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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Marvel Entertainment
The Litigious History of DC and Marvel’s Rival Captain Marvel Characters
Carol Danvers is just one of many heroes to hold the Captain Marvel mantle for Marvel
Carol Danvers is just one of many heroes to hold the Captain Marvel mantle for Marvel
Marvel Entertainment

Behind-the-scenes struggles and legal wrangling have played just as big of a part in the history of comic books as the colorful battles on the pages themselves. And one of the most complex and long-lasting disputes in the industry has focused on Captain Marvel—or at least the two distinct versions of the character that have coexisted in a state of confusion at both Marvel and DC for decades.

Like many comic book tangles, this dispute was made possible because of the debut of Superman. Soon after his first appearance in 1938's Action Comics #1, there was a deluge of knockoffs from publishers looking for a piece of the Man of Steel pie. Though most of these were fly-by-night analogues, Fawcett Comics’s attempt at its own superhero wasn’t an inferior model—it quickly became real competition.

ENTER: THE BIG RED CHEESE

Fawcett’s Captain Marvel was created in late 1939 by Bill Parker and C.C. Beck and debuted in Whiz Comics #2. On his first cover, Captain Marvel is shown carelessly throwing a car against a brick wall, as two criminals bolt out of the windows. In Action Comics #1, Superman made his debut by hoisting a similar car over his head and driving it into the Earth, as the criminals inside fled.

The similarities were unmistakable: Here were two caped strongmen with heroic squints and circus tights leaping around cities and battling mad (and bald) scientists. But while Clark Kent got his powers from his Kryptonian physiology, Captain Marvel was, in reality, a young boy named Billy Batson who would receive his powers by shouting the magic word “SHAZAM!” If Superman was the straitlaced Boy Scout, Captain Marvel earned his moniker of "The Big Red Cheese" through sheer camp, a wink, and a nod.

Seniority mattered little to young comic book readers, and once Captain Marvel found his footing, he was outselling Superman at the newsstand and beating him to the screen by receiving his own live-action film serial in 1941. But as Captain Marvel reached larger audiences, DC was in the midst of legal action against Fawcett for copyright infringement. The claim was simple: Captain Marvel was a bit too close to Superman for DC's comfort.

DC wanted Fawcett to cease production of the serial and comics by the early 1940s, but Fawcett fought to delay a court battle for years. It wasn’t until 1948 that the case actually went to trial, with the dust finally settling in DC's favor in 1954. Legally, Fawcett would never be allowed to print another Captain Marvel book. By now, though, the superhero market was near extinction, so for Fawcett, it wasn’t even worth it to appeal again. Instead, the publisher closed shop, leaving Superman to soar the skies of Metropolis without any square-jawed competition on the newsstands.

MARVEL CLAIMS ITS NAME

The next decade would see a superhero revitalization, beginning with DC’s revamped takes on The Flash and Green Lantern in the late 1950s, and exploding just a few years later when Timely Comics changed its name to Marvel Comics and launched a roster of heavy-hitters like The Fantastic Four, Spider-Man, and The Hulk, all by 1962.

Marvel was a buzzword again, and in 1966, a short-lived company called M.F. Enterprises tried to capitalize with a new character named Captain Marvel—generally considered one of the worst superheroes ever put to paper.

Marvel now needed to stop inferior comics from using its name on their covers, so it obtained the trademark for the Captain Marvel name and went about protecting it by introducing yet another character named Captain Marvel. This new alien version of the hero made his debut shortly after in 1967's Marvel Super-Heroes #12.

The character was born purely for legal reasons. According to comic book veteran Roy Thomas, Stan Lee only created a Captain Marvel at publisher Martin Goodman's insistence: "All I know is the basis of the character came from a resentment over the use of the ‘Captain Marvel’ name."

Comics are nothing if not needlessly confusing at times, and by the early 1970s, Superman wasn’t quite the sales force he used to be. In need of some fresh blood, DC turned to an unlikely source for help: Fawcett. The company had reemerged in the late 1960s as the publisher of Dennis the Menace comics, but its hands were tied when the superhero business revived since it was legally forbidden from producing new Captain Marvel books. So they did the next best thing by agreeing to license the character and his supporting cast to DC in 1973.

CAPTAINS IN DISPUTE

Now the world’s two biggest publishers both had high-profile characters named Captain Marvel. But there was a catch: Since Marvel owned the rights to the name, DC couldn’t call its new Captain Marvel comic Captain Marvel. Instead, all of his comics went by the title Shazam, as did the character’s live-action TV revival in the mid-1970s. Oddly enough, the name of the character himself was still—wait for it—Captain Marvel. So DC could retain the character’s name in the stories but couldn’t slap it onto book covers or TV shows. Only Marvel could monetize the name Captain Marvel.

Right after Captain Marvel’s first DC book launched in 1973, there was an immediate hiccup. The full title of the series was the slightly antagonistic Shazam: The Original Captain Marvel. That lasted all of 14 issues before a cease and desist order from Marvel turned the series into Shazam: The World’s Mightiest Mortal. Marvel, on the other hand, found itself in the position to keep its trademark by continuously pumping out more books with Captain Marvel on the cover, which is why the company’s history is littered with reboots and new versions of the character turning up every two years or so.

By the 1990s, DC had outright purchased its Captain Marvel from Fawcett, but it could barely promote him. There are only so many times you can put Shazam on a comic cover but refer to him as Captain Marvel on the inside without confusing your readers. So in 2012, DC and writer Geoff Johns decided to end the decades of confusion and simply rename the character Shazam, because, as John said, “everybody thinks he's called Shazam already.”

In 2019, these two characters that are seemingly forever linked will have another shared milestone when they both make their big screen debuts. Marvel’s Captain Marvel will hit theaters on March 8, 2019, with Brie Larson playing the Carol Danvers version of the character. And after nearly 80 years of switching publishers, changing names, and lengthy legal battles, Zachary Levi will play the title role in Shazam! a month later on April 5.

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Evening Standard/Getty Images
8 Actors Who've Played Batman (and What Fans Had to Say About Them)
Evening Standard/Getty Images
Evening Standard/Getty Images

Batman is one of the most beloved superheroes of all time, which has made playing him a difficult task for more than one actor. (Playing characters with rabid fan bases can be a double-edged sword.) Here, take a look back at eight actors who've donned the Batsuit—and how fans and critics reacted to their performances.

1. LEWIS WILSON

Lewis Wilson as Batman
Columbia Pictures

Lewis Wilson was the youngest person to play Batman. He appeared in the 15-part 1943 Columbia serial. Critics complained about everything from his weight to his accent.

2. ROBERT LOWERY

Robert Lowery took over the role in the 1949 follow-up serial, Batman And Robin. He was a forgettable actor in this role.

3. ADAM WEST

Adam West at 'Batman'
Evening Standard/Getty Images

West played the Caped Crusader from 1966 through 1968 in the Batman television series in addition to a film spin-off. Fans were torn: Either they loved his campy portrayal or hated it.

4. MICHAEL KEATON

Michael Keaton's casting in the 1989 Tim Burton Batman film caused such controversy that 50,000 protest letters were sent to Warner Brothers’s offices.

5. VAL KILMER

Val Kilmer in 'Batman Forever' (1995)
Warner BRos.

Val Kilmer put on the suit in 1995 and received mixed reviews. Director Joel Schumacher called the actor “childish and impossible."

6. GEORGE CLOONEY

It's safe to assume Clooney regrets his decision to star in Batman & Robin. It was the worst box-office performer of the modern Batman movies and Clooney once joked that he killed the series.

7. CHRISTIAN BALE


© TM & DC Comics/Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.

Though Christian Bale is largely favored as the best actor to play the Dark Knight, he was not without criticism. NPR’s David Edelstein described his husky voice as “a voice that's deeper and hammier than ever.”

8. BEN AFFLECK

Most recently: Fans immediately took to the internet to decry the decision to cast Ben Affleck as Batman in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016), recalling his previous roles in the poor-performing Gigli and Daredevil.

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