IDW Publishing
IDW Publishing

The Most Interesting Comics of the Week

IDW Publishing
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

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.


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. 


3. "Mother"

By Sophia Foster Dimino

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.


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.


5. Infomaniacs

By Matthew Thurber

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.

9 Curses for Book Thieves From the Middle Ages and Beyond

It may seem extreme to threaten the gallows for the theft of a book, but that's just one example in the long, respected tradition of book curses. Before the invention of moveable type in the West, the cost of a single book could be tremendous. As medievalist Eric Kwakkel explains, stealing a book then was more like stealing someone’s car today. Now, we have car alarms; then, they had chains, chests … and curses. And since the heyday of the book curse occurred during the Middle Ages in Europe, it was often spiced with Dante-quality torments of hell.

The earliest such curses go back to the 7th century BCE. They appear in Latin, vernacular European languages, Arabic, Greek, and more. And they continued, in some cases, into the era of print, gradually fading as books became less expensive. Here are nine that capture the flavor of this bizarre custom.


A book curse from the Arnstein Bible, circa 1172
A curse in the Arnstein Bible
British Library // Public Domain

The Arnstein Bible at the British Library, written in Germany circa 1172, has a particularly vivid torture in mind for the book thief: “If anyone steals it: may he die, may he be roasted in a frying pan, may the falling sickness [i.e. epilepsy] and fever attack him, and may he be rotated [on the breaking wheel] and hanged. Amen.”


A 15th-century French curse featured by Marc Drogin in his book Anathema! Medieval Scribes and the History of Book Curses has a familiar "House That Jack Built"-type structure:

“Whoever steals this book
Will hang on a gallows in Paris,
And, if he isn’t hung, he’ll drown,
And, if he doesn’t drown, he’ll roast,
And, if he doesn’t roast, a worse end will befall him.”


A book curse excerpted from the 13th-century Historia scholastica
A book curse from the Historia scholastica
Yale Beinecke Library // Public Domain

In The Medieval Book, Barbara A. Shailor records a curse from Northeastern France found in the 12th-century Historia scholastica: “Peter, of all the monks the least significant, gave this book to the most blessed martyr, Saint Quentin. If anyone should steal it, let him know that on the Day of Judgment the most sainted martyr himself will be the accuser against him before the face of our Lord Jesus Christ.”


Drogin also records this 13th-century curse from a manuscript at the Vatican Library, as notes. It escalates rapidly.

"The finished book before you lies;
This humble scribe don’t criticize.
Whoever takes away this book
May he never on Christ look.
Whoever to steal this volume durst
May he be killed as one accursed.
Whoever to steal this volume tries
Out with his eyes, out with his eyes!"


A book curse from an 11th century lectionary
A book curse from an 11th century lectionary
Beinecke Library // Public Domain

An 11th-century book curse from a church in Italy, spotted by Kwakkel, offers potential thieves the chance to make good: “Whoever takes this book or steals it or in some evil way removes it from the Church of St Caecilia, may he be damned and cursed forever, unless he returns it or atones for his act.”


This book curse was written in a combination of Latin and German, as Drogin records:

"To steal this book, if you should try,
It’s by the throat you’ll hang high.
And ravens then will gather ’bout
To find your eyes and pull them out.
And when you’re screaming 'oh, oh, oh!'
Remember, you deserved this woe."


This 18th-century curse from a manuscript found in Saint Mark’s Monastery, Jerusalem, is written in Arabic: “Property of the monastery of the Syrians in honorable Jerusalem. Anyone who steals or removes [it] from its place of donation will be cursed from the mouth of God! God (may he be exalted) will be angry with him! Amen.”


A book curse in a 17th century manuscript cookbook
A book curse in a 17th century cookbook

A 17th-century manuscript cookbook now at the New York Academy of Medicine contains this inscription: "Jean Gembel her book I wish she may be drouned yt steals it from her."


An ownership inscription on a 1632 book printed in London, via the Rochester Institute of Technology, contains a familiar motif:

“Steal not this Book my honest friend
For fear the gallows be yr end
For when you die the Lord will say
Where is the book you stole away.”


One of the most elaborate book curses found on the internet runs as follows: "For him that stealeth a Book from this Library, let it change to a Serpent in his hand and rend him. Let him be struck with Palsy, and all his Members blasted. Let him languish in Pain, crying aloud for Mercy and let there be no surcease to his Agony till he sink to Dissolution. Let Book-worms gnaw his Entrails in token of the Worm that dieth not, and when at last he goeth to his final Punishment let the Flames of Hell consume him for ever and aye.”

Alas, this curse—still often bandied about as real—was in fact part of a 1909 hoax by the librarian and mystery writer Edmund Pearson, who published it in his "rediscovered" Old Librarian's Almanack. The Almanack was supposed to be the creation of a notably curmudgeonly 18th-century librarian; in fact, it was a product of Pearson's fevered imagination.

Chemung County Historical Society, Elmira, NY
John W. Jones: The Runaway Slave Who Buried Nearly 3000 Confederate Soldiers
Chemung County Historical Society, Elmira, NY
Chemung County Historical Society, Elmira, NY

John W. Jones was as close to a sinless man as you could find—with the exception of the time he lied to his mother.

It was a late June evening in 1844 and the 26-year-old enslaved man, who lived on a plantation near Leesburg, Virginia, told his mother that he was leaving to attend a party. His real plans were much riskier. Jones slipped outside, grabbed a pistol, and rendezvoused with four other enslaved men. With starlight as their guide, they crept through the Virginia woods. Their destination: North.

The men hiked approximately 20 miles every day, dodging slave catchers in Maryland and crossing the Mason-Dixon Line into the free state of Pennsylvania. Following a major route along the Underground Railroad, they needled through Harrisburg and Williamsport and traced a path along what is now State Route 14. When the exhausted men snuck into a barn near the New York border to sleep, Jones kept guard as the others rested: He sat down, laid a shotgun on his lap, and kept his eyes peeled.

“He was serious about getting his freedom,” says Talima Aaron, President of the John W. Jones Museum Board of Trustees. “He understood the danger, and he constantly took responsibility for others. You’ll notice that was a thread for him—responsibility for others.”

Jones never had to use the gun. When the barn’s owner, Nathaniel Smith, discovered the five men on his property, he invited them into his home. His wife Sarah served the group hot biscuits and butter and cared for them until their strength returned. It was the first time many of them had ever been inside a white person’s home. According to an 1885 profile in The Elmira Telegram, the gesture brought the men to tears.

On July 5, 1844, Jones crossed a toll bridge into Elmira, New York, with less than $2 in his pocket. Unlike most runaways bound for Canada, Jones decided to stay in Elmira. It’s here that Jones would become one of the country's most successful Underground Railroad conductors, one of the richest black men in the state of New York, and the last earthly link for nearly 3000 dead Confederate soldiers.


Living in the north did not mean Jones had it easy. He could not vote. He still shared sidewalks with former slave-owners. When he asked to receive an education at the local schools, he was denied.

But Jones had a knack for cracking ceilings. After earning the admiration of a local judge, he was allowed to study at an all-women’s seminary, exchanging janitorial work for reading and writing lessons. He joined a church with abolitionist leanings and become its sexton, maintaining its cemetery. Then he became the sexton of a second cemetery, and then a third. The community quickly grew to respect his work ethic and, eventually, Jones had earned enough money to buy a small house—a house that he transformed into a vital hub for the Underground Railroad.

At the time, the Underground Railroad—an informal network of trails, hiding places, and guides that helped slaves escape northward—was under intense scrutiny. The 1850 Fugitive Slave Act had created financial incentives to report runaways living in free states. “Slave catchers from the south could come up to a place like Elmira and claim that a person of color was a runaway slave, and they could haul them back into slavery—even if that person had been born free,” says Bruce Whitmarsh, Director of the Chemung County Historical Society. There were steep penalties for aiding a person’s escape.

Jones didn’t care. Not only did he join the Underground Railroad, he was openly vocal about it, loudly pledging his opposition to the Fugitive Slave Act in a message that was published in abolitionist newspapers across the region: “Resolved, that we, the colored citizens of Elmira, do hereby form ourselves into a society for the purpose of protecting ourselves against those persons, (slave-catchers) prowling through different parts of this and other States.” Jones committed to resisting the law, even at the risk that “everyone of us be assassinated.”

The Underground Railroad in Elmira was unique: Since the town included the only train stop between Philadelphia and Ontario, it actually involved locomotives. Jones communicated regularly with William Still, the chief "conductor" of the Underground Railroad in Philadelphia, and built a cozy network of abolitionists who worked on trains passing through town. He provided runaways with housing, food, and even part-time jobs. “Runaways usually came in groups of four, six, or 10,” Aaron says. “But he had up to 30 at once in his little house.” Jones arranged hiding space for all of the escapees on the 4 a.m. “Freedom Baggage Car” to Canada, as it was unofficially known.

Over the course of nine years, Jones aided the escape of around 800 runaway slaves. Not one was captured.

During the last years of the Civil War, the same railroad tracks that had delivered hundreds of runaways to freedom began to carry thousands of captive Confederate soldiers to Elmira’s new prisoner of war camp. Once again, Jones would be there.


Of the 620,000 Civil War deaths, approximately 10 percent occurred at prison camps. The most notorious P.O.W. camp—in Andersonville, Georgia—saw 13,000 Union troops, or approximately 29 percent of the prison population, perish. After the war, Andersonville's commander was tried for war crimes. The camp is now a National Historic Site.

Meanwhile, the prison camp in Elmira has been largely forgotten. Today, the riverside site is little more than an unremarkable patch of dandelion-speckled grass; a small, easy-to-miss monument is the only marker. It belies the fact that while Elmira's camp was noticeably smaller than Andersonville's—only one-quarter its size—it was just as deadly: If you were a prisoner at “Hellmira,” there was a one-in-four chance you would die.

Elmira Prison Camp
Chemung County Historical Society, Elmira, NY

Elmira was never supposed to have a prison camp; it was a training depot for Union soldiers. But when the Confederacy began refusing to exchange African-American soldiers—who it considered captive slaves, not prisoners of war—the Union stopped participating in prisoner exchanges. “Both sides started scrambling for places to expand, and that’s how Elmira got caught up in the web,” says Terri Olszowy, a Board Member for the Friends of the Elmira Civil War Prison Camp.

The rollout was ill-planned, Olszowy explains. When it opened in July 1864, the camp had no hospital or medical staff. The first prisoners were already in rough shape and deteriorated quickly. Latrines were placed uphill from a small body of water called Foster’s Pond, which quickly became a cesspool. A shelter shortage meant that hundreds of soldiers were still living in tents by Christmas. During spring, the Chemung River flooded the grounds. Rats crawled everywhere. When authorities released a dog to catch them, the prisoners ate the dog.

The camp grew overcrowded. Designed to hold only 5000 prisoners, it saw approximately 7000 to 10,000 men confined there at its peak. Across the street, an observation tower allowed locals the opportunity to gawk at these prisoners through a pair of binoculars. It cost 10 cents.

It must have been a depressing sight, a scene of men stricken with dysentery, scurvy, typhoid, pneumonia, and smallpox. Many prisoners attempted to escape. One group successfully dug a 66-foot tunnel with spoons and knives. One man fled by hiding in a barrel of swill. Another hid inside a coffin, leaping out as he was being hauled to Woodlawn Cemetery.

It’s said that 2973 Confederate prisoners left the Elmira prison camp in coffins for real. The job to bury them belonged to the town’s sexton: John W. Jones.


The P.O.W. cemetery in Elmira is unique. The dead at many prison camps were buried in mass graves; Chicago’s Oak Woods Cemetery, for example, contains a plot filled with the remains of prisoners detained at Camp Douglas that is believed to be largest mass grave in the western hemisphere. All 2973 of the dead at Elmira, however, received an individual, marked grave in a special section of Woodlawn cemetery. Only seven are unknown. Jones's effort to give each soldier an individual grave, as well as his meticulous record-keeping, were a big part of why the federal government designated the P.O.W. portion of Woodlawn a "National Cemetery" in 1877—a status awarded to veterans' cemeteries deemed to be of national importance, and which has only been awarded to 135 cemeteries nationwide.

Jones treated each dead soldier with superhuman levels of grace. Overseeing a crew of 12, he managed the burial of about six soldiers every day, treating each body as if that person had been a member of his own church. He kept detailed records of each soldier’s identity by creating improvised dog tags: Around each person's neck or under their arm, Jones tucked a jar containing a paper detailing their name, rank, and regiment. That same information was neatly scrawled on each coffin. When the dirt settled, Jones marked each plot with a wooden headstone.

“No one told him how to do that job, he did it in the way that he thought was right—even though the people he buried were fighting a war to keep people like him enslaved,” Aaron says. “He even knew one of the young men who had died, and he reached back to the South and told the parents so they knew where their child was buried. That speaks to his compassion.”

According to Clayton W. Holmes’s 1912 book Elmira Prison Camp, “History does not record anything to challenge the assertion that at no prison, North or South, were the dead so reverently cared for, or a more perfect record kept.” In fact, when representatives of the Daughters of the Confederacy came to Elmira at the turn of the century to consider repatriating the remains, Jones’s handiwork convinced them to touch not a blade of grass. Instead, a monument in the cemetery commemorates the “honorable way in which they were laid to rest by a caring man.”

Aaron sees a second moral in the story. “People always talk about the tension between him being an escaped slave and burying with respect and dignity these Confederate soldiers fighting to keep people like him as slaves,” she says. “But to me there’s a subtext: Here is a grown man who escaped slavery, and the first thing he wanted to do when he reached freedom was get an education. Because of that, he was able to keep these meticulous records that later led to this national designation: It became a historical moment because this man, who was denied an education, got one.”

John W. Jones
Chemung County Historical Society, Elmira, NY

It also made a mark on Jones’s bank account. Jones earned $2.50 for each soldier he buried. It wasn’t much, but by the time he had finished burying nearly 3000 Confederate dead, he had become one of the 10 richest African-Americans in the state of New York. With that money, he bought a handsome farm of at least 12 acres.

It was a bittersweet purchase. Not only is it believed that parts of his home were built from wooden scraps of the disassembled Elmira prison camp, Jones had purchased the home when New York state law stipulated that black men must own $250 worth of property in order to vote. His home—today listed on the National Register of Historic Places [PDF]—earned Jones that right to vote.

For the remainder of his life, Jones continued working as a sexton and church usher. In 1900, he died and was buried in one of the cemeteries that had become his life’s work.

Incidentally, his death also marked the end of a local mystery: For nearly two decades, fresh flowers kept appearing on the freshly manicured grave of a woman named Sarah Smith. Nobody knew why the flowers appeared there or where they originated—until the decorations stopped appearing immediately after Jones’s death. Residents later realized that the grave belonged to the same Sarah Smith who, 56 years earlier, had invited John W. Jones and his friends into her home for butter, biscuits, and a good night’s rest.


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