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The Most Interesting Comics of the Week

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. Beautiful Darkness

By Fabien Vehlmann and Kerascoet
Drawn & Quarterly

You might think you know what you're getting at first glance with Beautiful Darkness. It opens with a romantic tea party between pretty young princess Aurora and the charming Prince Hector, but by page two everything begins to go downhill fast. The world around them starts falling apart in bloody chunks and Aurora and her friends are forced to run for their lives from inside the head of a dead girl in the woods. From there, this gaggle of whimsical characters must find a way to survive the harsh reality of mother nature–deadly insects, maggots infesting the rotting corpse they have not strayed too far from, the onset of winter, and each other.

Beautiful Darkness is a stunning and deeply disturbing graphic novel. It's a play on the children-in-jeopardy theme that has been popularized by Lord of the Flies,  Battle Royale, and The Hunger Games. Except, instead of children, it uses the fanciful figments of a child's imagination.

Originally released in France in 2009 as Jolies Tenebres, this translated edition comes to us from Drawn & Quarterly. It is wonderfully illustrated by husband and wife team Marie Pommepuy & Sébastien Cosset, who refer to themselves as Kerascoët, and is written by French comics writer Fabien Vehlmann based on a plot by Pommepuy. The artwork, painted in watercolor, is lush and beautiful. The mix of loosely and comically drawn cartoon figures with realistically painted trees, animals, and people accentuate the way fantasy and reality meet and become tangled together.

Drawn & Quarterly has a preview on their website. You probably don’t want to buy this for your kids, but grown-up fans of dark and twisted fairy tales will love the cruel and unexpected nature of this story.

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2. Oak

By Max Badger
Self-published

While Beautiful Darkness may not be the kind of fantasy story you'd want to read with the kids, Max Badger's debut graphic novel, Oak, certainly is. Set in a magical, medieval world filled with talking snakes, shape-shifting clouds, and wandering spirits, Oak follows the adventures of a young, nameless orphan who is on a journey to return to his village where he can be reunited with his one true friend, a girl named Clara. The boy has been destined for greatness, but when we meet him he's an unassuming, honest, and friendly little guy who seems to easily pick up travel companions everywhere he goes, be they dead kings guarding treasure in their tombs or a one-armed female knight looking to avenge her own death.

Max Badger is one of those creators who seems to know exactly how to put together a professional-looking graphic novel and have it be laugh-out-loud funny to boot. He was one of the last batch of cartoonists to receive a grant from the Xeric Foundation, the prestigious, pre-Kickstarter route for self-publishers to gain funding for their comic book projects. After working on it for about 2 years, Badger completed this 120 page black and white hardcover that he now sells via his own website.  Although it stands well on its own, Badger plans to continue the story in later volumes.

You can preview Oak on Max’s website and order it through his store here.


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3. She-Hulk #1

Written by Charles Soule; art by Javier Pulido and Muntsa Vicente
Marvel Comics

Like Daredevil, She-Hulk is one of the Marvel Universe’s professional superhero lawyers. Unlike Daredevil, she doesn’t separate her lawyer persona from her big green giant self. This becomes a source of conflict in the first issue of her new ongoing series when she loses her position at a top law firm for not using her superhero connections to bring in some lucrative clients.

She-Hulk has a history of critically-lauded but low-selling series. Her most recent, which started in 2004, also played up the superhero lawyer aspect but with more of a screwball, sci-fi comedy tone to it. This time out, it’s still a fun, lighthearted take on the character but with some influence from the success of Marvel’s Hawkeye series where the focus is more grounded and focused on She-Hulk’s life outside of being a superhero. This new book is being written by Charles Soule who, in addition to being one of the most prolific writers in comics (he's currently writing seven different monthly titles), is also a practicing attorney and can lend some real-world knowledge and legal gravitas to She-Hulk’s exploits.

Joining Soule is Javier Pulido, who may not be the first artist you’d expect to see on a She-Hulk book. His rendition of the character is very different from the statuesque and muscular heroine we’re used to seeing (though maybe not that far removed from Juan Bobillo's somewhat beefy but elegant take from early in the last series). Pulido's She-Hulk is stylish and modern with trendy hairstyles and a fashionable wardrobe. Complementing Pulido on colors is Muntsa Vicente whose eye-popping work on Brian K. Vaughan and Marcos Martin's The Private Eye has brought her to the attention of everyone in the industry this past year.

Read a preview of She-Hulk #1 here.


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History
The Secret World War II History Hidden in London's Fences

In South London, the remains of the UK’s World War II history are visible in an unlikely place—one that you might pass by regularly and never take a second look at. In a significant number of housing estates, the fences around the perimeter are actually upcycled medical stretchers from the war, as the design podcast 99% Invisible reports.

During the Blitz of 1940 and 1941, the UK’s Air Raid Precautions department worked to protect civilians from the bombings. The organization built 60,000 steel stretchers to carry injured people during attacks. The metal structures were designed to be easy to disinfect in case of a gas attack, but that design ended up making them perfect for reuse after the war.

Many London housing developments at the time had to remove their fences so that the metal could be used in the war effort, and once the war was over, they were looking to replace them. The London County Council came up with a solution that would benefit everyone: They repurposed the excess stretchers that the city no longer needed into residential railings.

You can tell a stretcher railing from a regular fence because of the curves in the poles at the top and bottom of the fence. They’re hand-holds, designed to make it easier to carry it.

Unfortunately, decades of being exposed to the elements have left some of these historic artifacts in poor shape, and some housing estates have removed them due to high levels of degradation. The Stretcher Railing Society is currently working to preserve these heritage pieces of London infrastructure.

As of right now, though, there are plenty of stretchers you can still find on the streets. If you're in the London area, this handy Google map shows where you can find the historic fencing.

[h/t 99% Invisible]

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holidays
Custom-Design the Ugly Christmas Sweater of Your Dreams (or Nightmares)
iStock
iStock

For those of you aspiring to be the worst dressed person at your family's holiday dinner, UglyChristmasSweater.com sells—you guessed it—ugly Christmas sweaters to seasonal revelers possessing a sense of irony. But the Michigan-based online retailer has elevated kitsch to new heights by offering a create-your-own-sweater tool on its website.

Simply visit the site's homepage, and click on the Sweater Customizer link. There, you'll be provided with a basic sweater template, which you can decorate with festive snowflakes, reindeer, and other designs in five different colors. If you're feeling really creative, you can even upload photos, logos, hand-drawn pictures, and/or text. After you approve and purchase a mock-up of the final design, you can purchase the final result (prices start at under $70). But you'd better act quickly: due to high demand, orders will take about two weeks plus shipping time to arrive.

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