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Kyle Starks

The Most Interesting Comics of the Week

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Kyle Starks

Every Wednesday, I write about the most interesting new comics hitting comic shops, bookstores, Comixology, Kickstarter, and the web. These are not necessarily reviews (though sometimes they are) but more pointing out noteworthy new comics that you may want to seek out. 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. Over Easy

By Mimi Pond
Drawn & Quarterly

In one of my first columns here, I highlighted Mimi Pond's charming webcomic about a road trip she took with some friends to a hamster show (yes, a hamster show. Just go read it). Pond has had a long career making short comics and writing for a variety of classic TV shows (she wrote the first episode of The Simpsons as well as episodes of Pee Wee's Playhouse and Designing Women). This week, she releases her first graphic novel, a fictionalized memoir called Over Easy that she has been working on for the past 15 years.

Pond recounts her experiences as an art school dropout who took a job as a dishwasher in a quirky restaurant in Oakland, CA. She has changed the names of all the characters that appear, as well as the name of the restaurant itself. It's referred to as the Imperial Cafe, but the real restaurant (which still exists) is called Mama's Royal Cafe. She also changes her own name (here she is Margaret who, in turn, takes on the name "Madge" as way of reinventing herself within the story). This is a coming of age tale in which young, naive Madge learns to become a confident and creative woman.

Over Easy is set in a transformative era in California when the hippie subculture of the 1960s quickly becomes the punk subculture of the 1970s. Sex and drugs were still flowing freely but women, living at the start of second-wave feminism, now were becoming freer to make their own choices about what they want to do and who they want to do it with. Madge practically idolizes the waitresses in the Imperial Cafe for the no-nonsense attitude they take with their customers and for their freedom to pick and choose who they sleep with (who are sometimes their customers). Eventually, Madge works her way up to becoming a waitress herself, learning to navigate the sexual and social politics of the job.

Pond's artwork, a combination of pen and watercolor wash, gives her story an approachable, quirky look. The entire book is colored in a greenish blue hue that seems somehow "diner-ish" while also feeling like it is conveying the soft haze of a memory. Like a lot of auto-bio comics, there can be a sense of "well, you just had to be there" with some of Pond's anecdotes, but she generally has a knack for telling funny, engaging stories. She is currently working on a sequel, which will explore the next stage of her young adulthood.

Drawn & Quarterly has a PDF preview of Over Easy here.

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2. Sexcastle

By Kyle Starks
Kickstarter

If you love '80s style action movies (and who doesn't, really), you're going to want to back the Kickstarter for Kyle Starks' 200-page graphic novel that has a name you can’t forget: Sexcastle. It's a mashup of all the tropes you love from cheesy tough guy films, and filters them through the absurdist lens of comic book comedy.

We first meet Shane Sexcastle at his birth when the doctors inform the nurse that “this baby was born mean." Fast forward 30-odd years to Shane being released from prison. He’s a former assassin/secret service agent who is ready to start a quiet life without all the constant killing that usually surrounds him. Shane is like a cross between Kurt Russell, Patrick Swayze and David Carradine, complete with eye patch, long hair, kung-fu skills and a frank way of telling you how it’s going to be. Almost immediately he gets caught up in defending a mother and her son from a ruthless small town crime boss and has to fend off a team of assassins that resemble all your favorite '80s action stars like Sylvester Stallone, Steven Seagal, and Mr. T.

This is a laugh-out-loud comic from a real rising talent. I first noticed Starks' work on Tumblr with his hilarious series of comics, Secret Agent Toddler In A Man's Body. He draws in a simple, angular style similar to Box Brown and Bryan Lee O'Malley. Starks has a great sense of comedic timing and can really draw an action scene. He hits all the right notes here—anyone who grew up on these movies will eat this up.

There is a week to go on the Kickstarter for Sexcastle and it has already exceeded its goal. I'm not sure what Starks' future publishing plans are, so this may be the surest way to get your hands on a copy. Pledge your support here.

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3. Flash #30

Written by Robert Venditt and Van Jensen; art by Brett Booth, Norm Rapmund
DC Comics

One of the biggest questions since DC rebooted their line of comics in 2011 has been: "Where is Wally West?” Debuting in 1959 as Kid Flash, the teen sidekick to the “Silver Age Flash" Barry Allen, West took over the name after Allen's death in 1985's universe-altering mini-series Crisis on Infinite Earths. For an entire generation of readers, Wally West was the Flash. That is, he was until 2009 when Barry Allen was brought back from the dead. The older Barry Allen fans were ecstatic, but younger readers were a little put off. Then, when the so-called "New 52" reboot took place and Flash #1 debuted with Barry Allen as the one-and-only Flash, Wally West was seemingly not a part of the new continuity.

Now, finally, 30 issues into the new series, DC has promised we'll see a new Wally West. There has been a lot of speculation about how the character might be different in this new universe and whether or not DC actually plans to make him into another version of the Flash. The answer may lie within future timelines that will apparently play a part in this new story arc, and that will feature heavily in upcoming DC events like the new weekly series Future's End.

This issue also debuts the new creative team of co-writers Robert Venditti and Van Jensen with artists Brett Booth and Norm Rapmund. Venditti and Jensen have previously worked together on the Green Lantern books. Like fellow writer Jeff Lemire, they are some of the few current DC creators who have come in from successful careers making indie comics (Venditti is best known for his series The Surrogates and Jensen for the much-loved Pinocchio Vampire Slayer). Jensen spent years as a crime reporter for a small newspaper and will be bringing that experience into the police procedural aspect of the book in which Barry Allen is a forensic scientist for the Central City police force.

You can read a preview of Flash #30 here.

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Hulton Archive (left), Bruno Vincent (right) // Getty Images
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History
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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Courtesy of Highlights for Children
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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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