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The Most Interesting Comics of the Week

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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.


2. Oak

By Max Badger

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.


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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25 Benefits of Adopting a Rescue Dog
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According to the ASPCA, 3.3 million dogs enter shelters each year in the United States. Although that number has gone down since 2011 (from 3.9 million) there are still millions of dogs waiting in shelters for a forever home. October is Adopt a Shelter Dog Month; here are 25 benefits of adopting a shelter dog.

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How Urban Legends Like 'The Licked Hand' Are Born
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If you compare the scary stories you heard as a kid with those of your friends—even those who grew up across the country from you—you’ll probably hear some familiar tales. Maybe you tried to summon Bloody Mary by chanting her name in front of the mirror three times in a dark bathroom. Maybe you learned never to wonder what’s under a woman’s neck ribbon. Maybe you heard the one about the girl who feels her dog lick her hand in the middle of the night, only to wake up to find him hanging dead from the shower nozzle, the words “humans can lick too” written on the wall in the dog’s blood.

These ubiquitous, spooky folk tales exist everywhere, and a lot of them take surprisingly similar forms. How does a single story like the one often called “Humans Can Lick Too” or "The Licked Hand" make its way into every slumber party in America? Thrillist recently investigated the question with a few experts, finding that most of these stories have very deep roots.

In the case of The Licked Hand, its origins go back more than a century. In the 1990s, Snopes found that a similar motif dates back to an Englishman’s diary entry from 1871. In it, the diary keeper, Dearman Birchall, retold a story he heard at a party of a man whose wife woke him up in the middle of the night, urging him to go investigate what sounded like burglars in their home. He told his wife that it was only the dog, reaching out his hand. He felt the dog lick his hand … but in the morning, all his valuables were gone: He had clearly been robbed.

A similar theme shows up in the short story “The Diary of Mr. Poynter,” published in 1919 by M.R. James. In it, a character dozes off in an armchair, and thinks that he is petting his dog. It turns out, it’s some kind of hairy human figure that he flees from. The story seems to have evolved from there into its presently popular form, picking up steam in the 1960s. As with any folk tale, its exact form changes depending on the teller: sometimes the main character is an old lady, other times it’s a young girl.

You’ll probably hear these stories in the context of happening to a “friend of a friend,” making you more likely to believe the tale. It practically happened to someone you know! Kind of! The setting, too, is probably somewhere nearby. It might be in your neighborhood, or down by the local railroad tracks.

Thrillist spoke to Dr. Joseph Stubbersfield, a researcher in the UK who studies urban legends, who says the kind of stories that spread widely contain both social information and emotional resonance. Meaning they contain a message—you never know who’s lurking in your house—and are evocative.

If something is super scary or gross, you want to share it. Stories tend to warn against something: A study of English-language urban legends circulating online found that most warned listeners about the hazards of life (poisonous plants, dangerous animals, dangerous humans) rather than any kind of opportunities. We like to warn each other of the dangers that could be lurking around every corner, which makes sense considering our proven propensity to focus on and learn from negative information. And yes, that means telling each other to watch out for who’s licking our hands in the middle of the night.

Just something to keep in mind as you eagerly await Jezebel’s annual scary story contest.

[h/t Thrillist]


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