Ben Templesmith/DC Comics
Ben Templesmith/DC Comics

The Most Interesting Comics of the Week

Ben Templesmith/DC Comics
Ben Templesmith/DC 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.

Universe! #1

By Albert Monteys
The Panel Syndicate

The latest pay-what-you-wish series from The Panel Syndicate.

Last year, Bryan K. Vaughan (Saga, Y: The Last Man) and Marcos Martin (Amazing Spider-man, Daredevil) launched The Panel Syndicate, a website to distribute their creator-owned digital comic The Private Eye. Using a pay-what-you-want business model, their venture has been an enormous success, bringing in a reported six-figure profit for a comic that readers could easily download for free if they wished. Now, The Panel Syndicate is expanding into a second title and bringing in a new creator.

Albert Monteys is a cartoonist who is well known in his home country of Spain but pretty much unknown everywhere else. Asked by his friend Marcos Martin to join The Panel Syndicate, he is using it to publish an ongoing anthology of science fiction stories called Universe! The first issue, released last week, is a time-traveling romp spanning billions of years and it's about an evil corporation that sends an employee back to the Big Bang in order to brand all of life—down to its very quarks—with the company logo. Those like myself who are new to Monteys work will read this wondering how we could possibly just be seeing his spectacular work for the first time.

Each issue of Universe!, published every two months, will tell a new self-contained story, although Monteys says they will be connected in some way.

There’s a short preview of the comic on The Panel Syndicate’s website. PDF and CBZ formatted files are available for whatever you’d like to pay for them.

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Ody-C #1

By Matt Fraction and Christian Ward
Image Comics

A gender-bent Odyssey set in outer space.

Homer’s Odyssey, the epic adventure written somewhere around the end of the 8th century, has been the blueprint for every hero’s journey written since. In Ody-C, Matt Fraction and Christian Ward bring the classical Greek poem into the future and into outer space. It’s a new series published by Image Comics—home of Fraction’s surprise hit Sex Criminals—and with Christian Ward’s colorful, hallucinatory digitally painted art, it looks like a druggy, abstract rendition of Image’s best selling sci-fi hit Saga.

Fraction does a number of weird things with this comic, the least of which is setting it in space. It’s a gender-bent adaptation of what is a male revenge fantasy about returning to your love and butchering all the dudes that have been trying to get with her.

The heroine, Odyssia, is Odysseus by way of Barbarella and Wonder Woman. She’s the captain of an intergalactic army that has been at war for 10 years, and she longs to return, not to her man, but to the infant child she left behind. Another weird thing is that Fraction writes the book in six syllable dactylic hexameter, the rhythmic style of the classical poetry Homer used with The Odyssey. Oh, and it all starts with 8 pages that fold out into one panoramic scene. Christian Ward put in a lot of time with world building and character design to make this book look as outlandish and other-worldly as possible.

Here’s a preview.

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Gotham By Midnight #1

By Ray Fawkes and Ben Templesmith
DC Comics

A Gotham City police taskforce that takes on the weird stuff Batman just can’t handle.

In the past few months, DC Comics has greatly expanded the scope of their “Bat-Family” titles which previously just consisted of multiple Batman comics and some secondary titles featuring sidekicks like Robin and Nightwing. In addition to giving Batgirl a new look and style appropriate for a millennial female audience, they launched titles like Grayson, an espionage comic featuring Dick Grayson; Gotham Academy, a supernatural comic set in a Gotham boarding school; and Arkham Manor, a book about Batman’s villains. Each book takes the world of Batman and pushes it into new genres with new storytelling opportunities.

This week brings Gotham By Midnight, a dark horror comic that, at one point in time, would have been separated from the main DC line and published within their horror-friendly Vertigo imprint.

Horror masters Ray Fawkes (Constantine) and Ben Templesmith (30 Days of Night) introduce a Gotham City police task force that investigates the deeply weird goings on in Gotham that even Batman can’t deal with. The task force is led by longtime DC character Jim Corrigan (the host body for The Spectre) who leads a team of freaky specialists including Corrigan’s partner, Detective Lisa Drake, their expert on all things religious, Sister Justine, and forensics scientist Dr. Szandor Tarr. It’s kind of a B.P.R.D for the DC Universe.

Here’s a preview which gives you a good sense of Templesmith’s unique style of eerie, smokey, monotoned art, if you aren't already familiar.

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Frontier #6

By Emily Carroll
Youth in Decline

Another creepy comic—in full color print!—from Emily Carroll.

2014 has been a good year for reading Emily Carroll comics in book form. The cartoonist, who is known for pushing the medium of webcomics with her inventive, subtly animated horror comics, released her first book via a major publisher this year, Through The Woods. Now, she quickly follows it up with a short story, Ann By The Bed, published in the 6th issue of Youth in Decline’s anthology comic Frontier.

Ann By the Bed, in typical Carroll fashion, tells an eerie story about a young woman who was mysteriously murdered long ago and has become an urban legend, the stuff of parlor games that young girls play to scare themselves silly during slumber parties. To read Carroll is to witness the beginnings of one of the great careers in comics history. She is a modern day Edward Gorey in tone and subject matter and is one of the most technically proficient young cartoonists working today. It’s hard to believe that she is only just getting started.

Frontier is a great little comic that is printed using full color digital Risograph printing, which allows self-publishers to put out low cost color books with ease. Each issue showcases an up-and-coming artist and Youth in Decline has proven themselves true tastemakers with their choices so far (previously we’ve seen exciting new cartoonists like Hellen Jo and Sam Alden). You can buy a copy of Frontier #6 or any previous issue directly from the publisher.

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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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Andrews McMeel
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10 Things You Might Not Know About Pearls Before Swine
Andrews McMeel
Andrews McMeel

Since its quiet debut online in 2001, Pearls Before Swine, Stephan Pastis’s strip about an anthropomorphic and acerbic band of animals trading barbs and cultural commentary, has become one of the bigger success stories in modern-day cartooning. Take a look at a few things you might not have realized about the strip’s history, including its origins and why the notoriously reclusive Bill Watterson once paid it an illustrated visit.

1. STEPHAN PASTIS STARTED OUT AS A CARTOONING LAWYER.

Before he committed to cartooning as a profession, Stephan Pastis studied to become an attorney. The San Marino, California native practiced in the field of insurance defense from 1993 to 2002, representing insurance companies who were being sued by policyholders. At night, he would draw and send samples to syndicates. “When you’re in law school, you think you’re going to be a lawyer like Oliver Wendell Holmes, arguing esoteric points of law,” he told Cartoonician.com in 2014. “But in truth, what you do is, you get in petty fights with other lawyers about who served whom and when, and how well you can bury someone in discovery, and keep someone in deposition for hours.”

2. CHARLES SCHULZ ENCOURAGED HIM.

Hearing that Peanuts creator Charles Schulz stopped in for breakfast every morning at a Santa Rosa ice skating rink, Pastis staked out the arena in 1996 in the hopes of soliciting some advice from the legendary cartoonist. Schulz graciously invited him to sit down and gave him some input on The Infirm, a legal comedy Pastis was working on at the time. The meeting emboldened Pastis, who took to reading Dilbert collections to try and evaluate why successful strips worked. Focusing more on two misanthropic animal characters, Rat and Pig, Pastis started circulating samples of Pearls Before Swine in 1999. (The title comes from a Bible verse, Matthew 7:6: “Give not that which is holy unto the dogs, neither cast ye your pearls before swine.”)

3. A SALES GUY ALMOST KILLED THE STRIP.

After honing his skills, Pastis’s Pearls drew the attention of several syndicates. One of them, United, offered a “trial” run where they would verify he could turn in strips on a consistent basis before going out to newspapers. After that phase, Pastis expected to start appearing in print. But one salesman at the syndicate changed that with just one word. Pearls, he said, “sucks.” Fearing the strip wouldn’t catch on, United let Pastis shop the strip around in 2000 before calling him back and offering to put the strip on their website to see if readers responded. They did. Bolstered by an endorsement from Dilbert creator Scott Adams, Pearls wound up in newspapers in 2002. Eight months after its debut, Pastis quit practicing law for good.

4. IT MIGHT BE THE DON RICKLES OF COMIC STRIPS.

In 2006, Pastis drew some criticism for poking fun at the comparatively mundane strips Baby Blues and Zits, as well as the highly homogenized Family Circus. Some fans of those strips wrote in to complain, but the targets of his ribbing didn’t take things so seriously. Bil Keane of Family Circus requested to see the strips mocking Jeffy and company—Pastis depicted them as profanity-spewing alcoholics—while Baby Blues referenced Pearls by having the kids in the strip play with a toy crocodile, a nod to his acerbic crocodile characters.

5. HE UPSET CATHY GUISEWITE.

One of Pastis's repeated targets has been Cathy, the laconic strip about a harried single woman that ran through 2010. On his blog, Pastis recalled a phone conversation he had with Cathy creator Cathy Guisewite in which he called to inform her he wanted to depict her playing naked Twister in the strip. An appalled Guisewite insisted he withhold it from publication. Later, Pastis won a National Cartoonists Society award for Best Comic Strip, an honor presented by Guisewite during the ceremony. Pastis feared some reprisal, but Guisewite just said she was proud of his accomplishment.

6. ONE STRIP ABOUT ISIS WAS WITHHELD FROM PRINT.

In 2016, Pastis depicted the character of Pig on the phone with his sister and trying to correct her grammar from using “me” to “I.” His insistence leads to screaming, "I, sis!” into the receiver, with the National Security Agency subsequently hauling him away. His syndicate refused to run the strip, citing concerns people would be upset if a terrorist attack happened to unfold in the days or weeks surrounding publication.

7. BILL WATTERSON MADE HIS RETURN TO COMICS IN THE STRIP.

After finishing his 10-year run on Calvin and Hobbes in 1995, cartoonist Bill Watterson largely stepped away from the public eye. He ended his extended sabbatical from comics in 2014, covertly stepping in as a guest artist for Pearls. Watterson was a fan of Pastis’s work and got in touch via a mutual friend. Watterson wound up doing three daily strips, leaving readers to wonder why the Pearls style was suddenly hewing so closely to Watterson’s, before Pastis broke the news. Once the story was out, the strips blew out a server on Universal’s Uclick site.

8. PASTIS IS A CHARACTER IN THE STRIP.

While Pastis has said that the character of Rat exhibits some of his humor, he has been known to frequently insert himself into the strip. This can confuse some readers, as in the case when the illustrated Pastis divorced his wife, Staci, within the narrative of the comic. That led people to believe the cartoonist was really getting a divorce. (He wasn’t.)

9. YOU CAN BUY PLUSH PEARLS CHARACTERS.

In 2009, Pastis and Universal struck a deal with plush toy manufacturer Aurora for a line of stuffed Pearls Before Swine characters, including Pig, Rat, and a Croc. Pastis joked that the three-dimensional products would help him “draw the back-view” of his cast when he needs a visual reference.

10. IT GOT AN ENDORSEMENT FROM A CONVICTED MURDERER.

In 2010, Pastis was somewhat horrified to read that a man awaiting trial for a double homicide in Utah wrote in to a local newspaper to chastise the prosecution and offer his view of the offending circumstances. At the end, in a weird non-sequitur, he implored the paper to “bring back Pearls Before Swines [sic] and Garfield.” The defendant, Jeremy Valdes, pled guilty in 2015 and was ordered to serve two life sentences.

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