The Most Interesting Comics of the Week

filed under: Comics
Image credit: 
Shaky Kane/Image Comics

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. Pearls Before Swine

By Stephan Pastis with Bill Watterson(!!)
GoComics

Yes, that really was Bill Watterson drawing last week’s Pearls Before Swine.

By now, even if you don’t follow comics news, you’ve probably heard about Calvin & Hobbes creator Bill Watterson’s surprise return to the page. You probably also know that the extremely private Watterson has been pretty much a recluse since retiring his famous newspaper strip in 1995. He famously opened up by giving an interview to us here at mental_floss this past October. But now, this surprise appearance in three of last week’s strips in Stephan Pastis' Pearls Before Swine was something many people at first just couldn’t believe.

Pastis humorously lays out exactly how this all happened over on his blog, which includes the sequence of strips that he and Watterson collaborated on as well as the strips that set it all up. He had given everyone fair warning early last week, announcing on Twitter that he had a ‘mind-blowing’ surprise in store for readers of his syndicated newspaper strip. But when the strips appeared, online discussion was divided about whether or not this could truly be Watterson. Some people compared and contrasted the mystery artist’s drawing style to Watterson’s in hopes of coming to a definitive conclusion. Once the three strips were completed, Watterson gave Pastis the go-ahead to reveal the truth.

The original art from these strips will be displayed at HeroesCon in Charlotte next week and will eventually be auctioned off to benefit the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research.

What's next for Watterson? He’ll be drawing the poster for the 2015 Angoulême comics festival.

Read the now-famous Pearls Before Swine strips and Pastis' explanation of how this came about.

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2. Walt Before Skeezix

By Frank King
Drawn & Quarterly

The very first Gasoline Alley strips and their depiction of the dawn of an automobile-loving American culture

We’re used to comic strip characters like Charlie Brown and Peter Parker remaining roughly the same age for decades. It’s rare to see characters age in real time, such as the Patterson family in For Better or For Worse or Judge Dredd in his own comics. The first comic strip to ever do this was Frank King’s Gasoline Alley, which began in 1918 and still runs in syndication today. The comic first began showing the progression of time when confirmed bachelor Walter Wallet found a baby on his doorstep that he adopted and named Skeezix. In recent Gasoline Alley strips, Skeezix is now a grandfather, and old Walt is still kicking around at a hearty 114.

Drawn & Quarterly have published five hefty hardcover volumes designed and edited by Chris Ware called Walt and Skeezix. Now, Ware (with comics historian Jeet Heer) has gone back to the very beginning to release a “prelude” volume (what we in the comics world might call a “zero issue”). Walt Before Skeezix collects the first two years of the strip where King is just finding his footing. He started out with wordy, single panel strips focused almost entirely on automobiles—still a novelty at the time—and slowly began to establish a lively cast of characters such as Walt, Doc, and Avery. By the end of this volume, his cartooning has become more confident and the stage is set for the greatness that would soon come.

In the accompanying text pieces, Heer delves into King’s personal life and the people around him that he leaned on for inspiration. He also provides historical context for these strips and the burgeoning, post-industrial revolution consumer culture that was rising up around the automobile at the time. In a way, a comic in 1918 that tailors every gag around automobiles is much like today’s webcomics that obsess about video games.

Read a PDF preview here at Drawn & Quarterly’s website.

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3. That’s Because You’re A Robot

Written by David Quantick; art by Shaky Kane
Image Comics

Two cops. One’s a robot. One isn’t. Neither of them knows which is which.

The British artist known as Shaky Kane (real name: Michael Coulthard) got his start in the British science fiction anthology 2000 A.D. His artwork takes the psychedelic, pop-art stylings of the 1960s and adds a layer of satire and gruesome strangeness.

Kane’s latest comic is this one-shot collaboration with television writer David Quantick (most recently of HBO’s Veep). That’s Because You’re A Robot is about two cops who have just found out that one of them is a robot. However, no one knows which one, including the cops themselves. The entirety of the comic is pretty much the two officers questioning the validity of each other's humanity while patrolling the city and warding off Frankensteins, Leprechauns and other odd creatures. Think Car 54 Where Are You? but written by Phillip K. Dick.

Here’s a hilarious preview.


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4. The Empty Man

Written by Cullen Bunn; art by Vanesa R. Del Rey
Boom! Studios

Two federal agents investigate a viral outbreak that causes hallucinations, catatonia and homicidal rage.

Cullen Bunn is a busy man these days. It seems that every week he is writing new comics for different publishers (Magneto for Marvel, The Remains for Monkeybrain, The Sixth Gun for Oni Press, Sinestro for DC). His newest is an ongoing horror comic (one of his specialities) for Boom! Studios called The Empty Man. Set in the near future, years after a virus called The Empty Man has been ravaging the nation, two agents from a joint FBI/CDC task force investigate issues surrounding a new mutation of the disease as well as a number of dangerous religious cults that have formed because of the pandemic. 

Bunn is collaborating with artist Vanesa R. Del Rey on the series. Del Rey made an impressive comics debut last year with the crime noir Hit, also for Boom! Studios. Her style is like a cross between Tim Sale and Paul Pope and I think she will be a huge star in the coming year.

Here is a somewhat disturbing preview

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5. Showa 1939-1944: A History of Japan

By Shigeru Mizuki
Drawn & Quarterly

A pioneer of manga chronicles Japan's history during WWII and his own personally harrowing experiences at the time

Shigeru Mizuki fought for the Japanese Imperial Army in World War II and lost his drawing arm in an explosion. When he returned home he taught himself to draw with his other hand and eventually became one of the pioneers of Japanese manga and a master of yōkai horror, not to mention the creator of the popular GeGeGe no Kitarō series of manga and anime. 

I wrote about Mizuki’s Showa books when Drawn & Quarterly released the first volume last year. The multi-volume series details the history of Japan’s Showa era (from 1926-1989 while Hirohito was Emperor) using rich, photo-realistic and intricate black and white drawings to illustrate the historical prose. Simultaneously, Mizuki relates his own life experiences during those years in an exaggerated, cartoony style so that the book cuts back and forth between being a textbook and a memoir. The second translated volume of the series comes out this week and explores the run up to World War II including the second Sino-Japanese War and the attack on Pearl Harbor. It also shows Mizuki coming of age, starting out the volume as an uninterested bystander to historical events and soon becoming an eyewitness to horrific and devastating events.

The book is so stunningly beautiful, and to think what the man who drew it went through, including having to relearn how to draw, is just astounding. Drawn & Quarterly has a PDF preview here.



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