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Toni Bruno/One Peace Books
Toni Bruno/One Peace Books

The Most Interesting Comics of the Week

Toni Bruno/One Peace Books
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.

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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.

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3. Neurocomic

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

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.

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Space Goat Publishing
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Comics
These Evil Dead 2 Comics Will Look Groovy on Your Bookshelf
Space Goat Publishing
Space Goat Publishing

Bruce Campbell has been quoted as saying the gallons of fake blood poured into his face during filming of the 1987 cult classic horror film Evil Dead 2: Dead by Dawn led to a week of red-tinged mucus leaking out of his nostrils. Fortunately, no Campbells were harmed in the making of two new comic collections from Space Goat Productions that are now being funded on Kickstarter. The Evil Dead 2 Omnibus features over 300 pages of stories set in the Necronomicon-plagued universe featured in numerous comic book miniseries; The Art of Evil Dead 2 reveals never-before-seen production art from both the comics and ancillary projects.

The campaign is the latest from Space Goat, the Bellingham, Washington-based company that’s made a cottage (or cabin) industry from products spinning out of the Sam Raimi-directed film, which is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year. In addition to the new collections, the publisher has also issued an Evil Dead 2 coloring book; a comic where Campbell’s demon-fighting hero, Ash Williams, encounters Adolf Hitler; and a forthcoming board game where players can navigate Deadite threats while shaking their head at Ash’s questionable competency. (No matter the iteration, he seems ill-equipped to deal with the threat of his own possessed and lopped-off hand.)

According to Space Goat publisher Shon Bury, licensing the Evil Dead 2 property from rights holders StudioCanal in 2015 has been a buoy in navigating the difficult waters of comic book publishing. (Even Marvel, which rakes in billions through its film franchises, struggles to sell more than 60,000 to 70,000 copies of its most popular monthly titles.) One day into its Kickstarter launch, the Evil Dead titles had reached 50 percent of their $20,000 funding goal.

“It’s definitely our flagship on the publishing side,” Bury tells Mental Floss. “The board game is our top seller in the Evil Dead category, and the coloring book sells really well. They’re our evergreen products.”

The cover to 'The Art of Evil Dead 2' from Space Goat Publishing
Space Goat Publishing

Exploring Ash’s adventures in other media comes with a few caveats. While Space Goat is free to explore the characters and situations portrayed in Evil Dead 2, incorporating ideas from the rest of the series (including 1993’s Army of Darkness or the Starz series Ash vs. Evil Dead) is generally off-limits. And while the StudioCanal rights include a likeness of Campbell, the actor has veto power over how he’s depicted on the page. “For some reason, he doesn’t like the dimple on his chin to be drawn,” Bury says. “But he’s very insistent that the scar on his face from the movie is always there.”

Other actors featured in the film—like Richard Domeier, the future home-shopping host who portrayed “Evil Ed”—may not have granted their likeness rights, but his Deadite character design is part of the deal. “You want to inoculate the owner or licensor of the rights,” Bury says. “So we submit drawings and they might say, ‘No, too close to the actor.’”

That development process is part of what makes up The Art of Evil Dead 2, one-half of Space Goat’s current Kickstarter project that follows a successful Evil Dead 2 board game launch in 2016. The campaigns, Bury says, help target Ash fans with material that might not get enough attention if it were released directly to retailers. “Kickstarter is basically social media. It’s direct engagement, our way of saying to fans, ‘Hey, you’re really going to like this.’”

Bury expects fans to be just as enthused about Evil Dead 2: The Doppelganger Wars, a limited series due for release in 2018 that sees Ash and sidekick Annie Knowby enter the mirror dimension glimpsed at in Evil Dead 2 to discover the true origins of both the demon-summoning Necronomicon and the cult surrounding it. A meeting with H.P. Lovecraft may also be on deck, along with other narratives that would carry the license through the end of the publisher’s current agreement with StudioCanal in late 2019.

Still to be decided: whether Ash will ever encounter the werewolves of The Howling, Space Goat’s latest horror license. “Those conversations have occurred,” Bury says. “It would be a natural. But it’s also challenging because the royalties [for the licenses] double.” 

Digital versions of The Art of Evil Dead 2 and the Evil Dead Omnibus will be available to backers pledging $20 beginning in December. Softcover, hardcover, and Necronomicon slipcase editions ($30 and up) ship in May 2018. The Kickstarter runs through November 25.

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