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Olivier Coipel/Marvel Comics

The Most Interesting Comics of the Week

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Olivier Coipel/Marvel Comics

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. Thor #1

By Jason Aaron, Russell Dauterman and Matthew Wilson
Marvel Comics

Thor’s a woman now. Deal with it.

In the first issue of the new Thor, the thunder god has fallen and been deemed unworthy to lift his mighty hammer, Mjölnir, which lies forsaken on the surface of the moon. The inscription (as you can see in the image below) suddenly changes to read, “Whosoever holds this hammer, if SHE be worthy…”

Yup, this is the issue you’ve been hearing about everywhere from ComicsAlliance.com to The View. By the end of this issue, a woman will pick up the hammer and become the new Thor, possibly signifying a major shift in how Marvel views the demographics of its readership. It’s also possible that it's just a short-lived publicity stunt. Only time—and sales—will tell if this is as big as Marvel wants us to think.

Whatever their intent is, the publisher seems hell bent on shaking up the status quo of their A-list heroes. They’re currently in the process of killing off Wolverine and will soon be handing the mantle of Captain America to an African-American hero. This has been a big year for diversity among the Marvel characters (even if the creative teams behind them are still mostly white and male).

Marvel has kept a tight lid on who this new Thor will actually be, but promises that she will be the real Thor (not a “Thorita” or “She-Thor”). They’ve signified this by not only keeping the name of the hero “Thor,” but also by keeping Jason Aaron who has been writing Thor since the last relaunch two years ago.

Here’s a preview.

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2. Gotham Academy #1

By Becky Cloonan, Brenden Fletcher, Karl Kerschl, Geyser, and Dave McCaig
DC Comics

Something a little different for DC Comics: a teen prep school drama set in Gotham.

Marvel is not alone this week in making some shifts in how they attract new (read: female) audiences. Gotham Academy is a new series that is set firmly in the “Bat-verse” but is otherwise very different from the type of books DC generally publishes. It is written and drawn to appeal to a younger and primarily female audience that other independent comics and webcomics have long proven is out there but that publishers like DC have been reticent to attract in the past. Paired with this month’s upcoming redesign and relaunch of Batgirl, DC is taking some steps, albeit in a somewhat different approach from Marvel, to make some comics that will hopefully appeal to this audience.

Gotham Academy takes place in Gotham City’s prestigious boarding school whose benefactor is local billionaire Bruce Wayne and whose school grounds seem prone to mysterious and supernatural happenings. The first story arc focuses on Olive Silverlock, a student who seems to have experienced something over the summer that has affected her relationship with her boyfriend Kyle. We also meet Kyle’s little sister, Maps, who follows Olive around, and Olive’s antagonist, Pomeline Fritch (if nothing else, this book is going to add some fantastically memorable names to the DC Universe).

While Marvel is diversifying their characters more than their creatives, DC seems to be making moves to do both. Gotham Academy is written by Becky Cloonan who is primarily known as an artist but has written and drawn some very impressive and award-winning self-published comics like The Mire and Demeter. She is joined by co-writer Brenden Fletcher who will also be working on the new Batgirl series and artist Karl Kerschl who is best known for his award-winning webcomic The Abominable Charles Christopher. This is a young and interesting creative team that stands out markedly from what you might consider the usual DC “House Style.”

Here’s a preview.

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3. Maddy Kettle Book 1: The Adventure of the Thimblewitch

By Eric Orchard
Top Shelf Productions

A young girl sets out to change her parents back from being kangaroo rats.

If you follow Eric Orchard on Twitter, Facebook, or almost anywhere else, you’ve probably seen his progress on his series Maddy Kettle. Orchard is active on social media and uses it as well as any artist out there to engage with his fans and invite them into his process. Those fans are probably delighted to see the first book in this series hitting bookstores and comic book shops now.

In the first volume of this all-ages series, we meet young Maddy, an eleven year old girl whose parents have been turned into little kangaroo rats by the Thimblewitch. When the same creature steals her floating spadefoot toad Ralph, she goes off on her own to save Ralph and hopefully turn her parents back to normal. The story really picks up when she meets a couple of traveling cloud cartographers, a bear, and a raccoon named Harry and Silvio, who serve as the book's comic relief.

Orchard’s illustrations have a weighty simplicity that's mixed with an intricate, cross-hatched texture as if they were drawn from dramatically lit clay figurines. There is a weird darkness to his style that is not unlike the classic children’s horror stories of Edward Gorey, while Maddy Kettle's magical nature may remind some of Neil Gaiman’s Coraline.

Maddy is a smart, resourceful heroine, which parents of young girls are always looking for more of. While this is the beginning of a future book series, this volume stands nicely on its own. Top Shelf has a preview here.

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4. The Hospital Suite

By John Porcellino
Drawn & Quarterly

A mini-comics and zine legend recounts his battles with OCD, tumors, and depression.

John Porcellino is one of the most influential cartoonists that most readers have never heard of. Like the old saying about the Velvet Underground—not many people listened to them at the time but everyone who did started their own band—Porcellino has influenced a whole generation of mini-comic and zine creators with his autobiographical series King-Cat. Started in 1989, it is the longest running mini-comic of its kind and Porcellino has used it to share some very personal aspects of his life. His new graphic novel, The Hospital Suite (published by Drawn & Quarterly), collects a group of his most harrowing and personal stories yet.

In 1997, Porcellino began suffering from stomach pains that doctors couldn’t explain. Repeat appointments eventually led to the discovery of a tumor in his intestines. But this is just the beginning of his troubles. From tumors to warts to debilitating cases of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and depression, Porcellino’s life began to fall apart for the next few years. He lost almost everything—even, for a time, his ability to make comics.

This would be a tough book for those prone to health anxieties, but I think it will strike a chord with people who have suffered from illnesses that have upended their lives. The chapters where he recounts his OCD are especially affecting and upsetting in their sheer extremity. There’s a scene where he finds a Godzilla movie at the library that he’s been craving to see again since he was a kid, but he gets it in his head that watching the film may possibly conjure up the monsters in reality and he returns it, unwatched. It's a scene that is heartbreaking the way Porcellino tells it.

Porcellino’s cartooning style almost seems amateurish at a glance. Its simple pen lines do what they need to do in conveying his story but nothing more. The book itself is even printed with a stark white, no frills cover, much like his mini-comics. Drawn & Quarterly has a preview here.

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5. Underwhelming Lovecraft Comic Synopses

By Patrick Dean
UnderwhelmingLovecraft.tumblr.com

Various Lovecraft stories done in one comics page.

Earlier this year, Patrick Dean had been posting some great drawings of low-key, “underwhelming" creatures on his Tumblr that, if actually created by legendary horror writer H.P. Lovecraft, would have ended up in his discarded ideas pile. Last month, Dean decided to take his fondness for Lovecraft down a different road by creating one-page comic synopses of some of the writer’s short stories. Keeping with the “Underwhelming” theme, he crams the essence of the stories into a few panels and often wraps them up with a punchline that conveys Dean’s own dry sense of humor. It's partly an exercise in concise storytelling and partly a way to have fun with Lovecraft's typically humorless tales of creepiness.

There are a handful up on his Tumblr so far; feel free to dip back into the archives to browse his Underwhelming monster drawings.

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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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