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Hermes Press

The Most Interesting Comics of the Week

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Hermes Press

Every Wednesday, I preview the most interesting new comics hitting comic shops, Comixology, Kickstarter and the web.

1. Brenda Starr: The Complete Pre-Code Comics Volume One

Written by Dale Messick; art by Matt Baker, Jack Kamen and others
Hermes Press

What is it?
Collecting, for the first time, the first 8 issues of a rare Brenda Starr comic book series that was first published in 1947, this volume features art from some of the great comic artists of the Golden Age like Matt Baker and Jack Kamen. As in the popular, long-running newspaper strip, Brenda Starr is a glamorous reporter who goes off on adventures in exotic locations. The big difference between the comic book versus the newspaper strip is that she would get tied up a lot more in the comic book.

What makes it interesting?
Although written and officially sanctioned by Brenda Starr creator Dale Messick, this is not exactly the Brenda Starr you used to read in the newspaper. These comics were published in the so-called "Pre-Code" era, before the Comics Code Authority—a self-regulating measure created in the 1950s to keep comics from getting themselves into trouble with just this kind of material. In fact, the cover shown here was actually used as a damning example in Dr. Frederic Wertham's 1954 book Seduction of the Innocent to prove the luridness of comics and how psychologically dangerous they could be to children.

Unlike in the newspaper strip, these comics showed Brenda in dangerous situations that often involved bondage, torture, and some ripped dresses. They will probably now seem tame to modern eyes, and never ventured into nudity or sexual situations, but they were definitely designed to be more titillating than the more mainstream comic strips. In fact, they are drawn by two of the greats from the Golden Age of comics and both were known for the kind of edgy work that would eventually attract the attention of Wertham and Congress. Jack Kamen was a staple artist of the infamous EC Comics, working on various horror, crime and sci-fi comics for them, and Matt Baker is considered one of the great "Good Girl" artists from that time. His immaculate renderings of beautiful women in comics like Phantom Lady and various crime and romance comics have made him one of the most respected artists of that time. His cover to It Rhymes With Lust is an iconic image from the pulp era. 

Like many Pre-Code books, these had been mostly lost to time, but Hermes Press, which has been reprinting the complete Brenda Starr comic strips for a number of years now, have managed to cull together these lost comics, including the back-up stories they originally contained. This is the first time in over 50 years they have been available to read.

You can read more about this Brenda Starr book on the Hermes Press website.

2. Broken Telephone

Written by Ryan Estrada with various artists
Kickstarter

What is it?
This 18 part comic series begins in a call center in Mumbai, when customer service representative Manisha hears a murder over the phone. Can she catch the killer and solve the mystery from half a world away?

Cut to part 2 and the murderer from part 1 thinks he's the hero of the story, trying to catch an assassin who is the hero of Part 3 and so on… 

Ryan Estrada has been writing this elaborate story he calls Broken Telephone for seven years and has brought in 18 different artists to help him bring each piece to life. He's established a Kickstarter with multiple rewards but based on the notion that you can pay whatever you'd like for each installment and all proceeds go towards paying the artists.

What makes it interesting?
This might be the best concept I've heard for a comic book in a long time. As the title suggests, it works similarly to that old childhood game of "Telephone" where the point of the message gets transformed when passed from person to person. The hero of each story is the villain in someone else's story, and even though everyone is trying to do the right thing, they inevitably cause big problems for someone else. Each is drawn by a different artist, some of whom are active webcomic creators such as KC Green ("Gunshow"), Brittney Sabo ("All Night") and Estrada himself. Many are newcomers (at least to me) who look like future stars like Carolyn NowakRachel DukesKelly Bastow and more.

Let Ryan Estrada tell you all about it himself on his Kickstarter page. Especially take note of the lengths he's gone through to research some of the crimes and schemes he writes about in this series. 

3. Brooklyn Quesadillas

By Antony Huchette
Cunundrum Press

What is it?
Joseph is a 30-year-old animator, husband and dad. He lives in Brooklyn after moving some time ago from his native France (so far this all sounds very much like the author's life). In his spare time, Joseph directs a children's talk show out of his house hosted by a talking coffee pot. One day he is faced with the temptation of running off to Governor's Island with Denise Huxtable from The Cosby Show to direct movies starring Jessie Spano from Saved By The Bell (now it's no longer autobiographical).

What makes it interesting?
This is a quirky book to say the least. Huchette draws in a very loose, sometimes crude style, but he is full of crazy ideas that he can seem to barely help himself from putting on the page. It also reads like it is a very personal book for him even though I don't truly know how much if any of it he's drawn from his own viewpoint. At the start of the story, the main character deals with some issues with being a family man and having a wandering eye that make him a little hard to like as a protagonist, but there's a certain honesty with how he addresses all of this that makes this whole crazy story seem like it's coming from a real place. 

Huchette originally produced this book in French but Canadian publisher Cunundrum Press has had it translated for English speaking audiences. You can find out more about the book at their website.

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Ernest Hemingway’s Guide to Life, In 20 Quotes
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Though he made his living as a writer, Ernest Hemingway was just as famous for his lust for adventure. Whether he was running with the bulls in Pamplona, fishing for marlin in Bimini, throwing back rum cocktails in Havana, or hanging out with his six-toed cats in Key West, the Nobel and Pulitzer Prize-winning author never did anything halfway. And he used his adventures as fodder for the unparalleled collection of novels, short stories, and nonfiction books he left behind, The Sun Also Rises, A Farewell to Arms, Death in the Afternoon, For Whom the Bell Tolls, and The Old Man and the Sea among them.

On what would be his 118th birthday—he was born in Oak Park, Illinois on July 21, 1899—here are 20 memorable quotes that offer a keen perspective into Hemingway’s way of life.

ON THE IMPORTANCE OF LISTENING

"I like to listen. I have learned a great deal from listening carefully. Most people never listen."

ON TRUST

"The best way to find out if you can trust somebody is to trust them."

ON DECIDING WHAT TO WRITE ABOUT

"I never had to choose a subject—my subject rather chose me."

ON TRAVEL

"Never go on trips with anyone you do not love."

Ernest Hemingway Photograph Collection, John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston. [1], Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

ON THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN INTELLIGENCE AND HAPPINESS

"Happiness in intelligent people is the rarest thing I know."

ON TRUTH

"There's no one thing that is true. They're all true."

ON THE DOWNSIDE OF PEOPLE

"The only thing that could spoil a day was people. People were always the limiters of happiness, except for the very few that were as good as spring itself."

ON SUFFERING FOR YOUR ART

"There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed."

ON TAKING ACTION

"Never mistake motion for action."

ON GETTING WORDS OUT

"I wake up in the morning and my mind starts making sentences, and I have to get rid of them fast—talk them or write them down."

Photograph by Mary Hemingway, in the Ernest Hemingway Photograph Collection, John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston., Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

ON THE BENEFITS OF SLEEP

"I love sleep. My life has the tendency to fall apart when I'm awake, you know?"

ON FINDING STRENGTH 

"The world breaks everyone, and afterward, some are strong at the broken places."

ON THE TRUE NATURE OF WICKEDNESS

"All things truly wicked start from innocence."

ON WRITING WHAT YOU KNOW

"If a writer knows enough about what he is writing about, he may omit things that he knows. The dignity of movement of an iceberg is due to only one ninth of it being above water."

ON THE DEFINITION OF COURAGE

"Courage is grace under pressure."

ON THE PAINFULNESS OF BEING FUNNY

"A man's got to take a lot of punishment to write a really funny book."

By Ernest Hemingway Photograph Collection, John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston. - JFK Library, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

ON KEEPING PROMISES

"Always do sober what you said you'd do drunk. That will teach you to keep your mouth shut."

ON GOOD VS. EVIL

"About morals, I know only that what is moral is what you feel good after and what is immoral is what you feel bad after."

ON REACHING FOR THE UNATTAINABLE

"For a true writer, each book should be a new beginning where he tries again for something that is beyond attainment. He should always try for something that has never been done or that others have tried and failed. Then sometimes, with great luck, he will succeed."

ON HAPPY ENDINGS

"There is no lonelier man in death, except the suicide, than that man who has lived many years with a good wife and then outlived her. If two people love each other there can be no happy end to it."

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istock (blank book) / Taeeun Yoo (cover art)
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12 Fantastic Facts About A Wrinkle in Time
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istock (blank book) / Taeeun Yoo (cover art)

Madeleine L’Engle’s acclaimed science fantasy novel A Wrinkle in Time has been delighting readers since its 1962 release. Whether you’ve never had the chance to read this timeless tale or haven’t picked it up in a while, here are some facts that are sure to get you in the mood for a literary journey through the universe—not to mention its upcoming big-screen adaptation.

1. THE AUTHOR’S PERSISTENCE PAID OFF.

She’s a revered writer today, but Madeleine L’Engle’s early literary career was rocky. She nearly gave up on writing on her 40th birthday. L’Engle stuck with it, though, and on a 10-week cross-country camping trip she found herself inspired to begin writing A Wrinkle in Time.

2. EINSTEIN SPARKED L'ENGLE'S INTEREST IN QUANTUM PHYSICS AND TESSERACTS.

L’Engle was never a strong math student, but as an adult she found herself drawn to concepts of cosmology and non-linear time after picking up a book about Albert Einstein. L’Engle adamantly believed that any theory of writing is also a theory of cosmology because “one cannot discuss structure in writing without discussing structure in all life." The idea that religion, science, and magic are different aspects of a single reality and should not be thought of as conflicting is a recurring theme in her work.

3. L’ENGLE BASED THE PROTAGONIST ON HERSELF.

L’Engle often compared her young heroine, Meg Murry, to her childhood self—gangly, awkward, and a poor student. Like many young girls, both Meg and L’Engle were dissatisfied with their looks and felt their appearances were homely, unkempt, and in a constant state of disarray.

4. IT WAS REJECTED BY MORE THAN TWO DOZEN PUBLISHERS.

L’Engle weathered 26 rejections before Farrar, Straus & Giroux finally took a chance on A Wrinkle in Time. Many publishers were nervous about acquiring the novel because it was too difficult to categorize. Was it written for children or adults? Was the genre science fiction or fantasy?

5. L’ENGLE DIDN'T KNOW HOW TO CATEGORIZE THE BOOK, EITHER.

To compound publishers’ worries, L’Engle famously rejected these arbitrary categories and insisted that her writing was for anyone, regardless of age. She believed that children could often understand concepts that would baffle adults, due to their childlike ability to use their imaginations with the unknown.

6. MEG MURRY WAS ONE OF SCIENCE FICTION'S FIRST GREAT FEMALE PROTAGONISTS ...

… and that scared publishers even more. L’Engle believed that the relatively uncommon choice of a young heroine contributed to her struggles getting the book in stores since men and boys dominated science fiction.

Nevertheless, the author stood by her heroine and consistently promoted acceptance of one’s unique traits and personality. When A Wrinkle in Time won the 1963 Newbury Award, L’Engle used her acceptance speech to decry forces working for the standardization of mankind, or, as she so eloquently put it, “making muffins of us, muffins like every other muffin in the muffin tin.” L’Engle’s commitment to individualism contributed to the very future of science fiction. Without her we may never have met The Hunger Games’s Katniss Everdeen or Divergent’s Tris Prior.

7. THE MURKY GENRE HELPED MAKE THE BOOK A SUCCESS.

Once A Wrinkle in Time hit bookstores, its slippery categorization stopped being a drawback. The book was smart enough for adults without losing sight of the storytelling elements kids love. A glowing 1963 review in The Milwaukee Sentinel captured this sentiment: “A sort of space age Alice in Wonderland, Miss L’Engle’s book combines a warm story of family life with science fiction and a most convincing case for nonconformity. Adults who still enjoy Alice will find it delightful reading along with their youngsters.”

8. THE BOOK IS ACTUALLY THE FIRST OF A SERIES.

Although the other four novels are not as well known as A Wrinkle in Time, the “Time Quintet” is a favorite of science fiction fans. The series, written over a period of nearly 30 years, follows the Murry family’s continuing battle over evil forces.

9. IT IS ONE OF THE MOST FREQUENTLY BANNED BOOKS OF ALL TIME.

Oddly enough, A Wrinkle in Time has been accused of being both too religious and anti-Christian. L’Engle’s particular brand of liberal Christianity was deeply rooted in universal salvation, a view that some critics have claimed “denigrates organized Christianity and promotes an occultic world view.” There have also been objections to the use of Jesus Christ’s name alongside figures like Buddha, Shakespeare, and Gandhi. Detractors feel that grouping these names together trivializes Christ’s divine nature.

10. L’ENGLE LEARNED TO SEE THE UPSIDE OF THIS CONTROVERSY.

The author revealed how she felt about all this sniping in a 2001 interview with The New York Times. She brushed it aside, saying, “It seems people are willing to damn the book without reading it. Nonsense about witchcraft and fantasy. First I felt horror, then anger, and finally I said, 'Ah, the hell with it.' It's great publicity, really.''

11. THE SCIENCE FICTION HAS INSPIRED SCIENCE FACTS.

American astronaut Janice Voss once told L’Engle that A Wrinkle in Time inspired her career path. When Voss asked if she could bring a copy of the novel into space, L’Engle jokingly asked why she couldn’t go, too.

Inspiring astronauts wasn’t L’Engle’s only out-of-this-world achievement. In 2013 the International Astronomical Union (IAU) honored the writer’s memory by naming a crater on Mercury’s south pole “L’Engle.”

12. A STAR-STUDDED MOVIE ADAPTATION WILL HIT THEATERS IN 2018.

Although L’Engle was famously skeptical of film adaptations of the novel, Oscar-nominated filmmaker Ava DuVernay (13th; Selma) is bringing a star-filled version of the book to the big screen next year. Oprah Winfrey, Reese Witherspoon, Chris Pine, Mindy Kaling, and Zach Galifianakis are among the film's stars. It's due in theaters on March 9, 2018.

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