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Luke Pearson/Nobrow Press

The Most Interesting Comics of the Week

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Luke Pearson/Nobrow Press

Each week 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. Hilda and the Black Hound

By Luke Pearson
Nobrow Press

The 3rd volume in Luke Pearson’s award-winning children’s graphic novel series.

What I should probably do here is let my 6 year old daughter write about Hilda and the Black Hound because she is obsessed with it right now. That’s not to say I’m not obsessed, either. It’s a fun, beautifully illustrated graphic novel.

Luke Pearson is relatively new to the comics world, but in just a few short years he's released 3 books in his all-ages Hilda series in addition to more adult fare like his 2012 graphic novel Everything We Miss.

Hilda and the Black Hound is the 3rd volume in the “Hildafolk” series put out by UK publisher Nobrow. The Hilda books follow the exploits of a smart, blue-haired girl who lives in a village called Trolberg with her mom and her antlered pup named Twig. Pearson expertly mixes fantasy elements with familiar everyday stuff—for instance, in this volume, Hilda joins the scouts and has trouble completing the tasks she needs to do in order to earn her badges. Meanwhile, the town is being terrorized by sightings of a giant black hound and Hilda meets some troll-like creatures called Nisses that live in the spaces behind couches and bookcases where all your missing socks and homework seems to end up. 

Nobrow has a little photo gallery of some pages here.

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2. The Leg

Written by Van Jensen; art by Jose Pimienta
Kickstarter

A graphic novel about a disembodied, sentient leg on a quest to save Mexico. What else do you really need to know to buy this?

Legendary Mexican president Santa Anna (sometimes referred to as the “Napoleon of the West”) lost his leg in battle during the Pastry War with France in 1838. Apparently, he ordered the leg to be buried and given a full military funeral. When he was thrown out of office and exiled, the leg was dug up and paraded through the streets before eventually being lost forever.

In The Leg, Van Jensen and Jose Pimienta tell the story of the return of Santa Anna’s leg. Set in 1938, the disembodied limb, clad in a leather boot, goes on a quest to defend Mexico against a dangerous new supernatural threat. It mixes history, magic, surrealism, and Spaghetti Westerns into a enticingly weird, tongue-in-cheek tale of revenge and honor.

Jensen first wrote this story over a decade ago while still an undergrad in college. He took a history class that introduced him to the story of Santa Anna and wrote a script that sat in his drawer for years. Jensen is now a successful comic book writer, and when he first met artist Jose Pimienta, the story of The Leg came up. Pimienta grew up in Mexico and encouraged Jensen to let him bring the book to life. Once thought as too weird to publish, the book is benefiting from the emergence of Kickstarter. Jensen and Pimienta are well on their way to meeting their fundraising goal.

Learn more about The Leg and consider helping to get it funded.

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3. MPH #1

Written by Mark Millar; art by Duncan Fegredo
Image Comics

A fresh new take on super-speed.

Mark Millar, who became a superstar writing edgy superhero books like The Authority and The Ultimates, branched out into creator-owned comics back in 2004. He had the unique idea of publishing a variety of books—all through different publishers—under his own personal branding of “Millarworld.” Those original titles included Wanted and Kick-Ass, which eventually became popular feature films. Millar has recently returned to using that “Millarworld” name for MPH, which was released this week.

MPH is actually a reworking of a concept (originally called Run) that was supposed to be part of the 2004 line but never materialized. The 5-issue mini-series is a contemporary take on the idea of super-speed. Millar excels at taking classic superhero concepts and giving them a fresh spin. He tends to steer clear of idealized heroism when exploring these types of tropes, so here we get an incarcerated drug dealer as our protagonist whose superpower comes from from popping pills.

>Millar is joined by veteran artist Duncan Fegredo, who originally made his name drawing classic DC Vertigo books in the 1990s like Enigma and Kid Eternity, is perhaps best known as his period as the regular artist on Mike Mignola’s Hellboy. In MPH's first issue, he and Millar pull off a spectacular scene showing speed from a first-person vantage point where the flickering of a fluorescent light (which flickers 100x a second) is like a strobe that turns on and off every few minutes.

You can read that exact scene as well as the opening pages in this preview.

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4. Nobrow 9

By Various
Nobrow Press

A gorgeous collection of wordless illustrations and comics.

I’ve written before about British publisher Nobrow Press and their penchant for beautiful, design-oriented graphic novels and art books. Their self-titled annual anthology bridges the gap between both worlds by mixing comics with illustrations in two halves of one book.

The theme of this year's volume is “Oh so quiet,” and the comics portion is made up of wordless strips while the other half is a two-page spread of illustrations. Cartooning and illustration are often conflated and, while they’re obviously related forms of art, they can require some different disciplines and skills. When you take away the words from comics it becomes even more interesting—and harder—to discern the differences.

All of the work contributed uses the same four-color palette, which gives the book an aesthetic cohesiveness you don’t normally see in anthologies. Contributors include Joseph Lambert, Jamie Coe, Hellen Jo, Natalie Andrewson, Leo Espinosa, Roger Demuth, Kali Ciesemier, and more.

Nobrow has a preview here.

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5. Invincible #111

Written by Robert Kirkman; art by Ryan Ottley and Cliff Rathburn; colors by John Rausch
Image Comics

If you’ve ever been a fan of Robert Kirkman’s Invincible, you won’t want to miss this issue.

One thing I probably don’t do enough with this column is highlight individual issues of a comic that is deep in a long run. Invincible #111 is probably not a good jumping on point for new readers, but longtime fans of the book that have been away for a while may want to come back now and check out what happens in this crazy issue.

Invincible is Robert Kirkman’s superhero comic, and it predates his other, more famous book, The Walking Dead, by a few months. It has been running since 2003 and Ryan Ottley has been providing the art since the 8th issue.

Coming off issue #110, which showed a super-powered woman-on-man rape scene and raised a little bit of controversy among readers, this new issue takes the shock and violence level up a few notches to a pretty uncomfortable and disturbing level. I can’t get into any of the plot details without spoiling anything, but there appears to be a major turning point for the direction of this book.

There are some non-spoilery preview pages 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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