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Dynamite Entertainment

The Most Interesting Comics of the Week

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Dynamite Entertainment

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. Tomboy

By Liz Prince
Zest Books

A true story about growing up and never giving up being a tomboy

Liz Prince has been making short autobio comics for years now, which has helped prepare her for creating her first full length graphic novel. In Tomboy, Prince recounts her childhood growing up as a girl who disliked all the things that society thinks girls are supposed to love. She has always preferred wearing baseball caps, playing with Ghostbusters toys, reading comics, keeping her hair short, and never, ever wearing dresses. All her life, even now at the age of 31, she is often mistaken for a boy, but that’s the way she likes it.

These days, with parents being more conscious of gender stereotyping and even school kids becoming more accepting of gender identity issues their classmates may have, Tomboy seems almost quaint. Liz is not gay or transgender and she grew up with progressive parents who let her dress how she wanted so, despite some bullying, her story is comfortably devoid of emotionally scarring experiences. However, not being able to fit into the girl-shaped mold that she was expected to makes this a relatable comic for anyone who has ever not fit in. The triumph of her story, and of Liz herself, is that she was always strong enough to be who she was even when it might have been easier to just play a part. It’s an enjoyable and even comforting read as you find yourself rooting for Liz to find the acceptance you know a smart, funny, confident person like her will eventually find.

While this is a book that not just tomboys will enjoy, I should note that it is not one parents will want to give to younger kids. It is very much written from the perspective of Liz as an adult reflecting back on her childhood, and a lot of the issues raised, scenes depicted, and language used is only appropriate for teenagers—even though a lot of younger readers could benefit from reading the book’s lessons about self acceptance and what it means to be a girl.

Here’s a preview.

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2. Bob’s Burgers #1

By Rachel Hastings, Mike Olsen, Justin Hook, Jeff Drake, Frank Forte, Brad Rader, Bernard Derriman and Tony Gennaro
Dynamite Entertainment

The creators behind the hit TV series try their hands at a comic book

The latest in a long line of TV-to-comic adaptations, unlike most others, Bob’s Burgers is written and drawn by the writers and artists who work on the series. In addition, they’ll be creating stories that are "in canon” within the universe of the show.

Bob’s Burgers is a family sitcom about the Belchers—Bob, Linda, and their kids Louise, Tina, and Gene—who run a burger joint called, of course, Bob’s Burgers. Each issue of the comic will include multiple installments of "Louise's Unsolved Mysteries," "Tina's Erotic Friend Fiction," "A Gene Belcher Original Musical," "Letters Written by Linda," and "Bob's Burgers of the Day.”

Fellow Fox family series The Simpsons has had a long and critically acclaimed life in comics and, as something of a successor to that show’s popularity, Bob’s Burgers looks to do the same here.

Dynamite has a preview of the first issue.

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3. Jaegir

By Gordon Rennie and Simon Coleby
Rebellion/2000 AD

A strong new female character starring in a new Rogue Trooper spin-off

Next to Judge Dredd, the most popular, long-running series to come out of 2000 AD Magazine is probably Rogue Trooper. It's about a dystopian civil war between the ’Norts' and the ‘Southers' of toxin-ravaged Nu-Earth and the genetically modified soldier of the Souther infantry who goes AWOL after his platoon is massacred. Jaegir, a new one-shot which was recently serialized in 2000 AD, is the start of a new series set in the Rogue Trooper universe but looks at it from a new vantage point—that of the Nortland.

Kapitan-inspector Atalia Jaegir is a war crimes investigator assigned to stop a genetically-modified soldier from murdering his wife and children. 2000 AD is looking for Atalia Jaegir to be a strong female lead to build a new series of comics around and is putting a strong foot forward here.

Veteran artist Simon Coleby, who has worked on lots of gloomy material like Judge Dredd, The Punisher, and Rogue Trooper itself, brings a dirty, wretched realism to the otherworldliness that helps give this the feel of a futuristic detective drama. Fans of Michael Lark’s work on the Image Comics series Lazarus may want to check out Jaegir for the similarities in style.

You can read a preview here.

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4. Pop #1

By Curt Pires, Jason Copland, Pete Toms and Ryan Ferrier
Dark Horse

For the reader who just wants to see Justin Bieber get his kneecaps blown off

Comics have always been considered a “pop” medium with a quick-fix 22 pages of guilty pleasure. That’s partly why comics and pop music seem to often cross paths—from a 1970s Marvel Comic about The Beatles to The Wicked + The Divine’s rumination on gods reincarnated as pop stars. But, since the tastes between the two audiences don’t quite match up, the result usually ends up being comics critiquing or poking fun at the shallowness of pop music.

Writer Curt Pires looks to go down that route with the 4-issue mini-series Pop in which we find out that stars like Britney Spears and Mariah Carey have been grown in a lab and released to the public in order to deliver ROI to their investors. However, the planned next sensation has somehow escaped, weeks before the expected end of her gestation period, and is now alone and on the run.

While Pop doesn’t look like it's aiming for any groundbreaking conclusions about the artificial nature of pop music, it is off to an enticingly fun start, particularly when a couple of deadly “specialists” who look like they may have been created in a punk rock lab terrorize and blow off the kneecaps of the book's Justin Bieber stand-in.

Artist Jason Copland has been on the cusp of making it big for a while now ever since his webcomic Kill All Monsters first made the rounds. His thin-lined inks paired with Pete Toms’ appropriately poppy colors makes for a fine looking comic.

Here’s a preview on Dark Horse’s website

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5. Hip Hop Family Tree Vol. 2: 1981-1983

By Ed Piskor
Fantagraphics

The birth of Run-DMC, NWA, the Beastie Boys, and more

The first volume of Ed Piskor's comic book history of hip hop music was one of my favorite books of last year and it seems astounding that we already have the next edition of Hip Hop Family Tree in stores this week. This is Piskor’s magnum opus and he is diligently working his way through depicting the early days of the music and 70s-era comics he loves.

This second volume spans three years (1981-1983), a time when hip hop was becoming recognized outside of the clubs and streets of New York's outer boroughs. The early part of this book shows the making of Charlie Ahearn’s 1983 film Wild Style (Ahearn provides a lively written introduction to this volume) and by the end we’ve seen the formation of groups like Run-DMC, NWA, and the Beastie Boys.

Fantagraphics has a preview on their website. Also, Piskor continues to post new panels on BoingBoing as he goes for those who love the books and can’t wait for the next volume.

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6. B-Squad: Soldier of Misfortune Vol 1

By Eben Burgoon, Lauren Monardo, Jon Williams, Claudia Palescandolo, Sean Sutter, Junior Bruce, Michael Finn
Kickstarter

A squad of expendables that lose a team member each issue

B-Squad is a lite-comedy version of a concept we’ve seen in comics like DC’s Suicide Squad or Michael Fiffe’s Copra—a team of expendables is sent on missions where you never know who might not make it. The B-Squad consists of a group of goofy misfits like Brodee, the friendly surfer dude who is a master of the “Bro-Arts,” or MacGoogle, a guy with an iPad who gets out of fixes like MacGyver by Googling the answers. At the end of each issue, a member of the team is killed off.

After successfully funding the first issue on Kickstarter, creator Eben Burgoon has decided to fund a collection of all 4 issues at once rather than his original plan of single issues. Much the way the makeup of the team changes each issue, Burgoon has recruited a different up-and-coming artist to draw each chapter.

The Kickstarter has almost reached its goal with 14 days still to go. If you want to sample the story, you can download the first issue for free here. There’s a variety of pledge packages to choose from so check out the Kickstarter page here.

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
technology
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Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
May 21, 2017
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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva

Jacques Mattheij made a small, but awesome, mistake. He went on eBay one evening and bid on a bunch of bulk LEGO brick auctions, then went to sleep. Upon waking, he discovered that he was the high bidder on many, and was now the proud owner of two tons of LEGO bricks. (This is about 4400 pounds.) He wrote, "[L]esson 1: if you win almost all bids you are bidding too high."

Mattheij had noticed that bulk, unsorted bricks sell for something like €10/kilogram, whereas sets are roughly €40/kg and rare parts go for up to €100/kg. Much of the value of the bricks is in their sorting. If he could reduce the entropy of these bins of unsorted bricks, he could make a tidy profit. While many people do this work by hand, the problem is enormous—just the kind of challenge for a computer. Mattheij writes:

There are 38000+ shapes and there are 100+ possible shades of color (you can roughly tell how old someone is by asking them what lego colors they remember from their youth).

In the following months, Mattheij built a proof-of-concept sorting system using, of course, LEGO. He broke the problem down into a series of sub-problems (including "feeding LEGO reliably from a hopper is surprisingly hard," one of those facts of nature that will stymie even the best system design). After tinkering with the prototype at length, he expanded the system to a surprisingly complex system of conveyer belts (powered by a home treadmill), various pieces of cabinetry, and "copious quantities of crazy glue."

Here's a video showing the current system running at low speed:

The key part of the system was running the bricks past a camera paired with a computer running a neural net-based image classifier. That allows the computer (when sufficiently trained on brick images) to recognize bricks and thus categorize them by color, shape, or other parameters. Remember that as bricks pass by, they can be in any orientation, can be dirty, can even be stuck to other pieces. So having a flexible software system is key to recognizing—in a fraction of a second—what a given brick is, in order to sort it out. When a match is found, a jet of compressed air pops the piece off the conveyer belt and into a waiting bin.

After much experimentation, Mattheij rewrote the software (several times in fact) to accomplish a variety of basic tasks. At its core, the system takes images from a webcam and feeds them to a neural network to do the classification. Of course, the neural net needs to be "trained" by showing it lots of images, and telling it what those images represent. Mattheij's breakthrough was allowing the machine to effectively train itself, with guidance: Running pieces through allows the system to take its own photos, make a guess, and build on that guess. As long as Mattheij corrects the incorrect guesses, he ends up with a decent (and self-reinforcing) corpus of training data. As the machine continues running, it can rack up more training, allowing it to recognize a broad variety of pieces on the fly.

Here's another video, focusing on how the pieces move on conveyer belts (running at slow speed so puny humans can follow). You can also see the air jets in action:

In an email interview, Mattheij told Mental Floss that the system currently sorts LEGO bricks into more than 50 categories. It can also be run in a color-sorting mode to bin the parts across 12 color groups. (Thus at present you'd likely do a two-pass sort on the bricks: once for shape, then a separate pass for color.) He continues to refine the system, with a focus on making its recognition abilities faster. At some point down the line, he plans to make the software portion open source. You're on your own as far as building conveyer belts, bins, and so forth.

Check out Mattheij's writeup in two parts for more information. It starts with an overview of the story, followed up with a deep dive on the software. He's also tweeting about the project (among other things). And if you look around a bit, you'll find bulk LEGO brick auctions online—it's definitely a thing!

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Stephen Missal
crime
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New Evidence Emerges in Norway’s Most Famous Unsolved Murder Case
May 22, 2017
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A 2016 sketch by a forensic artist of the Isdal Woman
Stephen Missal

For almost 50 years, Norwegian investigators have been baffled by the case of the “Isdal Woman,” whose burned corpse was found in a valley outside the city of Bergen in 1970. Most of her face and hair had been burned off and the labels in her clothes had been removed. The police investigation eventually led to a pair of suitcases stuffed with wigs and the discovery that the woman had stayed at numerous hotels around Norway under different aliases. Still, the police eventually ruled it a suicide.

Almost five decades later, the Norwegian public broadcaster NRK has launched a new investigation into the case, working with police to help track down her identity. And it is already yielding results. The BBC reports that forensic analysis of the woman’s teeth show that she was from a region along the French-German border.

In 1970, hikers discovered the Isdal Woman’s body, burned and lying on a remote slope surrounded by an umbrella, melted plastic bottles, what may have been a passport cover, and more. Her clothes and possessions were scraped clean of any kind of identifying marks or labels. Later, the police found that she left two suitcases at the Bergen train station, containing sunglasses with her fingerprints on the lenses, a hairbrush, a prescription bottle of eczema cream, several wigs, and glasses with clear lenses. Again, all labels and other identifying marks had been removed, even from the prescription cream. A notepad found inside was filled with handwritten letters that looked like a code. A shopping bag led police to a shoe store, where, finally, an employee remembered selling rubber boots just like the ones found on the woman’s body.

Eventually, the police discovered that she had stayed in different hotels all over the country under different names, which would have required passports under several different aliases. This strongly suggests that she was a spy. Though she was both burned alive and had a stomach full of undigested sleeping pills, the police eventually ruled the death a suicide, unable to track down any evidence that they could tie to her murder.

But some of the forensic data that can help solve her case still exists. The Isdal Woman’s jaw was preserved in a forensic archive, allowing researchers from the University of Canberra in Australia to use isotopic analysis to figure out where she came from, based on the chemical traces left on her teeth while she was growing up. It’s the first time this technique has been used in a Norwegian criminal investigation.

The isotopic analysis was so effective that the researchers can tell that she probably grew up in eastern or central Europe, then moved west toward France during her adolescence, possibly just before or during World War II. Previous studies of her handwriting have indicated that she learned to write in France or in another French-speaking country.

Narrowing down the woman’s origins to such a specific region could help find someone who knew her, or reports of missing women who matched her description. The case is still a long way from solved, but the search is now much narrower than it had been in the mystery's long history.

[h/t BBC]

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