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Heather Penn

The Most Interesting Comics of the Week

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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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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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