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Ben Templesmith/DC Comics

The Most Interesting Comics of the Week

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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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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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