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Eleanor Davis
Eleanor Davis

The Most Interesting Comics of the Week

Eleanor Davis
Eleanor Davis

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. How To Be Happy

By Eleanor Davis
Fantagraphics

The first ever collection of Eleanor Davis’ acclaimed short comics

Eleanor Davis’ first graphic novel, How To Be Happy, hit bookstores and comic shops last week (I'm playing catch up after a week off from doing these lists). Davis has been making award-winning and highly acclaimed comics for years but this is the first ever collection of her work. It would seem that today’s younger generation of cartoonists, when they even get around to putting out a print publication, are no longer creating full-length graphic novels; instead, they put out shorter works through the web, anthologies, and self-published mini comics, and once they’ve built up a substantial catalog and following, release a collection through a publisher. 

How To Be Happy starts with a story that seems to be about the Garden of Eden ... until you realize that there are multiple Adams and multiple Eves and one of them has been hoarding M&Ms and candy bars. Many of Davis’ stories here explore the way people live with each other and try to find themselves in the modern world. They are funny, surprising, touching, and insightful. Some have a sci-fi slant to them, some are fantasy, and some are just about real people.

What makes this book so outstanding is how wonderfully cohesive it is both in terms of the book design and the themes that run through each story. Davis employs a variety of styles with fully painted stories alternating with ones that are done in just pencils or ink. One of her strong points as an artist is her confident use of color, and you can see how each story has its own carefully-utilized color palette upon simply flipping through this book or even by looking through this preview.



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2. Captain Victory & The Galactic Rangers #1

By Joe Casey with Farel Dalrymple, Jim Rugg, Benjamin Marra, Ulises Farinas, Jim Mahfood, Nathan Fox, Michael Fiffe and Connor Willumsen
Dynamite Comics

Joe Casey and a team of top artists revisit one of Jack Kirby’s last creations

While Jack Kirby famously co-created almost every character owned by Marvel Comics, but retained none of the rights to them (a fact that may soon get disputed by the Supreme Court), there is one character that has remained the property of his estate since his death in 1994: Captain Victory. A creator-owned project that began in 1981, Captain Victory ran for 13 issues and was published by the now-defunct Pacific Comics. The title character is kind of your typical, late-era Kirby hero with lots of cosmic trappings and a stylistic link to the New Gods mythology Kirby created for DC Comics (there were hints in the original comics of actual links within the story, too). The Kirby family has granted Dynamite Comics the right to bring back the character in a new ongoing series written by Joe Casey.

Casey has worked on a number of interesting projects in his career, from writing superhero mainstays like The X-men and The Hulk to co-creating the Cartoon Network series Ben 10 to writing more adult, experimental projects like Automatic Kafka and the recent Image Comics series Sex. In the mid-2000s, he created his own homage to Kirby’s cosmic style of superheroes with the series Gødland. For Captain Victory & The Galactic Rangers, he has assembled a really exciting group of collaborators. Each issue will feature multiple artists including Farel Dalrymple, Jim Rugg, Benjamin Marra, Ulises Farinas, Jim Mahfood, Nathan Fox, Michael Fiffe and Connor Willumsen. That is a dream lineup for this kind of project and working on a Kirby property like this is probably something of a dream project for a lot of these artists. Here’s a preview.


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3. Forming II

By Jesse Moynihan
Nobrow Press

A mashup of dozens of creation myths by one of the minds behind Adventure Time

Jesse Moynihan, like a lot of young cartoonists today, spends his days working in animation, specifically for the popular Cartoon Network series Adventure Time (for which he was actually nominated for an Emmy for an episode he wrote) or his most recent, “Manly,” which hit YouTube this week. Forming is his personal comics project which began as and continues to be a popular webcomic. Nobrow Press has been collecting the webcomic into a planned trilogy of hardcover books, the second of which hit bookstores this past month.

Forming takes all the creation myths of the world and mashes them up into one epic adventure full of ludicrously over-the-top fight scenes and a crass, modern sense of humor. It’s drawn with a childlike enthusiasm, like a kid thinking up how the world might have started and then drawing it like the craziest Jack Kirby comic ever. It’s all rooted in actual mythology and you’ll recognize references to Judeo-Christian, Egyptian, Greek, and various other religions. There’s also ancient Atlantis plus the aliens that helped get this whole ball rolling, and lots of characters that dress and talk in anachronistic, modern ways. It’s a hodgepodge of philosophy, fight scenes and stupid jokes and it is unlike anything you’ve ever read before.

Like everything that Nobrow publishes, Forming II is a beautifully designed book, oversized and a joy to flip through. If you’re coming into the second book cold, it very much just drops you into the middle of what Moynihan is doing without much of a setup—at least not one that would make much sense. It’s all so nuts though that you can quickly jump in and enjoy the ride for what it is.  Nobrow has some images of the book here.

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4. Faction Vol. 3

By Various
3 Bad Monkeys

An anthology featuring comics newcomers from New Zealand

Dylan Horrock’s classic 1998 graphic novel, Hicksville, was about a fictional town in New Zealand in which everyone was an expert on comics. While New Zealand may not actually be a comics Utopia, the biannual comics anthology Faction aims to showcase the breadth of comics talent that hails from that country.

Editor (and comic artist himself) Damon Keen has now assembled three volumes of his “Kiwi Comics Anthology,” each featuring mostly new and relatively unknown talent. Volume One boasted a contribution from Roger Langridge (who, along with Horrocks, is probably the most famous cartoonist from the area) and the latest volume contains a story from rising talent Tim Gibson who has made a recent splash in the digital comics world with his Thrillbent and Comixology Submit hit series Moth City. His contribution is actually a prequel to that series. 

The stories here are mostly genre works and lean heavily sci-fi (though there is a purposeful absence of superheroes). Like any anthology, the stories are hit and miss, but you never know with these kinds of collections whether you’re viewing the early work of a rising star. You can find out more about Faction and buy each of the volumes here.



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5. The Bunker Vol. 1

By Joshua Hale Fialkov and Joe Infurnari
Oni Press

A group of friends learn they will be responsible for the end of the world as they know it

Undoubtedly the biggest success to come out of Comixology’s Submit program for digital comic self-publishers is Joshua Hale Fialkov and Joe Infurnari’s The BunkerI wrote about it as being one of the most noteworthy books of 2013 and its popularity led to the first publishing deal to come out of that program. Oni Press has already put out reformatted and recolored digital and print editions of the first four issues of the series and is now releasing a collected trade paperback to introduce the book to new readers. In addition, the 5th issue, which follows the events of Vol. 1, also comes out this week.

For those new readers, The Bunker is about a group of friends who find a bunker containing dire warnings from their future selves. The story jumps back and forth between the present and the dystopian future they seem to have somehow caused. 

Here’s a preview of The Bunker.


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Space Goat Publishing
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Comics
These Evil Dead 2 Comics Will Look Groovy on Your Bookshelf
Space Goat Publishing
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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History
How Superman Helped Foil the KKK
Hulton Archive (left), Bruno Vincent (right) // Getty Images
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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