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Mike Mitchell/Small Press Expo
Mike Mitchell/Small Press Expo

The Most Interesting Comics of the Week - SPX 2014 Edition

Mike Mitchell/Small Press Expo
Mike Mitchell/Small Press Expo

This week, I’m doing something a little different. In advance of this weekend’s Small Press Expo in Bethesda, Maryland—one of the most important comic book shows of the year for independent creators and home of the prestigious Ignatz Awards—I’m turning my usual Top 5 list into a Top 10 of new books that will be debuting at the show. Unfortunately, I will not be making it to the show myself this year, but if you are, here are the books I’d check out if I were you (or simply order them online or from your local comic book store).


1. Shoplifter

By Michael Cho
Pantheon/Random House

Before I decided to do an SPX-focused list, I had already planned to highlight Michael Cho’s new graphic novel Shoplifter, which hits comic shops and bookstores this week. Yes, I realize Random House is not exactly a small press publisher and Cho is not officially on the guest list, but he will be at the show selling copies of this book with a special SPX bookplate at the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund booth (W84-87).

Cho is a successful magazine and book illustrator whose work has always worn its comics influence very well, calling to mind Darwyn Cooke and Adrian Tomine. While he’s produced some shorter comics in the past, this is his first graphic novel, and it reads like a major work from a veteran writer. It is about a 20-something professional copywriter in New York named Corinna who becomes disillusioned with her job.

Cho succeeds in breathing life into his protagonist, making her a flawed, sympathetic, and interesting character.

As a fan of his illustration work, it’s great to see Cho make such a seamless move to sequential art without sacrificing any of the polish that he is known for. Read more about it here.

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2. (In a Sense) Lost and Found

By Roman Muradov
Nobrow Press

Roman Muradov is another award-winning illustrator who is releasing his first graphic novel this week, which he will have on hand at SPX. (In a Sense) Lost and Found depicts a journey through imagination and ideas by a young woman who wakes up one day having “lost her innocence”—what this implies may be left up to the reader’s own interpretation.

Muradov’s style is fluid and whimsical, bringing to mind the colors and graphic aesthetics of the Jazz Age. In a PR coup, Muradov happened to have illustrated yesterday’s Google Doodle (for Tolstoy’s birthday), bringing his work to the attention of the entire web the week his book is released. This is sure to be one of the best looking books of the year. 

Roman will be at the Nobrow booth (W34-35). You can see a preview here.

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3. Dear Amanda

By Cathy G. Johnson
Self-published

Cathy G. Johnson is one of the Ignatz nominees for Outstanding New Talent for her mini comics like Jeremiah (which I highly recommend—you can read it online or purchase it here). She makes emotionally stunning and surprising comics that are done in beautifully spontaneous and natural watercolors and pencils. She is debuting her latest, Dear Amanda, at SPX. It is about a romance between a writer and her coworker.

Johnson will be located at table W50. You can buy her previous comics here.

Other new talent nominees Luke Howard, Daryl Seitchek and Nick Offerman (not that Nick Offerman, I don't think) will also be in attendance.

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4. Frontier #5

By Sam Alden
Youth in Decline

Meanwhile, last year’s Outstanding New Talent winner has not been resting on his laurels. Sam Alden has been nominated for Outstanding Comic again this year for his excellent Wicked Chicken Queen, published by Retrofit. His newest release is a contribution to Youth in Decline’s monograph anthology series Frontier, which is becoming a bit of a tastemaker for showcasing new comics talent (previous issues have featured up-and-coming names like Hellen Jo and Sascha Hommer).

Alden’s story is about a summer vacation involving a sinkhole. It’s 36 pages and features Alden’s signature loose pencils printed with high quality risograph in two colors (red and purple). Alden will be at table N7B and Youth in Decline will be at table J5. Here’s more info on the book.


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5. An Iranian Metamorphosis

By Mana Neyestani
Uncivilized Books

In 2006, Iranian newspaper cartoonist Mana Neyestani made a cartoon for children in which a cockroach spoke in the language of the Azerbaijani. It sparked riots by ethnic Azerbaijanis and led to Neyestani’s arrest. After time spent in solitary confinement, Neyestani was forced to flee the country with his wife. In An Iranian Metamorphosis he describes his Kafkaesque prison experience in detail.

Neyestani will be at SPX to promote the book at the Uncivilized Books table (M10-M11A). Here’s a preview.

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6. Beauty

By Hubert and Kerascoët
NBM

One of my favorite graphic novels of the year was Beautiful Darkness drawn by the French husband and wife art team known as Kerascoët. Their latest book is a second collaboration with the French writer known as Hubert (their previous book was the racy 1930s Parisian murder mystery Miss Don’t Touch Me). Like Beautiful Darkness, this is another dark fairy tale for adults about a young woman who is granted a wish to be seen as beautiful but what comes with that wish is far more complicated than she expected.

NBM Publishing will be at tables F1 and F2 with fresh copies of the English translation of this book as well as Miss Don’t Touch Me. This book looks stunning. Here’s a review with some great sample images.

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7. Cat Dad, King of the Goblins

By Britt Wilson
Koyama Press

A Cat Named Tim

By John Martz
Koyama Press

While SPX may be filled with mostly adult fare (even comics that may look like they’re for kids more likely are very much not), there are a number of great kid-friendly comics debuting at the show and two of them are coming from Koyama Press and their new kid comic line.

Cat Dad, King of the Goblins is about two sisters (and their friend Phil the frog) who venture into their goblin-filled closet to try to help their dad who has been turned into a cat. This is Britt Wilson’s first full-length book. She has a really fun and exaggerated style and a great sense of comic timing which will make this book a lot of fun for kids of any age.

A Cat Named Tim is John Martz’ latest foray into (mostly) wordless comics (his webcomic Machine Gum is a wonderful example of that). Each page is a mini-story featuring cats, pigs, ducks and other animals painting their house, eating pizza and going on various adventures. Martz’ illustrations are crisp and candy-colored and a joy to look at.

The Koyama folks will be situated at tables J12-J14. You can peruse the books online here.

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8. Rav

By Mickey Zacchilli
Youth In Decline

Rav is a collection of the first 5 issues of Mickey Zacchilli’s popular self-published comic. It’s described as an "action-adventure romance drone comic,” and it is very punk in its aesthetic and freeform storytelling. What starts as something of a fight comic turns into a surreal Wonderland-like journey drawn with crazy, primitive, and kinetic visuals.

Youth in Decline will be selling copies at their table J5. You can also order a copy online.

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9. Dragon’s Breath And Other True Stories

By Mari Naomi
2D Cloud/Uncivilized Books

Mari Naomi is a comic book memoirist who looks back on both her childhood and adulthood with refreshing honesty. Her comics are funny, insightful, and sometimes heartbreaking. Dragon’s Breath collects a bunch of her black and white short stories about subjects like mortality, youthful rebellion, teenage crushes, and Duran Duran.

She’ll be at the 2D Cloud table M9. You can also order the book here.

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10. Little Nemo: Dream Another Dream

By Various
Locust Moon Press

Philadelphia comic shop Locust Moon ran an astoundingly successful Kickstarter for Little Nemo: Dream Another Dream, an anthology tribute to Winsor McKay’s groundbreaking early 20th century newspaper strip. It boasts one of the most amazing lineups of artists ever seen in one book–100 in all–including Bill Sienkiewicz, P. Craig Russell, Mike Allred, Farel Dalrymple, Charles Forsman, Dean Haspiel, J.G. Jones, Cliff Chiang, Roger Langridge, Peter Bagge, Ramon Perez, Craig Thompson, Paul Pope, Maris Wicks, J.H. Williams III, Charles Vess, Jim Rugg, Jill Thompson, and so many more.

The book is printed newspaper size to showcase all the amazing artwork and, at over $100, is going to be a luxury purchase next to a lot of the minicomics on display at this show. The actual release date is not until the end of this year, but Locust Moon will be selling copies at their table G2.

Here’s a page with some preview images and the option to pre-order.

There is so much more. Seriously just look at this list of debut books on the SPX website. I’d be remiss if I also didn’t mention a few more:
• Last year’s big Ignatz winner Michael DeForge is back with another amazing issue of his one-man anthology comic Lose.
• Noah Van Sciver has another painfully honest collection of autobio comics called I Don’t Hate Your Guts.
• Patrick Kyle’s new graphic novel Distance Mover is what would happen if Spanish surrealist painter Joan Miró made a comic about Dr. Who.
• Isaac Cates unveils the latest issues of Cartozia Tales.
• Box Brown and his publishing company Retrofit Comics will have a number of their latest books.
• Simon Hanselmann will have the Megahex collection of his popular stoner witch comic.
• And, although not a comic, Dustin Harbin's Behold! Dinosaurs! accordian-style foldout print looks incredible.

And I haven't even mentioned some of the cartoonists that will be at the show whose new books I've already written about here in recent weeks like Farel Dalrymple, Eleanor Davis, Emily Carroll, and Raina Tegelmeier.

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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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