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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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Kyle Ely
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Dedicated Middle School Teacher Transforms His Classroom Into Hogwarts
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Kyle Ely

It would be hard to dread back-to-school season with Kyle Ely as your teacher. As ABC News reports, the instructor brought a piece of Hogwarts to Evergreen Middle School in Hillsboro, Oregon by plastering his classroom with Harry Potter-themed decor.

The journey into the school's makeshift wizarding world started at his door, which was decorated with red brick wall paper and a "Platform 9 3/4" sign above the entrance. Inside, students found a convincing Hogwarts classroom complete with floating candles, a sorting hat, owl statues, and house crests. He even managed to recreate the starry night sky effect of the school’s Great Hall by covering the ceiling with black garbage bags and splattering them with white paint.

The whole project cost the teacher around $300 to $400 and took him 70 hours to build. As a long-time Harry Potter fan, he said that being able to share his love of the book series with his students made it all pay off it. He wrote in a Facebook post, "Seeing their faces light up made all the time and effort put into this totally worth it."

Inside of Harry Potter-themed classroom.

Inside of Harry Potter-themed classroom.

Inside of Harry Potter-themed classroom.

Though wildly creative, the Hogwarts-themed classroom at Evergreen Middle School isn't the first of its kind. Back in 2015, a middle school teacher in Oklahoma City outfitted her classroom with a potions station and a stuffed version of Fluffy to make the new school year a little more magical. Here are some more unique classroom themes teachers have used to transport their kids without leaving school.

[h/t ABC News]

Images courtesy of Kyle Ely.

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Tim Boyle/Getty Images
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literature
How the Rise of Paperback Books Turned To Kill a Mockingbird Into a Literary Classic
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Tim Boyle/Getty Images

If you went to middle or high school in the U.S. in the last few decades, chances are you’ve read To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee's now-classic novel (which was adapted into a now-classic film) about racial injustice in the South. Even if you grew up far-removed from Jim Crow laws, you probably still understand its significance; in 2006, British librarians voted it the one book every adult should read before they die. And yet the novel, while considered an instant success, wasn’t always destined for its immense fame, as we learned from the Vox video series Overrated. In fact, its status in the American literary canon has a lot to do with the format in which it was printed.

To Kill a Mockingbird came out in paperback at a time when literary houses were just starting to invest in the format. After its publication in 1960, To Kill a Mockingbird was reviewed favorably in The New York Times, but it wasn’t the bestselling novel that year. It was the evolution of paperbacks that helped put it into more hands.

Prior to the 1960s, paperbacks were often kind of trashy, and when literary novels were published in the format, they still featured what Vox calls “sexy covers,” like a softcover edition of The Great Gatsby that featured a shirtless Jay Gatsby on the cover. According to a 1961 article in The New York Times, back in the 1950s, paperbacks were described as “a showcase for the ‘three S’s—sex, sadism, and the smoking gun.’” But then, paperbacks came to schools.

The mass-market paperback for To Kill a Mockingbird came out in 1962. It was cheap, but had stellar credentials, which appealed to teachers. It was a popular, well-reviewed book that earned Lee the Pulitzer Prize. Suddenly, it was in virtually every school and, even half a century later, it still is.

Learn the whole story in the video below from Vox.

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