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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
technology
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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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Nick Briggs/Comic Relief
entertainment
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What Happened to Jamie and Aurelia From Love Actually?
May 26, 2017
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Nick Briggs/Comic Relief

Fans of the romantic-comedy Love Actually recently got a bonus reunion in the form of Red Nose Day Actually, a short charity special that gave audiences a peek at where their favorite characters ended up almost 15 years later.

One of the most improbable pairings from the original film was between Jamie (Colin Firth) and Aurelia (Lúcia Moniz), who fell in love despite almost no shared vocabulary. Jamie is English, and Aurelia is Portuguese, and they know just enough of each other’s native tongues for Jamie to propose and Aurelia to accept.

A decade and a half on, they have both improved their knowledge of each other’s languages—if not perfectly, in Jamie’s case. But apparently, their love is much stronger than his grasp on Portuguese grammar, because they’ve got three bilingual kids and another on the way. (And still enjoy having important romantic moments in the car.)

In 2015, Love Actually script editor Emma Freud revealed via Twitter what happened between Karen and Harry (Emma Thompson and Alan Rickman, who passed away last year). Most of the other couples get happy endings in the short—even if Hugh Grant's character hasn't gotten any better at dancing.

[h/t TV Guide]

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