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Eleanor Davis

The Most Interesting Comics of the Week

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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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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
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Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
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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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iStock
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Why Your iPhone Doesn't Always Show You the 'Decline Call' Button
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iStock

When you get an incoming call to your iPhone, the options that light up your screen aren't always the same. Sometimes you have the option to decline a call, and sometimes you only see a slider that allows you to answer, without an option to send the caller straight to voicemail. Why the difference?

A while back, Business Insider tracked down the answer to this conundrum of modern communication, and the answer turns out to be fairly simple.

If you get a call while your phone is locked, you’ll see the "slide to answer" button. In order to decline the call, you have to double-tap the power button on the top of the phone.

If your phone is unlocked, however, the screen that appears during an incoming call is different. You’ll see the two buttons, "accept" or "decline."

Either way, you get the options to set a reminder to call that person back or to immediately send them a text message. ("Dad, stop calling me at work, it’s 9 a.m.!")

[h/t Business Insider]

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