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The Panel Syndicate

10 Most Interesting Comics of 2013

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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.

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5 Things We Know About Stranger Things Season 2
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Stranger Things seemed to come out of nowhere to become one of television's standout new series in 2016. Netflix's sometimes scary, sometimes funny, and always exciting homage to '80s pop culture was a binge-worthy phenomenon when it debuted in July 2016. Of course, the streaming giant wasn't going to wait long to bring more Stranger Things to audiences, and a second season was announced a little over a month after its debut—and Netflix just announced that we'll be getting it a few days earlier than expected. Here are five key things we know about the show's sophomore season, which kicks off on October 27.


The first season of Stranger Things consisted of eight hour-long episodes, which proved to be a solid length for the story Matt and Ross Duffer wanted to tell. While season two won't increase in length dramatically, we will be getting at least one extra hour when the show returns in 2017 with nine episodes. Not much is known about any of these episodes, but we do know the titles:

"The Boy Who Came Back To Life"
"The Pumpkin Patch"
"The Palace"
"The Storm"
"The Pollywog"
"The Secret Cabin"
"The Brain"
"The Lost Brother"

There's a lot of speculation about what each title means and, as usual with Stranger Things, there's probably a reason for each one.


Stranger Things fans should gear up for plenty of new developments in season two, but that doesn't mean your favorite characters aren't returning. A November 4 photo sent out by the show's Twitter account revealed most of the kids from the first season will be back in 2017, including the enigmatic Eleven, played by Millie Bobby Brown (the #elevenisback hashtag used by series regular Finn Wolfhard should really drive the point home):


A year will have passed between the first and second seasons of the show, allowing the Duffer brothers to catch up with a familiar cast of characters that has matured since we last saw them. With the story taking place in 1984, the brothers are looking at the pop culture zeitgeist at the time for inspiration—most notably the darker tone of blockbusters like Gremlins and Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.

"I actually really love Temple of Doom, I love that it gets a little darker and weirder from Raiders, I like that it feels very different than Raiders did," Matt Duffer told IGN. "Even though it was probably slammed at the time—obviously now people look back on it fondly, but it messed up a lot of kids, and I love that about that film—that it really traumatized some children. Not saying that we want to traumatize children, just that we want to get a little darker and weirder."


When you watch something like The Americans season two, it's almost impossible to catch on unless you've seen the previous episodes. Stranger Things season two will differ from the modern TV approach by being more of a sequel than a continuation of the first year. That means a more self-contained plot that doesn't leave viewers hanging at the end of nine episodes.

"There are lingering questions, but the idea with Season 2 is there's a new tension and the goal is can the characters resolve that tension by the end," Ross Duffer told IGN. "So it's going to be its own sort of complete little movie, very much in the way that Season 1 is."

Don't worry about the two seasons of Stranger Things being too similar or too different from the original, though, because when speaking with Entertainment Weekly about the influences on the show, Matt Duffer said, "I guess a lot of this is James Cameron. But he’s brilliant. And I think one of the reasons his sequels are as successful as they are is he makes them feel very different without losing what we loved about the original. So I think we kinda looked to him and what he does and tried to capture a little bit of the magic of his work.”


Everything about the new Stranger Things episodes will be kept secret until they finally debut later this year, but we do know one thing about the premiere: It won't take place entirely in the familiar town of Hawkins, Indiana. “We will venture a little bit outside of Hawkins,” Matt Duffer told Entertainment Weekly. “I will say the opening scene [of the premiere] does not take place in Hawkins.”

So, should we take "a little bit outside" as literally as it sounds? You certainly can, but in that same interview, the brothers also said they're both eager to explore the Upside Down, the alternate dimension from the first season. Whether the season kicks off just a few miles away, or a few worlds away, you'll get your answer when Stranger Things's second season debuts next month.

The Gooey History of the Fluffernutter Sandwich

Open any pantry in New England and chances are you’ll find at least one jar of Marshmallow Fluff. Not just any old marshmallow crème, but Fluff; the one manufactured by Durkee-Mower of Lynn, Massachusetts since 1920, and the preferred brand of the northeast. With its familiar red lid and classic blue label, it's long been a favorite guilty pleasure and a kitchen staple beloved throughout the region.

This gooey, spreadable, marshmallow-infused confection is used in countless recipes and found in a variety of baked goods—from whoopie pies and Rice Krispies Treats to chocolate fudge and beyond. And in the beyond lies perhaps the most treasured concoction of all: the Fluffernutter sandwich—a classic New England treat made with white bread, peanut butter, and, you guessed it, Fluff. No jelly required. Or wanted.

There are several claims to the origin of the sandwich. The first begins with Revolutionary War hero Paul Revere—or, not Paul exactly, but his great-great-great-grandchildren Emma and Amory Curtis of Melrose, Massachusetts. Both siblings were highly intelligent and forward-thinkers, and Amory was even accepted into MIT. But when the family couldn’t afford to send him, he founded a Boston-based company in the 1890s that specialized in soda fountain equipment.

He sold the business in 1901 and used the proceeds to buy the entire east side of Crystal Street in Melrose. Soon after he built a house and, in his basement, he created a marshmallow spread known as Snowflake Marshmallow Crème (later called SMAC), which actually predated Fluff. By the early 1910s, the Curtis Marshmallow Factory was established and Snowflake became the first commercially successful shelf-stable marshmallow crème.

Although other companies were manufacturing similar products, it was Emma who set the Curtis brand apart from the rest. She had a knack for marketing and thought up many different ways to popularize their marshmallow crème, including the creation of one-of-a-kind recipes, like sandwiches that featured nuts and marshmallow crème. She shared her culinary gems in a weekly newspaper column and radio show. By 1915, Snowflake was selling nationwide.

During World War I, when Americans were urged to sacrifice meat one day a week, Emma published a recipe for a peanut butter and marshmallow crème sandwich. She named her creation the "Liberty Sandwich," as a person could still obtain his or her daily nutrients while simultaneously supporting the wartime cause. Some have pointed to Emma’s 1918 published recipe as the earliest known example of a Fluffernutter, but the earliest recipe mental_floss can find comes from three years prior. In 1915, the confectioners trade journal Candy and Ice Cream published a list of lunch offerings that candy shops could advertise beyond hot soup. One of them was the "Mallonut Sandwich," which involved peanut butter and "marshmallow whip or mallo topping," spread on lightly toasted whole wheat bread.

Another origin story comes from Somerville, Massachusetts, home to entrepreneur Archibald Query. Query began making his own version of marshmallow crème and selling it door-to-door in 1917. Due to sugar shortages during World War I, his business began to fail. Query quickly sold the rights to his recipe to candy makers H. Allen Durkee and Fred Mower in 1920. The cost? A modest $500 for what would go on to become the Marshmallow Fluff empire.

Although the business partners promoted the sandwich treat early in the company’s history, the delicious snack wasn’t officially called the Fluffernutter until the 1960s, when Durkee-Mower hired a PR firm to help them market the sandwich, which resulted in a particularly catchy jingle explaining the recipe.

So who owns the bragging rights? While some anonymous candy shop owner was likely the first to actually put the two together, Emma Curtis created the early precursors and brought the concept to a national audience, and Durkee-Mower added the now-ubiquitous crème and catchy name. And the Fluffernutter has never lost its popularity.

In 2006, the Massachusetts state legislature spent a full week deliberating over whether or not the Fluffernutter should be named the official state sandwich. On one side, some argued that marshmallow crème and peanut butter added to the epidemic of childhood obesity. The history-bound fanatics that stood against them contended that the Fluffernutter was a proud culinary legacy. One state representative even proclaimed, "I’m going to fight to the death for Fluff." True dedication, but the bill has been stalled for more than a decade despite several revivals and subsequent petitions from loyal fans.

But Fluff lovers needn’t despair. There’s a National Fluffernutter Day (October 8) for hardcore fans, and the town of Somerville, Massachusetts still celebrates its Fluff pride with an annual What the Fluff? festival.

"Everyone feels like Fluff is part of their childhood," said self-proclaimed Fluff expert and the festival's executive director, Mimi Graney, in an interview with Boston Magazine. "Whether born in the 1940s or '50s, or '60s, or later—everyone feels nostalgic for Fluff. I think New Englanders in general have a particular fondness for it."

Today, the Fluffernutter sandwich is as much of a part of New England cuisine as baked beans or blueberry pie. While some people live and die by the traditional combination, the sandwich now comes in all shapes and sizes, with the addition of salty and savory toppings as a favorite twist. Wheat bread is as popular as white, and many like to grill their sandwiches for a touch of bistro flair. But don't ask a New Englander to swap out their favorite brand of marshmallow crème. That’s just asking too Fluffing much.


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