The Panel Syndicate
The Panel Syndicate

10 Most Interesting Comics of 2013

The Panel Syndicate
The Panel Syndicate

Every week on Mental Floss, I highlight the most interesting new comic books, graphic novels, digital comics and webcomics. Here is a top 10 list of not necessarily the best comics that came out this year (I can't possibly keep up with everything that comes out), but the ones that were the most interesting or noteworthy in some way (at least to me). If you have some favorite comics of the year, talk about them in the comments below!

10. Freud

Nobrow Press released an English translation of this French cartoon biography of Sigmund Freud this year, and it was probably one of the best looking graphic novels of the year. Written by writer/psychologist Corinne Maier and gorgeously illustrated by French artist Anne Simon, this book takes a breezy but informative trip through the life and work of Freud and does it with a great sense of humor.


9. Hip Hop Family Tree

Ed Piskor's first volume of Hip Hop Family Tree covers the beginnings of hip hop music from the mid '70s to the early '80s and the colorful cast of characters like Grandmaster Flash, Russell Simmons, Kurtis Blow, and Afrika Bambaataa, who helped make it happen. Piskor likens these rap pioneers to larger-than-life comic book characters and draws them in a style very similar to the Marvel Comics of the 1970s, complete with narration boxes, halftone dots and a nostalgic yellow fade to the paper.


8. Young Avengers

It's not often these days that you get a superhero comic about teenage heroes from either Marvel or DC that actually have a chance of appealing to actual teenage readers. Judging by its seeming popularity on Tumblr, Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie's smart, funny and stylish Young Avengers seems to have actually done that. Gillen and McKelvie have a creative rapport that make them one of the great writer/artist teams in comics. Young Avengers has a unique and diverse cast of teen heroes with interesting personal relationships that are the selling point of the book.

It's worth noting that Gillen and McKelvie's run on YA is coming to an end soon and Marvel has made the unprecedented move of canceling the book with their final issue rather than putting another creative team on it simply to keep churning out monthly issues. Maybe this will signal a new approach where comics with non-marquee characters are published in limited runs and only when there is a proper story to tell and an appealing creative team to tell it.


7. Meet The Somalis

This was a webcomic that came out of nowhere, funded and distributed online by the Open Society Foundations, and it is one that has stuck with me ever since reading it. Journalist Benjamin Dix and cartoonist Lindsay Pollock interviewed Somalis immigrants in seven different European cities about their experiences assimilating into a new culture. The 14 different stories presented here are heartbreaking, uplifting, horrifying, educational and touchingly human.


6. Batman: Zero Year

The reboot of the DC Universe in 2011 has left DC and writer Scott Snyder in the seemingly unenviable position of having to say that Frank Miller's classic Batman: Year One is no longer in continuity. The 1987 series by Miller and Dave Mazzuchelli has been the definitive take on Batman's origin since it was published and has influenced just about every Batman comic that has come since, not to mention the entire stylistic approach of Christopher Nolan's Dark Knight trilogy of films.

With Batman: Zero Year, Snyder and artist Greg Capullo have met the challenge head on, taking Miller's influence and coming out the other end of Nolan's films, with a  Batman origin story that feels modern without disregarding much of what came before it. In fact, much of the 11 part story we've seen so far draws from Batman's early days in Detective Comics even down to the design of Batman's first costume and the types of (pre-super) villains he faces.


5. Sex Criminals

Image Comics, as a publisher of creator-owned genre comics, has been on a roll this year, putting out too many great new books to name here. One of their most interesting and popular new releases has been Sex Criminals by Matt Fraction and Chip Zdarsky. It is only three issues in but it has been a hoot so far and has already gotten itself banned by Apple from being sold through the Comixology iOS apps. The novel and juicy concept of the series involves two people, Jon and Suzie, who learn they can stop time whenever they have an orgasm. They decide to use this special power to rob banks. It’s actually an unexpectedly sweet story about sexual discovery with some raunchy jokes, fourth-wall-breaking commentary and even a musical number that gets comically censored to avoid further legal issues.

The banning by Apple means digital comics fans have to work a little harder to buy this comic. It can be purchased on Comixology’s web storefront but Image Comics just so happens to have recently launched a DRM-free web storefront of their own which may be exactly where they'd like people to buy this.


4. Mind Mgmt

Matt Kindt’s Mind Mgmt is one of the most mind-bending thrillers to come along in some time. It follows a writer named Meru who is trying to investigate an incident on a flight in which every passenger on board lost their memory. In the process, Meru uncovers a secret organization called the Mind Mgmt that is made up of people capable of performing mass hallucination, hypnotic suggestion and mind erasure and they have been using these skills to orchestrate world events dating back to World War I.

This is a complex book with many layers. Kindt fills it with fake ads and secret messages hidden in the gutters of the pages that help give you a fuller picture of this shadowy group and the depths of its capabilities. It’s the kind of book that works best if you buy it in old fashioned comic book format so that you can get the full effect of these extras.


3.  March Book One

It’s not often we get a graphic novel written by a sitting U.S. Congressman. Nonetheless one who was also a hero of the Civil Rights movement. March Book One is the first volume of Rep. John Lewis’ autobiography, released by Top Shelf and illustrated by Top Shelf mainstay Nate Powell (Any Empire, Swallow Me Whole). This first of three volumes begins with Lewis’ childhood and takes us up to his participation in the lunch counter sit-ins in Nashville in 1960. Lewis chose the graphic novel format for his story as a way of following the tradition set in the 1950s by a comic called The Montgomery Story which helped spread the word of Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Montgomery Bus Boycott during the early days of the civil rights movement.


2. The Private Eye

Brian K. Vaughan has had an amazing year. His sci-fi epic Saga is on most people’s top ten lists and has made a deserved star out of his collaborator Fiona Staples. It has also led the charge in turning Image Comics into the most exciting comics publisher of the year. Meanwhile, Vaughan also launched another sci-fi comic this year, this one offset with a future-noir detective slant, called The Private Eye. It is set in a near future where “The Cloud” has crashed taking everyone’s personal data and privacy with it, leaving people forced to wear disguises on the streets in order to protect their identity.

Again, Vaughan is not the real star of this creative team. Husband and wife team Marcos Martin and Munsta Vicente are doing career making work on this book. Vicente’s colors are absolutely eye-popping, giving us a prime example of how digital coloring in the age of the iPad is becoming one of the most important aspects of a comic.

Somewhat fitting for this comic about a post-Internet, post-privacy America, the book is only available in a DRM-free, pay-what-you-want format on Vaughan and Martin’s own website, New issues arrive with virtually no advance warning. You need to either sign up for email alerts or follow @PanelSyndicate on Twitter to find out when the latest issue is available for download.


1. Something Terrible

Dean Trippe wrote and illustrated an intensely personal comic about childhood sexual abuse this year called Something Terriblethat he sells in digital formats on his own website for 99¢. It is probably the most important comic of the year, and, by his own accounts, has already reached and helped many readers who have suffered through similar incidents. Trippe delves into the events from his childhood that have plauged him into adulthood and the way superhero comics—specifically Batman comics—have helped him overcome them. It is truly a triumphant story and one that even helps dispel a myth about childhood abuse (that abuse victims often grow up to be abusers themselves) that many victims themselves may not be aware has been proven false. 

Comics can be a powerful way of reaching people and educating them and this is a powerful and well-crafted example of just such a comic.


Finally, some quick honorable mentions:

Superior Spider-man. It's not easy to do something new with one of the biggest superhero characters of all time and not have fans dismiss it out of hand. By having Doctor Octopus take over Peter Parker’s body and unexpectedly embrace the concept of being a hero, Dan Slott and team have come up with something really special here.

DemeterBecky Cloonan’s third self-published mini-comic is a haunting and tragic love story. It is stunningly beautiful, especially if you get your hands on a screen-printed edition.

Cartozia TalesThis is probably the best new all-ages comic to come out this year. Set around the a maps of a fictional world called Cartozia, a rotating collection of creative teams take turns building the world and the characters and stories that reside within it. 

Le Long Voyage. Boulet’s wonderful embrace of the vertical scroll in webcomics.

The Bunker. Probably the crown jewel thus far of Comixology's Submit program for self-publishers, this Lost-style thriller involving a group of friends who find messages written by their future selves in an underground bunker warning them not to go down a path that will ruin the world. Recently picked up by Oni Press, it is now also the big success of Submit.

The Fifth Beatle. Andrew Robinson’s art on this book will probably win him some awards when the time comes for that, but this biography of The Beatles manger, Brian Epstein, is also an interesting look at the life of a gay man in 1960s Great Britain.

What were your favorite comics of the year? Tell us in the comments below.

8 Things We Know About Stranger Things Season 3

[Warning: There are lots of Stranger Things season two spoilers ahead.]

Stranger Things season two is in the books, and like we all hoped, it turned out to be a worthy follow-up to an addictive debut season. Now, though, we’re left with plenty of questions, mysteries, and theories to chew on as the wait for a third season begins. But for everything we don’t know about what the next year of Stranger Things will bring us (such as an actual release date), there are more than enough things we do know to keep those fan theories coming well into 2018. While the show hasn't been officially greenlit for a third season by Netflix yet, new details have already begun to trickle out. Here’s everything we know about Stranger Things season three so far.


The third season of Stranger Things won’t pick up right where the second one left off. Like the show experienced between the first two seasons, there will be a time jump between seasons two and three as well. The reason is simple: the child actors are all growing up, and instead of having the kids look noticeably older without explanation for year three, the Duffer Brothers told The Hollywood Reporter:

“Our kids are aging. We can only write and produce the show so fast. They're going to be almost a year older by the time we start shooting season three. It provides certain challenges. You can't start right after season two ended. It forces you to do a time jump. But what I like is that it makes you evolve the show. It forces the show to evolve and change, because the kids are changing.”


If the series’s second season was about expanding the Stranger Things mythology, the third season won't go bigger just for the sake of it, with the brothers even going so far as to say that it will be a more intimate story.

“It’s not necessarily going to be bigger in scale,” Matt Duffer said in an interview with IndieWire. “What I am really excited about is giving these characters an interesting journey to go on.”

Ross Duffer did stress, though, that as of early November, season three is basically “… Matt and me working with some writers and figuring out where it’s going to go.”


The second season ended on a bit of a foreboding note when it was revealed that the Mind Flayer was still in the Upside Down and was seen looming over the Hawkins school as the winter dance was going on. Though we know there will be a time jump at the start of next season, it’s clear that the monster will still have a big presence on the show.

Executive producer Dan Cohen told TV Guide: "There were other ways we could have ended beyond that, but I think that was a very strong, lyrical ending, and it really lets us decide to focus where we ultimately are going to want to go as we dive into Season 3."

What does the Mind Flayer’s presence mean for the new crop of episodes? Well, there will be plenty of fan theories to ponder between now and the season three premiere (whenever that may be).


The Duffer Brothers had a lot of material for the latest season of the show—probably a bit too much. Talking to Vulture, Matt Duffer detailed a few details and plot points that had to be pushed to season three:

"Billy was supposed to have a bigger role. We ended up having so many characters it ended up, in a way, more teed up for season three than anything. There was a whole teen supernatural story line that just got booted because it was just too cluttered, you know? A lot of that’s just getting kicked into season three."

The good news is that he also told the site that this wealth of cut material could make the writing process for the third season much quicker.


Stranger Things already had a roster of fan-favorite characters heading into season two, but newcomer Erica, Lucas’s little sister, may have overshadowed them all. Played by 11-year-old Priah Ferguson, Erica is equal parts expressive, snarky, and charismatic. And the Duffer Brothers couldn’t agree more, saying that there will be much more Erica next season.

“There will definitely be more Erica in Season 3,” Ross Duffer told Yahoo!. “That is the fun thing about the show—you discover stuff as you’re filming. We were able to integrate more of her in, but not as much you want because the story [was] already going. ‘We got to use more Erica’—that was one of the first things we said in the writers’ room.”

“I thought she’s very GIF-able, if that’s a word,” Matt Duffer added. “She was great.”


The season two episode “The Lost Sister” was a bit of an outlier for the series. It’s a standalone episode that focuses solely on the character Eleven, leaving the central plot and main cast of Hawkins behind. As well-received as Stranger Things season two was, this episode was a near-unanimous miss among fans and critics.

The episode did, however, introduce us to the character of Kali (Linnea Berthelsen), who has the ability to manipulate people’s minds with illusions she creates. Despite the reaction, the Duffers felt the episode was vital to Eleven’s development, and that Kali won’t be forgotten moving forward.

“It feels weird to me that we wouldn’t solve [Kali’s] storyline. I would say chances are very high she comes back,” Matt Duffer said at the Vulture Festival.


We're already well acquainted with Eleven, and season two introduced us to Eight (a.k.a. Kali), and executive producer Shawn Levy heavily hinted to E! that there are probably more Hawkins Laboratory experiments on the horizon.

"I think we've clearly implied there are other numbers, and I can't imagine that the world will only ever know Eleven and Eight," Levy said.


Don’t be in too much of a rush to find out everything about the next season of Stranger Things; there might not be many more left. The Duffer Brothers have said in the past that the plan is to do four seasons and end it. However, Levy gave fans a glimmer of hope that things may go on a little while longer—just by a bit, though.

“Hearts were heard breaking in Netflix headquarters when the Brothers made four seasons sound like an official end, and I was suddenly getting phone calls from our actors’ agents,” Levy told Entertainment Weekly. “The truth is we’re definitely going four seasons and there’s very much the possibility of a fifth. Beyond that, it becomes I think very unlikely.”

Big Questions
Why Do Fruitcakes Last So Long?

Fruitcake is a shelf-stable food unlike any other. One Ohio family has kept the same fruitcake uneaten (except for periodic taste tests) since it was baked in 1878. In Antarctica, a century-old fruitcake discovered in artifacts left by explorer Robert Falcon Scott’s 1910 expedition remains “almost edible,” according to the researchers who found it. So what is it that makes fruitcake so freakishly hardy?

It comes down to the ingredients. Fruitcake is notoriously dense. Unlike almost any other cake, it’s packed chock-full of already-preserved foods, like dried and candied nuts and fruit. All those dry ingredients don’t give microorganisms enough moisture to reproduce, as Ben Chapman, a food safety specialist at North Carolina State University, explained in 2014. That keeps bacteria from developing on the cake.

Oh, and the booze helps. A good fruitcake involves plenty of alcohol to help it stay shelf-stable for years on end. Immediately after a fruitcake cools, most bakers will wrap it in a cheesecloth soaked in liquor and store it in an airtight container. This keeps mold and yeast from developing on the surface. It also keeps the cake deliciously moist.

In fact, fruitcakes aren’t just capable of surviving unspoiled for months on end; some people contend they’re better that way. Fruitcake fans swear by the aging process, letting their cakes sit for months or even years at a stretch. Like what happens to a wine with age, this allows the tannins in the fruit to mellow, according to the Wisconsin bakery Swiss Colony, which has been selling fruitcakes since the 1960s. As it ages, it becomes even more flavorful, bringing out complex notes that a young fruitcake (or wine) lacks.

If you want your fruitcake to age gracefully, you’ll have to give it a little more hooch every once in a while. If you’re keeping it on the counter in advance of a holiday feast a few weeks away, the King Arthur Flour Company recommends unwrapping it and brushing it with whatever alcohol you’ve chosen (brandy and rum are popular choices) every few days. This is called “feeding” the cake, and should happen every week or so.

The aging process is built into our traditions around fruitcakes. In Great Britain, one wedding tradition calls for the bride and groom to save the top tier of a three-tier fruitcake to eat until the christening of the couple’s first child—presumably at least a year later, if not more.

Though true fruitcake aficionados argue over exactly how long you should be marinating your fruitcake in the fridge, The Spruce says that “it's generally recommended that soaked fruitcake should be consumed within two years.” Which isn't to say that the cake couldn’t last longer, as our century-old Antarctic fruitcake proves. Honestly, it would probably taste OK if you let it sit in brandy for a few days.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at


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