The Most Interesting Comics of the Week

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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8 Things You Might Not Know About The Wizard of Id
Titan Books
Titan Books

Debuting in 1964, Brant Parker and Johnny Hart’s The Wizard of Id took a page from the macabre humor of cartoonist Charles Addams. Ruling the kingdom of Id, a pint-sized tyrant uses humor to disarm a medieval cast made up of a jester, an executioner, a thief, and the titular magician, whose spells don’t usually impress. Although Hart and Parker both passed away in 2007, their black humor lives on. Take a look at some facts behind the throne, including the time Jim Henson almost brought it to television.

1. THE IDEA FOR THE STRIP CAME FROM A DECK OF PLAYING CARDS.

Johnny Hart was already a successful syndicated cartoonist (the Stone Age comedy B.C.) before he and former Disney animator Brant Parker decided to collaborate on a different project. Hart was flipping through a deck of playing cards in 1964 when he came across a peculiar illustration used for the king. Drawing on it to create his own diminutive despot, Hart wrote most of the jokes for Id while Parker illustrated it.

2. THE SYNDICATE THOUGHT THE TWO ARTISTS WERE DISGUSTING.

Although Id would eventually be syndicated to over 1000 strips across the country, Hart and Parker first had to get past the gatekeepers of cartoon distribution operating out of New York. Traveling to the city to show them samples, the two worked late into the night and called to tell executives they were ready. They didn’t know the syndicate would be coming to their hotel room, which was a mess of papers, food, and beer bottles. Caught off-guard, the men looked like transients. “We think you guys are disgusting,” one executive said, “but we love the strip. We’ll take it.”

3. THE SHORT JOKES WERE BASED ON JOHNNY HART.

In a visual juxtaposition, the king of Id’s height is inversely proportional to his power. Parker said the character’s stature was based partly on Hart, who used to fend off jokes about his own height. "The king became short because we used to kid John about being short and a lot of the short gags began to slide over into the strip," Parker said. "He just kept getting smaller, and as he shrunk, the nose got bigger and bigger."

4. A LITTLE GIRL GOT THEM TO DROP A CHARACTER.

Most of the humor in Id is centered around the morbid dynamics of Middle Ages politics, which is not normally an opportunity to offend current sensibilities. But early on, Parker and Hart created a karate teacher from Japan who was perceived by some as a stereotype. When Parker received a letter from a young Japanese-American girl who was being teased at school as a result of the character, the creators decided to drop him from the strip.

5. JIM HENSON WAS GOING TO PUT IT ON TELEVISION.

An avowed fan of comic strips and of The Wizard of Id in particular, Muppets creator Jim Henson met with Hart in 1968 to discuss a possible collaboration. Henson wanted to create an Id television show that would use puppets against an animated backdrop. Hart agreed, and in 1969, Henson was able to shoot test footage featuring himself as the voice of the Wizard. But executives at Publishers-Hall, which had taken over syndication of the strip, were having trouble enticing networks into producing a series. By the time ABC showed interest, Henson had moved on to Sesame Street and other projects. Wizard of Id got translated into animation in 1970 as part of a Chuck Jones variety series titled Curiosity Shop.

6. HART TURNED DOWN FEATURE FILM OFFERS.

Possibly disappointed in the outcome of the Henson project, Hart wasn’t very receptive to offers to adapt Id into other mediums. He reportedly shunned Steven Spielberg and Norman Lear when they called about adaptations. Producer Andrew Gaty managed to interest Hart in 1987, though his plans for a live-action feature—possibly starring Danny DeVito as the king—never came to fruition.

7. IT WAS A (STRANGE) VIDEO GAME.

In 1984, users of the ColecoVision home computer system were able to pick up a software program with an unwieldy title: The Wizard of Id’s Wiz Math. The edutainment program allowed players to brush up on math skills by solving problems faced by Spookingdorf, the tortured and jailed cast member of the strip. By solving math problems, players could navigate Spookingdorf out of his dungeon. The game was produced by Sierra, which later became known for its King’s Quest and Leisure Suit Larry franchises. A typing game, WizType, was also released.

8. BLONDIE AND BEETLE BAILEY CELEBRATED THE STRIP'S 50TH ANNIVERSARY.

When The Wizard of Id passed the half-century milestone in 2014, the entire comics page came out to celebrate. Hi and Lois featured a portrait of the Wizard in a panel, while Blondie and Family Circus made subtle references to the anniversary. (As modern-day strips, it would be difficult to regard a medieval strip with more overt acknowledgment.) In Beetle Bailey, the perennial screw-up shared a cell with the eternally suffering Spookingdorf.

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A Canadian Man Set a Guinness World Record for Most Marvel Comic Tattoos

Here’s something to Marvel at: A 36-year-old man from Alberta, Canada just set a Guinness World Record for having the highest number of Marvel comic tattoos on his body, Nerdist reports.

Rick Scolamiero, of Edmonton, boasts 31 Marvel tattoos in total and is inked from his neck down to his feet. What started out as a plan to get a sleeve (full arm tattoo) of his favorite Marvel characters quickly morphed into a full-body makeover.

"I fell in love with the artist’s work and wanted to continue to see what else we could come up with regarding tattoos,” Scolamiero told Guinness World Records. “I have been a Marvel comic lover since I was small and growing up we didn’t have much but I always had my Marvel comics and Marvel trading cards. They actually got me through some tough times so the idea of having them on my body forever just really appealed to me."

Wolverine and Spider-Man can be seen on his forearms, the Guardians of the Galaxy trail down his left calf, and LEGO versions of Daredevil and Deadpool adorn his ankles, to name but a few designs. Scolamiero didn’t want to leave any superheroes behind, so he had them inked onto his, well, behind. His left and right buttocks feature depictions of Spider-Man 2099 (a futuristic version of the original) and Vision (from The Avengers), respectively.

He even got Marvel comic artist Stan Lee’s autograph tattooed onto his wrist. In total, he attended one tattoo session per month for the past seven years and endured 350 hours under the needle. Now that’s dedication.

Check out the video below to see Scolamiero show off his tats.

[h/t Nerdist]

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