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Box Brown/First Second
Box Brown/First Second

The Most Interesting Comics of the Week

Box Brown/First Second
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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King Features Syndicate
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Comics
8 Things You Might Not Know About Hi and Lois
King Features Syndicate
King Features Syndicate

A comics page staple for nearly 65 years, Mort Walker and Dik Browne’s Hi and Lois is a celebration of the mundane. Married couple Hiram “Hi” Flagston, wife Lois, and their four children balance work, school, and family dynamics, all of it with few punchlines but plenty of relatable situations. This four-panel ode to suburbia might appear simple, but it still has a rich history involving a beef with The Flintstones, broken noses, and one very important candy bar wrapper.

1. IT’S A SPINOFF OF BEETLE BAILEY.

Beetle Bailey creator Mort Walker had been drawing that military-themed strip for four years when a friend of his named Lew Schwartz approached him in 1954 with a new idea: Why not create a strip about a nuclear family? Around the same time, the Korean War was ending, and Walker had sent Beetle home on furlough to visit his sister, Lois. Drawing a line between the two, Walker decided to pursue the suburbia idea using Lois as connective tissue. Hi and Lois was born: The two strips would see their respective characters visit one another over the years.

2. A CANDY BAR HELPED DEFINE THE STRIP’S LOOK.

Already working on Beetle Bailey, Walker decided to limit his work on Hi and Lois to writing. He wanted to collaborate with an artist, and so both he and his syndicate, King Features, went searching for a suitable partner. Walker soon came across ads for both Lipton’s tea and Mounds candy bars that had the same signature: Dik Browne. Coincidentally, a King Features executive named Sylvan Byck saw a strip in Boy’s Life magazine also signed by Browne. The two agreed he was a talent and invited Browne to work on the strip.

3. HI ORIGINALLY HAD A BROKEN NOSE.

As an artist, Walker had plenty of input into the style of Hi and Lois: Browne would later recall that trying to merge his own approach with Walker’s proved difficult. “When you draw a character like Hi, for instance, you immediately set the style for the whole strip,” he said. “You have already dictated what a tree will look like or how a dog will look, just by sketching that one head.” In his earliest incarnation, Hi had a broken, upturned nose to make him seem virile, puffed on a pipe, and wore a vest. Through trial and error, the two artists eventually settled on the softer lines the strip still uses today, an aesthetic some observers refer to as the “Connecticut school style” of cartooning.

4. EDITORS WERE WARY AT FIRST.

When Hi and Lois debuted on October 18, 1954, only 32 papers carried the strip. The reason, Walker later explained, had to do with concerns that he was spreading himself too thin. At the time, cartoonists rarely worked on two strips at once. Between Hi and Lois and Beetle Bailey, there was fear that the quality of one or both would suffer. Editors were also worried that having two artists on one project would dilute the self-expression of both. Walker stuck to his intentions—to make Hi and Lois a strip about the small pleasures of suburban life—and newspapers slowly came on board. By 1956, 131 papers were running the strip.

5. TRIXIE MAY HAVE SAVED THE STRIP.

With readers a little slow to respond to Hi and Lois, Walker had an idea: At the time, it was unusual for characters who don’t normally speak—like Snoopy—to express themselves with thought balloons. Walker decided to have baby Trixie think “out loud,” giving readers insight into her perspective. Shortly after Trixie began having a voice, Hi and Lois took off.

6. CHIP IS THE ONLY CHARACTER TO HAVE AGED.

Like most comic strip casts, the Hi and Lois family has found a way to stop the aging process. Baby Trixie is eternally in diapers; the parents seem to hover around 40 without any wrinkles. But oldest son Chip has been an exception. Roughly eight years old when the strip debuted, he’s currently 16, a nod to Walker's need for a character who can address teenage issues like driving, school, and dating.

7. IT LED TO HAGAR THE HORRIBLE.

Browne might be more well-known for his Hägar the Horrible, a strip about a beleaguered Viking. That strip, which debuted in 1973, was the result of Browne’s sons advising their father that Hi and Lois was really Walker’s brainchild and that Browne should consider a strip that could be a “family business.” By 1985, Hägar was in 1500 newspapers, while Hi and Lois was in 1000. Following Browne’s death in 1989, his son Chris continued the strip.

8. IT ALSO HAD A BONE TO PICK WITH THE FLINTSTONES.

The Flintstones, Hanna-Barbera’s modern stone-age family, premiered in primetime in 1960, but not exactly the way the animation studio had intended. Fred and Wilma were initially named Flagstone, not Flintstone, and the series was to be titled Rally ‘Round the Flagstones. But Walker told executives he felt the name was too close to the Flagstons of Hi and Lois fame. Sensing a possible legal issue, they agreed.

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Pop Chart Lab
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entertainment
A Visual History of Captain America’s Shields
Pop Chart Lab
Pop Chart Lab

Captain America has gone through plenty of wardrobe changes since his comic book debut in 1941, but it’s his iconic shield that has had the most makeovers. Over the past eight decades, fans have seen the shield change its shape, color, and even the material from which it’s crafted. For the folks at Pop Chart Lab, the shield’s storied history provided the perfect subject matter for their latest poster.

On this piece, the company teamed with Marvel to give a rundown of 50 of Cap’s shields—from the instantly recognizable to the downright obscure. Here we see his classic Golden Age shield, with its slightly different color scheme, and the different variations from Jack Kirby’s time-traveling Bicentennial Battles book. Then there are entries like the vibranium shield he received from Black Panther in Captain America #342 and an adamantium one made by Tony Stark.

Those different shields just scratch the surface of the deep cuts Pop Chart Lab provides. There are also shields from Captain Americas across Marvel’s numerous alternate universes, like the ones used by the Ultimate Universe Steve Rogers and the android Cap from Earth-725.

Each shield is illustrated to match its comic book counterpart and comes with a description specifying the series it debuted in and which Earth it exists on (the Marvel Universe has thousands of different versions of Earth, after all).

The posters will begin shipping on May 23, and you can pre-order yours now starting at $29 on the Pop Chart Lab website. You can check out a full look at the poster below.

Pop Chart Lab's Captain America shield poster
Pop Chart Lab

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