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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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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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