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The Most Interesting Comics of the Week

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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. Supreme: Blue Rose #1

By Warren Ellis and Tula Lotay
Image Comics

After the success of Brandon Graham’s neo-Euro-comic take on Prophet, reimagining characters created by '90s comics icon Rob Liefeld has become something of a cottage industry. Supreme itself is no stranger to reinvention by other creators, most famously by Alan Moore and his now-classic 1997 run on Liefeld’s Supreme comic. Now, Warren Ellis and artist Tula Lotay give us a 21st century spin on Liefeld’s creation.

In Supreme: Blue Rose, Ellis and Lotay take Liefeld’s Superman analogue into a more mysterious, science fiction direction full of strange dream sequences, elliptical dialogue, and odd-looking characters with no faces. Investigative reporter Diana Dane (think Lois Lane) is hired by billionaire Darius Dax (think Lex Luthor) to find out who Ethan Crane is (take a guess). Longtime Supreme readers will dig the links to past stories but newcomers will enjoy its compelling mystery just as much.

This book will be the first place most people will see the art of Tula Lotay. She has been wowing social media followers with her paintings of glamorous women that have a unique half-finished look to them. She brings that same quality to this book where mysterious blue lines and scratches sit underneath gorgeously drawn characters, giving the entire comic a dream-like quality. Lotay is about to become a major star in the comics world and this is where it all begins.

Here's a small preview of the first issue.

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2. Transformers vs. G.I. Joe #1

By Tom Scioli and John Barber
IDW Publishing

Normally, a comic that takes two licensed properties and mashes them together is not noteworthy outside of the initial nostalgic glee. This isn’t even the first time that Hasbro’s two most popular toy franchises have shared a comic together, but IDW’s new ongoing series Transformers vs. G.I. Joe is worth calling out because it looks like it is going to be absolutely insane.

Rather than playing it safe by putting an artist on the book that has the type of slick, detail-oriented style you’d expect, IDW has brought in an idiosyncratic artist who is not afraid to put his own creative vision into the work. Tom Scioli is known for his graphic novel American Barbarian and his work with Joe Casey on the Image Comic series Gødland. He has a style that is like Jack Kirby on crack — retro, dynamic, tongue-in-cheek and very over the top. Scioli is also co-writing this series with John Barber.

Each issue will be exactly what the title advertises, with Joes fighting alien Cybertrons in a series of stand-alone stories that will build into a larger narrative. Scioli is looking to take everything he loved about these toys (and comics) as a kid and crank it up to 11 in hopes that a kid picking it up today will have his or her mind blown. IDW released a preview of this series to lots of acclaim on Free Comic Book Day in May. You can see some preview images and read an interview with Scioli and Barber here.

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3. Blood Blokes

By Adam Cadwell
Great Beast Comics

Despite over-saturation, vampire stories keep coming nowadays, perhaps because they’re so easily applied to different types of genres. In Adam Cadwell’s Blood Blokes, he drops vampires into a British slacker comedy about four twenty-something flatmates who bond together through their mutual thirst for blood.

There are no hard and fast rules for how vampires work, allowing for lots of storytelling leeway. Our protagonist Vince is a newly turned vampire and his three new friends show him the ropes and demonstrate how Cadwell’s own version of vampires work (they’re kind of just like us except they tend to suck on blood popsicles; they can even go out during the day since it’s often so cloudy in Manchester). His cast of characters have a very likable rapport which makes this a fun read, even if vampires bore you to tears.

Cadwell is a cartoonist who really knows how to work in black and white. His crisp inking and snappy panel sequencing are reminiscent of Jamie Hernandez when he is in his most Dan DeCarlo-inspired mode.

Issue #4 of Blood Blokes comes out this week but you can buy a bundle of all four issues to date here.

Here’s a preview of the fourth issue.

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4. Street Angel

By Jim Rugg and Brian Maruca
Adhouse Books

In 2004, a little five issue miniseries called Street Angel took the indie comics world by surprise and put artist Jim Rugg on the map. Set in the fictional ghetto of Wilkesborough, it featured the adventures of the world’s greatest homeless skateboarder, twelve year old Jesse Sanchez. Using her skating and martial arts skills, she fights to keep the streets clean from “evil, ninjas, and nepotism.”

As a funny, often ludicrous, sendup of both superhero comics and action films, Street Angel had plenty of appeal for indie comics fans, while its expertly drawn action scenes appealed to sincere fans of those genres. The fifth issue of Street Angel featured a “blaxploitation” character named Afrodisiac that Rugg and Maruca would later spin off into the award-winning graphic novel of the same name, making Rugg a sought-after star in the comics world.

Rugg has brought the original Street Angel to Adhouse Books to give this new reprint the same hardcover design treatment they gave to Afrodisiac (which Adhouse also published). Since the book is in all black and white, Rugg researched the paper that was used to print Charles Burns’ black and white masterpiece Black Hole in order to get the same contrast and quality. A new cover has been designed that utilizes the trademark pink hue that adorned the original softcover release.

If you’re new to Street Angel, Adhouse has a pretty great PDF preview you can download here.

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5. Ragnarök #1

By Walt Simonson with colors by Laura Martin
IDW Publishing

Walt Simonson is probably the definitive Thor artist in most people’s minds. His classic run on Marvel’s The Mighty Thor in the 1980s brought the superhero back to his Norse roots, creating a dynamic fantasy adventure that – at the time – did not look like anything else out there. His ornate costumes and epically-sized monsters gave the comic a mythic and alien look while the angular abstractions of his effects became elements of his signature style.

Now, at the age of 67, Simonson is launching Ragnarök, his creator-owned series in which he returns to Thor (the god, not the superhero) to tell the story of the Norse mythology's end times. Simonson is joined by veteran colorist Laura Martin who brings a modern richness to Simonson’s art that we’re not used to seeing.

Here’s a preview of the first few pages of Ragnarök.

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6. 100th Anniversary: Avengers

By James Stokoe
Marvel Comics

A couple of weeks back I wrote about the first issue in Marvel’s month-long “100th Anniversary” event. I mentioned the standout book from this series was going to be James Stokoe’s Avengers and, now that it is out, I figure it's worth mentioning again.

Stokoe is an exciting, unique voice and seeing Marvel let him do his thing with their number one property – even if only for an out-of-continuity one-off – is refreshing. He excels at designing pages that are crammed with miles and miles of monsters and destruction, showing a sense of scale you can only really get in comics. In 100th Anniversary Special: The Avengers, he shows us an America lost to the Negative Zone, a reincarnated Doctor Strange, an immortal Rogue, Beta Ray Bill standing in for Thor and a sentient Stark Tower. It’s going to be a wild comic.

Here’s a preview.

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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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