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Asaf Hanuka/Archaia/Boom! Studios

This Week's New Comics: A comic about PTSD, Asaf Hanuka's The Realist, and Uncle Scrooge returns

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Asaf Hanuka/Archaia/Boom! Studios

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. PTSD: The Wound That Never Heals

By Leela Corman

The description of Leela Corman’s short but powerful comic essay published this past week in the online magazine Nautilus reads, “Coming back to life after losing my first child.” That phrase is like a punch to the gut, yet there's a sense of hope. Corman uses the tragedy in her life—the unthinkable passing of her 1-year-old daughter—and her long road of dealing with that trauma to explore the science behind Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. At the beginning of each month, Nautilus picks a subject and then every week publishes a new chapter containing multiple articles and fictional stories exploring that subject. April’s subject is “Dominoes,” the way one thing in life can lead to another.

Corman has previously published a comic in Tablet Magazine called “Yahrzeit” in which she compared dealing with her own tragedy to how her grandfather dealt with losing his entire family in the Holocaust. Corman’s husband Tom Hart is also a cartoonist and has been processing their daughter’s death himself through a series of webcomics called Rosalie Lightning. It is incredibly brave how both Hart and Corman are willing to publicly share this process. What Corman does with PTSD is something that victims of any trauma—from soldiers to victims of violent crime—can hopefully find helpful and inspiring.

You can read PTSD here on Nautilus.


2. The Realist

By Asaf Hanuka
Archaia/Boom! Studios

Israeli cartoonist Asaf Haunka is best known in the States for his collaborations with his twin brother Tomer, particularly on their wildly experimental comic Bipolar. In Israel, Asaf is well known for his autobiographic strip comic The Realist, which has been published weekly in the Israeli business magazine Calcalist since 2010. Archaia (now part of Boom! Studios) has just released a hardcover collection of these strips, showcasing Hanuka’s gift of metaphor and his willingness to tap into his dark side to get at some universal truths.

The Realist mostly focuses on Hanaka’s life with his wife and son, navigating some relatable daily trials (being an over-protective parent, marital spats, smart phone addiction, having a new baby) as well as some that are very specific to life in Israel (finding an apartment in Tel Aviv, living with the fear of nuclear annihilation). What makes The Realist so great is how each and every strip is visually creative, and also Hanuka's unflinching willingness to expose his flaws and personal turmoil. When depicting arguments with his wife and the way he emotionally detaches, he shows self-realization in a visually elegant yet raw manner that most people making diary comics strive to achieve. (One beautiful illustration shows him as an astronaut while his wife breaks down in front of him.)

Here’s a preview of just some of the great pages in this book.


3. Uncle Scrooge #1

By Jonathan Gray, Rodolfo Cimino, and Romano Scarpa
IDW Publishing

Everyone knows Disney owns Marvel now, so it may be counter-intuitive to learn that IDW is poised to launch a line of Disney comics featuring the likes of Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck, and Donald’s cantankerous, billionaire uncle Scrooge McDuck. While Marvel has recently began publishing comics that center on various park attractions like Epcot’s Figment and Adventureland’s Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, the license to the characters has recently changed hands from Boom! Studios to IDW (both are publishers that have come to specialize in developing excellent comics from licensed properties).

The first of IDW’s new Disney comics will be Uncle Scrooge, which arguably carries the biggest comics legacy. Dating back to the 1940s, legendary cartoonist Carl Barks created some of the greatest kids' comics ever during his run on Uncle Scrooge (these, as well as some also excellent work by Don Rosa, have been getting high-end archival treatment from Fantagraphics over the past few years). Although IDW’s new series will begin with a new #1 issue, the legacy numbering (#405) will be listed on the inside cover. In another mix of old and new, IDW has brought on fan-favorite Jonathan Gray to translate popular stories drawn by the late Italian Disney comics master Romano Scarpa.

Here’s a preview of the first issue.


4. The Death Defying Doctor Mirage

By Jen Van Meter and Roberto de la Torre
Valiant Entertainment

Valiant Entertainment has been doing an amazing job building a new comic universe over the past two years by reviving their super-powered concepts from the 1990s. The success of relaunches like XO-Manowar and Harbinger show how strong those underlying concepts were.

Their latest concept to return to the page is The Death Defying Doctor Mirage. It re-imagines a short-lived series from 1993 that was ahead of its time in terms of diversity with its mixed-ethnicity husband-and-wife psychologists Hwen and Carmen Mirage, who investigate paranormal activity and the afterlife. Jen Van Meter and Roberto de la Torre have made substantial changes in their version: Hwen’s wife is now Shan, and Hwen has died, meaning he is not really the “Doctor” of the title. When we meet Shan Fong, she is a popular TV clairvoyant who helps people communicate with dead family members; however, her secret is that she is unable to make contact with her own deceased husband. When she takes on a job that involves entering the afterlife, it may be her best chance yet to make contact with him.

There is a sadness that pervades this story, mostly due to the gritty realism of de la Torre’s artwork which has a similar feel to John Paul Leon or Alex Maleev. However, the tragic realism of Shan’s longing mostly gives way to lots of supernatural antics that will be more appealing to fans of magic in the Dr. Strange-style. Still, stick around to see if Shan finds what she is looking for.

Here’s a preview from the first issue of Doctor Mirage.


5. Convergence Week 3

By Various
DC Comics

Each week during DC Comics’ Convergence event, they are pre-empting their regularly scheduled comics with special Convergence editions featuring characters who have been erased from continuity. Week one stepped back only a couple of years to show characters that existed before 2011’s Flashpoint reboot. Last week took us to 1994’s Zero Hour, and this week brings us back to the grandaddy of all reboots: 1985’s Crisis on Infinite Earths. Thrown in the mix are heroes from 1997’s Tangent Universe which featured DC characters that existed in a universe greatly altered from our own due to the way their own existence influenced world events. Some of the comics we’ll see this week are:

Convergence Flash starring the classic Silver Age version of Barry Allen.

Convergence Justice League of America in which the less-than-impressive Justice League Detroit faces the heroes from the Tangent Universe.

Convergence Swamp Thing featuring the pre-Alan Moore version of the character returns written by original creator Len Wein.

Convergence Superboy & the Legion which brings back one of the many versions of the Legion of Super-Heroes we’ve seen over the years.

Convergence New Teen Titans in which writer Marv Wolfman returns to DC’s most popular comic from that era.

Convergence Adventures of Superman guest-starring the headband-sporting Supergirl who famously died during Crisis.

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva

Jacques Mattheij made a small, but awesome, mistake. He went on eBay one evening and bid on a bunch of bulk LEGO brick auctions, then went to sleep. Upon waking, he discovered that he was the high bidder on many, and was now the proud owner of two tons of LEGO bricks. (This is about 4400 pounds.) He wrote, "[L]esson 1: if you win almost all bids you are bidding too high."

Mattheij had noticed that bulk, unsorted bricks sell for something like €10/kilogram, whereas sets are roughly €40/kg and rare parts go for up to €100/kg. Much of the value of the bricks is in their sorting. If he could reduce the entropy of these bins of unsorted bricks, he could make a tidy profit. While many people do this work by hand, the problem is enormous—just the kind of challenge for a computer. Mattheij writes:

There are 38000+ shapes and there are 100+ possible shades of color (you can roughly tell how old someone is by asking them what lego colors they remember from their youth).

In the following months, Mattheij built a proof-of-concept sorting system using, of course, LEGO. He broke the problem down into a series of sub-problems (including "feeding LEGO reliably from a hopper is surprisingly hard," one of those facts of nature that will stymie even the best system design). After tinkering with the prototype at length, he expanded the system to a surprisingly complex system of conveyer belts (powered by a home treadmill), various pieces of cabinetry, and "copious quantities of crazy glue."

Here's a video showing the current system running at low speed:

The key part of the system was running the bricks past a camera paired with a computer running a neural net-based image classifier. That allows the computer (when sufficiently trained on brick images) to recognize bricks and thus categorize them by color, shape, or other parameters. Remember that as bricks pass by, they can be in any orientation, can be dirty, can even be stuck to other pieces. So having a flexible software system is key to recognizing—in a fraction of a second—what a given brick is, in order to sort it out. When a match is found, a jet of compressed air pops the piece off the conveyer belt and into a waiting bin.

After much experimentation, Mattheij rewrote the software (several times in fact) to accomplish a variety of basic tasks. At its core, the system takes images from a webcam and feeds them to a neural network to do the classification. Of course, the neural net needs to be "trained" by showing it lots of images, and telling it what those images represent. Mattheij's breakthrough was allowing the machine to effectively train itself, with guidance: Running pieces through allows the system to take its own photos, make a guess, and build on that guess. As long as Mattheij corrects the incorrect guesses, he ends up with a decent (and self-reinforcing) corpus of training data. As the machine continues running, it can rack up more training, allowing it to recognize a broad variety of pieces on the fly.

Here's another video, focusing on how the pieces move on conveyer belts (running at slow speed so puny humans can follow). You can also see the air jets in action:

In an email interview, Mattheij told Mental Floss that the system currently sorts LEGO bricks into more than 50 categories. It can also be run in a color-sorting mode to bin the parts across 12 color groups. (Thus at present you'd likely do a two-pass sort on the bricks: once for shape, then a separate pass for color.) He continues to refine the system, with a focus on making its recognition abilities faster. At some point down the line, he plans to make the software portion open source. You're on your own as far as building conveyer belts, bins, and so forth.

Check out Mattheij's writeup in two parts for more information. It starts with an overview of the story, followed up with a deep dive on the software. He's also tweeting about the project (among other things). And if you look around a bit, you'll find bulk LEGO brick auctions online—it's definitely a thing!

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© Nintendo
Nintendo Will Release an $80 Mini SNES in September
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© Nintendo

Retro gamers rejoice: Nintendo just announced that it will be launching a revamped version of its beloved Super Nintendo Classic console, which will allow kids and grown-ups alike to play classic 16-bit games in high-definition.

The new SNES Classic Edition, a miniature version of the original console, comes with an HDMI cable to make it compatible with modern televisions. It also comes pre-loaded with a roster of 21 games, including Super Mario Kart, The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, Donkey Kong Country, and Star Fox 2, an unreleased sequel to the 1993 original.

“While many people from around the world consider the Super NES to be one of the greatest video game systems ever made, many of our younger fans never had a chance to play it,” Doug Bowser, Nintendo's senior vice president of sales and marketing, said in a statement. “With the Super NES Classic Edition, new fans will be introduced to some of the best Nintendo games of all time, while longtime fans can relive some of their favorite retro classics with family and friends.”

The SNES Classic Edition will go on sale on September 29 and retail for $79.99. Nintendo reportedly only plans to manufacture the console “until the end of calendar year 2017,” which means that the competition to get your hands on one will likely be stiff, as anyone who tried to purchase an NES Classic last year will well remember.

In November 2016, Nintendo released a miniature version of its original NES system, which sold out pretty much instantly. After selling 2.3 million units, Nintendo discontinued the NES Classic in April. In a statement to Polygon, the company has pledged to “produce significantly more units of Super NES Classic Edition than we did of NES Classic Edition.”

Nintendo has not yet released information about where gamers will be able to buy the new console, but you may want to start planning to get in line soon.