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Mike Mitchell/Small Press Expo

The Most Interesting Comics of the Week - SPX 2014 Edition

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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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Hulton Archive (left), Bruno Vincent (right) // Getty Images
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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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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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