dancing star.” Over time, it’s been truncated and modernized into the currently popular version, which was included in the 2009 book You Majored in What?: Designing Your Path from College to Career by Katharine Brooks.

11. “FOR THE GIRLS WITH MESSY HAIR AND THIRSTY HEARTS.”

This quote is the dedication in Jodi Lynn Anderson’s book Tiger Lily, a reimagining of the classic story of Peter Pan. While it is often attributed to Anderson, many Tumblr pages and online posts cite Fitzgerald as its author.

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Fumbled: The Story of the United States Football League
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davi_deste via eBay

There were supposed to be 44 players marching to the field when the visiting Los Angeles Express played their final regular season game against the Orlando Renegades in June 1985.

Thirty-six of them showed up. The team couldn’t afford more.

“We didn’t even have money for tape,” Express quarterback Steve Young said in 1986. “Or ice.” The squad was so poor that Young played fullback during the game. They only had one, and he was injured.

Other teams had ridden school buses to practice, driven three hours for “home games,” or shared dressing room space with the local rodeo. In August 1986, the cash-strapped United States Football League called off the coming season. The league itself would soon vaporize entirely after gambling its future on an antitrust lawsuit against the National Football League. The USFL argued the NFL was monopolizing television time; the NFL countered that the USFL—once seen as a promising upstart—was being victimized by its own reckless expansion and the wild spending of team owners like Donald Trump.

They were both right.

Getty Images

Spring football. That was David Dixon’s pitch. The New Orleans businessman and football advocate—he helped get the Saints in his state—was a fan of college ball and noticed that spring scrimmages at Tulane University led to a little more excitement in the air. With a fiscally responsible salary cap in place and a 12-team roster, he figured his idea could be profitable. Market research agreed: a hired broadcast research firm asserted 76 percent of fans would watch what Dixon had planned.

He had no intention of grappling with the NFL for viewers. That league’s season aired from September through January, leaving a football drought March through July. And in 1982, a players’ strike led to a shortened NFL season, making the idea of an alternative even more appealing to networks. Along with investors for each team region, Dixon got ABC and the recently-formed ESPN signed to broadcast deals worth a combined $35 million over two years.

When the Chicago Blitz faced the Washington Federals on the USFL’s opening day March 6, 1983, over 39,000 fans braved rain at RFK Stadium in Washington to see it. The Federals lost 28-7, foreshadowing their overall performance as one of the league’s worst. Owner Berl Bernhard would later complain the team played like “untrained gerbils.”

Anything more coordinated might have been too expensive. The USFL had instituted a strict $1.8 million salary cap that first year to avoid franchise overspending, but there were allowances made so each team could grab one or two standout rookies. In 1983, the big acquisition was Heisman Trophy winner Herschel Walker, who opted out of his senior year at Georgia to turn pro. Walker signed with the New Jersey Generals in a three-year, $5 million deal.

Jim Kelly and Steve Young followed. Stan White left the Detroit Lions. Marcus Dupree left college. The rosters were built up from scratch using NFL cast-offs or prospects from nearby colleges, where teams had rights to “territorial” drafts.

To draw a line in the sand, the USFL had advertising play up the differences between the NFL’s product and their own. Their slogan, “When Football Was Fun,” was a swipe at the NFL’s increasingly draconian rules regarding players having any personality. They also advised teams to run a series of marketable halftime attractions. The Denver Gold once offered a money-back guarantee for attendees who weren’t satisfied. During one Houston Gamblers game, boxer George Foreman officiated a wedding. Cars were given away at Tampa Bay Bandits games. The NFL, the upstart argued, stood for the No Fun League.

For a while, it appeared to be working. The Panthers, which had invaded the city occupied by the Detroit Lions, averaged 60,000 fans per game, higher than their NFL counterparts. ABC was pleased with steady ratings. The league was still conservative in their spending.

That would change—many would argue for the worse—with the arrival of Donald Trump.

Despite Walker’s abilities on the field, his New Jersey Generals ended the inaugural 1983 season at 6-12, one of the worst records in the league. The excitement having worn off, owner J. Walter Duncan decided to sell the team to real estate investor Trump for a reported $5-9 million.

A fixture of New York media who was putting the finishing touches on Trump Tower, Trump introduced two extremes to the USFL. His presence gave the league far more press attention than it had ever received, but his bombastic approach to business guaranteed he wouldn’t be satisfied with an informal salary cap. Trump spent and spent some more, recruiting players to improve the Generals. Another Heisman winner, quarterback Doug Flutie, was signed to a five-year, $7 million contract, the largest in pro football at the time. Trump even pursued Lawrence Taylor, then a player for the New York Giants, who signed a contract saying that, after his Giants contract expired, he’d join Trump’s team. The Giants wound up buying out the Taylor/Trump contract for $750,000 and quadrupled Taylor’s salary, and Trump wound up with pages of publicity.

Trump’s approach was effective: the Generals improved to 14-4 in their sophomore season. But it also had a domino effect. In order to compete with the elevated bar of talent, other team owners began spending more, too. In a race to defray costs, the USFL approved six expansion teams that paid a buy-in of $6 million each to the league.

It did little to patch the seams. Teams were so cash-strapped that simple amenities became luxuries. The Michigan Panthers dined on burnt spaghetti and took yellow school buses to training camp; players would race to cash checks knowing the last in line stood a chance of having one bounce. When losses became too great, teams began to merge with one another: The Washington Federals became the Orlando Renegades. By the 1985 season, the USFL was down to 14 teams. And because the ABC contract required the league to have teams in certain top TV markets, ABC started withholding checks.

Trump was unmoved. Since taking over the Generals, he had been petitioning behind the scenes for the other owners to pursue a shift to a fall season, where they would compete with the NFL head on. A few owners countered that fans had already voiced their preference for a spring schedule. Some thought it would be tantamount to league suicide.

Trump continued to push. By the end of the 1984 season, he had swayed opinion enough for the USFL to plan on one final spring block in 1985 before making the move to fall in 1986.

In order to make that transition, they would have to win a massive lawsuit against the NFL.

In the mid-1980s, three major networks meant that three major broadcast contracts would be up for grabs—and the NFL owned all three. To Trump and the USFL, this constituted a monopoly. They filed suit in October 1984. By the time it went to trial in May 1986, the league had shrunk from 18 teams to 14, hadn’t hosted a game since July 1985, kept only threadbare rosters, and was losing what existing television deals it had by migrating to smaller markets (a major part of the NFL’s case was that the real reason for the lawsuit, and the moves to smaller markets, was to make the league an attractive takeover prospect for the NFL). The ruling—which could have forced the NFL to drop one of the three network deals—would effectively become the deciding factor of whether the USFL would continue operations.

They came close. A New York jury deliberated for 31 hours over five days. After the verdict, jurors told press that half believed the NFL was guilty of being a monopoly and were prepared to offer the USFL up to $300 million in damages; the other half thought the USFL had been crippled by its own irresponsible expansion efforts. Neither side would budge.

To avoid a hung jury, it was decided they would find in favor of the USFL but only award damages in the amount of $1. One juror told the Los Angeles Times that she thought it would be an indication for the judge to calculate proper damages.

He didn’t. The USFL was awarded treble damages for $3 in total, an amount that grew slightly with interest after time for appeal. The NFL sent them a payment of $3.76. (Less famously, the NFL was also ordered to pay $5.5 million in legal fees.)

Rudy Shiffer, vice-president of the Memphis Showboats, summed up the USFL's fate shortly after the ruling was handed down. “We’re dead,” he said.

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