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Dark Horse Comics

Most Interesting Comics of the Week

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Dark Horse Comics

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 Fart Party’s Over”

By Julia Wertz
Narrative.ly

Julia Wertz's The Fart Party was a hilarious autobio comic strip that became one of the most popular webcomics of the mid-2000s (it was later collected into three print editions and a forthcoming omnibus). She retired the strip in 2011 and subsequently stepped away from comics for a time, focusing instead on photography projects involving abandoned buildings

Recently, Wertz published an article on the curated blogging platform Narrative.ly that is about 50 percent comics and 50 percent written word called "The Fart Party's Over." In it she opens up about her very personal struggles with alcoholism and her reasons for moving away from making a comic that was having a negative effect on her life. The comics shown here are a combination of strips that were previously published in her most recent collection The Infinite Wait and Other Stories and some previously unseen journal drawings that are startlingly different in tone and nature from her Fart Party strips. Together they tell a harrowing but ultimately triumphant story about her downslide into alcoholism and severe depression, her entry into rehab and, ultimately, her new focus on helping herself.

Wertz begins the article with a point about how the best comedians seem to mine their material from their own depression. She herself made a career out of getting people to laugh at often troubling events in her own life. Her decision to abandon a project that was ultimately not good for her is a decision that I think a lot of creative people tend to face when trying to achieve a certain work/life balance in addition to grappling with both the reality and expectations of being a struggling and starving artist. I think there is a lot that most artists can relate to in her story, not to mention anyone who has actually dealt with overcoming addiction or depression.

Read her article on Narrative.ly here.

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2. Furious #1

Written by Bryan J.L. Glass; art by Victor Santos
Dark Horse Comics

It's a difficult task these days to find a new spin on superheroes. So much so that it's a wonder anyone even tries anymore. Dark Horse Comics, as a publisher, seems committed to giving a voice to those that have some genuinely good ideas for this genre. Between the recent Buzzkill in which an alcoholic derives superpowers from drinking and Adam Warren's ode to superhero cheesecake Empowered, there seems to be room for modern takes on super heroics outside of what Marvel and DC have been doing. Add to that the new 5-issue mini-series Furious, which explores the ideas of being a superhero with a secret identity in today's celebrity-driven culture. And it looks to turn that concept on its head.

The world's first superhero is a woman named Cadence Lark who calls herself The Beacon. However, the media has named her "Furious" after she was videotaped losing her cool on some criminals. Lark has become a superhero to work through some things in her past and, in a twist on the concept of secret identities, must hide who she really is to protect her superhero identity because the public truly despises Cadence Lark.

Furious is written by Bryan J.L. Glass, a comics veteran and the writer and co-creator of anthropomorphic fantasy comic Mice Templar. This is very much a departure for him but it's a story that he's been wanting to tell for years. He's joined by artist Victor Santos, who has previously worked with Glass on Templar and who draws in a style that is reminiscent of Marcos Martin or Javier Pullido. 

Early reviews on this book promise some juicy plot twists as we learn about what led a troubled young woman to become a superhero in what may be a doomed attempt to redeem herself.

Read a preview of Furious here.

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3. Lost at Sea (10th Anniversary Edition)

By Bryan Lee O’Malley
Oni Press

Bryan Lee O'Malley has now been around long enough and made enough of a mark on the industry that we are at the point where we will be seeing his work reprinted in commemorative editions to celebrate his career. Oh, also, his highly anticipated new book, Seconds, comes out later this year, so that could have something to do with it as well. Ten years after the release of Lost at Sea, his first graphic novel, Oni Press is putting out an anniversary hardcover edition with the requisite supplemental material added including a previously uncollected short story that had only appeared online. The original book was published in black and white but some color has apparently been added in this edition.

While working on his now-classic 5 volume Scott Pilgrim series, O'Malley became one of the most influential creators of the 21st century. His style and approach to comic storytelling can be seen emulated among many of the younger generation of webcomic creators. Lost at Sea may not be as groundbreaking as Scott Pilgrim, but it is just as accomplished. Much in the way Scott Pilgrim seemed to perfectly capture a certain way of life and attitude among 20-somethings, Lost at Sea feels like it did the same for college-aged teens.

It's a coming of age story about an introverted teenage girl named Raleigh who is on a cross-country road trip with some college classmates whom she barely knows and has trouble relating to, socially. Raleigh's problem, she feels, is that her soul was stolen by a cat. And now she keeps seeing cats popping up everywhere. 

Though maybe not as laugh-out-loud funny as Scott Pilgrim, this book is charming and quirky and almost akin to a Haruki Marukami novel with its existentialist pondering and proliferation of spiritual cats.

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4. Li'l Sonja

Written by Jim Zub; art by Joel Carroll
Dynamite Entertainment

Recently I highlighted another book in the “Li'l” series, Li’l Vampi. Just as that book did with the character of Vampirella, Li'l Sonja takes a character that is steeped in a history of exploitative cheesecake art and makes an all-ages version that can appeal to young girls. Thanks to a successful new series, also published by Dynamite Entertainment and written by popular writer Gail Simone, Red Sonja is enjoying a bit of a comeback right now, capitalizing on Dark Horse's popular new Conan series and the general marketability of violent swordplay dramas. Li’l Sonja, of course, is something a little different. Here, in this one-shot release, the cute little red-haired She-Devil fights to solve a series of thefts plaguing a small town. 

Dynamite has pulled together an array of appropriately “cute” artists to illustrate all of these “Li’l” books they’ve been doing, including Art Baltazar who provides the cover for Li’l Sonja. The interiors are done by relative newcomer Joel Carroll, whose simple, happy cartooning gives Sonja a manga/video game character look as you can see from this preview. He’s joined by writer Jim Zub who has gained a lot of popularity for his creator-owned Skullkickers series as well as the new and well-regarded launch of IDW’s Samurai Jack comic.

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Space Goat Publishing
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These Evil Dead 2 Comics Will Look Groovy on Your Bookshelf
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Space Goat Publishing

Bruce Campbell has been quoted as saying the gallons of fake blood poured into his face during filming of the 1987 cult classic horror film Evil Dead 2: Dead by Dawn led to a week of red-tinged mucus leaking out of his nostrils. Fortunately, no Campbells were harmed in the making of two new comic collections from Space Goat Productions that are now being funded on Kickstarter. The Evil Dead 2 Omnibus features over 300 pages of stories set in the Necronomicon-plagued universe featured in numerous comic book miniseries; The Art of Evil Dead 2 reveals never-before-seen production art from both the comics and ancillary projects.

The campaign is the latest from Space Goat, the Bellingham, Washington-based company that’s made a cottage (or cabin) industry from products spinning out of the Sam Raimi-directed film, which is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year. In addition to the new collections, the publisher has also issued an Evil Dead 2 coloring book; a comic where Campbell’s demon-fighting hero, Ash Williams, encounters Adolf Hitler; and a forthcoming board game where players can navigate Deadite threats while shaking their head at Ash’s questionable competency. (No matter the iteration, he seems ill-equipped to deal with the threat of his own possessed and lopped-off hand.)

According to Space Goat publisher Shon Bury, licensing the Evil Dead 2 property from rights holders StudioCanal in 2015 has been a buoy in navigating the difficult waters of comic book publishing. (Even Marvel, which rakes in billions through its film franchises, struggles to sell more than 60,000 to 70,000 copies of its most popular monthly titles.) One day into its Kickstarter launch, the Evil Dead titles had reached 50 percent of their $20,000 funding goal.

“It’s definitely our flagship on the publishing side,” Bury tells Mental Floss. “The board game is our top seller in the Evil Dead category, and the coloring book sells really well. They’re our evergreen products.”

The cover to 'The Art of Evil Dead 2' from Space Goat Publishing
Space Goat Publishing

Exploring Ash’s adventures in other media comes with a few caveats. While Space Goat is free to explore the characters and situations portrayed in Evil Dead 2, incorporating ideas from the rest of the series (including 1993’s Army of Darkness or the Starz series Ash vs. Evil Dead) is generally off-limits. And while the StudioCanal rights include a likeness of Campbell, the actor has veto power over how he’s depicted on the page. “For some reason, he doesn’t like the dimple on his chin to be drawn,” Bury says. “But he’s very insistent that the scar on his face from the movie is always there.”

Other actors featured in the film—like Richard Domeier, the future home-shopping host who portrayed “Evil Ed”—may not have granted their likeness rights, but his Deadite character design is part of the deal. “You want to inoculate the owner or licensor of the rights,” Bury says. “So we submit drawings and they might say, ‘No, too close to the actor.’”

That development process is part of what makes up The Art of Evil Dead 2, one-half of Space Goat’s current Kickstarter project that follows a successful Evil Dead 2 board game launch in 2016. The campaigns, Bury says, help target Ash fans with material that might not get enough attention if it were released directly to retailers. “Kickstarter is basically social media. It’s direct engagement, our way of saying to fans, ‘Hey, you’re really going to like this.’”

Bury expects fans to be just as enthused about Evil Dead 2: The Doppelganger Wars, a limited series due for release in 2018 that sees Ash and sidekick Annie Knowby enter the mirror dimension glimpsed at in Evil Dead 2 to discover the true origins of both the demon-summoning Necronomicon and the cult surrounding it. A meeting with H.P. Lovecraft may also be on deck, along with other narratives that would carry the license through the end of the publisher’s current agreement with StudioCanal in late 2019.

Still to be decided: whether Ash will ever encounter the werewolves of The Howling, Space Goat’s latest horror license. “Those conversations have occurred,” Bury says. “It would be a natural. But it’s also challenging because the royalties [for the licenses] double.” 

Digital versions of The Art of Evil Dead 2 and the Evil Dead Omnibus will be available to backers pledging $20 beginning in December. Softcover, hardcover, and Necronomicon slipcase editions ($30 and up) ship in May 2018. The Kickstarter runs through November 25.

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Hulton Archive (left), Bruno Vincent (right) // Getty Images
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History
How Superman Helped Foil the KKK
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Hulton Archive (left), Bruno Vincent (right) // Getty Images

The Klansmen were furious.

Dozens of them had congregated in a nondescript room in Atlanta, shaking cloaked heads at the worrisome news that their sect leader had just shared: An act of gross subterfuge had transpired over the airwaves. Millions of Americans had now become privy to their policies, their rankings, their closely guarded methods of organized hatred.

All of it fodder for some comic book radio show. Their mission had been compromised, sacrificed at the altar of popular culture. Kids, one Klansman sighed. His kids were in the streets playing Superman vs. the Klan. Some of them tied red towels around their necks; others pranced around in white sheets. Their struggle for racial purity had been reduced to a recess role play.

Stetson Kennedy listened, doing his best to give off irate body language. He scowled. He nodded. He railed.

The covert activist waited patiently for the Klan to settle down. When they did, he would call radio journalists Walter Winchell and Drew Pearson, offering the results of his infiltration into the group for public consumption.

He’d also contact Robert Maxwell, producer of the Superman radio serial. Maxwell, eager to aid the humanitarian mission of the Anti-Defamation League, would promptly insert the leaked information into his show’s scripts. In between fisticuffs, his cast would mock the KKK’s infrastructure, and the group’s loathsome attitudes would be rendered impotent by the juvenilia.

The Klan roared, demanding revenge on their traitor. “Show me the rat,” their leader said, “and I’ll show you some action.”

Kennedy cheered, just as they all did.

And when he returned home, his Klan robe would be traded for a cape.

The cover to the first issue of Superman
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Kennedy, born in 1916, was an unlikely undercover operative. After a back injury kept him out of World War II, the Jacksonville, Florida native decided he wanted to combat anti-American forces on the home front. With Klan members alleged to have assaulted his family’s black maid when he was a child, the Klan—once again gathering steam in an era of segregation and racial divisiveness—was a favored target.

Having convinced a “Klavern” in Atlanta, Georgia that he shared their bigoted views, Kennedy donned the ominous attire of a Klansman, attended cross burnings, and covertly collected information about the group that he would then share with law enforcement and media. Radio journalist Drew Pearson would read the names and minutes of their meetings on air, exposing their guarded dialogues.

Revealing their closed-door sessions was a blow—one that Kennedy didn’t necessarily have to confine to nonfiction. In 1946, Maxwell, who produced the Superman radio serial broadcast around the country, embraced Kennedy’s idea to contribute to a narrative that had Superman scolding the racial divisiveness of the Klan and airing their dirty laundry to an enraptured audience.

“The law offices, state, county, FBI, House Un-American Activities Committee, they were all sympathetic with the Klan,” Kennedy said later. “The lawmen were, ideologically at least, close with the Klansmen. The court of public opinion was all that was left.”

Ostensibly aimed at children, Superman’s daily radio dramas were often broadcast to assembled nuclear families; one phone poll showed that 35 percent of its audience was composed of adults.

But regardless of whether parents listened, the activist believed the younger demographic was worth attending to. “Even back in the ’40s, they had kids in the Klan, little girls dressed up in Klan robes at the cross burnings," Kennedy said. "I have photos of an infant in a cradle with a complete Klan robe on. It seemed like a good place to do some educating.” 

In “Clan of the Fiery Cross,” a 16-part serial airing in June and July of 1946, Superman opposes an organized group of hatemongers who target one of Jimmy Olsen’s friends. Exploring their network, Clark Kent uncovers their secret meetings and policies before his alter ego socks the “Grand Scorpion” in the jaw. The idea, Kennedy wrote in his account of his work, The Klan Unmasked, was to made a mockery of their overblown vernacular.

When traveling, for example, Klansmen might identify one another by asking if they “knew Mr. Ayak,” an acronym for “Are You a Klansman?” Although Kennedy may not have actually shared their code words on air—a longstanding myth that was debunked in Rick Bowers’s 2012 book, Superman vs. the KKK—their histrionics were perfect for dramatization in the breathless structure of a radio drama. Given shape by actors and sound effects, all the clubhouse tropes of the Klan seemed exceedingly silly.

The cover to the first issue of Superman
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

As Kennedy continued to serve up Klan secrets to Superman, he watched as Klan morale dipped and membership enrollment ebbed. Desperate, the Klan tried calling for a boycott of Kellogg’s, a new sponsor of the show, but racial intolerance was no match for the appetites of post-World War II homes. Rice Krispies and Corn Flakes remained breakfast table staples, and Superman’s battles with the close-minded continued. Emboldened by his success against the Klan, Superman took aim at Communism, a favorite target of the show’s anti-Red star, Bud Collyer.

Kennedy would go on to burden the Klan using proof of uncollected tax liens, and eventually convinced the state of Georgia to revoke their national corporate charter.

Kennedy died in 2011 at the age of 94. While some of his accounts of subterfuge in the Klan later came under fire for being embellished, his bravery in swimming with the sharks of the organization is undeniable. So, too, was his wisdom in utilizing American iconography to suffocate prejudice. Fictional or not, Superman may have done more to stifle the Klan’s postwar momentum than many real people who merely stood by and watched.

Portions of this article were excerpted from Superman vs. Hollywood: How Fiendish Producers, Devious Directors, and Warring Writers Grounded an American Icon by Jake Rossen with permission from Chicago Review Press. Copyright (c) 2008. All Rights Reserved.

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