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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.


2. The Leg

Written by Van Jensen; art by Jose Pimienta

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.


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.


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.


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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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
May 21, 2017
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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva

Jacques Mattheij made a small, but awesome, mistake. He went on eBay one evening and bid on a bunch of bulk LEGO brick auctions, then went to sleep. Upon waking, he discovered that he was the high bidder on many, and was now the proud owner of two tons of LEGO bricks. (This is about 4400 pounds.) He wrote, "[L]esson 1: if you win almost all bids you are bidding too high."

Mattheij had noticed that bulk, unsorted bricks sell for something like €10/kilogram, whereas sets are roughly €40/kg and rare parts go for up to €100/kg. Much of the value of the bricks is in their sorting. If he could reduce the entropy of these bins of unsorted bricks, he could make a tidy profit. While many people do this work by hand, the problem is enormous—just the kind of challenge for a computer. Mattheij writes:

There are 38000+ shapes and there are 100+ possible shades of color (you can roughly tell how old someone is by asking them what lego colors they remember from their youth).

In the following months, Mattheij built a proof-of-concept sorting system using, of course, LEGO. He broke the problem down into a series of sub-problems (including "feeding LEGO reliably from a hopper is surprisingly hard," one of those facts of nature that will stymie even the best system design). After tinkering with the prototype at length, he expanded the system to a surprisingly complex system of conveyer belts (powered by a home treadmill), various pieces of cabinetry, and "copious quantities of crazy glue."

Here's a video showing the current system running at low speed:

The key part of the system was running the bricks past a camera paired with a computer running a neural net-based image classifier. That allows the computer (when sufficiently trained on brick images) to recognize bricks and thus categorize them by color, shape, or other parameters. Remember that as bricks pass by, they can be in any orientation, can be dirty, can even be stuck to other pieces. So having a flexible software system is key to recognizing—in a fraction of a second—what a given brick is, in order to sort it out. When a match is found, a jet of compressed air pops the piece off the conveyer belt and into a waiting bin.

After much experimentation, Mattheij rewrote the software (several times in fact) to accomplish a variety of basic tasks. At its core, the system takes images from a webcam and feeds them to a neural network to do the classification. Of course, the neural net needs to be "trained" by showing it lots of images, and telling it what those images represent. Mattheij's breakthrough was allowing the machine to effectively train itself, with guidance: Running pieces through allows the system to take its own photos, make a guess, and build on that guess. As long as Mattheij corrects the incorrect guesses, he ends up with a decent (and self-reinforcing) corpus of training data. As the machine continues running, it can rack up more training, allowing it to recognize a broad variety of pieces on the fly.

Here's another video, focusing on how the pieces move on conveyer belts (running at slow speed so puny humans can follow). You can also see the air jets in action:

In an email interview, Mattheij told Mental Floss that the system currently sorts LEGO bricks into more than 50 categories. It can also be run in a color-sorting mode to bin the parts across 12 color groups. (Thus at present you'd likely do a two-pass sort on the bricks: once for shape, then a separate pass for color.) He continues to refine the system, with a focus on making its recognition abilities faster. At some point down the line, he plans to make the software portion open source. You're on your own as far as building conveyer belts, bins, and so forth.

Check out Mattheij's writeup in two parts for more information. It starts with an overview of the story, followed up with a deep dive on the software. He's also tweeting about the project (among other things). And if you look around a bit, you'll find bulk LEGO brick auctions online—it's definitely a thing!

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Nick Briggs/Comic Relief
What Happened to Jamie and Aurelia From Love Actually?
May 26, 2017
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Nick Briggs/Comic Relief

Fans of the romantic-comedy Love Actually recently got a bonus reunion in the form of Red Nose Day Actually, a short charity special that gave audiences a peek at where their favorite characters ended up almost 15 years later.

One of the most improbable pairings from the original film was between Jamie (Colin Firth) and Aurelia (Lúcia Moniz), who fell in love despite almost no shared vocabulary. Jamie is English, and Aurelia is Portuguese, and they know just enough of each other’s native tongues for Jamie to propose and Aurelia to accept.

A decade and a half on, they have both improved their knowledge of each other’s languages—if not perfectly, in Jamie’s case. But apparently, their love is much stronger than his grasp on Portuguese grammar, because they’ve got three bilingual kids and another on the way. (And still enjoy having important romantic moments in the car.)

In 2015, Love Actually script editor Emma Freud revealed via Twitter what happened between Karen and Harry (Emma Thompson and Alan Rickman, who passed away last year). Most of the other couples get happy endings in the short—even if Hugh Grant's character hasn't gotten any better at dancing.

[h/t TV Guide]