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Ivan Reis/DC Comics
Ivan Reis/DC Comics

The Most Interesting Comics of the Week

Ivan Reis/DC Comics
Ivan Reis/DC Comics

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. Sisters

By Raina Telgemeier
Scholastic

Raina Telgemeier’s autobiographical followup to her beloved graphic novel Smile

In today’s world of comics, a book can be a best seller while also being virtually invisible to large portions of comics readership. For readers of a certain age, Raina Telgemeier's Sisters is the most anticipated new graphic novel release of the year and may wind up being one of this year's top selling books (it's first printing is already higher than just about every comic Marvel and DC put out)—but your average comic shop customer will probably not even know it exists.

Legions of pre-teen girls have been clamoring for this graphic novel since reading Telgemeier's first work about her pre-teen years, 2010’s Smile (Scholastic has smartly designed the cover of Sisters so that both books match nicely when set together). If you need to prove a point to people who say young girls don’t read comics, look no further than Smile which, to date, has spent an astounding 113 weeks on the New York Times Best Seller List.

Telgemeier is a fantastic cartoonist with a drawing style and comedic sense that was honed by reading the great newspaper strips of the 1980s like Calvin & Hobbes and For Better or For Worse. She takes events from her childhood and turns them into entertaining and relatable stories that are as laugh-out-loud-funny as they are touching. Whereas Smile showed us Telgemeier’s family life and friendships through events surrounding all the dental drama she faced from a severe childhood accident, Sisters focuses primarily on her relationship with her younger sister Amara and revolves around an eventful family road trip from California to Colorado.

For parents with girls around 8-10 years old who aren't already Telgemeier groupies, Sisters will be a great introduction to her work. It's perfectly attuned to that age group while being safe and appropriate enough to make parents feel comfortable.

Here’s a preview of Sisters.

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2. Genius #3

by Marc Bernardin, Adam Freeman and Afua Richardson
Top Cow

A neighborhood strikes back against the police

Without a doubt, the most topical comic on the stands right now is Genius, published by Top Cow (an offshoot of Image Comics that is generally not known for topical or politically-charged comics). With the situation in Ferguson, MO shining a new light on racial injustice in the U.S., a comic that was initially written 6 years ago reaches the world at its optimal point of relevance.

In Genius, seventeen-year-old Destiny Ajaye had watched her parents get gunned down by the LAPD when she was a child. Now, after years of training, she has become an expert at military tactics and is ready to bring the fight back to the police. Uniting the disparate South Central gangs under her leadership, she takes back three blocks of her neighborhood from the police with unflinching force.

This is a brutal and edgy book that dares to be militant in its approach to racial injustice. In contrast to the mostly peaceful protests in Ferguson, Genius shows a more violent scenario. When writers Marc Bernardin and Adam Freeman originally shopped it around to various publishers, they all passed because of its depiction of cops being killed. It walks the line between being two types of books: one that takes a smart, analytical look at a serious problem from an anti-authoritarian point of view we don’t often see in media and popular culture, and one that is like a bombastic, sometimes implausible action film.

In 2008, an early version of Genius was a winner in Top Cow’s “Pilot Season” contest in which readers voted on a group of one-shot issues to give a chance at becoming a series. After a very long delay, Top Cow and Bernardin now seem prescient by releasing all 5 issues, one per week, in a month when everyone is talking about the uneasy dynamic between law enforcement and the black community. It’s worth noting that 2/3 of the creative team, writer Mark Bernardin and artist Afua Richardson, are African American. We have been seeing more diversity—particularly gender diversity—among comics creators in the industry these days, but African-American creators are still under-represented. Richardson's art really comes into its own as the series progresses, likely due to the passage of time and her personal growth as an artist during the long production process, so it will be interesting to see what this creative team moves onto next.

The third issue of Genius is out this week. Here's a preview.

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3. The Multiversity #1

By Grant Morrison and Ivan Reis
DC Comics

A team of heroes from across the multiverse aims to save reality

For five years now, fans of DC Comics and Grant Morrison (All-Star Superman, Batman Inc.) have been waiting for The Multiversity, the 9-issue series in which the popular writer attempts to map out and explore the entire DC “multiverse.” Since the series was first announced, the DC universe has gone through a line-wide reboot that has slightly altered some of Morrison’s plans, and his own previously heavy involvement in all things DC seems to have been dialed down. The Multiversity promises to revel in the rich, sometimes loony, web of alternate-Earths and what-if scenarios that hardcore DC fans love. It also sounds like it will be the prototypical Grant Morrison comic, full of anachronistic Silver Age ephemera and meta-fictional constructs.

Each issue of the 9-part series will be numbered 1 (except for the final issue with will be numbered 2) and will be a standalone story exploring a different parallel Earth (fans of Morrison’s now classic Seven Soldiers series will recognize this somewhat similar format). In future issues we’ll see Earths populated by classic pulp heroes, characters from Charlton Comics, teen celebrity heroes, and heroes from an Earth where the Nazis won WWII.

Morrison has a lot of tricks planned for this series as evidenced by the elaborate Multiverse map that was revealed. In typical Morrison fashion there will be a comic within the comic, characters that are at least partially aware that they are in a comic book, plans for an issue of the comic to be “haunted,” and an issue that will take place on Earth-Prime which is the Earth we, the readers, inhabit.

This is a comic that will require some extra-curricular reading to get the full effect of what Morrison is doing. There will likely be a number of DC experts analyzing every panel of this series and their insights will only help make this series more mind-expanding. In the meantime, here’s a preview.

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4. The Fade Out

By Ed Brubaker, Sean Phillips, and Elizabeth Breitweiser
Image Comics

A Hollywood writer wakes up to find the star of his film murdered in the next room

Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips have been making noir-infused comics together since 2003, and with each new project they have been honing that partnership while turning it into its own brand. Recently, they added colorist Elizabeth Breitweiser to their team and have struck a unique deal with Image Comics that gives them carte blanche to make the type of comics they want to make.

The Fade Out is the first series under this new Image deal and is a return to straight-up noir comics, minus the mix-ins of horror and superheroics they’ve added to recent efforts like Fatale and Incognito. Set in 1948, it centers around the death of a Hollywood starlet during the troubled and stalled shoot of a noir film. It aims for authenticity, with Brubaker and Phillips adding a research assistant to their team who specializes in old Hollywood and the famous Black Dahlia case. Phillips, whose moody, sexy art is greatly influenced by illustrators from the time period, is right at home

Here’s a preview.

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5. I Want To Live

By Erika Moen
The Nib

A very personal response to the death of Robin Williams

Robin Williams' death seems to have affected almost everyone, but especially those who have suffered from depression and have considered taking their own lives. It inspired a lot of open and honest talk online about the reality of suicide, including input from creative people who seem to suffer from depression in overwhelming numbers.

One of the best and most honest reactions came from Erika Moen on Medium.com’s The Nib. One of the great, early cartoonists to start her career making webcomics, Moen has specialized in personal comics. In I Want To Live, she talks about her own struggles with depression over the years in response to her feelings about Williams’ suicide.

It’s a short read and well worth your time.

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King Features Syndicate
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Comics
8 Things You Might Not Know About Hi and Lois
King Features Syndicate
King Features Syndicate

A comics page staple for nearly 65 years, Mort Walker and Dik Browne’s Hi and Lois is a celebration of the mundane. Married couple Hiram “Hi” Flagston, wife Lois, and their four children balance work, school, and family dynamics, all of it with few punchlines but plenty of relatable situations. This four-panel ode to suburbia might appear simple, but it still has a rich history involving a beef with The Flintstones, broken noses, and one very important candy bar wrapper.

1. IT’S A SPINOFF OF BEETLE BAILEY.

Beetle Bailey creator Mort Walker had been drawing that military-themed strip for four years when a friend of his named Lew Schwartz approached him in 1954 with a new idea: Why not create a strip about a nuclear family? Around the same time, the Korean War was ending, and Walker had sent Beetle home on furlough to visit his sister, Lois. Drawing a line between the two, Walker decided to pursue the suburbia idea using Lois as connective tissue. Hi and Lois was born: The two strips would see their respective characters visit one another over the years.

2. A CANDY BAR HELPED DEFINE THE STRIP’S LOOK.

Already working on Beetle Bailey, Walker decided to limit his work on Hi and Lois to writing. He wanted to collaborate with an artist, and so both he and his syndicate, King Features, went searching for a suitable partner. Walker soon came across ads for both Lipton’s tea and Mounds candy bars that had the same signature: Dik Browne. Coincidentally, a King Features executive named Sylvan Byck saw a strip in Boy’s Life magazine also signed by Browne. The two agreed he was a talent and invited Browne to work on the strip.

3. HI ORIGINALLY HAD A BROKEN NOSE.

As an artist, Walker had plenty of input into the style of Hi and Lois: Browne would later recall that trying to merge his own approach with Walker’s proved difficult. “When you draw a character like Hi, for instance, you immediately set the style for the whole strip,” he said. “You have already dictated what a tree will look like or how a dog will look, just by sketching that one head.” In his earliest incarnation, Hi had a broken, upturned nose to make him seem virile, puffed on a pipe, and wore a vest. Through trial and error, the two artists eventually settled on the softer lines the strip still uses today, an aesthetic some observers refer to as the “Connecticut school style” of cartooning.

4. EDITORS WERE WARY AT FIRST.

When Hi and Lois debuted on October 18, 1954, only 32 papers carried the strip. The reason, Walker later explained, had to do with concerns that he was spreading himself too thin. At the time, cartoonists rarely worked on two strips at once. Between Hi and Lois and Beetle Bailey, there was fear that the quality of one or both would suffer. Editors were also worried that having two artists on one project would dilute the self-expression of both. Walker stuck to his intentions—to make Hi and Lois a strip about the small pleasures of suburban life—and newspapers slowly came on board. By 1956, 131 papers were running the strip.

5. TRIXIE MAY HAVE SAVED THE STRIP.

With readers a little slow to respond to Hi and Lois, Walker had an idea: At the time, it was unusual for characters who don’t normally speak—like Snoopy—to express themselves with thought balloons. Walker decided to have baby Trixie think “out loud,” giving readers insight into her perspective. Shortly after Trixie began having a voice, Hi and Lois took off.

6. CHIP IS THE ONLY CHARACTER TO HAVE AGED.

Like most comic strip casts, the Hi and Lois family has found a way to stop the aging process. Baby Trixie is eternally in diapers; the parents seem to hover around 40 without any wrinkles. But oldest son Chip has been an exception. Roughly eight years old when the strip debuted, he’s currently 16, a nod to Walker's need for a character who can address teenage issues like driving, school, and dating.

7. IT LED TO HAGAR THE HORRIBLE.

Browne might be more well-known for his Hägar the Horrible, a strip about a beleaguered Viking. That strip, which debuted in 1973, was the result of Browne’s sons advising their father that Hi and Lois was really Walker’s brainchild and that Browne should consider a strip that could be a “family business.” By 1985, Hägar was in 1500 newspapers, while Hi and Lois was in 1000. Following Browne’s death in 1989, his son Chris continued the strip.

8. IT ALSO HAD A BONE TO PICK WITH THE FLINTSTONES.

The Flintstones, Hanna-Barbera’s modern stone-age family, premiered in primetime in 1960, but not exactly the way the animation studio had intended. Fred and Wilma were initially named Flagstone, not Flintstone, and the series was to be titled Rally ‘Round the Flagstones. But Walker told executives he felt the name was too close to the Flagstons of Hi and Lois fame. Sensing a possible legal issue, they agreed.

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Pop Chart Lab
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entertainment
A Visual History of Captain America’s Shields
Pop Chart Lab
Pop Chart Lab

Captain America has gone through plenty of wardrobe changes since his comic book debut in 1941, but it’s his iconic shield that has had the most makeovers. Over the past eight decades, fans have seen the shield change its shape, color, and even the material from which it’s crafted. For the folks at Pop Chart Lab, the shield’s storied history provided the perfect subject matter for their latest poster.

On this piece, the company teamed with Marvel to give a rundown of 50 of Cap’s shields—from the instantly recognizable to the downright obscure. Here we see his classic Golden Age shield, with its slightly different color scheme, and the different variations from Jack Kirby’s time-traveling Bicentennial Battles book. Then there are entries like the vibranium shield he received from Black Panther in Captain America #342 and an adamantium one made by Tony Stark.

Those different shields just scratch the surface of the deep cuts Pop Chart Lab provides. There are also shields from Captain Americas across Marvel’s numerous alternate universes, like the ones used by the Ultimate Universe Steve Rogers and the android Cap from Earth-725.

Each shield is illustrated to match its comic book counterpart and comes with a description specifying the series it debuted in and which Earth it exists on (the Marvel Universe has thousands of different versions of Earth, after all).

The posters will begin shipping on May 23, and you can pre-order yours now starting at $29 on the Pop Chart Lab website. You can check out a full look at the poster below.

Pop Chart Lab's Captain America shield poster
Pop Chart Lab

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