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Jamie McKelvie/Matthew Wilson/Image Comics

The Most Interesting Comics of the Week

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Jamie McKelvie/Matthew Wilson/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. witzend

By Wally Wood and others
Fantagraphics

A pricey, high-end hardcover collection of Wally Wood's famed underground magazine. 

In 1966, about 10 years after the advent of the Comics Code and right around the time of the ascendance of Marvel Comics and the “Silver Age” of superheroes, Wally Wood became fed up with the industry. Looking for an outlet where he and his friends could create original comics for adult readers, he decided to self-publish an anthology magazine he called witzend. Wood was one of the great comics artists of the mid-20th century, known for his work on Mad Magazine, but he was not a great businessman. After taking pre-orders for an eight-issue subscription, he ran through all the money before the 4th issue even came out and decided that this wasn't for him. He ended up selling the whole publication to co-publisher Bill Pearson for one dollar. Pearson kept witzend going for a sporadic 13 issues before putting it to rest in 1985, four years after Wood committed suicide.

This week, Fantagraphics is releasing a giant, $125 hardcover box set collecting all 13 witzend issues with forewords by Bill Pearson and historian Patrick Rosenkranz. witzend is something most comic fans have heard about but haven't been able to read for themselves until now. Wood enlisted some of the best writers and artists of the era to create comics, pinups, and prose, free from editorial constraints. There are contributions from the likes of Al Williamson, Steve Ditko, Gray Morrow, Jeffrey Catherine Jones, Howard Chaykin, Harvey Kurtzman, Art Spiegelman, Mike Zeck, Frank Frazetta, and more.

The nature of the stories tend to be adult science fiction and fantasy, similar to what would make its way into magazines put out by Warren Publishing in the 1970s. For the most part, they are not exactly groundbreaking achievements in storytelling, but the publication itself was ahead of its time as an outlet for comics' greatest talents to create without having to answer to anyone but themselves. Two of the most well-known and lasting contributions to the magazine were Wood’s own The Wizard King, an illustrated, serialized prose novel in the making and Steve Ditko’s objectionist crimefighter Mr. A, a precursor to his later creation for Charlton Comics, The Question.

Here’s more information and some preview pages.

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2. The Hole The Fox Did Make

By Emily Carroll
emcarroll.com

A young girl seeks the truth in a shallow creek in the woods 

A new webcomic from Emily Carroll is always an event. As we await the first ever print collection of her work (Through The Woods, due out from Simon & Schuster next month) she has whet our appetite this past week with “The Hole The Fox Did Make," a brand new eerie tale about foxes, dreams, missing girls, and shallow creeks.

Regan is a young girl who finds herself dreaming about foxes and tall men and is mysteriously drawn to a nearby creek where she uncovers secrets about her mother and the father she never knew.

This is a somewhat more understated comic than some of her past strips where she’s used animated gifs and long pages. Here she works in a horizontal strip format in simple black and white until, to great effect, she breaks free. Her work is mysterious, elliptical, and so effortlessly creepy that it makes most other horror comics seem like they’re trying too hard. Carroll is a modern day Edward Gorey in that her beautiful art pulls you in and then sets you up for a disturbing payoff.

Go read "The Hole The Fox Did Make” here.

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3. The Wicked + The Divine

Written by Kieron Gillen; art by Jamie McKelvie; colors by Matthew Wilson
Image Comics

Twelve gods are reincarnated every ninety years as humans on Earth where they are loved and hated. Two years after that, they are dead.

When Kieron Gillen, Jamie McKelvie, and Matthew Wilson decided to end their run on Marvel’s Young Avengers (which I thought it was one of the best comics of 2013), the publisher made the unprecedented move of just ending the book rather than continuing with a new creative team. That is a strong testament to their appeal and the unique voice they brought to that comic. Now, the three creatives are launching The Wicked + The Divine, a new, ongoing, creator-owned series.

Back in 2006, Gillen and McKelvie broke onto the scene with Phonogram, a mini-series that used magic as a device to explore the effect music – specifically '90s Brit Pop – has on its listeners. This time, in The Wicked + The Divine, they look at the people who make the music and the seemingly devilish witchcraft they use to entrance their fans. The series follows a group of gods who reincarnate as humans every ninety years and become celebrities that are adored and loathed. The first issue begins in the 1920s before jumping to present day where we meet three of the gods/pop stars: a teen ingenue dressed like ‘70s era Dazzler, a cross between David Bowie and Annie Lennox who claims to be Lucifer, and a Rihanna lookalike who acts like a cat.

McKelvie and colorist Matthew Wilson create slick, glossy, hyper-real comics. See for yourself in the imagery from the comic’s own dedicated Tumblr.

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4. Photobooth: A Biography

By Meags Fitzgerald
Conundrum Press

Everything you've ever wanted to know about photobooths.

The photobooth, once a staple of amusement parks, bus stations, bars, and arcades, has lost its place in today’s world of constant selfie-taking. The ones you still see usually print digital photos rather than the old-fashioned kind that used chemicals. Digital photobooths are cleaner, cheaper, and chemical-free, but like many things today, they lack in quality and archival longevity.

Meags Fitzgerald is among a dwindling group of chemical photobooth fans who are desperate to keep these machines from disappearing. To chronicle their history and culture, she has written and illustrated Photobooth: A Biography, a dense and wordy graphic novel that is part well-researched history and part journal of personal obsession.

This is Fitzgerald’s first book, and while it may be considered more illustrated prose than sequential art, the drawings themselves exhibit a pleasing range of styles from quaint and outsiderish to realistic pencil renderings.

Read more about the book at its official website, www.photoboothabiography.com

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Space Goat Publishing
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Comics
These Evil Dead 2 Comics Will Look Groovy on Your Bookshelf
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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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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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