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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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Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation
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Deadpool Fans Have a Wild Theory About Who Cable Really Is
Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation
Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation

Deadpool 2 is officially in theaters and ruling the box office just like its predecessor did back in 2015. But this installment is about more than just crude jokes and over-the-top action scenes; it also includes the debut of a longtime Marvel character that fans have been clamoring to see on the big screen since 2000’s X-Men hit theaters: Cable.

But the Cable in Deadpool 2 isn’t quite the one fans have gotten used to in the books—for starters, his powers and backstory are reined in considerably. While it’s easy to assume that’s by design, so that audiences can better relate to the character (which is played by Josh Brolin), some fans have speculated that the changes are because, well, this character isn’t really Cable at all; instead, Screen Rant has a theory that this version of the character is actually none other than an older Wolverine from the future.

So how can Wolverine be Cable? Well, it’s actually quite easy, considering that Wolverine was Cable in Marvel’s Ultimate Universe comics, which was a series of books in the 2000s that completely reimagined the regular Marvel Universe. In this reality, a grizzled, aged Wolverine takes on the Cable nickname and travels back in time to prevent a takeover of Earth from the villain Apocalypse.

We were already introduced to Apocalypse in 2016’s X-Men: Apocalypse, and while he was defeated in the end, Screen Rant theorizes that he could return like he does in the Ultimate X-Men comics: by inhabiting the body of Nathaniel Essex, a.k.a. Mister Sinister. Essex was already name-dropped in Apocalypse and Deadpool 2, so it stands to reason that there might be some larger story on the horizon for him.

This would, of course, lead to more X-Men movies down the road, with Cable revealing his true nature and teaming with a crew of mutants that includes the classic X-Men cast as well as their younger selves to battle a newly formed Apocalypse. It’d also allow the character of Wolverine to live on in Brolin, leaving Hugh Jackman to enjoy a retired life without claws.

Obviously this is just one fan theory based on a comic storyline from over a decade ago. It would also have to ignore a whole host of continuity problems—including the events of Logan. But having a twist with Cable actually being Wolverine from the future (and likely from a different reality) is the type of headache-inducing madness the comics are known for.

[h/t: Screen Rant]

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King Features Syndicate
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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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