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Luke Pearson/Nobrow Press
Luke Pearson/Nobrow Press

The Most Interesting Comics of the Week

Luke Pearson/Nobrow Press
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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Space Goat Publishing
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Comics
These Evil Dead 2 Comics Will Look Groovy on Your Bookshelf
Space Goat Publishing
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
Hulton Archive (left), Bruno Vincent (right) // Getty Images
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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