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The Most Interesting Comics of the Week

DC Comics
DC Comics

Every Wednesday, I preview the most interesting new comics hitting comic shops, Comixology, Kickstarter and the web. I'm trying a slightly different format this week so let me know what you think.

1. Superman: A Celebration of 75 Years/Lois Lane: A Celebration of 75 Years

By Various
DC Comics

What's it about?
To celebrate the 75th anniversary of Superman, DC is releasing two hardcover volumes dedicated to both Superman and Lois Lane, collecting some of their definitive stories. The Superman volume begins with Action Comics #1, of course, and moves forward from there with selections from the Golden, Silver, Bronze and Modern age of comics that Superman has managed to span.

Some of the many single issue stories collected in the Superman volume include:
- The first ever team up between Superman and Batman from Superman #76 in 1952
- Some Silver age classics illustrated by definitive Superman artists like Curt Swan and Wayne Boring
- Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons' classic "For the Man Who Has Everything" from 1985
- The battle with Doomsday in the 1993 issue of Superman #75 that would lead to the Death of Superman event
- And Grant Morrison's recent "The Boy Who Stole Superman's Cape" From Action Comics #0

Meanwhile, the Lois volume includes:
- Some of Lois' first appearances in the early issues of Action Comics
- The marriage of Earth-2 Superman and Earth-2 Lois in Action Comics #48
- John Byrne's re-introduction of Lois Lane in issue 2 of 1986's Man of Steel
- Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely's now classic All Star Superman, issues 2 and 3
And lots more.

Why is it interesting?
These are two of the oldest and most loved characters in superhero comics. Seventy-five years is a big deal, and it's nice to see Lois getting equal treatment. Chris Sims over at Comics Alliance gives a thorough rundown of what is included in the Superman volume and what those selections have to say about how DC sees its own hero. He notices that many of the stories here feature more of a sad sack, defeated Superman rather than a heroic, hopeful one.

Still, both of these volumes contain a number of classic stories that show how the presentation of these characters has changed from era to era, and they feature the work of the most definitive Superman creative teams. From Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster's original stories of a significantly less super-powered hero fighting gangsters and political corruption in the '30s and '40s to the loopy, sci-fi stories of multiple earths, distant futures and imaginary tales by Otto Binder, Bill Finger, Curt Swan and Wayne Boring in the '50s and '60s. From the post-"Crisis" reboot by John Byrne in 1986 to Superman's death and rebirth in the 1990s and finally Grant Morrison's modern and even post-modern takes of the past few years. Of course, Lois Lane has weathered a lot of changing cultural attitudes towards female comic book characters and it might be most interesting to see how consistent she has been as an uncompromising woman (despite many, many unflattering stories where she is just crushing on Superman and falling for his silly secret identity tricks). Together, all these stories give you a pretty complete picture of Superman and Lois and their trip through 75 years of comic book history. 

2. Black Science #1

Written by Rick Remender; art by Matteo Scalera and Dean White
Image Comics

What's it about?
Grant McKay is a bit of a Randian individualist, a self-educated member of the Anarchist Order of Scientists whose hubris in tampering with the "black science" has trapped himself and his crew in a parallel dimension full of hostile environments and strange, violent creatures. Wracked by guilt for endangering his crew (which includes his own family) and inflicted with doubt that he can't actually save them, McKay must jump them through one horrific alternate reality after another to get them all home.

Why is it interesting?
Rick Remender has become one of Marvel's hottest writers after the surprise hit of his dark and twisted run on Uncanny X-Force. Now he's even writing one of their flagship titles, Uncanny Avengers. What originally put Remender on the map, though, was his penchant for making comics that take pulpy concepts straight out of the EC Comics or dime store paperback novels from the early 20th century and put a modern, gritty, yet human spin on it. 

In Black Science, Remender returns to throwback sci-fi territory similar to his 2004 series Fear Agent but with more of an emphasis on both "weird science" and real science. He has spent some time researching heavy concepts like string theory to give some weight to the story even while it leans heavily towards being a Doc Savage type of adventure full of frog and fish people and laser bull whips. Remender often does a good job of giving his tough guy heroes something for you to latch onto and care about, though, and McKay's love for his family and his fear that he has doomed them may be just that.

Matteo Scalera and colorist Dean White go absolutely crazy with the visuals. White has a unique, painterly approach to his digital colors which helps give this book the feel of a Frank Frazetta painting. In that regard, Andrew Robinson provides an amazing, Frazetta-like cover for the first issue.

You can see for yourself with this four page preview.

3. Peanuts Every Sunday: 1952-1955 Vol. 1

By Charles Schulz
Fantagraphics

What's it about?
For the past decade, Fantagraphics has been releasing beautiful, bookshelf volumes collecting all of Charles Schulz' Peanuts strips from the beginning to the end. Previously, any Sunday strips have always been reprinted in black and white, but for the first time they are appearing again in color and with great care taken to replicate Schulz' original palettes.

Why is it interesting?
This large format, hardcover book is just an enjoyable experience to look through and a great way to introduce Charlie Brown to younger kids who may not be as keen to look at black and white reprints. Fantagraphics always takes great care with their printing and the colors here are rich but not overly saturated like you might see in other lesser quality reprints.

Being that it collects strips from the first three years, it is fascinating to see how Schulz was still finding his way with some of the characters. Linus and Lucy initially appear as infants for a number of strips before catching up to Charlie Brown's age. Even Charlie's shirt goes through a few different color choices before settling on the classic yellow.

Fantagraphics has more info about the book plus some previews on their website.

4. Animals: Chickens

Written by Eric Grisson; art by Claire Connelly
Self-published

What's it about?
Depicting life on a small farm, we meet a young girl named Marigold who is itching to get out and live her life. She soon befriends her mother's older, male tenant as troubles arise on the family farm. Oh, did I mention the family are all chickens and they farm and slaughter humans?

Why is it interesting?
There have been a number of great "poultry comics" recently that you might want to even label as "vegetarian comics" because of they way they might make you reconsider your stance on eating chicken. Elmer by Gerry Alanguilan and "Farmer's Dilemma" by Sam Alden come to mind. You can add Eric Grissom and Claire Connelly's "Chickens" to that list. The thing is, Grissom and Connelly mostly avoid tackling the gimmick head-on and instead focus on telling a good story about growing up and chasing your dreams, letting the grisliness of a slaughterhouse for humans lurk in the background. Grissom says this is done "to mimic our own world where we have a vague idea of how our food is made, but mostly we just eat it and go about our business."

"Chickens" is one installment in a planned 4-part series (future installments being "Pigs", "Cows" and "Humans"). Each story will be self-contained but will all revolve around the farm that we see in this story.

Grissom and Connelly are selling "Chickens" through the Gumroad service under a "name-your-own-price" model.

5. Pink

By Kyoko Okazaki
Vertical/Random House

What's it about?
Yumi is a beautiful young woman who, by day, has a regular office job, but at night works as a prostitute. One of the reasons she needs to work two jobs is so that she can afford to feed her pet crocodile.

Why is it interesting?
Vertical is publishing this 1988 manga for the first time in the U.S. as part of their translation and introduction of the work of Kyoko Okazaki to Western audiences. They previously published her 1995 manga Helter Skelter about a fashion model whose excessive use of cosmetic surgery leads to psychological derangement. Okasaki is hard to categorize as her work was intended to appeal to young girls (shōjo manga) but would often deal with controversial and mature subject matter that pushed her into becoming one of the most prominent creators of manga for mature women (josei manga).

Okazaki's work was popular in the '80s and '90s in Japan because of its keen ear towards modern dialogue and because her second career as a fashion illustrator worked its way into how she dressed her characters. It also shows in her style of drawing, although Pink, being one of her earlier works, is considerably less fashiony than her later work on Helter Skelter.

Random House has some more info about the book including where to buy it here.

ALSO

Please consider helping Usagi Yojimbo creator Stan Sakai who is facing insurmountable healthcare costs for his wife. These kinds of healthcare issues are unfortunately very common for the many under-insured comic artists out there.

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Build Your Own Harry Potter Characters With LEGO's New BrickHeadz Set

Harry Potter is looking pretty square these days. In a testament to the enduring appeal of the boy—and the franchise—who lived, LEGO has launched a line of Harry Potter BrickHeadz.

The gang’s all here in this latest collection, which was recently revealed during the toymaker’s Fall 2018 preview in New York City. Other highlights of that show included LEGO renderings of characters from Star Wars, Incredibles 2, and several Disney films, according to Inside The Magic.

The Harry Potter BrickHeadz collection will be released in July and includes figurines of Harry, Hermione, Ron, Dumbledore, and even Hedwig. Some will be sold individually, while others come as a set.

A Ron Weasley figurine
LEGO

A Hermione figurine
LEGO

A Dumbledore figurine
LEGO

Harry Potter fans can also look forward to a four-story, 878-piece LEGO model of the Hogwarts Great Hall, which will be available for purchase August 1. Sets depicting the Whomping Willow, Hogwarts Express, and a quidditch match will hit shelves that same day.

[h/t Inside The Magic]

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10 Things You Might Not Know About Little Women
gutenberg.org
gutenberg.org

Louisa May Alcott's Little Women is one of the world's most beloved novels, and now—nearly 150 years after its original publication—it's capturing yet another generation of readers, thanks in part to Masterpiece's new small-screen adaptation. Whether it's been days or years since you've last read it, here are 10 things you might not know about Alcott's classic tale of family and friendship.

1. LOUISA MAY ALCOTT DIDN'T WANT TO WRITE LITTLE WOMEN.


Frank T. Merrill, Public Domain, Courtesy of The Project Gutenberg

Louisa May Alcott was writing both literature and pulp fiction (sample title: Pauline's Passion and Punishment) when Thomas Niles, the editor at Roberts Brothers Publishing, approached her about writing a book for girls. Alcott said she would try, but she wasn’t all that interested, later calling such books “moral pap for the young.”

When it became clear Alcott was stalling, Niles offered a publishing contract to her father, Bronson Alcott. Although Bronson was a well-known thinker who was friends with Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau, his work never achieved much acclaim. When it became clear that Bronson would have an opportunity to publish a new book if Louisa started her girls' story, she caved in to the pressure.

2. LITTLE WOMEN TOOK JUST 10 WEEKS TO WRITE.


Frank T. Merrill, Public Domain, Courtesy of The Project Gutenberg

Alcott began writing the book in May 1868. She worked on it day and night, becoming so consumed with it that she sometimes forgot to eat or sleep. On July 15, she sent all 402 pages to her editor. In September, a mere four months after starting the book, Little Women was published. It became an instant best seller and turned Alcott into a rich and famous woman.

3. THE BOOK AS WE KNOW IT WAS ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN TWO PARTS.


Frank T. Merrill, Public Domain, Courtesy of The Project Gutenberg

The first half was published in 1868 as Little Women: Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy. The Story Of Their Lives. A Girl’s Book. It ended with John Brooke proposing marriage to Meg. In 1869, Alcott published Good Wives, the second half of the book. It, too, only took a few months to write.

4. MEG, BETH, AND AMY WERE BASED ON ALCOTT'S SISTERS.


Frank T. Merrill, Public Domain, Courtesy of The Project Gutenberg

Meg was based on Louisa’s sister Anna, who fell in love with her husband John Bridge Pratt while performing opposite him in a play. The description of Meg’s wedding in the novel is supposedly based on Anna’s actual wedding.

Beth was based on Lizzie, who died from scarlet fever at age 23. Like Beth, Lizzie caught the illness from a poor family her mother was helping.

Amy was based on May (Amy is an anagram of May), an artist who lived in Europe. In fact, May—who died in childbirth at age 39—was the first woman to exhibit paintings in the Paris Salon.

Jo, of course, is based on Alcott herself.

5. LIKE THE MARCH FAMILY, THE ALCOTTS KNEW POVERTY.


Frank T. Merrill, Public Domain, Courtesy of The Project Gutenberg

Bronson Alcott’s philosophical ideals made it difficult for him to find employment—for example, as a socialist, he wouldn't work for wages—so the family survived on handouts from friends and neighbors. At times during Louisa’s childhood, there was nothing to eat but bread, water, and the occasional apple.

When she got older, Alcott worked as a paid companion and governess, like Jo does in the novel, and sold “sensation” stories to help pay the bills. She also took on menial jobs, working as a seamstress, a laundress, and a servant. Even as a child, Alcott wanted to help her family escape poverty, something Little Women made possible.

6. ALCOTT REFUSED TO HAVE JO MARRY LAURIE.


Frank T. Merrill, Public Domain, Courtesy of The Project Gutenberg

Alcott, who never married herself, wanted Jo to remain unmarried, too. But while she was working on the second half of Little Women, fans were clamoring for Jo to marry the boy next door, Laurie. “Girls write to ask who the little women marry, as if that was the only aim and end of a woman’s life," Alcott wrote in her journal. "I won’t marry Jo to Laurie to please anyone.”

As a compromise—or to spite her fans—Alcott married Jo to the decidedly unromantic Professor Bhaer. Laurie ends up with Amy.

7. THERE ARE LOTS OF THEORIES ABOUT WHO LAURIE WAS BASED ON.


Frank T. Merrill, Public Domain, Courtesy of The Project Gutenberg

People have theorized Laurie was inspired by everyone from Thoreau to Nathaniel Hawthorne’s son Julian, but this doesn’t seem to be the case. In 1865, while in Europe, Alcott met a Polish musician named Ladislas Wisniewski, whom Alcott nicknamed Laddie. The flirtation between Laddie and Alcott culminated in them spending two weeks together in Paris, alone. According to biographer Harriet Reisen, Alcott later modeled Laurie after Laddie.

How far did the Alcott/Laddie affair go? It’s hard to say, as Alcott later crossed out the section of her diary referring to the romance. In the margin, she wrote, “couldn’t be.”

8. YOU CAN STILL VISIT ORCHARD HOUSE, WHERE ALCOTT WROTE LITTLE WOMEN.

Orchard House in Concord, Massachusetts was the Alcott family home. In 1868, Louisa reluctantly left her Boston apartment to write Little Women there. Today, you can tour this house and see May’s drawings on the walls, as well as the small writing desk that Bronson built for Louisa to use.

9. LITTLE WOMEN HAS BEEN ADAPTED A NUMBER OF TIMES.

In addition to a 1958 TV series, multiple Broadway plays, a musical, a ballet, and an opera, Little Women has been made into more than a half-dozen movies. The most famous are the 1933 version starring Katharine Hepburn, the 1949 version starring June Allyson (with Elizabeth Taylor as Amy), and the 1994 version starring Winona Ryder. Later this year, Clare Niederpruem's modern retelling of the story is scheduled to arrive in movie theaters. It's also been adapted for the small screen a number of times, most recently for PBS's Masterpiece, by Call the Midwife creator Heidi Thomas.

10. IN 1980, A JAPANESE ANIME VERSION OF LITTLE WOMEN WAS RELEASED.

In 1987, Japan made an anime version of Little Women that ran for 48 half-hour episodes. Watch the first two episodes above.

Additional Resources:
Louisa May Alcott: A Personal Biography; Louisa May Alcott: The Woman Behind Little Women; Louisa May Alcott's Journals; Little Women; Alcott Film; C-Span; LouisaMayAlcott.org.

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