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Jason Latour/Image Comics

The Most Interesting Comics of the Week

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Jason Latour/Image Comics

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. Southern Bastards

Written by Jason Aaron; art by Jason Latour
Image Comics

Two comic creators from the South collaborate on a new series that both reveres and pokes at the underbelly of southern culture.

The Jasons–Jason Aaron and Jason Latour–are good old boys, one from Alabama and the other from North Carolina. They are frequent collaborators.They co-wrote a Wolverine digital comic together and Aaron recently handed the writing job on Marvel's Wolverine & The X-men series over to Latour. In Southern Bastards, their new series from Image, Aaron writes and Latour provides the visuals (even the coloring with some assist from Rico Renzi) for a gritty, "Southern fried" crime story set in rural Alabama. The two Jasons pull from their own upbringings and past experiences to paint a picture of Southern culture that glorifies it a little, but looks into its dark side as well.

Much like Aaron's now classic Vertigo series Scalped, this is a story about a prodigal son coming home. Earl Tubbs returns to the house he grew up in down in Craw County, Alabama. He's now an old man and has no interest in staying in town for more than a couple of days while he handles the affairs of a deceased uncle. Earl's dead father who, back in the day, was the town's sheriff and wielded a baseball bat like Buford Pusser in Walking Tall, casts a long shadow on Earl's life, and he's reminded of this the moment he returns. His hometown has changed quite a bit and is now under the thumb of a man referred to as "Coach Boss." Naturally, Earl is not going to be leaving town as quickly as he had hoped.

The authenticity that the two Jasons bring to this book is a big selling point. Everything looks and "sounds" just right, from the ramshackle homes to the southern drawls. There are a lot of funny little jabs at southern culture (a "Y'all Haul" moving van, a logo for sweet tea that appears to be a mashup between Col. Sanders and the Kool-Aid Man), despite the fact that it's a mostly foreboding story. Latour is a rare case of writer/artist who thrives on working with other writers and artists (as opposed to simply making comics on his own). His drawings are so gritty and rustic, they look like they were chipped and peeled off of an old hand-painted liquor store sign. You can tell both Jasons are in their element with this story.

Here's a preview.

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2. The Guardian Weekend Comics Special

By Various
theguardian.com

Can some of today's top novelists actually write a good comic?

This past weekend, British newspaper The Guardian devoted their weekend special to an intriguing idea: They paired six well-known novelists with well-established comic book pros to make exclusive short comics.

Although the stated idea of the series is for the pairs to "create new works” together, a couple of the stories are actually adaptations of previously written short stories. The adaptations (one by A.M. Homes and the other by Margaret Atwood) are the wordier of the bunch and you can tell the artists needed to work with a little more dialogue and narration than most comic panels can comfortably hold. The others, where true collaboration took place, have interesting behind-the-scenes interviews posted on The Guardian website that give us a peak at how the writers and artists worked together.

The 6 writer/artist match-ups include:
• Gillian Flynn (Gone Girl) and Dave Gibbons (Watchmen) came up with a great idea about a mom who decides to take matters into her own hands when it comes to dealing with school bullies.
• Christian Ward illustrates Margaret Atwood's Freeforall about a future in a world ravaged by incurable sexually transmitted diseases. This one is really more illustrated prose than comic, but Ward has some interesting and unique layouts going on here.
• Dave Eggers (editor of McSweeney's) chose to draw his own story, a tongue-in-cheek tale of a bison having a vision. It would have been interesting to see what an artist could bring to this story, but Eggers' own drawings give this a sketchbook-y feel, appropriate since he came up with the story while traveling.
• Michael Faber (Under the Skin) and Roger Langridge (Popeye and Muppet Show comics) made a fun little comic in which Barack Obama and David Cameron meet at a comic shop and discuss the impact of British and American comics on each' other's culture.
• Audrey Niffenegger (The Time Traveler's Wife) and Eddie Campbell (From Hell) have probably the most intertwined collaboration, telling the story of two lovers in which Campbell draws the man and Niffenegger draws the woman. They worked together to find an ending to this unfinished story that Niffenegger wrote years ago.
• And finally, Frazer Irving adapts a weird A.M. Homes (The End of Alice) story about a woman explaining a mysterious phone call to two odd investigators. Despite being simply an adaptation, this one may be the best looking of the bunch.

You can read all the comics as well as the behind-the-scenes interviews here.

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3. The Love Bunglers

By Jaime Hernandez
Fantagraphics

The story of Love & Rockets' Maggie has been building to this moment for decades.

Jaime Hernandez is one of the comics world's undisputed masters. Unlike many other kings or queens of their mediums, his best work seems to always be his most recent. The Love Bunglers is a new graphic novel that collects a story that previously ran in two parts within the 3rd and 4th issues of the annual publication Love & Rockets. It is another chapter in Hernandez’s continuing exploration of the life of Maggie Chascarillo, and it is a profound one. Maggie deals with failure and loss in both the past and present and, towards the end, reconnects with longtime, on-and-off-again boyfriend Ray Dominguez.

The story of Maggie is one that Hernandez has been telling for over 30 years and it’s possible that this chapter is meant to be the ending he’s been working towards all this time. There’s a remarkable scene consisting of flashback panels recreating moments from Maggie and Ray’s history that will be immensely rewarding for loyal Love & Rockets readers. This article dissects each panel and the original scenes that they are referencing.

Although this book will have the most effect on readers who have been following Maggie's exploits all these years, the beauty of the way Hernandez tells her story is that it’s possible to jump in at any point—even at this late stage—and get hooked.

Fantagraphics has some preview images here.

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4. Cleopatra in Space Vol. 1: Target Practice

By Mike Maihack
Scholastic

Mike Maihack's popular all-ages webcomic finds a new bookstore audience thanks to Scholastic.

Fifteen-year-old Cleopatra of the Nile is abducted from ancient Egypt just before her coronation as Queen and transported into the far future. She travels through the distant reaches of space and a prophesy stated by a race of talking cats says that she will be the savior of the universe. In order to prepare her for battle against the army of the alien Xerx, she must first go to school where she will learn how to shoot a ray gun, battle robots and, ugh, solve algebra equations.

Cleopatra in Space, the first in a multi-volume series, is one of those books I can't wait for my own daughter to be old enough to enjoy. It's got everything you'd want your own pre-teen to sink his or her teeth into: a smart, butt-kicking heroine, spaceships, a flying motorcycle shaped like a Sphynx, ray guns, high school drama, a love triangle, and talking cats. Maihack handles both action and comedy with natural ease. His artwork is stylish and cute and it's no wonder this comic was such a hit online (especially with all the cats), but he really is a great storyteller. I especially love his ability to get laughs with a simple reaction shot—like a snarky raised eyebrow from Cleopatra or a blank, disbelieving stare from her feline mentor, Kenshu.

Here's a preview of the first 13 pages.

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5. Amazing Spider-Man #1

Written by Dan Slott; art by Humberto Ramos
Marvel Comics

The return of Peter Parker and a relaunch of the flagship Spider-Man comic (just in time for the movie).

For the past year, in case you haven’t been keeping up with it, the man underneath the Spider-Man mask has actually been Otto Octavius (a.k.a. Doctor Octopus) inhabiting the body of Peter Parker. Their minds were switched when Octavius’ body died and we, the readers, had to assume that Peter’s mind and soul were lost forever (or until this story ran its course and it was time for a reset).

That story, which ran for 31 issues in the now-complete Superior Spider-Man series, was so much better than it probably sounds from my description. We were given a fresh take on Spider-Man–what he could be when put in the hands of someone else–and what it means to be a hero, especially for someone who used to be a villain.

Now, with some strategic planning on Marvel’s part, Peter Parker is back in his own body and the Amazing Spider-Man title replaces Superior Spider-Man just in time for the release of Amazing Spider-Man 2 in theaters next week. Writer Dan Slott, who has been shepherding the Spider-Man comics for a while, has brought his long-term Octavius plan to fruition and is now ready to give a fresh start for Peter and for readers who are ready to jump into a new Spidey comic.

Here’s a preview.

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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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