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The Most Interesting Comics of the Week

Marvel Comics
Marvel Comics

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

1. Parker: Slayground

By Darwyn Cooke; Adapted from the novel by Richard Stark (a.k.a. Donald Westlake)
IDW

What's it about?
After his latest heist goes south, professional criminal and tough guy Parker has to hide out in a closed up amusement park where he is pursued by rogue cops and local mobsters. Slayground, the fourth adaptation of the classic Richard Stark crime novels by Darwyn Cooke, is a cat-and-mouse thriller set entirely in said amusement park.

What makes it interesting?
Darwyn Cooke's love of the original Parker novels has inspired some of his best work in those first three graphic novels and he hasn't seemed to run out of steam yet. In fact, he's still planning on doing at least two more after this one. If you're a fan of crime stories, these are about as sure of a thing as you can ask for since they give you one of the great comic book storytellers of the 21st century adapting works from one of the great crime novelists of the 20th century. 

It's always interesting to see how a writer adapts a work from one medium into another. This particular entry in the original Parker series seems fairly straightforward compared to some of the other more complex, heist-oriented plots, but it's also more action-oriented and hence ripe for a more visual approach. It also may be one of the most loved by fans of the novels. The entire book takes place within the amusement park and it is all about the thrill of the chase. And how can you not be excited about seeing Cooke draw these scenes set in a shadowy, abandoned vintage amusement park?

In addition to including a map of the amusement park for you to follow the action with, this hardcover volume reprints a short story called "The 7th" that originally appeared in the Parker collection called The Martini Edition.

Read the amazing looking first few pages of Slayground here.

2. Marvel Knights: Hulk #1

Written by Joe Keatinge; art by Piotr Kowalski; colors by Nick Filardi
Marvel Comics

What's it about?
Bruce Banner wakes up on the bank of the Seine with no recollection of who he is, how he got there and what he's capable of turning into. Meanwhile, he's being pursued, and is about to find out he's not the only one out there capable of turning into the Hulk. This is the first issue of a new 4-issue mini-series published under the revived Marvel Knights imprint.

What makes it interesting?
Marvel Knights was started in the late 1990s within Marvel Comics, which was at that point struggling both creatively and financially. It quickly became the center of a creative renaissance within the company that launched the careers of creators like Brian Michael Bendis and future Marvel Chief Creative Officer Joe Quesada. Marvel Knights was a line of books where new creative voices were encouraged to try different things with popular Marvel characters without being overly concerned with continuity among other Marvel titles. In 2006, the various Marvel Knights titles were folded back into the regular Marvel Universe, but now they're trying it again with three mini-series (others include Marvel Knights: Spider-man and Marvel Knights: X-men), showcasing work by relatively new indie creators. 

Joe Keatinge is a writer perhaps best known for his successful 2011 relaunch of Rob Liefeld's Glory while Piotr Kowalski has done a lot of work in the French comics market but is most recently known for his Image book Sex with writer Joe Casey. They have what sounds like an exciting plot for this series and are giving it an approach that is more sophisticated than your typical Hulk comic. Its focus on Banner on the run and its shift away from over-the-top super heroics are reminiscent of Bruce Jones' run from 2001. Keatinge has described his take on the Hulk as being "the American Nightmare" and the "anti-Captain America." Where Captain America represents the American Ideal, the Hulk is the embodiment of our nation's sins committed under the guise of national security. "Captain America is our victory of Normandy; The Hulk is our shame of Nagasaki."

Keatinge and Kowalski also have taken their inspiration from European comics and cinema as they tell a story that starts in Paris and hops all over the world in the span of 4 issues. Keatinge talks about influences from Hugo Pratt's comic Corto Maltese and Jean Luc Godard's French New Wave film Breathless which is certainly an intriguing way to come at a Hulk comic and certainly has my attention.

Check out some preview images and an interview with Joe Keatinge here.

3. Warren Publishing Archive

Archive.org

What is it?
Archive.org has a vast collection of scanned magazines from Warren Publishing such as Creepy, Blazing Combat and Vampirella. These magazines were originally published in the '60s and '70s and are available in various reprinted formats now, but these scans are free to read and are from the original publications. Most are decidedly adult in content but feature work by some of the greatest artists of that era. 

What makes it interesting?
After the advent of the Comics Code in the 1950s, James Warren found a way around its restrictions by publishing comics in magazine format, claiming that the content restrictions did not apply to magazines. This allowed his company to publish horror and sci-fi comics featuring nudity, violence, and adult themes that regular comics could not go anywhere near. These magazines were very influential and appealed to a lot of readers who wanted darker, edgier, weirder material than standard American comics could provide. Anthology-style magazines like Creepy, 1984 and The Rook would often showcase renowned artists like Al Williamson, Frank Frazetta, Richard Corben, Wally Wood, Johnny Craig and Bernie Wrightson. Vampirella (which featured stories about a sexy alien from a doomed planet rich with blood that comes to Earth to feed criminals and evil doers) was often drawn by amazing Spanish artists such as José Gonzalez.

Warren's magazines were a precursor to other mature-reader anthology magazines that would come to popularity in the 1980s like Heavy Metal and Epic. Some of the artists that would appear in those publications were first seen in Warren's.

A large number of these Warren magazines are now available to read for free on the Internet Archive at Archive.org. You can read them via a simple web browser interface or download PDFs or hi-res JPEGs for offline reading. Although much of this material has been reprinted in various bookshelf-friendly formats, these scans seem to be from the original magazines and even include some of the ads that appeared inside. The Internet Archive is a non-profit dedicated to preserving reading material online for the purpose of research and reference. Artists and art lovers will surely enjoy perusing these pages. Just be aware that it may not be appropriate for younger art lovers.

In addition to the comics, Warren published a number of movie magazines such as Famous Monsters of Filmland that are included in this collection as well. Plus, it also includes the mid-'70s The Spirit magazine which reprinted Will Eisner's classic strip of the same name from the 1940s. This is a treasure trove of classic material available for free.

Browse the archive for free here.

4. Doc Savage #1

Written by Chris Roberson; art by Bilquis Evely; covers by Alex Ross
Dynamite Entertainment

What's it about?
The classic pulp hero from the '40s returns in a new ongoing series.

What makes it interesting?
There have been many attempts to revive the Doc Savage brand in comics over the years and most usually fizzle out pretty quickly. The character has been a big influence on most of the superheroes that have come after him and we've seen a lot of what made him great remixed into other characters over the years, most notably in Alan Moore's Tom Strong.
In many ways, Savage suffers from the same problem that crippled the recent John Carter film from Disney. After we've seen so many homages to a classic character, it becomes hard for new audiences to not think they're seeing something cliche when the classic is revisited.

Chris Roberson is a writer who has himself worked a lot of what he loved about Doc Savage into other characters he's written. Now he has the opportunity to take the real thing and give it another attempt at a refresh. Roberson's approach will be to start the book in the 1940s (the era Doc Savage originated in) and, over the course of the first 8 issues, bring him forward into present day.

Roberson is joined by Brazilian artist Bilquis Evely who draws in a very clean, realist style that fits very well with the Dynamite aesthetic they've been fostering, especially among their various pulp-oriented books. For covers, superstar artist Alex Ross is providing the gravitas needed to make these books look and feel on par with some of the covers of the classic Doc Savage paperback novels of the past.

Read a pretty long preview here.

5. Justice League 3000 #1

Written by Keith Giffen and J.M. DeMatteis; art by Howard Porter
DC Comics

What's it about?
Set in the 31st Century, a new Justice League has formed with familiar heroes like Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman and the Flash. But who are these heroes of the future?

What makes it interesting?
The interesting thing is probably how little we know about this book going into it. DC and writers Keith Giffen and J.M. DeMatteis are keeping pretty tight-lipped on details about the course of this book and the identity of the heroes. Considering that DC recently cancelled its other 31st century book Legion of Superheroes, it's a reasonable guess that this would tie into it in some way, but the writers claim it is its own thing. They also say that the heroes are not the heroes we know and are not descendants, so we'll see where this goes.

Giffen and DeMatteis are fondly remembered for their various humorous runs on the Justice League starting back in the mid-'80s. Their usual partner on those books, Kevin Maguire, was originally slated to draw Justice League 3000 but for reasons unknown was removed from the book and replaced with Howard Porter. Porter also has a legacy with the Justice League, having been the artist on one of the most popular runs in recent memory, Grant Morrisson's JLA from the late '90s.

You can read a preview here.

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6 X-Rated Library Collections
The reading room of the British Library, circa 1840
The reading room of the British Library, circa 1840
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

During the 19th century, some librarians became preoccupied with the morality (or lack thereof) of some of their titles. As a result, a number of libraries created special collections for "obscene" works, to ensure that only readers with a valid academic purpose might access them. Below are six examples, adapted from Claire Cock-Starkey’s new book A Library Miscellany.

1. THE "PRIVATE CASE" // THE BRITISH LIBRARY

At the British Library (or British Museum Library, as it was called then), it was John Winter Jones, Keeper of Printed Books from 1856, who was responsible for the creation of the “Private Case.” Titles that were deemed subversive, heretical, libelous, obscene, or that contained state secrets were kept out of the general catalog, stored in separate shelving, and marked with the shelfmark category “PC” (for private case). By far the majority of books in the private case were pornographic or erotic texts; it's rumored that by the mid-1960s the case contained over 5000 such texts, including George Witt’s collection of books on phallicism and Charles Reginald Dawes’s collection of French erotica from 1880–1930.

What was unusual about the Private Case was that it was so secretive: None of the books were recorded in any catalog, as if the collection didn’t exist. But starting in 1983, all books once in the Private Case have been listed in the catalog, and many have been returned to the main collection—although librarians may still check that a reader has academic reasons for consulting some of the more scandalous titles.

2. L’ENFER // BIBLIOTHEQUE NATIONALE DE FRANCE

General stacks of the Bibliotheque nationale de France
FRANCOIS GUILLOT/AFP/Getty Images

L’Enfer, which translates as “the hell,” was created in 1830 to house the French national library’s large collection of erotica and other books that were considered “contrary to good morals.” Many of the works were obtained by the library through confiscation, but fortunately the librarians had the foresight to preserve these scandalous texts. The collection—which still exists—has been largely kept private and was only fully cataloged in 1913, when about 855 titles were recorded.

Modern pornographic magazines and erotic fiction do not get cast into L’Enfer: It is only for rare works or works of cultural significance, such as a handwritten copy of the Marquis de Sade’s Les Infortunes de la Vertu (1787) and The Story of O by Pauline Réage (1954). In 2007, the library put on a public exhibition of some of the more fascinating (and titillating) texts in L’Enfer, finally granting the public a glimpse of this hidden collection.

3. TRIPLE-STAR COLLECTION // NEW YORK PUBLIC LIBRARY

The New York Public Library Main Reading Room
Drew Angerer/Getty Images

At the New York Public Library, some obscene works were once hand-marked with "***", which indicated that readers who wanted to consult those volumes had to be supervised. (Librarians regularly collected erotica, including from nearby Times Square, as part of their "mandate to collect life as it was lived," according to The New York Times.This system began in the mid-20th century and caused certain titles to be locked in caged shelves; it also meant that the items could only be consulted in a small restricted part of the reading rooms after special permission was granted.

4. PHI COLLECTION // OXFORD'S BODLEIAN LIBRARY

Radcliffe Camera building, part of the Bodleian Library
Oli Scarff/Getty Images

The restricted collection at the Bodleian Library was created by E. W. B. Nicholson, who was head librarian from 1886–1913. No one is quite sure why it was named after the Greek letter phi, but some have suggested it was because it sounds like “fie!” which you might exclaim when asked to retrieve a book from this collection. Or, perhaps it stems from the first letter “phi” of the Greek “phaula” or “phaulos,” meaning worthless, wicked, or base. The collection included pornography alongside works of sexual pathology, and students needed to ask a tutor to confirm their academic need for a book before the librarians would let them consult any texts with a phi shelfmark. Today, many of the books have been reclassified into the general collection, but the phi shelfmark still persists.

5. "XR" COLLECTION // HARVARD’S WIDENER LIBRARY

 Widener Memorial Library at Harvard University
Darren McCollester/Newsmakers

The Widener Library still holds its restricted collection behind a locked copper door in the basement of the library—not because they still want to hide it, but simply because (it's said) no one has the time to redistribute the collection back into main circulation. The collection was thought to have been set up in the 1950s, after a sociology professor complained that many texts he needed for his class were missing or defaced (the Playboy centerfold was apparently always going astray), and thus the restricted collection was created to protect and preserve rather than to censor. The collection was only added to for a 30-year period and is now closed; however, its classification reveals something of the social attitudes of the times towards titles such as The Passions and Lechery of Catherine the Great (1971) and D. H. Lawrence’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover (1928). The X part of the shelfmark does not stand for X-rated but indicates that the books are unusual; the R part stands for “restricted.”

6. THE ARC // CAMBRIDGE UNIVERSITY LIBRARY

Trinity College Library, Cambridge University
Central Press/Getty Images

As library collections are frequently made up of a series of smaller collections donated to the institution, they may often acquire titles that the library may otherwise have not chosen to collect—such as some of the more risqué works. Cambridge University Library felt it had a duty to students to protect them from some of the more offensive books in their collection, and for this reason the Arc (short for arcana—meaning secrets or mysteries) classification was created. As with other restricted collections, Cambridge’s Arc provides a fascinating insight into changing moral attitudes. Some of the highlights included what is considered by some historians as the first gay novel, L’Alcibiade fanciullo a scola (Alcibiades the Schoolboy), published in 1652; a 1922 copy of Ulysses by James Joyce (notable because at that time the book was being burned by UK Customs Officers); and a misprinted copy of the Cambridge Bible.

BONUS: "INFERNO" // THE VATICAN LIBRARY

The Sistine Hall, once part of the Vatican Library
Michal Osmenda, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 2.0

There has always been a rumor that the Vatican Library holds the largest collection of pornographic material in the world, in a collection supposedly known as the “Inferno,” but in fact this honor goes to the Kinsey Institute for Sex Research in Bloomington, Indiana. It is thought that the Vatican Library’s collection was created from the thousands of erotic works that have been confiscated by the Vatican over the years. However, no evidence for the collection has been found, and the (admittedly incredibly secretive) Vatican librarians deny its very existence.

This article is an expanded version of an entry in Claire Cock-Starkey’s A Library Miscellany, published by Bodleian Library Publishing.

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8 Professional Translators Choose Their Favorite 'Untranslatable' Words
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Readers tend to think of a translated novel as having just one author. While that’s technically true, each work contains two voices: that of the author and the translator. Translators must ensure that their interpretation remains faithful to the style and intent of the author, but this doesn't mean that nothing is added in the process. Gabriel García Márquez, the author of One Hundred Years of Solitude, once famously said that the English version of his novel was, in some ways, better than his original work in Spanish.

“A good translation is itself a work of art,” translator Nicky Harman writes. Put differently, translator Daniel Hahn believes translation is literally impossible. “I don’t just mean it’s really, really difficult, but really, it’s not actually possible,” he says. “There’s not a single word in any of the languages I translate that can map perfectly onto a word in English. So it’s always interpretative, approximate, creative.”

In a show of appreciation for this challenging craft, the Man Booker International Prize was created to annually recognize one outstanding work of literature that has been translated from its original language into English and published in the UK. Ahead of the winner being announced on May 22, the translators of eight Man Booker International Prize nominees have shared their favorite "untranslatable" words from the original language of the novels they translated into English.

1. BREF

Sam Taylor, who translated The 7th Function of Language by Laurent Binet from French to English, said the best definition of bref is “Well, you get the idea.” It’s typically used to punctuate the end of a long, rambling speech, and is sometimes used for comedic effect. “It’s such a concise (and intrinsically sardonic) way of cutting a long story short,” Taylor says.

2. SANTIGUADORA

Unsatisfied with any of the English words at their disposal, translators Sarah Moses and Carolina Orloff left this word in Spanish in Die, My Love, a psychological novel by Ariana Harwicz. The word, which describes a female healer who uses prayer to break hexes and cure ailments, was explained in the text itself. The translated version reads: “If only there were santiguadoras living in these parts, those village women who for a fee will pray away your guy’s indigestion and your toddler’s tantrums, simple as that.”

3. HELLHÖRIG

The German word Hellhörig "literally means 'bright-hearing' and is used, for example, to describe walls so thin you can hear every noise in the next room," says Simon Pare, who translated The Flying Mountain, a novel by Christoph Ransmayr. Pare notes that while English equivalents like "paper-thin" and “flimsy” carry the same negative connotation, they don’t have the same poetic quality that hellhörig has. "'The walls have ears,' while expressive, is not the same thing,” Pare laments.

4. VORSTELLUNG

Vorstellung (another German word) can be defined as an idea or notion, but when its etymology is broken down, it suddenly doesn’t seem so simple. It stems from the verb vorstellen, meaning “to place in front of—in this case, in front of the mind’s eye,” according to Susan Bernofsky, who translated Go, Went, Gone by Jenny Erpenbeck. “The Vorstellung is the object of that act of mental conjuring-up," Bernofsky adds. (Fun fact: All nouns are capitalized in German.)

5. 눈치 (NUNCH'I)

Literally translating to “eye measure,” the Korean word nunch’i describes “an awareness of how those around you are currently feeling, plus their general character, and therefore the appropriate response,” says Deborah Smith, the translator of Han Kang’s The White Book. Korean culture stresses the importance of harmony, and thus it’s important to avoid doing or saying anything that could hurt another person’s pride, according to CultureShock! Korea: A Survival Guide to Customs and Etiquette.

6. ON

Anyone who has survived French 101 has seen this word, but it’s a difficult concept to fully grasp. It’s also one that crops up regularly in novels, making it “the greatest headache for a translator,” according to Frank Wynne, who translated Vernon Subutex 1 by Virginie Despentes. On is often translated as “one” (as in “one shouldn’t ask such questions”), but in general conversation it can come off as “preposterously disdainful,” Wynne notes. Furthermore, the word is used in different ways to express very different things in French, and can be taken to mean “we,” “people,” “they,” and more, according to French Today.

7. TERTULIA

Store this one away for your next cocktail party. The Spanish word tertulia can be defined as “an enjoyable conversation about political or literary topics at a social gathering,” according to Camilo A. Ramirez, who translated Like a Fading Shadow by Antonio Munoz Molina. Although tertulia is tricky to translate, it's one of Ramirez's favorite Spanish words because it invokes a specific atmosphere and paints a scene in the reader’s mind. For instance, the first chapter of The Hobbit, “An Unexpected Party,” becomes “Una Tertulia Inesperada” when translated into Spanish.

8. PAN/PANI

Like the French on, the Polish words pan (an honorific address for men) and pani (an address for women) are challenging to explain in English. While many European languages have both a formal and informal “you,” pan and pani are a different animal. “[It's] believed to derive from the days of a Polish noble class called the szlachta—another tradition unique to Poland,” says Jennifer Croft, who translated Flights by Olga Tokarczuk into English. This form of address was originally used for Polish gentry and was often contrasted with the word cham, meaning peasants, according to Culture.pl, a Polish culture site. Now, it’s used to address all people, except for children or friends.

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