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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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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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