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Sophie Campbell/IDW Publishing

This Week's New Comics: Jem and the Holograms and More

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Sophie Campbell/IDW Publishing

Every week I write about the most interesting new comics hitting comic shops, bookstores, digital, 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. Jem and the Holograms

By Kelly Thompson, Sophie Campbell
IDW Publishing

Jem and the Holograms is just about as '80s as cartoons get, and naturally it had to find its way into comic book form (this week also sees Miami Vice Remix from IDW in conjunction with Lion Forge Comics, who are planning on putting out Knight Rider and Air Wolf comics next). Known for its big hair, keytars, and excessive use of hot pink, Jem may not seem like an easy property to set in modern times, but Kelly Thompson and Sophie Campbell decided to do just that. But with throwback ‘80s music and fashion such a big thing these days, that shouldn't be that hard.

One way they plan to update the comic is to build on Jem’s already good track record with diversity. In addition to making rival band The Misfits more racially diverse, Thompson and Campbell will be making at least two characters in the series—Kimber and Stormer—gay. Additionally, Campbell has redesigned the characters to give them all more realistic body-types rather than the Barbie doll figures the original characters were designed with.

Sophie Campbell, a transgender woman who is in the transitioning process, recently changed her name professionally after been previously known as Ross Campbell (known for the graphic novel series Wet Moon and Image’s recent revamp of its Glory series). Campbell’s work has been applauded over the years in small indie comic circles, but this book will be her introduction to a brand new and much wider audience. Here's some preview imagery.

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2. Fresh Romance

Edited by Janelle Asselin with various writers and artists
Kickstarter

In the 1940s and early 1950s, romance comics accounted for a large sector of the comic book market but, as with other once-popular genres like horror, crime, and science fiction, the implementation of the Comics Code in 1954 resulted in a stultifying self-censorship that made the stories bland and uninteresting. When superheroes had their “Silver Age” renaissance in the 1960s, every other genre got pushed aside until the 21st century rolled around. With crime, horror, and science fiction comics now as healthy as they were back in their heydays, could it be time for romance comics to make the same comeback?

Janelle Asselin, a former comics editor for companies like DC and current Senior Editor at ComicsAlliance.com, is a respected defender of female comics creators and female representation within comics. Her columns like “Hire This Woman” highlight up-and-coming female cartoonists and also skewer publishers for covers and content that sexualize female characters that are ostensibly meant to be read by readers of all ages. Asselin is looking to revive the romance comic with Fresh Romance, a monthly digital magazine featuring serialized comics, relationship advice columns, behind-the-scenes artwork, and even a fashion report. Each issue will contain three stories that attempt to truly focus on romance between two people (both gay and straight). Though there will be some adult content, it will not simply be erotica, nor will it be light, saccharine fluff.

Included are stories about two high school girls who try to keep their love secret by pretending to compete for the same guy (written by Kate Leth with art by Arielle Jovellanos and Amanda Scurti); a regency-era romance about a couple that is about to be married despite a lack of enthusiasm to do so (written by Sarah Vaughn with period-perfect art by Sarah Winifred Searle); and a science-fiction story about a barista whose only way to escape the world she’s trapped on is to help enough lonely souls find love (written by novelist Sarah Kuh with art by newcomer Sally Jane Thompson).

Asselin is using Kickstarter to fund the first three issues as an experiment to see if the market can support this type of a comic. She will probably have easily reached her goal by the time this article is published. Throw in your support here.

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3. The Multiversity: Ultra Comics

By Grant Morrison, Doug Mahnke and Christian Alamy
DC Comics

For readers of Grant Morrison’s excellent The Multiversity series, this penultimate issue is probably the one they’re most anxious to see—potentially moreso than the final chapter (The Multiversity #2 coming in April). This issue is expected to tie together the various strings we’ve seen in the mostly stand-alone stories so far. It’s the so-called “haunted comic” that has been driving the plot behind this series, which is about chaos and disruption ripping through DC’s “multiverse."

What purportedly makes this comic “haunted” is that it takes place on Earth-Prime which, in DC multiverse folklore, is the earth that we live on. We, the readers, will play an active part in the story, even being encouraged to stop reading in order to prevent the fatal events of the story from playing out (a trick Morrison seems to have cribbed from Sesame Street’s Grover). This kind of fourth-wall-breaking is classic Morrison, who is very much a believer in “living stories” and the active participation of the reader’s imagination.

Another fact to get readers and especially Morrison fans excited is that this issue sees the reunion of Morrison and Doug Mahnke, his collaborator from Final Crisis: Superman Beyond, one of the weirdest, most mind-bending comics DC has ever published. Get a glimpse of the role you’ll be playing in this story, if you choose to play it.

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4. We Can Never Go Home

By Matthew Rosenberg, Patrick Kindlon, Josh Hood and Amanda Scurti
Black Mask Studios

At some point, the idea of having super powers aged from pre-adolescents wanting anything they can imagine to teenagers wanting to escape. It probably began in the 1970s with the rise in popularity of Marvel’s beleaguered mutants in the X-men, but the teen angst subtext got pushed even further into the foreground by Brian Wood and Becky Cloonan in their 2003 series Demo, which told realistic stories about angst-ridden teens with superpowers relegating the super powers to the background and eventually away altogether. The team behind We Can Never Go Home seem to be aiming to explore the same peripheral space in superhero comics that Demo was going for a decade ago but with a louder, more abrupt, punk rock take on the concept.

We Can Never Go Home begins with two teenagers—one an awkward misfit, the other a popular girl—each with horrifying superpowers that they can barely control. They don’t seem like they’re going to be donning costumes or even doing anything that might be considered “good” or “responsible” with their powers, and it’s probably unlikely a kindly benefactor will be coming along to teach them how to control them. This five-issue series comes courtesy of Black Mask Studios, a new publishing and media company started by the artist Steve Niles along with film director Matt Pizzolo and musician Brett Gurewitz that aims to give new opportunities to creator-owned comics. The creators behind this one are all up-and-comers but the artist, Josh Hood, whose style is reminiscent of Steve Dillon and Jamie McKelvie, is sure to be a breakout star here.

Black Mask has put together a pretty excellent trailer for the comic here.

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5. Part-Time Princesses

By Monica Gallagher
Oni Press

Monica Gallagher is another up-and-coming cartoonist who has a number of mini-comics and anthology appearances under her belt. She has done some interesting short auto-biographical works that are based around ideas of femininity (Boobage and When I Was a Mall Model) that we don’t often see addressed with this much comfort and sincerity in comics.

Part-Time Princesses is Gallagher's first graphic novel from a major publisher, and it has a clever, promising concept that seems to fit nicely into Gallagher’s wheelhouse. Four teenage girls whose summer job is to play fairy tale princesses in a low-rent knockoff Disneyland amusement park find their dreams of college, modeling, and acting temporarily derailed and must come crawling back to the job they all hate. But when that job is about to be taken away from them and the park is about to be closed due to fear of local gangs, they decide to fight to save it.

The story has the feel of a Hollywood teen summer comedy, complete with training montages, forbidden romance, and student archetypes being forced to come together. Unfortunately, it ends up trading most of its teen comedy tropes for comic book tropes as the girls end up primarily solving their problems by fighting off gangs rather than using their individual talents to make the park a more inviting place.

Oni has serialized this book digitally on Comixology with a collected print edition hitting comic shops this week. This is an early work from a rising talent though, and she will be someone to watch in the near future.

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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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