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The Most Interesting Comics of the Week

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