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Archie Comics

The Most Interesting Comics of the Week

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Archie 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. Seconds

By Bryan Lee O’Malley; colors by Nathan Fairbairn
Random House

Bryan Lee O’Malley’s highly anticipated follow up to Scott Pilgrim

Seconds by Bryan Lee O’Malley is arguably the most anticipated graphic novel of the year. It's his first since completing the Scott Pilgrim series in 2010, which made him one of the most popular and influential cartoonists of the 2000s. O'Malley's bold, manga-influenced style has been much imitated in the past decade. His unique storytelling style blends magical realism with common video game tropes which he uses to tell relatable stories about young people and their daily lives.

In Seconds we meet 29-year-old Katie. She is a successful chef with her own restaurant whose life gets turned upside down. She gets a second chance in the form of a magic mushroom that has the ability to correct her mistakes. Eventually she figures, why not just keep eating mushrooms and fixing every little mistake until her life is perfect?

O’Malley has always deftly written about characters his own age. He did it for college graduates in his debut book, Lost at Sea, and then 20-somethings throughout the six-volume Scott Pilgrim series. Now in his 30s, he looks to explore the doubts felt by someone who has made it out of their 20s with both success and failures to contemplate.

Image courtesy of Random House

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2. The Shadow Hero

By Gene Luen Yang and Sonny Liew
First Second Books

An origin story for the first Asian-American superhero

In 1944, a small publishing company called Rural Home hired Chinese-American artist Chu Hing to create their own superhero character. He came up with The Green Turtle — the first Asian American superhero. Through five issues of Blazing Comics, The Green Turtle fought the Japanese Imperial Army while exhibiting no apparent superpowers and was accompanied by a sidekick named Burma Boy and a goofy, turtle-like shadow.

In the back pages of the new graphic novel The Shadow Hero, writer Gene Luen Yang relays the history of this character and the forgotten artist who created him. According to rumors, the publishers decided against the The Green Turtle being Asian. Unwilling to give up on that, Hing always drew him with his back turned or face hidden so as never to reveal his features. The colorists were told to make his skin pink, presumably to assure readers that he was Caucasian, but they seemed to overcompensate for this and made him VERY pink.

Yang and artist Sonny Liew reimagine this lost character — now in the public domain — and attempt to explain all his aforementioned weird traits. In doing so they have created a wonderful comic about the Chinese immigrant experience told as a superhero origin story.

Hank Chu, the young man who will become The Green Turtle, is the son of a Chinese grocer whose wife becomes obsessed with American superheroes after one of them saves her life. Becoming a costumed hero seems like the ultimate form of assimilation to her and she attempts to stage “accidents” in hopes they will give her son superpowers. Hank is at first reluctant and thinks his mom is crazy, but when tragedy befalls the family, he suddenly has the motivation required for a true superhero origin.

Yang, who came on the scene with the graphic novel American Born Chinese and has continued to produce award-winning work like last year’s Boxers & Saints, is proving himself to be one of the best and most important comic creators of our time. He truly gets why these kinds of stories are inspiring and weaves a wonderful tale full of action, laughs, and heartbreak. It's probably the best superhero comic you will read this year.


Image courtesy of First Second

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3. Life With Archie #36

By Paul Kupperberg, Fernando Ruiz, Pat Kennedy, Tim Kennedy, Jack Morelli, Rosario Peña, Gary Martin, Bob Smith, and Jim Amash
Archie Comics

Yes, Archie dies in this issue. Yes, he's still alive in every other Archie comic.

In issue #36 of Life With Archie, Archie Andrews — one of the most popular comic book characters of all time — sacrifices his life to save his friend Kevin Keller from an assassin’s bullet. Keller, the first openly gay character in Archie Comics, has been elected to the US Senate, running on a gun control platform, and becomes the target of an assassin.

Killing off comic book characters for sales and publicity is a common event these days and somehow makes news each and every time. In recent years we’ve seen Spider-man, Batman, and the Human Torch “die” only to return a few months later. We’re about to go through the same thing this summer when Marvel "kills off" Wolverine. It’s not often we see this tactic used in non-superhero comics where the death can not be easily undone by plot devices like time travel, mystic ritual, or alien technology.

However, one device that Archie Comics has at their disposal is the fact that Life With Archie is a self-contained comic with a timeline that is separate from all other Archie comics. This is a series that takes place in an alternate future that shows us Archie’s life as an adult, married first to Veronica and then later to Betty. This will be the double-sized penultimate issue of the series with the final issue (#37) showing Archie's friends reflecting on his life and death.

It may seem a little odd to see an all-ages, light-hearted character like Archie killed off as a political statement, but, particularly since the introduction of Kevin Keller in 2010, Archie Comics have found some new life in their willingness to tackle topical and often controversial subject matter.

Here's a preview of the comic.

Images courtesy of Archie Comics

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4. Through The Woods

By Emily Carroll
Margaret K. McElderry Books

Believe it or not, this is the first book from critically-acclaimed cartoonist Emily Carroll

Emily Carroll is known to readers as a webcomic creator. Her beautifully drawn horror comics use the strengths of that medium with subtle animations and clever scrolling effects. Yet her true strengths as an artist and storyteller are by no means limited to a particular delivery mechanism. Her very first book, Through The Woods, proves this.

It’s hard to believe that a cartoonist as accomplished as Carroll hasn't published her own book until now. It's is even harder to believe that she has only been making comics for just the past four years. In that time she has released a number of haunting little webcomics (the most recent of which I talked about here) and various anthology contributions. Through the Woods is a collection of four brand new stories and one reprint of the 2010 webcomic His Face All Red which first brought Carroll to the comic world's attention.

You can read more about the book and see a number of preview pages on Zainab Akhtar’s excellent blog Comics & Cola.

Image courtesy of Margaret K. McElderry Books

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5. Zaya #1

By JD Morvan and Huang-Jia Wei 
Magnetic Press

A stunning sci-fi comic from a French writer and Chinese artist

Last week, Magnetic Press – a new publisher dedicated to bringing translated editions of European and Asian comics to English-language audiences – released the first issue of Zaya as a “digital-first” comic on Comixology. This release comes a month ahead of a 200-page hardcover collection of the entire three volume series that was first put out by French publisher Dargaud in 2012.

Zaya is written by French comics writer JD Morvan and illustrated by Chinese artist Huang Jia Wei. It's about a young woman who was once an assassin but quits to become a mother and an artist. When a biomechanics threat starts taking out other agents, Zaya must reluctantly return to the field.

Morvan has written a number of sci-fi comics over the years. Wei is a very young artist whose previous book was a comic he made while in art school. His work here is breathtaking in its intricacy and sense of explosive action.

You can preview and buy the first issue of Zaya here on Comixology.

Image courtesy of Magnetic Press

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
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Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
May 21, 2017
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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva

Jacques Mattheij made a small, but awesome, mistake. He went on eBay one evening and bid on a bunch of bulk LEGO brick auctions, then went to sleep. Upon waking, he discovered that he was the high bidder on many, and was now the proud owner of two tons of LEGO bricks. (This is about 4400 pounds.) He wrote, "[L]esson 1: if you win almost all bids you are bidding too high."

Mattheij had noticed that bulk, unsorted bricks sell for something like €10/kilogram, whereas sets are roughly €40/kg and rare parts go for up to €100/kg. Much of the value of the bricks is in their sorting. If he could reduce the entropy of these bins of unsorted bricks, he could make a tidy profit. While many people do this work by hand, the problem is enormous—just the kind of challenge for a computer. Mattheij writes:

There are 38000+ shapes and there are 100+ possible shades of color (you can roughly tell how old someone is by asking them what lego colors they remember from their youth).

In the following months, Mattheij built a proof-of-concept sorting system using, of course, LEGO. He broke the problem down into a series of sub-problems (including "feeding LEGO reliably from a hopper is surprisingly hard," one of those facts of nature that will stymie even the best system design). After tinkering with the prototype at length, he expanded the system to a surprisingly complex system of conveyer belts (powered by a home treadmill), various pieces of cabinetry, and "copious quantities of crazy glue."

Here's a video showing the current system running at low speed:

The key part of the system was running the bricks past a camera paired with a computer running a neural net-based image classifier. That allows the computer (when sufficiently trained on brick images) to recognize bricks and thus categorize them by color, shape, or other parameters. Remember that as bricks pass by, they can be in any orientation, can be dirty, can even be stuck to other pieces. So having a flexible software system is key to recognizing—in a fraction of a second—what a given brick is, in order to sort it out. When a match is found, a jet of compressed air pops the piece off the conveyer belt and into a waiting bin.

After much experimentation, Mattheij rewrote the software (several times in fact) to accomplish a variety of basic tasks. At its core, the system takes images from a webcam and feeds them to a neural network to do the classification. Of course, the neural net needs to be "trained" by showing it lots of images, and telling it what those images represent. Mattheij's breakthrough was allowing the machine to effectively train itself, with guidance: Running pieces through allows the system to take its own photos, make a guess, and build on that guess. As long as Mattheij corrects the incorrect guesses, he ends up with a decent (and self-reinforcing) corpus of training data. As the machine continues running, it can rack up more training, allowing it to recognize a broad variety of pieces on the fly.

Here's another video, focusing on how the pieces move on conveyer belts (running at slow speed so puny humans can follow). You can also see the air jets in action:

In an email interview, Mattheij told Mental Floss that the system currently sorts LEGO bricks into more than 50 categories. It can also be run in a color-sorting mode to bin the parts across 12 color groups. (Thus at present you'd likely do a two-pass sort on the bricks: once for shape, then a separate pass for color.) He continues to refine the system, with a focus on making its recognition abilities faster. At some point down the line, he plans to make the software portion open source. You're on your own as far as building conveyer belts, bins, and so forth.

Check out Mattheij's writeup in two parts for more information. It starts with an overview of the story, followed up with a deep dive on the software. He's also tweeting about the project (among other things). And if you look around a bit, you'll find bulk LEGO brick auctions online—it's definitely a thing!

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Nick Briggs/Comic Relief
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What Happened to Jamie and Aurelia From Love Actually?
May 26, 2017
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Nick Briggs/Comic Relief

Fans of the romantic-comedy Love Actually recently got a bonus reunion in the form of Red Nose Day Actually, a short charity special that gave audiences a peek at where their favorite characters ended up almost 15 years later.

One of the most improbable pairings from the original film was between Jamie (Colin Firth) and Aurelia (Lúcia Moniz), who fell in love despite almost no shared vocabulary. Jamie is English, and Aurelia is Portuguese, and they know just enough of each other’s native tongues for Jamie to propose and Aurelia to accept.

A decade and a half on, they have both improved their knowledge of each other’s languages—if not perfectly, in Jamie’s case. But apparently, their love is much stronger than his grasp on Portuguese grammar, because they’ve got three bilingual kids and another on the way. (And still enjoy having important romantic moments in the car.)

In 2015, Love Actually script editor Emma Freud revealed via Twitter what happened between Karen and Harry (Emma Thompson and Alan Rickman, who passed away last year). Most of the other couples get happy endings in the short—even if Hugh Grant's character hasn't gotten any better at dancing.

[h/t TV Guide]

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