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Aleks Sennwald and Pete Toms
Aleks Sennwald and Pete Toms

The Most Interesting Comics of the Week

Aleks Sennwald and Pete Toms
Aleks Sennwald and Pete Toms

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. The Short Con

by Aleks Sennwald and Pete Toms
Study Group Comics

True Detective meets Encyclopedia Brown but set in a girls' orphanage

Popowski (Pops) is a brilliant but hot-headed detective who has been assigned a new partner, Branwell, a brooding loner who just joined the department after suffering a terrible, existential tragedy. Pops and Branwell are also kids who live and work out of an all-girl orphanage, solving crimes involving vampires, mummies and, now, the murder of Branwell’s parents.

The Short Con, serialized on the excellent Study Group Comics website, is a fun comic that seems made for the reader who loves both True Detective and Encyclopedia Brown. Aleks Sennwald's charming drawing style is effortlessly funny as she and writer Pete Toms tackle classic detective tropes with little girls in place of weary old men. There's been less than 20 pages posted so far, but it’s already full of so many brilliant little ideas. One of my favorites is that the “police chief" is the nun who runs the orphanage and makes Pops drop five cents into a jar every time the precocious detective breaks the rules.

Sennwald and Toms have been updating The Short Con with new pages every Friday since April. It’s a standout among many great comics in the constantly revolving Study Group collection. It’s easy to catch up here.

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2. Angie Bongiolatti

By Mike Dawson
Secret Acres

Sex and socialism in post-9/11 New York

Last week, Mike Dawson published a very personal essay on Tumblr titled, "Advice to the mid-career cartoonist who has failed to build an audience.” In it, he lament the poor sales of his newest book Angie Bongiolatti and ponders the value of working on long form graphic novels versus shorter, web-friendly comics. It ended up setting off a firestorm within the indie-comics blogosphere with some people empathizing and appreciating the honesty and others sharply criticizing Dawson and his publisher’s marketing of and expectations for the book. Ironically, I had already planned to include Angie Bongiolatti in this week’s list even though I missed the actual release date (the fact that I missed it, despite keeping pretty up on these types of things, may be part of the problem) but the controversy may make this the most apt time to highlight it anyway.

The title character of Angie Bongiolatti is at the center of an ensemble of 20-somethings living in post-9/11 New York. Angie is a politically conscious activist working as an animator for a small e-learning company and is involved in planning a protest of the World Economic Forum. Her personality has a certain gravitational pull on her male acquaintances whose intentions are probably driven more by sexual desire than political altruism. Dawson examines the good and bad of socialism and capitalism through the viewpoints of various characters while also interjecting illustrated essays by the likes of George Orwell and Arthur Koestler.

A politically heavy book about socialism—even one with a good amount of sexual content and humor—is not going to connect with mainstream audiences despite how skilled and insightful Dawson is as a writer. He approaches his graphic novels more like a literary novelist than most cartoonists. You could imagine Angie Bongiolatti working very well as a contemporary novel, raising the question of whether it could even find its perfect audience as a comic book. As in his last book, the Ignatz Award-winning Troop 142, Dawson tells difficult stories about real and complicated people which he doesn’t present through fantasy devices like magical realism that would make them more allegorical or just plain comic reader-friendly.

Angie Bongiolatti is an interesting, if idiosyncratic, work from a talented cartoonist. It was released earlier in the summer and if your local comic shop or bookstore doesn’t have it you can order it from the publisher here.

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3. Palm Ash

By Julia Gfrörer
Self published

A tragic drama set during the Diocletianic Persecution

Julia Gfrörer’s debut graphic novel Black is the Color was released by Fantagraphics last year to much acclaim, making many critics' Best Of lists. She creates somber, shocking, and darkly funny comics that approach magical and spiritual subject matter as well as real, honest emotions with a wry sense of humor. Her thin-lined drawings have an honesty and spontaneity while very clearly conveying the exact emotion and action she aims for.

Just a few weeks back, Gfrörer released her most recent book for sale on her Etsy shop. Palm Ash is a 20-page black-and-white xeroxed mini comic about early Christians and their Roman tormentors during the Diocletianic Persecution. Within a handful of short scenes, she tells the story of three primary characters: Simeon, a Christian who, every time he is sent to the lions, causes them somehow to miraculously fall asleep; Dia, a servant and—secretly—a fellow Christian who tends to Simeon; and Drusus, one of the Roman soldiers who all seem to carry on illicit relationships with their servants.

This is a very dense mini comic that you’ll want to read a couple of times through to catch the subtle interactions. Gfrörer is deliberate in how she frames her characters from panel to panel almost giving you the feeling that you're viewing actors in a stage play. Each page is drawn in a consistent 9-panel grid that conveys a calm, distant view of the action even when some pretty horrifying stuff happens.

You can order a hand-stapled, xeroxed copy of Palm Ash from Gfrörer’s Etsy store for just $5.

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4. Moonhead and the Music Machine

By Andrew Rae
Nobrow

A boy with a moon for a head helps his fellow classmates embrace their weirdness

In Andrew Rae’s graphic novel, Moonhead and the Music Machine, a socially awkward high school student named Joey Moonhead spends his days disconnected from the reality of school and home life while the giant moon he has for a head drifts off to explore the far reaches of his imagination. After discovering his parents' old rock albums (in a wonderful sequence of visual homages to the classic vinyl covers of '60s and '70s era concept rock albums), Joey meets Ghost Boy (who is covered by a sheet) and the two wow their classmates with the joy of rock and roll and their individual weirdness.

Moonhead is a visually imaginative book with some truly great sequences, particularly when Joey is rocking out or when his head is going off on his journeys. Rae, a prolific illustrator and member of the UK-based Peepshow art collective, has a clear, colorful style that mixes together children’s book and underground comix aesthetics (I should note that this is probably more for teens rather than all-ages fare).

Here is the usual photo set from Nobrow Press that emphasizes the quality of the book’s production.

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5. Animals #2: Pigs

By Eric Grissom and Claire Connelly
Frankenstein’s Daughter

A working-class pig has a run-in with humans that have escaped from a slaughterhouse

Pigs , the second installment of Eric Grissom and Claire Connelly’s Animals trilogy, hit Comixology through their Submit program for self-publishers last week. In this series, the roles of animals and humans have been reversed so that humans are slaughtered and sold as food in restaurants and grocery stores while animals choose whether or not to show them empathy.

Pigs focuses on an employee at one of the human slaughterhouses, a quiet pig, living a simple life of going to work every day and coming home to watch reality TV with his wife. When some humans escape the slaughterhouse and end up in his backyard, the pig has to make that choice about how to treat them.

Grissom and Connelly’s trilogy consists of short single issue comics that are thoughtful character studies set against a theme of vegetarianism and animal cruelty.

View a preview and buy Pigs on Comixology here.

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DC Comics, Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.
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entertainment
The Dark Knight Is Returning to Theaters, Just Ahead of 10th Anniversary
DC Comics, Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.
DC Comics, Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.

Believe it or not, July 18 will mark the 10th anniversary of the release of The Dark Knight, the second entry in Christopher Nolan’s game-changing superhero movie trilogy. To mark the occasion, Showcase Cinemas—the movie theater chain behind the Cinema de Lux experience—is bringing the movie back to select theaters on the east coast for limited screenings on February 8 and February 11, /Film reports.

Many people consider The Dark Knight the best film in the Batman franchise (Tim Burton and LEGO-fied movies included). The film currently holds a 94 percent “fresh” rating with both critics and audiences on Rotten Tomatoes, making it the highest-rated movie in the Batman universe.

Much of the film’s acclaim came from Heath Ledger’s brilliant turn as The Joker—a role that won him a Best Supporting Actor Oscar (making him the only actor to win that award posthumously). Even Michael Caine, who plays Bruce Wayne’s ever-dutiful butler and BFF Alfred, admitted that he wasn’t sold on the idea of bringing The Joker back into Batman’s cinematic universe, after the character was so ably played by Jack Nicholson in Burton’s 1989 film, until he found out Ledger would be taking the role.

“You don’t try and top Jack,” was Caine’s original thought. But when Nolan informed the actor that he was casting Ledger, that changed things. “I thought: ‘Now that’s the one guy that could do it!’ My confidence came back,” Caine told Empire Magazine.

To find out if The Dark Knight is playing at a theater near you, visit Showcase Cinemas’s website. If it’s not, don’t despair: With the official anniversary still six months away, other theaters are bound to have the same idea.

[h/t: /Film]

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BEHROUZ MEHRI/AFP/Getty Images
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Comics
10 Amazing Facts About Stan Lee
BEHROUZ MEHRI/AFP/Getty Images
BEHROUZ MEHRI/AFP/Getty Images

Comic book legend Stan Lee’s life has always been an open book. The co-creator of some of the greatest superheroes and most beloved stories of all time has become just as mythical and larger-than-life as the characters in the panels. In 2015, around the time of Marvel’s 75th anniversary, Lee had the idea to reflect on his own life, as he said, “in the one form it has never been depicted, as a comic book … or if you prefer, a graphic memoir.”

The result, published by the Touchstone imprint of Simon & Schuster in 2015, was Amazing Fantastic Incredible: A Marvelous Memoir—which was written by Lee with Peter David and features artwork by cartoonist and illustrator Colleen Doran. Here are 10 things we learned about Lee, on his 95th birthday.

1. HIS WIFE IS ALSO HIS BARBER.

As a bit of a throwaway fact, Stanley Martin Lieber (Stan Lee) reveals the secret of his slicked back mane on the second page of his memoir. “My whole adult life, I’ve never been to a barber,” he writes. “Joanie always cuts my hair.”

2. HIS CONFIDENCE COMES FROM HIS MOTHER.

Amazing Fantastic IncredibleCourtesy POW! Entertainment[2].jpg

Stan Lee writes that as a child he loved to read books by Mark Twain, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Jules Verne, H.G. Wells, and others, and his mother often watched him read. “I probably got my self-confidence from the fact that my mother thought everything I did was brilliant.”

3. YOUNG STAN LEE WROTE OBITUARIES.

Before writing about the fantastic lives of fictional characters, Stan Lee wrote antemortem obituaries for celebrities at an undisclosed news office in New York. He says that he eventually quit that job because it was too “depressing.”

4. CAPTAIN AMERICA WAS HIS FIRST BIG BREAK.

A week into his job at Timely Comics, Lee got the opportunity to write a two-page Captain America comic. He wrote it under the pen name Stan Lee (now his legal name) and titled it "Captain America Foils the Traitor’s Revenge." His first full comic script would come in Captain America Issue 5, published August 1, 1941.

5. HE WROTE TRAINING FILMS FOR THE ARMY WITH DR. SEUSS.

After being transferred from the army’s Signal Corps in New Jersey, Lee worked as a playwright in the Training Film Division in Queens with eight other men, including a few who went on to be very famous: Pulitzer Prize-winning author William Saroyan, cartoonist Charles Addams (creator of The Addams Family), director Frank Capra (Mr. Smith Goes to Washington [1939] and It’s a Wonderful Life [1946]) and Theodor Geisel, better known as Dr. Seuss.

6. HE DEFIED THE COMICS CODE AUTHORITY WITH AN ANTI-DRUG COMIC.

In 1971, Lee received a letter from the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare asking him to put an anti-drug message in one of his books. He came up with a Spider-Man story that involved his best friend Harry abusing pills because of a break-up. The CCA would not approve the story with their seal because of the mention of drugs, but Lee convinced his publisher, Martin Goodman, to run the comic anyway.

7. AN ISSUE AT THE PRINTERS TURNED THE HULK GREEN.

The character was supposed to be gray, but Lee writes that the printer had a hard time keeping the color consistent. “So as of issue #2,” Lee writes, “with no explanation, he turned green.”

8. HIS WIFE DESTROYED HIS PRIZED TYPEWRITER.


Rich Polk/Getty Images for Entertainment Weekly

According to Lee, during an argument, Joanie destroyed the typewriter he used to write the first issues for characters including Spider-Man and The Fantastic Four. “This happened before eBay," he writes. "Too bad. I could’ve auctioned the parts and made a mint.”

9. A FIRE DESTROYED HIS INTERVIEWS AND LECTURES.

When Lee moved his family to Los Angeles, he set up a studio in Van Nuys where he stored videotapes of his talks and interviews, along with a commissioned bust of his wife. The building was lost to a blaze that the fire department believed was arson, but no one was ever charged with the crime.

10. HIS FAVORITE MARVEL FILM CAMEO WAS BASED ON ONE FROM THE COMICS.

Beginning with the first Spider-Man film in 2002, Stan Lee has made quick cameos in Marvel films as a service to the fans. He says that his appearance in Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer (2007) was inspired by the story of Reed and Sue Richards’ wedding in Fantastic Four Annual Volume 1 #3, in which he and artist/writer Jack Kirby attempt to crash the ceremony but are thwarted.

All images courtesy of Touchstone unless otherwise noted.

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