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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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Space Goat Publishing
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Comics
These Evil Dead 2 Comics Will Look Groovy on Your Bookshelf
Space Goat Publishing
Space Goat Publishing

Bruce Campbell has been quoted as saying the gallons of fake blood poured into his face during filming of the 1987 cult classic horror film Evil Dead 2: Dead by Dawn led to a week of red-tinged mucus leaking out of his nostrils. Fortunately, no Campbells were harmed in the making of two new comic collections from Space Goat Productions that are now being funded on Kickstarter. The Evil Dead 2 Omnibus features over 300 pages of stories set in the Necronomicon-plagued universe featured in numerous comic book miniseries; The Art of Evil Dead 2 reveals never-before-seen production art from both the comics and ancillary projects.

The campaign is the latest from Space Goat, the Bellingham, Washington-based company that’s made a cottage (or cabin) industry from products spinning out of the Sam Raimi-directed film, which is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year. In addition to the new collections, the publisher has also issued an Evil Dead 2 coloring book; a comic where Campbell’s demon-fighting hero, Ash Williams, encounters Adolf Hitler; and a forthcoming board game where players can navigate Deadite threats while shaking their head at Ash’s questionable competency. (No matter the iteration, he seems ill-equipped to deal with the threat of his own possessed and lopped-off hand.)

According to Space Goat publisher Shon Bury, licensing the Evil Dead 2 property from rights holders StudioCanal in 2015 has been a buoy in navigating the difficult waters of comic book publishing. (Even Marvel, which rakes in billions through its film franchises, struggles to sell more than 60,000 to 70,000 copies of its most popular monthly titles.) One day into its Kickstarter launch, the Evil Dead titles had reached 50 percent of their $20,000 funding goal.

“It’s definitely our flagship on the publishing side,” Bury tells Mental Floss. “The board game is our top seller in the Evil Dead category, and the coloring book sells really well. They’re our evergreen products.”

The cover to 'The Art of Evil Dead 2' from Space Goat Publishing
Space Goat Publishing

Exploring Ash’s adventures in other media comes with a few caveats. While Space Goat is free to explore the characters and situations portrayed in Evil Dead 2, incorporating ideas from the rest of the series (including 1993’s Army of Darkness or the Starz series Ash vs. Evil Dead) is generally off-limits. And while the StudioCanal rights include a likeness of Campbell, the actor has veto power over how he’s depicted on the page. “For some reason, he doesn’t like the dimple on his chin to be drawn,” Bury says. “But he’s very insistent that the scar on his face from the movie is always there.”

Other actors featured in the film—like Richard Domeier, the future home-shopping host who portrayed “Evil Ed”—may not have granted their likeness rights, but his Deadite character design is part of the deal. “You want to inoculate the owner or licensor of the rights,” Bury says. “So we submit drawings and they might say, ‘No, too close to the actor.’”

That development process is part of what makes up The Art of Evil Dead 2, one-half of Space Goat’s current Kickstarter project that follows a successful Evil Dead 2 board game launch in 2016. The campaigns, Bury says, help target Ash fans with material that might not get enough attention if it were released directly to retailers. “Kickstarter is basically social media. It’s direct engagement, our way of saying to fans, ‘Hey, you’re really going to like this.’”

Bury expects fans to be just as enthused about Evil Dead 2: The Doppelganger Wars, a limited series due for release in 2018 that sees Ash and sidekick Annie Knowby enter the mirror dimension glimpsed at in Evil Dead 2 to discover the true origins of both the demon-summoning Necronomicon and the cult surrounding it. A meeting with H.P. Lovecraft may also be on deck, along with other narratives that would carry the license through the end of the publisher’s current agreement with StudioCanal in late 2019.

Still to be decided: whether Ash will ever encounter the werewolves of The Howling, Space Goat’s latest horror license. “Those conversations have occurred,” Bury says. “It would be a natural. But it’s also challenging because the royalties [for the licenses] double.” 

Digital versions of The Art of Evil Dead 2 and the Evil Dead Omnibus will be available to backers pledging $20 beginning in December. Softcover, hardcover, and Necronomicon slipcase editions ($30 and up) ship in May 2018. The Kickstarter runs through November 25.

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Hulton Archive (left), Bruno Vincent (right) // Getty Images
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History
How Superman Helped Foil the KKK
Hulton Archive (left), Bruno Vincent (right) // Getty Images
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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