Original image
Toni Bruno/One Peace Books

The Most Interesting Comics of the Week

Original image
Toni Bruno/One Peace Books

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. Kurt Cobain: When I Was An Alien

Written by Danilo Deninotti; art by Toni Bruno
One Peace Books

Italian writer and music journalist Danilo Deninotti was, like myself and many others, greatly affected when he first discovered the music of Nirvana. After he changed the face of rock music, the legend of frontman Kurt Cobain has only grown since his suicide in 1994. When Deninotti decided he wanted to create a graphic novel about Cobain, he chose to avoid the much-written about years of drug use and crippling celebrity and instead focus on Cobain's childhood and the early, pre-Nevermind years of the band.

Kurt Cobain: When I Was An Alien takes its name from a lyric in the song "Territorial Pissings." It also refers to Cobain's childhood belief that he was an alien and that someday his real alien parents would come back for him. We meet Cobain as a young boy in the early 1970s and watch him weather his parents' divorce while growing into a sensitive, artistic teen interested in drawing and playing guitar. At certain points throughout the book, Cobain sees himself and friends, like fellow band members Krist Novoselic and Dave Grohl, as aliens with oversized, almond-shaped eyes. In actuality, the details of Cobain's childhood as shown here don't seem that troubled or traumatic; it seems actually pretty normal, making the alien metaphor a little bit of a hard sell. The decision to focus just on his early years cuts out a lot of the dramatic value of the story, bypassing all the conflict and tragedy that would come later.

The artist for this book, Toni Bruno, is exceptional. This is his third graphic novel but he is not widely known, especially in the States. He has an expressive drawing style that looks similar to Brazilian cartoonist Fabio Moon (Casanova, Daytripper). This book marks Bruno and Deninotti's first partnership and it was an enormous success in Italy, selling out within 3 months. Now, a translated edition is being released in the States through One Peace Books. Bruno's drawings really bring this story to life, and Nirvana fans will appreciate all the details that he and Deninotti get right, including cameos by other indie rock musicians of the era like Buzz Osborne of the Melvins, Kathleen Hanna of Bikini Kill, and Thurston Moore and Kim Gordon of Sonic Youth.

Kurt Cobain: When I Was An Alien will be available in comic book stores (probably through a special order) and also via Amazon.


2. Genesis

Written by Nathan Edmondson; art by Alison Sampson; colors by Jason Wordie
Image Comics

Alison Sampson was an architect for 25 years before drawing her first comic book, Genesis, a newly released graphic novella from Image Comics. Comic book artists with a background in architecture are not unheard of—a recent example is Emma Rios, the artist of another Image comic, Pretty Deadly. You might imagine a comic by an architect to look structured with lots of clean, geometric lines, but the beauty of Genesis is that, on the surface, you get something that looks quite the opposite of that. It's full of loose, energetic drawings that look like they're melting off the page. All that careful thinking and measuring is still there, however, it's underneath the surface.

In an interview with Tim O'Shea, Sampson shares a diagram that reveals some of that measured thinking. She plots out visual cues within the design of the page that most readers would only get on a subconscious level. It makes you realize that architects, who spend a lot of time designing how human beings should move through a physical space, can also be really good at directing readers through the visual layout of a comic book.

You can see how an architect—or any artist, really—would be attracted to the concept of this book, written by Nathan Edmondson, who is known for espionage-driven material such as Who Is Jake Ellis?. In Genesis, a man named Adam discovers he has the power of creation. He initially uses this for simple and benevolent means, but he soon finds himself remaking the world and everything he loves in horrific and irreversible ways. The fact that Edmondson can go from writing popcorn-spy comics to something like this is fascinating—I hope he continues to diversify his output like this in the future.

The premise gives Sampson the architect room to build brand new environments with no limitations, but it also gives Sampson the artist freedom to create her own reality—a hallucination that deviates further from real-world physics with each page.

While the story itself probably falls short of saying anything too profound about creativity or theology, Sampson's work— along with the carefully chosen colors Jason Wordie uses to support it—make this a worthwhile book to pore over and examine. It is a stunning piece of comics work and it will be very exciting to see what Sampson does next.

Here's a preview of Genesis.


3. Neurocomic

Written by Dr. Hana Roš; written and illustrated by Dr. Matteo Farinella

An architect-turned-comic-book-artist is one thing, but consider Dr. Matteo Farinella, who pulls double-duty as a cartoonist and a neuroscientist. Farinella makes the most of his talents by illustrating various educational projects and he has collaborated with fellow neuroscientist Dr. Hana Roš to create a graphic novel, Neurocomic. Released this week from Nobrow Press with support from the Wellcome Trust, this comic brings Dr. Farinella's worlds together.

Neurocomic attempts to explain what we know of how the brain works by following a man who somehow gets transmitted directly inside of one. There he experiences—first hand—dopamine, hallucinogens, memory, and more. He also meets various researchers who pioneered studies in brain-related science who help explain various concepts to both the protagonist and the reader.

Farinella conveys information with a very light-hearted, comical approach. This book is similar to another Nobrow book I wrote about last year called Freud. While the concepts are still probably heady for a casual reader to immerse themselves in, Neurocomic is great for someone with a predisposed interest in science, especially young adult readers. A book like this can be an excellent gateway for young minds into further scientific studies.

Nobrow has some preview images and ordering information on their website here.

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

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


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.


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.


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. 


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.


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!


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.


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.


More from mental floss studios