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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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Hulton Archive (left), Bruno Vincent (right) // Getty Images
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How Superman Helped Foil the KKK
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Hulton Archive (left), Bruno Vincent (right) // Getty Images

The Klansmen were furious.

Dozens of them had congregated in a nondescript room in Atlanta, shaking cloaked heads at the worrisome news that their sect leader had just shared: An act of gross subterfuge had transpired over the airwaves. Millions of Americans had now become privy to their policies, their rankings, their closely guarded methods of organized hatred.

All of it fodder for some comic book radio show. Their mission had been compromised, sacrificed at the altar of popular culture. Kids, one Klansman sighed. His kids were in the streets playing Superman vs. the Klan. Some of them tied red towels around their necks; others pranced around in white sheets. Their struggle for racial purity had been reduced to a recess role play.

Stetson Kennedy listened, doing his best to give off irate body language. He scowled. He nodded. He railed.

The covert activist waited patiently for the Klan to settle down. When they did, he would call radio journalists Walter Winchell and Drew Pearson, offering the results of his infiltration into the group for public consumption.

He’d also contact Robert Maxwell, producer of the Superman radio serial. Maxwell, eager to aid the humanitarian mission of the Anti-Defamation League, would promptly insert the leaked information into his show’s scripts. In between fisticuffs, his cast would mock the KKK’s infrastructure, and the group’s loathsome attitudes would be rendered impotent by the juvenilia.

The Klan roared, demanding revenge on their traitor. “Show me the rat,” their leader said, “and I’ll show you some action.”

Kennedy cheered, just as they all did.

And when he returned home, his Klan robe would be traded for a cape.

The cover to the first issue of Superman
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Kennedy, born in 1916, was an unlikely undercover operative. After a back injury kept him out of World War II, the Jacksonville, Florida native decided he wanted to combat anti-American forces on the home front. With Klan members alleged to have assaulted his family’s black maid when he was a child, the Klan—once again gathering steam in an era of segregation and racial divisiveness—was a favored target.

Having convinced a “Klavern” in Atlanta, Georgia that he shared their bigoted views, Kennedy donned the ominous attire of a Klansman, attended cross burnings, and covertly collected information about the group that he would then share with law enforcement and media. Radio journalist Drew Pearson would read the names and minutes of their meetings on air, exposing their guarded dialogues.

Revealing their closed-door sessions was a blow—one that Kennedy didn’t necessarily have to confine to nonfiction. In 1946, Maxwell, who produced the Superman radio serial broadcast around the country, embraced Kennedy’s idea to contribute to a narrative that had Superman scolding the racial divisiveness of the Klan and airing their dirty laundry to an enraptured audience.

“The law offices, state, county, FBI, House Un-American Activities Committee, they were all sympathetic with the Klan,” Kennedy said later. “The lawmen were, ideologically at least, close with the Klansmen. The court of public opinion was all that was left.”

Ostensibly aimed at children, Superman’s daily radio dramas were often broadcast to assembled nuclear families; one phone poll showed that 35 percent of its audience was composed of adults.

But regardless of whether parents listened, the activist believed the younger demographic was worth attending to. “Even back in the ’40s, they had kids in the Klan, little girls dressed up in Klan robes at the cross burnings," Kennedy said. "I have photos of an infant in a cradle with a complete Klan robe on. It seemed like a good place to do some educating.” 

In “Clan of the Fiery Cross,” a 16-part serial airing in June and July of 1946, Superman opposes an organized group of hatemongers who target one of Jimmy Olsen’s friends. Exploring their network, Clark Kent uncovers their secret meetings and policies before his alter ego socks the “Grand Scorpion” in the jaw. The idea, Kennedy wrote in his account of his work, The Klan Unmasked, was to made a mockery of their overblown vernacular.

When traveling, for example, Klansmen might identify one another by asking if they “knew Mr. Ayak,” an acronym for “Are You a Klansman?” Although Kennedy may not have actually shared their code words on air—a longstanding myth that was debunked in Rick Bowers’s 2012 book, Superman vs. the KKK—their histrionics were perfect for dramatization in the breathless structure of a radio drama. Given shape by actors and sound effects, all the clubhouse tropes of the Klan seemed exceedingly silly.

The cover to the first issue of Superman
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

As Kennedy continued to serve up Klan secrets to Superman, he watched as Klan morale dipped and membership enrollment ebbed. Desperate, the Klan tried calling for a boycott of Kellogg’s, a new sponsor of the show, but racial intolerance was no match for the appetites of post-World War II homes. Rice Krispies and Corn Flakes remained breakfast table staples, and Superman’s battles with the close-minded continued. Emboldened by his success against the Klan, Superman took aim at Communism, a favorite target of the show’s anti-Red star, Bud Collyer.

Kennedy would go on to burden the Klan using proof of uncollected tax liens, and eventually convinced the state of Georgia to revoke their national corporate charter.

Kennedy died in 2011 at the age of 94. While some of his accounts of subterfuge in the Klan later came under fire for being embellished, his bravery in swimming with the sharks of the organization is undeniable. So, too, was his wisdom in utilizing American iconography to suffocate prejudice. Fictional or not, Superman may have done more to stifle the Klan’s postwar momentum than many real people who merely stood by and watched.

Portions of this article were excerpted from Superman vs. Hollywood: How Fiendish Producers, Devious Directors, and Warring Writers Grounded an American Icon by Jake Rossen with permission from Chicago Review Press. Copyright (c) 2008. All Rights Reserved.

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7 Engaging Facts About Goofus and Gallant
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Courtesy of Highlights for Children

For well over 60 years, the preadolescent readers of Highlights for Children magazine have gotten regular lessons in morality from Goofus and Gallant, a pair of kids of indeterminate age and relation who offer sharp contrasts in behavior. Gallant is prone to exhibiting perfect manners; Goofus is selfish, thoughtless, and has even been seen torturing small animals. (Honest: He has stoned birds and once subjected a frog to some disturbing cruelty.)

The two-panel strip has become so ubiquitous that warring ideologies are often described as “Goofus and Gallant” types. If you’ve ever wondered whether there’s more to Gallant than being a goody two-shoes or whether Goofus is flirting with juvenile delinquency, check out our round-up of the pair’s storied history.

1. THEY USED TO BE ELVES.

Goofus and Gallant

Goofus and Gallant were the creation of Garry Cleveland Myers, a child psychologist and popular syndicated parental advice columnist. Myers debuted the strip, then known as the The G-Twins, in Children’s Activities magazine in 1938. While the twosome were already displaying their radically different approaches to life, Myers depicted them as fanciful creatures with pointed ears and curly-toed shoes. No one is quite sure why Myers opted for the fairy tale aesthetic, although one theory is that he wanted to depict bad behavior rather than bad children.

After Myers and wife Caroline started Highlights for six- to 12-year-old readers in 1946, they were eventually able to acquire the rights to the strip. Goofus and Gallant debuted in their magazine in 1948; by 1952, they had morphed into two regular kids. Their parents lost the elf ears, too.

2. THEY MAY HAVE BEEN BASED ON REAL KIDS.

Highlights turned into a family enterprise, with the Myers’s children and grandchildren having a hand in its publication. In 1995, Kent Brown Jr., the Myers’s grandson, told the Los Angeles Times that he was the inspiration for Goofus and that his cousin, Garry Myers III, was the model for Gallant. Myers III denied the accusation. “Kent gets great glee out of claiming to be Goofus," he said. Brown later stated that all of Myers's 13 grandchildren helped inform the characters.

3. ONE ARTIST DREW THE STRIP FOR 32 YEARS.

Goofus and Gallant

Once Myers secured the rights to the two characters for Highlights, he enlisted illustrator Marion Hull Hammel to draw their adventures (and misadventures), taking them from the elfin creatures of the early days to the human boys of the 1950s and beyond. Hammel wound up drawing it for 32 years; Sidney Quinn took over when she retired and worked on it through 1995. Current artist Leslie Harrington has been on the strip since 2006. 

4. GALLANT GETS HATE MAIL.

While the recurring theme of Goofus and Gallant is to exercise the Golden Rule, not all juvenile readers are on board with Gallant’s impeccable manners. "I got a letter from an attorney who'd grown up with the feature," Rich Wallace, the magazine's then-coordinating editor, told the Los Angeles Times in 1995. “He had something he wanted to get off his chest: 'Gallant was a wussy.'" Other readers have expressed similar disdain for Gallant, observing that they identify more with Goofus.

5. GOOFUS IS NOT A SOCIOPATH.

Goofus and Gallant

In the absence of any in-panel clinical diagnosis of Goofus’s reckless behavior—including but not limited to playing with fire, being unkind to peers, and vandalizing school books—we’re left with the editorial directives of Highlights. In a 1993 interview with the Chicago Tribune, magazine publicist Tom White admitted that Goofus is a “surly, uncooperative, ill-mannered child” but that "he is not a sociopath.” Good to know!

6. THEY’VE BEEN FEATURED IN ROUGHLY A BILLION ISSUES.

Discounting the two years they were absent from Highlights from 1946 to 1948, the antics of Goofus and Gallant have appeared without fail in every subsequent issue. In 2006, the magazine celebrated its 60th anniversary by shipping its one billionth copy. The magazine went from selling 20,000 copies of its first issue to averaging 2.6 million readers a month in the 1990s.

7. ONE EDITOR’S THEORY WILL BLOW YOUR MIND.

Goofus and Gallant

When Goofus and Gallant began their broadly-drawn moral plays in the 1950s, they were depicted as identical twins. Later on, editors for Highlights indicated the two were brothers, but not twins. By 1995, they were simply two unrelated boys. But according to former coordinating editor Rich Wallace, the two might actually be part of a Fight Club-style twist. “I’ve theorized they’re two sides of the same kid,” he said.

We were so awed by this possibility that we asked Highlights editor Judy Burke if it held any water. "We show the boys with different parents in the panels and they look slightly different from each other," she says. More recently, the two have seemed to become aware of the other's existence. "In April 2016, we had them breaking through their respective art panels and pranking each other for April Fools’ Day, which they couldn’t have done if they were the same child."

That doesn't mean that readers can't have an existential crisis of their own. "Each time we run Goofus and Gallant, we include the line, 'There’s some of Goofus and Gallant in us all,'" Burke says. "When the Gallant shines through, we show our best self.  We also include a few 'Goofus and Gallant Moments' from kids, where they tell us about times when they felt like either Goofus or Gallant. These two aspects of the feature support the theory that both characters reside within the same individual, and it’s up to that person to choose how to behave."

All images courtesy of Highlights for Children and used with permission.

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