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Heather Penn
Heather Penn

The Most Interesting Comics of the Week

Heather Penn
Heather Penn

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. C.O.W.L. #1

Written by Kyle Higgins, Alec Siegel; art by Rod Reis
Image Comics

Superhero teamster unions in a Mad Men-style drama.

Back in the day, superheroes were generally depicted as lone vigilantes. When they'd organize, it was usually as a loose-knit team often funded by a wealthy benefactor or by one of its own members (there’s almost always a rich playboy running around in tights ready to help out financially). In recent years, comics have begun to explore the team angle from more real-world perspectives. We began to see corporate-sponsored (WildC.A.T.S) or government-funded (The Ultimates) supergroups. Kyle Higgins, Alec Siegel, and Rod Reis are adding to this trend in their new series C.O.W.L. in which superheroes are able to join a labor union.

Set in Chicago in the 1960s, a time in history when both unions and comics were in something of a “Silver Age,"C.O.W.L. seeks to tell different kinds of superhero stories. There's a touch of Mad Men's style and sex appeal as well asWatchmen’s serious approach to heroes. This first issue mostly introduces us to the cast of characters and sets some pieces in motion, but you can tell it’s going to be a complex drama with super heroics used mostly as a jumping-off point for stories about politics and personal drama.

What makes it all work is the stunning artwork by Rod Reis. Digitally painted in a style that calls to mind some of the great advertising and poster illustrators of the 1960s, Reis gives this comic a proper look that many contemporary comics set in this era can’t achieve.

Here is a preview of the 1st issue.

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2. The Amateurs

By Conor Stechschulte
Fantagraphics

What has caused two butchers to lose their memory and what lengths will they go to to hide it?

One morning, two butchers open up their shop located in a small shack just off the river, and mysteriously find they have no recollection of how to do their job. When customers come in, the men scramble to figure out how to slaughter the animals and fulfill their orders without raising suspicion.

This is how Conor Stechschulte’s debut graphic novel, The Amateurs, gets going and quickly turns into an uncomfortable and bloody black comedy. With its turn-of-the-20th-century setting, surreal sense of horror and humor, and cross-hatched artwork, The Amateurs puts you in that era as if you’re watching some weird, early “talkie.”

Stechschulte has been making mini-comics for a number of years and originally self-published The Amateurs back in 2011 before it got picked up by Fantagraphics. His work leans towards experimental art comics, but The Amateurs can be enjoyed by most, even when it leaves you wondering what is really going on.

Fantagraphics has some preview pages here.

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3. Final Incal

Written by Alejandro Jodorowsky; art by Moebius, Ladronn and others
Humanoids

The conclusion to a 30-year-old science fiction epic.

85-year-old comics iconoclast Alejandro Jodorowsky first released The Incal (L’Incal) in 1981. It would eventually be the middle piece of an epic trilogy that would include Before the Incal and Final Incal. The comic was a collaboration with legendary artist Jean Giraud, better known by the name Moebius, and has been among the pair’s many influential science fiction works. It was considered such an influence on Luc Besson’s 1997 film The Fifth Element that Jodorowsky and Giraud unsuccessfully sued the filmmaker for pilfering their visual ideas. It also kickstarted what is known as the “Jodoverse,” a connected universe of stories written by Jodorowsky that includes other classics such as Metabarons and Technopriests.

The story of The Incal trilogy follows the exploits of John DiFool, a private detective who finds himself in over his head when he is given a powerful crystal called the Light Incal. With characters and aspects based on tarot cards, The Incal explores grand concepts of life, love, and technology with action and a bit of comedy.

Jodorowsky and Giraud reunited in 2000 to create the intended final piece of the trilogy After The Incal (Après l’Incal). However, Moebius, ill at the time, turned in pages that were in a much more cartoony, simple style than the previous books. Jodorowsky was not happy with the visual disconnect and approached José Ladrönn, known for his realistic sci-fi/fantasy work on comics like Hip Flask, to redraw the pages and complete the book.

This week, Humanoids will release the English translation of Final Incal, which will include Ladrönn’s 154-page concluding chapter as well as the 56 pages that Moebius (who died in 2012) originally drew for After The Incal. There are multiple formats being released, ranging from lower priced digital editions to a large, limited edition $600 hardcover that include book plates signed by Jodorowsky and Ladrönn.

Some preview images and options to buy here.

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4. Everywhere Antennas

By Julie Delporte
Drawn & Quarterly

A fictional diary by a young woman unable to cope with the modern world.

Being that Julie Delporte’s previous graphic novel was a collection of hand-drawn diary entries called Journal, you’d be forgiven for mistaking her latest effort as another autobiographical comic. Everywhere Antennas is written and drawn to look like very personal entries in someone's sketchbook, but in fact is a work of fiction about a young woman in the midst of a nervous breakdown that she attributes to TV, radio, and wifi waves constantly permeating her brain.

Delporte uses colored pencils to write and draw the story in a series of dated diary entries accompanied by observational life drawings. The book is printed with such high definition that you can see the grain of pencil and edges of Scotch tape. Considering the book is about the toll that technology takes, it very deliberately looks handmade and human in every aspect.

You can see a preview of the book here.

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5. Thermohalia

By Heather Penn
tapastic.com/series/thermohalia

A beautiful webcomic about mermaids and robots.

Heather Penn’s webcomic Thermohalia joyfully combines mermaids, robots, and teen aliens. With about 3 chapters posted to date (some are on her website, but she seems to have moved to updating the comic more regularly on Tapastic.com), the story follows a young mermaid (or maybe part-girl/part-eel) named Coi who ventures into a city above the water where she meets a part-human/part-bird robot named Heghera.

Penn paints the comic digitally, using tall panels that are filled with breathtaking vistas to immerse you into the quiet, sunny, beautiful world she is creating. It’s the kind of webcomic you wish you could set to fill your widescreen monitor in high resolution wonder.

There are not that many pages posted yet so you can catch up on the story in less than half an hour, starting 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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