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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8 Things You Might Not Know About The Wizard of Id
Titan Books
Titan Books

Debuting in 1964, Brant Parker and Johnny Hart’s The Wizard of Id took a page from the macabre humor of cartoonist Charles Addams. Ruling the kingdom of Id, a pint-sized tyrant uses humor to disarm a medieval cast made up of a jester, an executioner, a thief, and the titular magician, whose spells don’t usually impress. Although Hart and Parker both passed away in 2007, their black humor lives on. Take a look at some facts behind the throne, including the time Jim Henson almost brought it to television.

1. THE IDEA FOR THE STRIP CAME FROM A DECK OF PLAYING CARDS.

Johnny Hart was already a successful syndicated cartoonist (the Stone Age comedy B.C.) before he and former Disney animator Brant Parker decided to collaborate on a different project. Hart was flipping through a deck of playing cards in 1964 when he came across a peculiar illustration used for the king. Drawing on it to create his own diminutive despot, Hart wrote most of the jokes for Id while Parker illustrated it.

2. THE SYNDICATE THOUGHT THE TWO ARTISTS WERE DISGUSTING.

Although Id would eventually be syndicated to over 1000 strips across the country, Hart and Parker first had to get past the gatekeepers of cartoon distribution operating out of New York. Traveling to the city to show them samples, the two worked late into the night and called to tell executives they were ready. They didn’t know the syndicate would be coming to their hotel room, which was a mess of papers, food, and beer bottles. Caught off-guard, the men looked like transients. “We think you guys are disgusting,” one executive said, “but we love the strip. We’ll take it.”

3. THE SHORT JOKES WERE BASED ON JOHNNY HART.

In a visual juxtaposition, the king of Id’s height is inversely proportional to his power. Parker said the character’s stature was based partly on Hart, who used to fend off jokes about his own height. "The king became short because we used to kid John about being short and a lot of the short gags began to slide over into the strip," Parker said. "He just kept getting smaller, and as he shrunk, the nose got bigger and bigger."

4. A LITTLE GIRL GOT THEM TO DROP A CHARACTER.

Most of the humor in Id is centered around the morbid dynamics of Middle Ages politics, which is not normally an opportunity to offend current sensibilities. But early on, Parker and Hart created a karate teacher from Japan who was perceived by some as a stereotype. When Parker received a letter from a young Japanese-American girl who was being teased at school as a result of the character, the creators decided to drop him from the strip.

5. JIM HENSON WAS GOING TO PUT IT ON TELEVISION.

An avowed fan of comic strips and of The Wizard of Id in particular, Muppets creator Jim Henson met with Hart in 1968 to discuss a possible collaboration. Henson wanted to create an Id television show that would use puppets against an animated backdrop. Hart agreed, and in 1969, Henson was able to shoot test footage featuring himself as the voice of the Wizard. But executives at Publishers-Hall, which had taken over syndication of the strip, were having trouble enticing networks into producing a series. By the time ABC showed interest, Henson had moved on to Sesame Street and other projects. Wizard of Id got translated into animation in 1970 as part of a Chuck Jones variety series titled Curiosity Shop.

6. HART TURNED DOWN FEATURE FILM OFFERS.

Possibly disappointed in the outcome of the Henson project, Hart wasn’t very receptive to offers to adapt Id into other mediums. He reportedly shunned Steven Spielberg and Norman Lear when they called about adaptations. Producer Andrew Gaty managed to interest Hart in 1987, though his plans for a live-action feature—possibly starring Danny DeVito as the king—never came to fruition.

7. IT WAS A (STRANGE) VIDEO GAME.

In 1984, users of the ColecoVision home computer system were able to pick up a software program with an unwieldy title: The Wizard of Id’s Wiz Math. The edutainment program allowed players to brush up on math skills by solving problems faced by Spookingdorf, the tortured and jailed cast member of the strip. By solving math problems, players could navigate Spookingdorf out of his dungeon. The game was produced by Sierra, which later became known for its King’s Quest and Leisure Suit Larry franchises. A typing game, WizType, was also released.

8. BLONDIE AND BEETLE BAILEY CELEBRATED THE STRIP'S 50TH ANNIVERSARY.

When The Wizard of Id passed the half-century milestone in 2014, the entire comics page came out to celebrate. Hi and Lois featured a portrait of the Wizard in a panel, while Blondie and Family Circus made subtle references to the anniversary. (As modern-day strips, it would be difficult to regard a medieval strip with more overt acknowledgment.) In Beetle Bailey, the perennial screw-up shared a cell with the eternally suffering Spookingdorf.

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A Canadian Man Set a Guinness World Record for Most Marvel Comic Tattoos

Here’s something to Marvel at: A 36-year-old man from Alberta, Canada just set a Guinness World Record for having the highest number of Marvel comic tattoos on his body, Nerdist reports.

Rick Scolamiero, of Edmonton, boasts 31 Marvel tattoos in total and is inked from his neck down to his feet. What started out as a plan to get a sleeve (full arm tattoo) of his favorite Marvel characters quickly morphed into a full-body makeover.

"I fell in love with the artist’s work and wanted to continue to see what else we could come up with regarding tattoos,” Scolamiero told Guinness World Records. “I have been a Marvel comic lover since I was small and growing up we didn’t have much but I always had my Marvel comics and Marvel trading cards. They actually got me through some tough times so the idea of having them on my body forever just really appealed to me."

Wolverine and Spider-Man can be seen on his forearms, the Guardians of the Galaxy trail down his left calf, and LEGO versions of Daredevil and Deadpool adorn his ankles, to name but a few designs. Scolamiero didn’t want to leave any superheroes behind, so he had them inked onto his, well, behind. His left and right buttocks feature depictions of Spider-Man 2099 (a futuristic version of the original) and Vision (from The Avengers), respectively.

He even got Marvel comic artist Stan Lee’s autograph tattooed onto his wrist. In total, he attended one tattoo session per month for the past seven years and endured 350 hours under the needle. Now that’s dedication.

Check out the video below to see Scolamiero show off his tats.

[h/t Nerdist]

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