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IDW Publishing

The Most Interesting Comics of the Week

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IDW Publishing

Every Wednesday, I preview the most interesting new comics hitting comic shops, Comixology, Kickstarter and the web. Feel free to comment below if there's a comic you've read recently that you want to talk about.

1. The Illegitimates #1

Written by Taran Killam and Mark Andreyko; art by Kevin Sharpe
IDW

Jack Steele, the debonair ladies man and secret agent of OLYMPUS, has been killed by his arch enemy. To take his place, OLYMPUS has recruited five of Steele's illegitimate children - now grown into formidable (or not so formidable) super spies of their own. The five are brought together to save the world, but what happens when they find out what they all have in common?

This fun and clever concept, which takes James Bond's promiscuous (and unprotected) womanizing to the next level, is courtesy of Saturday Night Live's Taran Killam. A lifelong comic book fan, Killam pitched this idea to his comic writer friend Mark Andreyko years ago but nothing immediately came of it. Now, with Killam a regular cast member of SNL and Andreyko the new writer for DC's Batwoman, it's a good time for the two to get The Illegitimates out there.

Celebrities getting involved in comics has been a decidedly mixed bag. For every Kevin Smith or Gerard Way, we get a Rosario Dawson or Seth Green or, worst case scenario, a Shia LeBouf. Killam seems to be approaching The Illegitimates as more than a vanity project (though I'm sure someone is thinking about the movie proposal right now). It will initially be a six issue mini-series, but he's hoping it will lead to an ongoing series with Andreyko most likely doing the heavy lifting on the writing. Kevin Sharpe is the series artist who has previously worked on Dynamite's Army of Darkness comic, and whose action-oriented style is very reminiscent of Marvel's Mark Bagley. Veteran comic artist Jerry Ordway provides the covers, and this first one is a wonder to behold.

You can read a preview here.

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2. The Midas Flesh #1

Written by Ryan North; art by Braden Lamb and Shelli Paroline
Boom! Studios

Much like how Taran Killam is taking James Bond to its logical conclusion in The Illegitimates, Ryan North is taking the legend of King Midas to some pretty extreme lengths himself. After being given the gift of having anything he touches turn to gold, King Midas's uncontrollable power envelops the entire earth in gold, putting him into a state of suspended animation. Over 1 million years later, a space crew including two humans and a talking dinosaur approach the gold- encrusted Earth looking for the body of Midas.

Ryan North is the writer of the popular, long-running webcomic Dinosaur Comics. He is also the writer of the successful comic book adaptation of Cartoon Network's Adventure Time series. Boom! Studios, which publishes the Adventure Time comics, told North that they'd love to publish whatever he wanted to do next so he decided to revisit a script he wrote back when he was just starting out in comics and turned it into this new 8 issue mini-series, The Midas Flesh. Boom! is publishing this through a new imprint called Boom! Box that looks to give a new publishing outlet to the various webcomic creators they have working on licensed properties.

Though primarily a sci-fi adventure, The Midas Flesh promises to have lots of humor, clever dialogue and did I mention that the dinosaur wears a spacesuit? North is joined by fellow Adventure Time comic creators, Shelli Paroline and Braden Lamb who illustrate the story. 

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3. "Mother"

By Sophia Foster Dimino
SophiaFosterDimino.tumblr.com

Sophia Foster Dimino is a cartoonist and illustrator who currently works at Google as one of their Google Doodlers. This week she posted a new 5 page comic to her blog called "Mother". It was previously published in an Italian language anthology of mother-themed stories (also called Mother) that debuted at SPX this year but Dimino just re-lettered the comic in English. 

It's a beautiful little story about being a mother that spans from pregnancy to grandmotherhood, hitting on a couple of different parenting beats along the way. There is a deliberate male absence from the comic which makes it both a loving depiction of the bond between mothers and daughters while also a mystery of origin that the daughter herself ponders at one point. 

Dimino has a clean, beautiful drawing style and a great sense of design that permeates every panel of each page. Her experience at Google seems to show through in the way she playfully illustrates the word "Mother" on each page. 

Read "Mother" over on Dimino's Tumblr.

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4. Real Good Stuff #1 & 2

By Dennis P. Eichhorn and various artists
Poochie Press

The autobio has a long tradition in comics, which may be surprising considering that most cartoonists lead relatively solitary lives mostly spent making time-consuming comics. That may be why some of the most popular autobio comics are by writers who bring in separate artists to do the hard work of illustrating their lives. The most popular example of this approach was the late Harvey Pekar and his accounts of his own mundane life which he self-published in American Splendor for many years. Another pioneer to this approach, inspired by Pekar, is Dennis P. Eichhorn who published his own autobiographical vignettes in his comic Real Stuff back in the 1990s. 

What made Eichhorn stand out when he began publishing Real Stuff is that he seemed to have gotten out there and done some crazy stuff that makes for fun reading. His stories involve lots of drug use, explicit sex and encounters with lots of strange and dangerous weirdos. He has also managed to work with an interesting array of artists over the years such as Jim Woodring, Peter Bagge, Lynda Barry, Peter Kuper and more.

This year, a small boutique publisher called Poochie Press ran a successful Kickstarter  to fund the publishing of two new issues called Real Good Stuff featuring new autobiographical short stories from Eichhorn illustrated by artistic collaborators both new and old. Having exceeded its goal, they were able to package the proposed two issues into one perfect-bound volume formatted with two covers so that you flip the book over to read issue 2. You can buy the book thru Poochie Press' website for $10 plus shipping.


There are lots of crazy anecdotes told here. A long night spent trying to help a punk rocker score some drugs. Tales of sexual experimentation involving Viagra and handstands. Encounters with eccentric local characters. Each is illustrated in a different style by a different artist, and each seems to come from varying stages of Eichhorn's life but the consistency of his character holds it all together.

By the way, Eichhorn fans or maybe the Eichhorn-curious should know that Boing Boing recently began republishing his original Real Stuff comics online which you can read here.

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5. Infomaniacs

By Matthew Thurber
Picturebox

Matthew Thurber's new graphic novel Infomaniacs ran as a webcomic for a couple of years on a blog hosted by Picturebox Inc. Having completed the story it seems to have the honor of being the very last book Picturebox will publish as they begin closing their doors after more than ten years in business. Much has been written in recent weeks about publisher Dan Nadel's decision to end Picturebox's days of publishing unusual art comics. I'd recommend checking out Sean T. Collins' brief take on it because he also includes recommended books to pick up from their 50% off liquidation sale. 

Thurber and Picturebox describe Infomaniacs as "The Long Goodbye for the Tumblr Generation". A more apt comparison might be Thomas Pynchon's The Crying of Lot 49. It's an absurdist detective story with a large cast of unusual characters, government conspiracies and an anything-goes plot. At the heart of it is Amy Shit, who walks around wearing a helmet, helping out her grandmother and her imprisoned brother, coming up with new raps for her eco-hip-hop band and trying to catch an internet serial killer. Along the way she comes across a secret government agency led by a talking horse, the preserved brain of the only man on earth who has never seen the internet and she gets a job selling espresso on the Keystone Oil Pipeline.



I'm not sure if Thurber's book is included in that 50% Picturebox sale but you can purchase it through their website and pick up a lot of other great books while you're at it.
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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
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Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
May 21, 2017
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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva

Jacques Mattheij made a small, but awesome, mistake. He went on eBay one evening and bid on a bunch of bulk LEGO brick auctions, then went to sleep. Upon waking, he discovered that he was the high bidder on many, and was now the proud owner of two tons of LEGO bricks. (This is about 4400 pounds.) He wrote, "[L]esson 1: if you win almost all bids you are bidding too high."

Mattheij had noticed that bulk, unsorted bricks sell for something like €10/kilogram, whereas sets are roughly €40/kg and rare parts go for up to €100/kg. Much of the value of the bricks is in their sorting. If he could reduce the entropy of these bins of unsorted bricks, he could make a tidy profit. While many people do this work by hand, the problem is enormous—just the kind of challenge for a computer. Mattheij writes:

There are 38000+ shapes and there are 100+ possible shades of color (you can roughly tell how old someone is by asking them what lego colors they remember from their youth).

In the following months, Mattheij built a proof-of-concept sorting system using, of course, LEGO. He broke the problem down into a series of sub-problems (including "feeding LEGO reliably from a hopper is surprisingly hard," one of those facts of nature that will stymie even the best system design). After tinkering with the prototype at length, he expanded the system to a surprisingly complex system of conveyer belts (powered by a home treadmill), various pieces of cabinetry, and "copious quantities of crazy glue."

Here's a video showing the current system running at low speed:

The key part of the system was running the bricks past a camera paired with a computer running a neural net-based image classifier. That allows the computer (when sufficiently trained on brick images) to recognize bricks and thus categorize them by color, shape, or other parameters. Remember that as bricks pass by, they can be in any orientation, can be dirty, can even be stuck to other pieces. So having a flexible software system is key to recognizing—in a fraction of a second—what a given brick is, in order to sort it out. When a match is found, a jet of compressed air pops the piece off the conveyer belt and into a waiting bin.

After much experimentation, Mattheij rewrote the software (several times in fact) to accomplish a variety of basic tasks. At its core, the system takes images from a webcam and feeds them to a neural network to do the classification. Of course, the neural net needs to be "trained" by showing it lots of images, and telling it what those images represent. Mattheij's breakthrough was allowing the machine to effectively train itself, with guidance: Running pieces through allows the system to take its own photos, make a guess, and build on that guess. As long as Mattheij corrects the incorrect guesses, he ends up with a decent (and self-reinforcing) corpus of training data. As the machine continues running, it can rack up more training, allowing it to recognize a broad variety of pieces on the fly.

Here's another video, focusing on how the pieces move on conveyer belts (running at slow speed so puny humans can follow). You can also see the air jets in action:

In an email interview, Mattheij told Mental Floss that the system currently sorts LEGO bricks into more than 50 categories. It can also be run in a color-sorting mode to bin the parts across 12 color groups. (Thus at present you'd likely do a two-pass sort on the bricks: once for shape, then a separate pass for color.) He continues to refine the system, with a focus on making its recognition abilities faster. At some point down the line, he plans to make the software portion open source. You're on your own as far as building conveyer belts, bins, and so forth.

Check out Mattheij's writeup in two parts for more information. It starts with an overview of the story, followed up with a deep dive on the software. He's also tweeting about the project (among other things). And if you look around a bit, you'll find bulk LEGO brick auctions online—it's definitely a thing!

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8 Common Dog Behaviors, Decoded
May 25, 2017
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Dogs are a lot more complicated than we give them credit for. As a result, sometimes things get lost in translation. We’ve yet to invent a dog-to-English translator, but there are certain behaviors you can learn to read in order to better understand what your dog is trying to tell you. The more tuned-in you are to your dog’s emotions, the better you’ll be able to respond—whether that means giving her some space or welcoming a wet, slobbery kiss. 

1. What you’ll see: Your dog is standing with his legs and body relaxed and tail low. His ears are up, but not pointed forward. His mouth is slightly open, he’s panting lightly, and his tongue is loose. His eyes? Soft or maybe slightly squinty from getting his smile on.

What it means: “Hey there, friend!” Your pup is in a calm, relaxed state. He’s open to mingling, which means you can feel comfortable letting friends say hi.

2. What you’ll see: Your dog is standing with her body leaning forward. Her ears are erect and angled forward—or have at least perked up if they’re floppy—and her mouth is closed. Her tail might be sticking out horizontally or sticking straight up and wagging slightly.

What it means: “Hark! Who goes there?!” Something caught your pup’s attention and now she’s on high alert, trying to discern whether or not the person, animal, or situation is a threat. She’ll likely stay on guard until she feels safe or becomes distracted.

3. What you’ll see: Your dog is standing, leaning slightly forward. His body and legs are tense, and his hackles—those hairs along his back and neck—are raised. His tail is stiff and twitching, not swooping playfully. His mouth is open, teeth are exposed, and he may be snarling, snapping, or barking excessively.

What it means: “Don’t mess with me!” This dog is asserting his social dominance and letting others know that he might attack if they don’t defer accordingly. A dog in this stance could be either offensively aggressive or defensively aggressive. If you encounter a dog in this state, play it safe and back away slowly without making eye contact.

4. What you’ll see: As another dog approaches, your dog lies down on his back with his tail tucked in between his legs. His paws are tucked in too, his ears are flat, and he isn’t making direct eye contact with the other dog standing over him.

What it means: “I come in peace!” Your pooch is displaying signs of submission to a more dominant dog, conveying total surrender to avoid physical confrontation. Other, less obvious, signs of submission include ears that are flattened back against the head, an avoidance of eye contact, a tongue flick, and bared teeth. Yup—a dog might bare his teeth while still being submissive, but they’ll likely be clenched together, the lips opened horizontally rather than curled up to show the front canines. A submissive dog will also slink backward or inward rather than forward, which would indicate more aggressive behavior.

5. What you’ll see: Your dog is crouching with her back hunched, tail tucked, and the corner of her mouth pulled back with lips slightly curled. Her shoulders, or hackles, are raised and her ears are flattened. She’s avoiding eye contact.

What it means: “I’m scared, but will fight you if I have to.” This dog’s fight or flight instincts have been activated. It’s best to keep your distance from a dog in this emotional state because she could attack if she feels cornered.

6. What you’ll see: You’re staring at your dog, holding eye contact. Your dog looks away from you, tentatively looks back, then looks away again. After some time, he licks his chops and yawns.

What it means: “I don’t know what’s going on and it’s weirding me out.” Your dog doesn’t know what to make of the situation, but rather than nipping or barking, he’ll stick to behaviors he knows are OK, like yawning, licking his chops, or shaking as if he’s wet. You’ll want to intervene by removing whatever it is causing him discomfort—such as an overly grabby child—and giving him some space to relax.

7. What you’ll see: Your dog has her front paws bent and lowered onto the ground with her rear in the air. Her body is relaxed, loose, and wiggly, and her tail is up and wagging from side to side. She might also let out a high-pitched or impatient bark.

What it means: “What’s the hold up? Let’s play!” This classic stance, known to dog trainers and behaviorists as “the play bow,” is a sign she’s ready to let the good times roll. Get ready for a round of fetch or tug of war, or for a good long outing at the dog park.

8. What you’ll see: You’ve just gotten home from work and your dog rushes over. He can’t stop wiggling his backside, and he may even lower himself into a giant stretch, like he’s doing yoga.

What it means: “OhmygoshImsohappytoseeyou I love you so much you’re my best friend foreverandeverandever!!!!” This one’s easy: Your pup is overjoyed his BFF is back. That big stretch is something dogs don’t pull out for just anyone; they save that for the people they truly love. Show him you feel the same way with a good belly rub and a handful of his favorite treats.

The best way to say “I love you” in dog? A monthly subscription to BarkBox. Your favorite pup will get a package filled with treats, toys, and other good stuff (and in return, you’ll probably get lots of sloppy kisses). Visit BarkBox to learn more.

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