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Box Brown/First Second

The Most Interesting Comics of the Week

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Box Brown/First Second

Every Wednesday, I write about the most interesting new comics hitting comic shops, bookstores, digital, Kickstarter, and the web. 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. Andre the Giant: Life and Legend

By Box Brown
First Second

Box Brown depicts the tragic life of Andre the Giant in his own inimitable style.

Graphic novel biographies are fun because you get to see the subject’s life interpreted through the idiosyncrasies of the artist's drawing style. There's a wonderful synergy that’s apparent when reading Box Brown’s Andre the Giant: Life and Legend because Andre seems to be born right out of Brown's graphic, geometric style. He exaggerates the unbelievable size and laid-back demeanor that pro wrestling fans came to love about Andre.

The subject of professional wrestling is a natural match for comics, I think, but it is a hard one for creating a factual biography of any of its participants. Brown explains in the book’s introduction how the need to maintain the illusion of wrestling being “real" is ingrained in anyone involved, especially from the era of the ‘70s and ‘80s. Interviews with retired wrestlers can be an unreliable source of information as they are constantly putting on a charade. But Brown does an admirable job of working with the facts of Andre’s interesting and tragic life via a series of vignettes.

We see Andre Roussimoff go from a boy living on a farm in rural France to an international superstar thanks to a condition called acromegaly that caused his body to never stop growing and would eventually kill him. Brown portrays many aspects of Andre’s character: his loneliness, his penchant for off-color jokes, his friendship with fellow wrestlers, and his estranged relationship with his daughter. Andre comes off as a likable character, but not exactly the gentle giant you might expect.

You can read a preview of Andre The Giant: Life and Legend here.

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2. This One Summer

By Mariko Tamaki and Jillian Tamaki
First Second

The new young adult graphic novel from the award-winning team of Jillian and Mariko Tamaki.

This marks the much anticipated return of Mariko and Jillian Tamaki to the world of young adult graphic literature. The two cousins (Mariko is the writer and Jillian illustrates) first collaborated on 2008’s Skim, which won a number of awards for its story of adolescent outsiderism.

With their follow-up graphic novel, This One Summer, the Tamakis again provide a thoughtful, original and, beautifully illustrated story of young girls learning how to grow up. Rose and Windy are friends who see each other once a year when their families spend summer vacation in the same sleepy beach town. They’re both at that age when they’re too old to hang out with their parents but too young to hang out with the local teenagers who hang around the general store, drinking and partying. Rose finds herself captivated by the sexual drama she observes between two teenagers while, at the same time, she becomes alienated by the building tension between her parents.

This One Summer does not travel down the well-trodden path of your typical coming-of-age summer dramas with simple moral lessons. Instead, the Tamakis explore how disconcerting the grown-up world can seem to a twelve year old girl who wants so badly to be a part of it but can’t quite comprehend the unspoken glances and complicated sexual dynamics.

This book will be a thought-provoking read for teenagers and young adults whose memories of this age are still fresh in their minds. It is a masterful piece of storytelling that is sure to garner more awards for this creative team. Jillian Tamaki has already become a very influential illustrator in the past few years, but her work here is a revelation.

Here’s a preview of This One Summer.

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3. Manifest Destiny Vol. 1

Written by Chris Dingess; art by Matthew Roberts; colors by Owen Gieni
Image Comics/Skybound

What if Lewis and Clark discovered some real strange supernatural stuff on their expedition?

The conceit behind Manifest Destiny, Chris Dingess and Matthew Roberts' new series for Image Comics, is a good one: President Jefferson has sent Meriwether Lewis and William Clark into the newly acquired Louisiana Purchase territory not just to establish a western route, but also to document any strange and mysterious creatures they come across along the way. What makes this such a great read is the way historical fiction is mixed with a sense of fun and outlandish adventure.

Dingess and Roberts are relative newcomers to comics. Dingess has written for the SyFy channel’s Being Human and Roberts has done some work for Image, but this is his first ongoing title. Together they’ve created a story that is part Master and Commander and part Lost, which amounts to a well-researched period piece with lots of sci-fi trappings.

Manifest Destiny was an immediate hit and the first issues sold out instantly. This week sees the release of its first collected volume (as well as a simultaneous release of the 6th issue.)

You can read a preview here.

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4. Comics Unmasked: The Digital Anthology

By Various
British Library in London/Sequential App

Some of the greatest British comics made by some of the best creators to ever work in the medium.

The British Library in London has a new exhibit running through August called Comics Unmasked that explores the history of British mainstream and underground comics. It focuses on the more “anarchic” and adult works that challenge categorization, sexual and social norms, and the overall status quo. It is the largest ever comics exhibition in the UK.

To celebrate that exhibition, a digital anthology containing many works from the show is now available for free through the excellent digital comics app Sequential. The 150-page collection has excerpts from creators such as Alan Moore, Neil Gaiman, Grant Morrison, Pat Mills, Bryan and Mary Talbot, Posy Simmonds, Eddie Campbell, Dave Gibbons, and more.

This is a fantastic way to peruse the broad range of comics that have been produced by some of the greatest writers and artists to ever work in the medium. It’s also a great way to introduce yourself to Sequential’s comics app. They sell a lot of fantastic digital graphic novels, many with a more European flavor than are available on Comixology.

Find out more here.

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5. A Body Beneath

By Michael DeForge
Koyama Press

Collecting the early work of one of today’s most influential young cartoonists.

A Body Beneath collects bits and pieces from issues 2 through 5 of Michael DeForge’s much lauded but hard to find one-man anthology comic, Lose. The reason it doesn’t contain anything from issue 1, as DeForge explains in the book's intro, is that he can’t bear to look back on how rough his early work looks. Even if that is true, he sure seemed to be the fully formed Michael DeForge that we now know by issue 2, where he explores body horror and laces with intricately grotesque imagery and casually funny dialogue.

DeForge's moment of self-deprecation makes for an apt comparison to the comically down-on-himself Chris Ware and, in many ways, DeForge is the next-generation Ware. In Lose, he explores artistic experimentations that remain readable because of his sharp sense of humor and surprising storytelling. As a result, he has become an influential nexus in an array of talented young comic creators who are pushing beyond the observational sensibilities of ’90s and early '00s era indie comics while moving into a fusion of fantasy, horror, auto-bio, surrealism, and pornography.

While this year’s Ant Colony is probably the better gateway into reading DeForge, A Body Beneath is a great way for DeForge fans who missed out on the early issues of Lose to see how he has developed as an artist over the years.

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