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Great Beast Comics

The Most Interesting Comics of the Week

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Great Beast 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. Tall Tales And Outrageous Adventures: The Snow Queen and Other Stories

By Isabel Greenberg
Great Beast Comics

The first issue of Isabel Greenberg’s new series Tall Tales And Outrageous Adventures was released by Great Beast Comics late last year but just came out on Comixology’s digital comics app this past week. The showcase story in this first issue is a retelling of Hans Christian Andersen's The Snow Queen. Disney's own version of the story – Frozen – has been been immensely popular, so now's a good time for Greenberg's comic to reach a wider audience.

Whereas Frozen is quite different from The Snow Queen, Greenberg's adaptation is pretty faithful to the original. What makes this comic so appealing, however, is the way she adds her own modern touch to it, particularly in the cute and nonchalant contemporary dialogue. There's a little bit of Kate Beaton in the way Greenberg mixes a faithful approach to the original material with a fresh sense of humor.

Isabel Greenberg's debut graphic novel The Encyclopedia Of Early Earth was nominated for a Cartoonist Studio Prize for Best Graphic Novel of the Year. At 25, she's quickly become a cartoonist to watch out for. 

Greenberg sells the comic in print and digital formats through the Great Beast website. If you prefer Comixology, you can buy it for only 99¢ there. In addition to The Snow Queen, this issue also contains her version of The Emperor's New Clothes.

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2. On Loving Women

By Diane Obomsawin
Drawn & Quarterly

The newest graphic novel from Montreal-based cartoonist Diane Obomsawin, On Loving Women, is comprised of a series of vignettes culled together from interviews with friends and acquaintances about their coming-of-age discovery of their attraction to other women.

The stories are universal, even though they are all specifically about gay women. Most of us at an early age, regardless of sexual orientation, have dealt with first crushes and trying to understand unfamiliar sexual urges. To make the women in this story even more relatable, Obomsawin draws them in an elongated, anthropomorphic style. There are many explicit bedroom scenes but her clean lines and animal figures make the depicted sex more elegant and representational; simple and innocent rather than titillating.

These women came of age in a slightly less enlightened time than we are entering right now, so their stories deal with a certain amount of secrecy, shame, and prejudice. That said, these are generally positive accounts told by confident and comfortable women, and they make for an encouraging and delightful reading experience for everyone.

You can read a preview of On Loving Women in PDF form on Drawn & Quarterly's website.

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3. At Work Inside Our Detention Centres: A Guard's Story

Based on interviews conducted by Nick Olle; art by Sam Wallman
The Global Mail

The Global Mail is an Australian-based non-profit that publishes long form journalism. Recently, they hired cartoonist Sam Wallman to illustrate an interview with a former employee of an immigration detention center about his experiences there and the effect it has had on his life. The interviewee was employed by a large multinational corporation called Serco that runs all the immigration detention centers in the Australian mainland. While working in the center he felt so much empathy for the plight of the prisoners and the unknown agonies they had previously faced escaping their homelands that he began to have an emotional breakdown.

The interview itself is gripping, but the way Wallman interprets the man's words into visuals makes this interesting from both an artistic and journalistic perspective. Wallman's conceptual illustration skills are on full display. The format of the comic is without any panel borders, seemingly countering the concept of illustrating a story about being imprisoned. The expanse of white space surrounding each of Wallman's individual drawings feels heavier and more confining than simple panel borders ever could convey.

You can read the entire piece here on the Global Mail website.

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4. White Suits #1

Written by Frank J. Barbiere; art by Toby Cypress
Dark Horse Comics

An amnesiac, an FBI agent, the Russian mob, and a mysterious group of assassins dressed in white suits.

Those are the pieces of a puzzle that begins in the first issue of the new crime noir series, White Suits by Frank J. Barbiere and Toby Cypress. Barbieri is known for his recent surprise hit series Five Ghosts for Image Comics.

Toby Cypress works in a splotchy, energetic style that will probably remind you of artists like Bill Sienkiewicz or Ralph Steadman. In this particular book he uses only red and black washes splattered across the white page, evoking a Sin City flavor of noir storytelling.

Barbiere and Cypress produced a couple of short prequels for White Suits that were published in the Dark Horse Presents anthology. You can read one of them in its entirety here.

Read a short preview here.

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
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Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
May 21, 2017
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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva

Jacques Mattheij made a small, but awesome, mistake. He went on eBay one evening and bid on a bunch of bulk LEGO brick auctions, then went to sleep. Upon waking, he discovered that he was the high bidder on many, and was now the proud owner of two tons of LEGO bricks. (This is about 4400 pounds.) He wrote, "[L]esson 1: if you win almost all bids you are bidding too high."

Mattheij had noticed that bulk, unsorted bricks sell for something like €10/kilogram, whereas sets are roughly €40/kg and rare parts go for up to €100/kg. Much of the value of the bricks is in their sorting. If he could reduce the entropy of these bins of unsorted bricks, he could make a tidy profit. While many people do this work by hand, the problem is enormous—just the kind of challenge for a computer. Mattheij writes:

There are 38000+ shapes and there are 100+ possible shades of color (you can roughly tell how old someone is by asking them what lego colors they remember from their youth).

In the following months, Mattheij built a proof-of-concept sorting system using, of course, LEGO. He broke the problem down into a series of sub-problems (including "feeding LEGO reliably from a hopper is surprisingly hard," one of those facts of nature that will stymie even the best system design). After tinkering with the prototype at length, he expanded the system to a surprisingly complex system of conveyer belts (powered by a home treadmill), various pieces of cabinetry, and "copious quantities of crazy glue."

Here's a video showing the current system running at low speed:

The key part of the system was running the bricks past a camera paired with a computer running a neural net-based image classifier. That allows the computer (when sufficiently trained on brick images) to recognize bricks and thus categorize them by color, shape, or other parameters. Remember that as bricks pass by, they can be in any orientation, can be dirty, can even be stuck to other pieces. So having a flexible software system is key to recognizing—in a fraction of a second—what a given brick is, in order to sort it out. When a match is found, a jet of compressed air pops the piece off the conveyer belt and into a waiting bin.

After much experimentation, Mattheij rewrote the software (several times in fact) to accomplish a variety of basic tasks. At its core, the system takes images from a webcam and feeds them to a neural network to do the classification. Of course, the neural net needs to be "trained" by showing it lots of images, and telling it what those images represent. Mattheij's breakthrough was allowing the machine to effectively train itself, with guidance: Running pieces through allows the system to take its own photos, make a guess, and build on that guess. As long as Mattheij corrects the incorrect guesses, he ends up with a decent (and self-reinforcing) corpus of training data. As the machine continues running, it can rack up more training, allowing it to recognize a broad variety of pieces on the fly.

Here's another video, focusing on how the pieces move on conveyer belts (running at slow speed so puny humans can follow). You can also see the air jets in action:

In an email interview, Mattheij told Mental Floss that the system currently sorts LEGO bricks into more than 50 categories. It can also be run in a color-sorting mode to bin the parts across 12 color groups. (Thus at present you'd likely do a two-pass sort on the bricks: once for shape, then a separate pass for color.) He continues to refine the system, with a focus on making its recognition abilities faster. At some point down the line, he plans to make the software portion open source. You're on your own as far as building conveyer belts, bins, and so forth.

Check out Mattheij's writeup in two parts for more information. It starts with an overview of the story, followed up with a deep dive on the software. He's also tweeting about the project (among other things). And if you look around a bit, you'll find bulk LEGO brick auctions online—it's definitely a thing!

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8 Common Dog Behaviors, Decoded
May 25, 2017
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Dogs are a lot more complicated than we give them credit for. As a result, sometimes things get lost in translation. We’ve yet to invent a dog-to-English translator, but there are certain behaviors you can learn to read in order to better understand what your dog is trying to tell you. The more tuned-in you are to your dog’s emotions, the better you’ll be able to respond—whether that means giving her some space or welcoming a wet, slobbery kiss. 

1. What you’ll see: Your dog is standing with his legs and body relaxed and tail low. His ears are up, but not pointed forward. His mouth is slightly open, he’s panting lightly, and his tongue is loose. His eyes? Soft or maybe slightly squinty from getting his smile on.

What it means: “Hey there, friend!” Your pup is in a calm, relaxed state. He’s open to mingling, which means you can feel comfortable letting friends say hi.

2. What you’ll see: Your dog is standing with her body leaning forward. Her ears are erect and angled forward—or have at least perked up if they’re floppy—and her mouth is closed. Her tail might be sticking out horizontally or sticking straight up and wagging slightly.

What it means: “Hark! Who goes there?!” Something caught your pup’s attention and now she’s on high alert, trying to discern whether or not the person, animal, or situation is a threat. She’ll likely stay on guard until she feels safe or becomes distracted.

3. What you’ll see: Your dog is standing, leaning slightly forward. His body and legs are tense, and his hackles—those hairs along his back and neck—are raised. His tail is stiff and twitching, not swooping playfully. His mouth is open, teeth are exposed, and he may be snarling, snapping, or barking excessively.

What it means: “Don’t mess with me!” This dog is asserting his social dominance and letting others know that he might attack if they don’t defer accordingly. A dog in this stance could be either offensively aggressive or defensively aggressive. If you encounter a dog in this state, play it safe and back away slowly without making eye contact.

4. What you’ll see: As another dog approaches, your dog lies down on his back with his tail tucked in between his legs. His paws are tucked in too, his ears are flat, and he isn’t making direct eye contact with the other dog standing over him.

What it means: “I come in peace!” Your pooch is displaying signs of submission to a more dominant dog, conveying total surrender to avoid physical confrontation. Other, less obvious, signs of submission include ears that are flattened back against the head, an avoidance of eye contact, a tongue flick, and bared teeth. Yup—a dog might bare his teeth while still being submissive, but they’ll likely be clenched together, the lips opened horizontally rather than curled up to show the front canines. A submissive dog will also slink backward or inward rather than forward, which would indicate more aggressive behavior.

5. What you’ll see: Your dog is crouching with her back hunched, tail tucked, and the corner of her mouth pulled back with lips slightly curled. Her shoulders, or hackles, are raised and her ears are flattened. She’s avoiding eye contact.

What it means: “I’m scared, but will fight you if I have to.” This dog’s fight or flight instincts have been activated. It’s best to keep your distance from a dog in this emotional state because she could attack if she feels cornered.

6. What you’ll see: You’re staring at your dog, holding eye contact. Your dog looks away from you, tentatively looks back, then looks away again. After some time, he licks his chops and yawns.

What it means: “I don’t know what’s going on and it’s weirding me out.” Your dog doesn’t know what to make of the situation, but rather than nipping or barking, he’ll stick to behaviors he knows are OK, like yawning, licking his chops, or shaking as if he’s wet. You’ll want to intervene by removing whatever it is causing him discomfort—such as an overly grabby child—and giving him some space to relax.

7. What you’ll see: Your dog has her front paws bent and lowered onto the ground with her rear in the air. Her body is relaxed, loose, and wiggly, and her tail is up and wagging from side to side. She might also let out a high-pitched or impatient bark.

What it means: “What’s the hold up? Let’s play!” This classic stance, known to dog trainers and behaviorists as “the play bow,” is a sign she’s ready to let the good times roll. Get ready for a round of fetch or tug of war, or for a good long outing at the dog park.

8. What you’ll see: You’ve just gotten home from work and your dog rushes over. He can’t stop wiggling his backside, and he may even lower himself into a giant stretch, like he’s doing yoga.

What it means: “OhmygoshImsohappytoseeyou I love you so much you’re my best friend foreverandeverandever!!!!” This one’s easy: Your pup is overjoyed his BFF is back. That big stretch is something dogs don’t pull out for just anyone; they save that for the people they truly love. Show him you feel the same way with a good belly rub and a handful of his favorite treats.

The best way to say “I love you” in dog? A monthly subscription to BarkBox. Your favorite pup will get a package filled with treats, toys, and other good stuff (and in return, you’ll probably get lots of sloppy kisses). Visit BarkBox to learn more.

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