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The Most Interesting Comics of the Week

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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 Wrenchies

By Farel Dalrymple
First Second

A group of children fighting to survive in a future where all the grownups have become monsters.

It’s immediately evident how much Farel Dalrymple put into all 350+ pages of The Wrenchies, a graphic novel he has been toiling over for 5 years. Not only is nearly every page fully painted and filled with intricate drawings of futuristic landscapes, but the story itself is so dense and multi-layered that you’ll probably want to go back and re-read it in order to piece together what’s real and what isn’t.

The plot of The Wrenchies is hard to synopsize. The Wrenchies themselves, a group of kids fighting demons in a dystopian future where all the adults have been transformed into monsters, are not even really the main characters of the story. The book is really about a boy named Sherwood and his brother Orson–self-professed demon hunters–whose innocence is forever taken when they enter a cave to find a horrifying, fedora-wearing monster called a Shadowsman. The two brothers are traumatized by the event and become separated on some sort of pan-dimensional level.

Sherwood grows into a troubled adult who creates a comic book called The Wrenchies that contains a hidden message meant as a call for help in his search for his brother and the battle against the Shadowsmen.

This only scratches the surface and doesn’t even get to the most compelling members of the cast–a kind-hearted but simple-minded mama’s boy named Hollis who dresses like a superhero and a giant golem with the brain of a scientist who transports Hollis to the apocalyptic world of The Wrenchies and leads them all on their ultimate mission.

Dalrymple is part of a generation that, along with people like Brandon Graham, Jim Rugg, and Ross Campbell, rose up in the early 2000s and brought an art school sensibility to genre-centric comics. From his award-winning first book Pop Gun War to his collaboration with novelist Jonathan Lethem on Marvel’s Omega The Unknown, Dalrymple has gravitated towards stories about kids finding themselves in the middle of unexpected fantasy. The Wrenchies perfectly mixes the fun with the scary. In Hollis’ case, the separation anxiety that permeates his grand adventure is more than just a longing for his mother. He spends his time in the world of The Wrenchies writing letters to God, implying that the all-knowing being he prays to is not present at all in this world.

Here’s some images of the book on Farel’s blog.

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2. Death of Wolverine #1

By Charles Soule, Steve McNiven, Jay Leisten and Justin Ponsor
Marvel Comics

Not a dream. Not an parallel universe. Marvel is killing off Wolverine.

Death of Wolverine is a 4-issue mini-series unfolding this month that will bring to a head the events that have been unfolding since the 2013 “Killable” storyline from the ongoing Wolverine comic. In that story, Logan lost his mutant healing power and now he is vulnerable to his enemies. As the title suggests, Marvel will be killing off a character who is, besides Spider-man, their most popular (Spidey, you’ll remember, was also killed off in 2012, but now he’s back). They’re doing this just in time to celebrate his 40th anniversary. No one who regularly reads comics actually believes Wolverine will stay dead, but that doesn’t mean that Marvel and the top-notch creative team behind this series aren’t treating this like it’s going to stick so they are looking to tell a story that they see as a proper send-off for this legendary character.

In just a few short years, writer Charles Soule has gone from obscurity to comics stardom, writing a number of major titles for both Marvel and DC, and is now helming one of the biggest event comics of the year (Marvel just announced that they've signed him to an exclusive contract). He’s joined by artist Steve McNiven who is best known for his work with Ed Brubaker on Captain America and, more relevantly, Wolverine: Old Man Logan, which took more of a non-canonical look at Logan’s declining years.

The question raised by this series is not whether or not Wolverine will stay dead but why Marvel is choosing to kill him. There are lots of big changes afoot in the Marvel Universe (Captain America will soon be a black man, Thor will soon be a woman); is Marvel simply looking to shake up the status quo of their publishing line? Are they testing the public's appetite for how much they can change a character before they head into costly contract negotiations with the movie stars that play these characters? Or is this just what you have to do to sell comics these days? It’s worth pointing out that Marvel is pricing these weekly issues at $4.99 each, with some bonus material like sketches and interviews to help justify the extra cost.

Here’s a preview

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3. An Age of License

By Lucy Knisley
Fantagraphics

One of the best diary cartoonists out there goes on a romantic adventure across Europe.

Lucy Knisley’s An Age of License begins unassumingly as a simple travelogue about an American cartoonist off on her own in Europe. In 2011, Knisely–who is known for her diary comics which focus on travel with a flair for culinary details–received an invitation for a free trip to appear at a comic book festival in Norway. As if that wasn’t enough of an incentive to go, she recently met a boy from Norway while he was visiting New York and makes plans for a romantic rendezvous with him while she's there.

Soon, she is traversing Norway, Sweden, Germany, and France on a romantic journey that forces her to step outside herself and think about where she should be and what she should be doing with her life. Hence the title, which refers to a French saying about the need to take some time when you’re young to figure yourself out.

Fantagraphics has printed this book at a nice, petite, travel journal size that really feels right for the material (although it might be a tad small to truly appreciate the artwork). Knisley’s drawings are primarily in crisp black and white ink with a good number of beautiful, full color watercolor paintings that act as interludes between scenes. What makes her so good at diary comics is that she not only captures the essence of the scenery and events happening around her but she also finds visually inventive ways of depicting her own ideas and emotions. She taps into the doubts and insecurities that young people feel when questioning whether or not they are in love and whether or not they love what they’ve chosen to do with their life.

Fantagraphics has a preview on their website.

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4. God Hates Astronauts #1

By Ryan Browne with Jordan Boyd and Chris Crank
Image Comics

Someone needs to stop farmers from launching homemade rockets into space and NASA has just the right people for the job.

Ryan Browne’s God Hates Astronauts began its life six years ago and its popularity led to it becoming one of the comic world's biggest Kickstarter successes. The crowdfunding success led to a deal with Image Comics to publish the next phase of the comic, a new ongoing series which begins this week.

It’s hard to describe God Hates Astronauts because it prides itself on its random, anything-goes nature. The “heroes” of the story are a narcissistic collection of jerks called “The Power Persons Five” whose main goal seems to be preventing astro-farmers from going into space (when they're not bickering or cheating on one another). The new series begins with one of these farmer-made rocket ships crashing into a spaceship commanded by Admiral Tiger Eating A Cheeseburger, a humanoid with the head of a Tiger that is always depicted taking a bite out of a cheeseburger. If that doesn’t sound hilarious to you then this book may just not be your thing.

Here’s a preview.

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5. Sex & Violence  Vol. 2

By Jimmy Palmiotti, Justin Gray, Vanesa R. Del Rey, Romina Moranelli, Rafa Garres and Paul Mounts
Paper Films/Kickstarter

A sexy crime noir anthology with an interesting team of up and coming artists.

Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray have pretty much got this Kickstarter thing down. As PaperFilms, they have been successfully funding one book after another and they've been using the platform to produce adults-only comics that may not have easily found a home with traditional publishers. One of these books is the crime noir anthology Sex & Violence Vol. 1, which doubled its goal upon completion of its 2012 campaign. Now they’re back for Volume 2 with three new stories drawn by three new up-and-coming artists.

The first story about a mother/daughter team of seductive con artists is drawn by Italian artist Romina Moranelli. She was a contributor to Marvel’s 2010 Women of Marvel anthology. The second is a WWII-era tale of a sniper and a dog trainer in the Soviet army drawn by Spanish artist Raga Garres who has worked on various DC and 2000 AD titles. The third effort is about a killer reflecting on his life and it's drawn by Cuban artist Vanesa R. Del Rey who has done recent books like Hit and The Empty Man for Boom! Studios (and who I think is one of this year’s most exciting new artists).

There are plenty of censored previews of the artwork on the Kickstarter page and they’ve already passed their goal with less than 20 days to go.

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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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Courtesy of Highlights for Children
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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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