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Tradd Moore/Marvel Comics

The Most Interesting Comics of the Week

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Tradd Moore/Marvel Comics

Every Wednesday, I highlight the most interesting new comics hitting comic shops, bookstores, Comixology, Kickstarter, and the web. These are not necessarily reviews insomuch as they are me pointing out new comics that are noteworthy for one reason or another. Feel free to comment below if there's a comic you've read recently that you want to talk about or an upcoming comic that you'd like me to consider highlighting.

1. All-New Ghost Rider #1

Written by Felipe Smith; art by Tradd Moore
Marvel Comics

Marvel Comics is currently launching and relaunching a slew of books each week. Some—like this week's Daredevil #1—are simply a numbering reset in order to give readers an easy place to start. Others, like the new Ms. Marvel or this week's All-New Ghost Rider, are an effort to rethink lower tier characters and make them more relevant for today's audiences. It must be said that Marvel is doing a much better job at this these days than their competitor, DC. Marvel is also doing a great job of recruiting up-and-coming talent and giving them as close to free creative license as a major corporation is apt to give.

Felipe Smith and Tradd Moore—who have shown unique voices on smaller independent comics like Smith's Peepo Choo and Moore's Luther Strode—have designed a brand new Ghost Rider. He won't be replacing previous characters like Johnny Blaze and Danny Ketch, but will co-exist in the same universe.

The key difference for this new Ghost Rider? He drives a car rather than a motorcycle.

Smith and Moore have done a lot of thinking about character design (you can see some of the sketches here), moving from the old look of leather-clad motorcycle gangs and heavy metal music to the new aesthetic of souped up muscle cars and electronic music. The old flaming skull is now made of white chrome with a hot-rod style blower in the forehead that emits flames. The heavy leather jacket and chains have been replaced with a sleek jumpsuit, and underneath it all is Robbie Reyes, a young Latino-American gear head from East L.A. (He is reportedly modeled after One Direction band member Zayn Malik who will be the obvious choice for a future reboot of the Nicolas Cage movie franchise.)

Here's an unlettered preview of a few pages from the first issue of All-New Ghost Rider.

Update: All New Ghost Rider #1 was delayed at the last minute and won't be in stores until next week, but it was too late to bump it from this week's list.

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2. Cannon

By Wallace Wood
Fantagraphics

Wally Wood was one of the great comic book draftsmen of the mid 20th century. He was known for his work on the early days of Mad Magazine and for his sci-fi, horror, and war stories for EC Comics and Warren Publishing. From 1970 to 1973, Wood (a WWII veteran) produced a weekly newspaper-style strip called Cannon that was published in Overseas Weekly and distributed exclusively to servicemen stationed at foreign bases. It's a macho spy comic about a super-competent tough guy named John Cannon who had been brainwashed by the Chinese and then re-brainwashed by the Americans. He is sent off on Cold War-era missions that put him in the path of the Chinese, the Soviets, and South American dictators. The plots are fast-paced and fun, but don't go more than a handful of panels before a woman ends up in some state of undress.

Cannon reads like it was written by a hormone-crazed thirteen-year-old boy, but is obviously designed to appeal to its target audience of young soldiers eager for some tough-guy action and voluptuous figures to ogle; it's James Bond with no restrictions or shame. Cannon is at times misogynist and offensive, although it doesn't quite veer into the pornographic territory that Wood explored in some of his later works.

Although he oversaw a studio of artists on this comic, his classic approach to storytelling and craft is a wonder to behold in this new hardcover collection from Fantagraphics. In addition to a foreword from one of those studio artists, Howard Chaykin, there is additional content including the full color short Cannon comic Wood self-published in 1969 with art by Steve Ditko.

Check out a preview here, but if you didn't get the idea from the writeup above, be aware that it is NSFW. Below is just about the only SFW page I could find.

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3. Hellboy: The First 20 Years

By Mike Mignola
Dark Horse Comics

This week is "Hellboy Week," as Mike Mignola celebrates the 20th anniversary of his signature first comic. To commemorate, Mignola and longtime editor (and writer on other 'Mignolaverse' projects like Abe Sapien) handpicked pinups, page art and sketches to fill this new hardcover collection, Hellboy: The First 20 Years.

This serves as an inspiring milestone for supporters of creator-owned comics. Mignola built a whole world around what initially seemed like a simple idea for a character. It has spawned a multitude of comics, not to mention prose novels and two successful feature films. The new Mignola-drawn series Hellboy in Hell and primary companion book B.P.R.D. are still going strong today, which is an inspiration to creators hoping to achieve similar success with their own characters and ideas.

Hellboy: The First 20 Years starts with the very first drawing of Hellboy (unrecognizable from what we know of the character now) and brings us right up to present time, displaying full color art from various Hellboy comics.

Some sample images are available in this preview on the Dark Horse Comics website.

Mental Floss will have an interview with Mike Mignola about his 20 years working on Hellboy later this week.

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4. American Vampire: Second Cycle #1

Written by Scott Snyder; art by Rafael Albuquerque
DC Vertigo

Scott Snyder rose to stardom writing the American Vampire series, which began in 2010. It went on hiatus in 2013 when Snyder became one of DC's premier writers and needed some time off to catch up. Now, with the series at its halfway point, Snyder and regular artist Rafael Albuquerque are ready to resume the final 30 or so issues.

American Vampire tells the story of two immortal vampires, Skinner Sweet and Pearl Jones. Sweet's tale begins in the late 1800s in the American West. He meets Pearl in the 1920s and turns her into a new breed of vampire, more powerful than their European counterparts. Second Cycle picks up with the two in the year 1965.

Although it's a continuation of the original series, Second Cycle restarts its numbering in order to provide a jumping-on point for new readers.

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5. Schmuck

By Seth Kushner with various artists
Kickstarter

Seth Kushner is a photographer who is perhaps best known to the comics world for his portraits of comic book artists and writers which became a collection called Leaping Tall Buildings. For the past six years, he has been writing his first graphic novel, a semi-autobiographical comic called Schmuck. Based on his own experiences, Schmuck follows the dating exploits of a 20-something New York photographer struggling to find out what he wants. It's for mature readers, as some of the depictions of dating life get explicit. Kushner seems to be going for a storytelling vibe that is a bit Harvey Pekar meets Bob Fingerman meets Larry David.

To publish his first book, Kushner has set up a new company called Hang Dai Editions with cartoonist partners Gregory Benton, Dean Haspiel, and Josh Neufeld. They've just started a Kickstarter campaign to fund the printing of the book. Kushner's experience in putting out high-quality photography books means he's striving to make as beautiful a book as possible. He's brought in Eric Skillman—an award-winning designer who has created DVD packages for the Criterion Collection as well as his own graphic novel, Liar's Kiss—to design this book.

Kushner has also found 22 collaborators to help bring his anecdotal stories alive. The list of cartoonists includes plenty of newcomers but also some established pros like Dean Haspiel, Nick Bertozzi, and Bobby Timony. They have been serializing installments of Schmuck as a webcomic on Brooklyn-based Trip City, but the print edition will include plenty of previously unseen material. Also, the Kickstarter edition will have an exclusive Dean Haspiel cover.

Check out the Kickstarter which just launched this week.

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6. Black Roles For White Actors

By Keith Knight
The Nib

I really liked Keith Knight's recent contribution to The Nib on Medium.com, "Black Roles For White Actors," a reaction to racist online furor over the casting of black actors for the upcoming Annie and Fantastic Four movies. 

The Nib, an editorial cartooning hub started and edited by Matt Bors has grown substantially and is the place to find smart and opinionated cartooning online.

Read all of Keith Knight's cartoon 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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Opening Ceremony
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These $425 Jeans Can Turn Into Jorts
May 19, 2017
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Opening Ceremony

Modular clothing used to consist of something simple, like a reversible jacket. Today, it’s a $425 pair of detachable jeans.

Apparel retailer Opening Ceremony recently debuted a pair of “2 in 1 Y/Project” trousers that look fairly peculiar. The legs are held to the crotch by a pair of loops, creating a disjointed C-3PO effect. Undo the loops and you can now remove the legs entirely, leaving a pair of jean shorts in their wake. The result goes from this:

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Opening Ceremony

To this:

501069-OpeningCeremony3.jpg

Opening Ceremony

The company also offers a slightly different cut with button tabs in black for $460. If these aren’t audacious enough for you, the Y/Project line includes jumpsuits with removable legs and garter-equipped jeans.

[h/t Mashable]

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