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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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Hulton Archive (left), Bruno Vincent (right) // Getty Images
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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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