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Amancay Nahuelpan/Black Mask Studios

The Most Interesting Comics of the Week

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Amancay Nahuelpan/Black Mask 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.

Nanjing: The Burning City

By Ethan Young
Dark Horse Comics 

The second Sino-Japanese war eventually bled into the greater conflict of WWII, but on its own it was one of the costliest wars in human history. The massacre of hundreds of thousands of Chinese soldiers and non-combatant refugees in the city of Nanjing and the mass rape of Chinese women by invading Japanese forces are still among the worst military atrocities ever committed during wartime. 

In the visually stunning and emotionally wrenching new graphic novel Nanjing: The Burning City, we follow two Chinese soldiers who are left behind in the fallen city and must fight to escape as invading Japanese forces close in. This is a powerful war comic that seems to have come out of nowhere from a relatively unknown cartoonist whose previous work was a semi-autobiographical webcomic called Tails. Ethan Young, the American son of Chinese immigrants, effectively taps into the story's emotion. His drawings are striking in their use of stark black and white, showing influences from both manga and the mid-century war comics of Harvey Kurtzman. This book is sure to make it on my best of the year list.

Dark Horse has a preview here.

Young Terrorists #1

By Matt Pizzolo and Amancay Nahuelpan
Black Mask 

The latest series from Black Mask Studios, a publisher whose mission is to bring fresh, edgy creator-owned comics to the market, comes from one of its co-publishers, Matt Pizzolo. Young Terrrorists aims to push buttons in a way that many readers will find off-putting. There is graphic sex and violence, and, as the title suggests, a glorification of terrorism as a way to change the system. Set in the near-future, this new ongoing series follows the daughter of a plutocrat who is seemingly framed for his death and locked away and tortured for years in a military detention camp. She escapes and becomes the leader of a movement that uses subliminally coded videos of pornography and underground fighting to foment civil and social unrest.

It follows the themes of Pizzolo’s previous work, including films he has directed like Threat as well as comics projects like Occupy Comics. He’s working with newcomer Amancay Nahuelpan, who brings a gritty realism to this sci-fi tinged story. Pizzolo and Nahuelpan were inspired by the early days of DC Comic’s Vertigo line that gave birth to works like Grant Morrison's The Invisibles, which is an obvious influence on this concept. The series begins with an 80-page first issue to set the stage but future monthly issues will be normal-size pamphlet comics.

Here’s a preview.

Mox Nox

By Joan Cornellà
Fantagraphics 

The strange, wordless comics of Spanish cartoonist Joan Cornellà have become a social media sensation in some circles over the past couple of years. With over two million followers on Facebook, you may have seen some of his hilarious and often horrifying strips in your feed. 

Cornellà paints each cartoon, and they are surreal and at times disturbing and shocking. A recent cartoon shows a white police officer gunning down a black marathon runner and then proceeding to win the race himself before being held up by an adoring white audience. Another shows a woman clutching her infant when she sees a sniper aiming from a window, but then she tosses her baby in the line of fire to save the stranger who was being targeted. It’s this kind of deeply weird play on the reader’s expectations that makes his comics work

Fantagraphics is releasing Mox Nox, the first collection of Cornellà’s work, and it is sure to be a popular bookstore item. See a preview here.

If You Steal

By Jason
Fantagraphics 

The latest book from enigmatic Norwegian cartoonist Jason is a collection of eleven short stories full of experimentation. One imagines painter Frida Kahlo as a hired killer, while another is just six Van Morrison song titles from Moondance illustrated as horror comic covers. There's also a chronologically disjointed crime story inspired by Steven Soderbergh’s The Limey and the paintings of Magritte. Other stories include ones about Chet Baker, vampire hunters, and a JFK conspiracy theory.

Jason is one of the most interesting artists to ever work in this medium. His ever-growing oeuvre of graphic novels like Hey Wait… and I Killed Adolf Hitler are classics, and even a collection of shorter works like this is a must-have for fans of smart comics.

The A.V. Club has a preview here.

Ice Heist

Madeline McGrane
Uncivilized Books 

One of the best ways to support young, up-and-coming cartoonists is to buy their mini-comics. Often hand-folded and stapled by the artists themselves, mini-comics have a personal touch that web and digital versions can’t match. A number of small boutique publishers have jumped in to help these artists distribute their work to a wider audience. Uncivilized Books has a number of new mini-comics for sale through their website including some that are part of the Uncivilized Lab program intended to showcase their own interns. 

Madeline McGrane’s Ice Heist is a cute little crime comic where the narrator is confronted by the ghosts of three gangsters from the 1920s who recruit her to help retrieve a suitcase full of cash. It’s a light romp with some solid black-and-white cartooning that seems inspired by the work of Hope Larson. McGrane’s website boasts a number of other accomplished-looking comics and she looks to be someone to watch in the coming years.

You can buy Ice Heist through Uncivilized Books here.

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Netflix
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entertainment
5 Things We Know About Stranger Things Season 2
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Netflix

Stranger Things seemed to come out of nowhere to become one of television's standout new series in 2016. Netflix's sometimes scary, sometimes funny, and always exciting homage to '80s pop culture was a binge-worthy phenomenon when it debuted in July 2016. Of course, the streaming giant wasn't going to wait long to bring more Stranger Things to audiences, and a second season was announced a little over a month after its debut—and Netflix just announced that we'll be getting it a few days earlier than expected. Here are five key things we know about the show's sophomore season, which kicks off on October 27.

1. WE'LL BE GETTING EVEN MORE EPISODES.

The first season of Stranger Things consisted of eight hour-long episodes, which proved to be a solid length for the story Matt and Ross Duffer wanted to tell. While season two won't increase in length dramatically, we will be getting at least one extra hour when the show returns in 2017 with nine episodes. Not much is known about any of these episodes, but we do know the titles:

"Madmax"
"The Boy Who Came Back To Life"
"The Pumpkin Patch"
"The Palace"
"The Storm"
"The Pollywog"
"The Secret Cabin"
"The Brain"
"The Lost Brother"

There's a lot of speculation about what each title means and, as usual with Stranger Things, there's probably a reason for each one.

2. THE KIDS ARE RETURNING (INCLUDING ELEVEN).

Stranger Things fans should gear up for plenty of new developments in season two, but that doesn't mean your favorite characters aren't returning. A November 4 photo sent out by the show's Twitter account revealed most of the kids from the first season will be back in 2017, including the enigmatic Eleven, played by Millie Bobby Brown (the #elevenisback hashtag used by series regular Finn Wolfhard should really drive the point home):

3. THE SHOW'S 1984 SETTING WILL LEAD TO A DARKER TONE.

A year will have passed between the first and second seasons of the show, allowing the Duffer brothers to catch up with a familiar cast of characters that has matured since we last saw them. With the story taking place in 1984, the brothers are looking at the pop culture zeitgeist at the time for inspiration—most notably the darker tone of blockbusters like Gremlins and Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.

"I actually really love Temple of Doom, I love that it gets a little darker and weirder from Raiders, I like that it feels very different than Raiders did," Matt Duffer told IGN. "Even though it was probably slammed at the time—obviously now people look back on it fondly, but it messed up a lot of kids, and I love that about that film—that it really traumatized some children. Not saying that we want to traumatize children, just that we want to get a little darker and weirder."

4. IT'S NOT SO MUCH A CONTINUATION AS IT IS A SEQUEL.

When you watch something like The Americans season two, it's almost impossible to catch on unless you've seen the previous episodes. Stranger Things season two will differ from the modern TV approach by being more of a sequel than a continuation of the first year. That means a more self-contained plot that doesn't leave viewers hanging at the end of nine episodes.

"There are lingering questions, but the idea with Season 2 is there's a new tension and the goal is can the characters resolve that tension by the end," Ross Duffer told IGN. "So it's going to be its own sort of complete little movie, very much in the way that Season 1 is."

Don't worry about the two seasons of Stranger Things being too similar or too different from the original, though, because when speaking with Entertainment Weekly about the influences on the show, Matt Duffer said, "I guess a lot of this is James Cameron. But he’s brilliant. And I think one of the reasons his sequels are as successful as they are is he makes them feel very different without losing what we loved about the original. So I think we kinda looked to him and what he does and tried to capture a little bit of the magic of his work.”

5. THE PREMIERE WILL TRAVEL OUTSIDE OF HAWKINS.

Everything about the new Stranger Things episodes will be kept secret until they finally debut later this year, but we do know one thing about the premiere: It won't take place entirely in the familiar town of Hawkins, Indiana. “We will venture a little bit outside of Hawkins,” Matt Duffer told Entertainment Weekly. “I will say the opening scene [of the premiere] does not take place in Hawkins.”

So, should we take "a little bit outside" as literally as it sounds? You certainly can, but in that same interview, the brothers also said they're both eager to explore the Upside Down, the alternate dimension from the first season. Whether the season kicks off just a few miles away, or a few worlds away, you'll get your answer when Stranger Things's second season debuts next month.

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Food
The Gooey History of the Fluffernutter Sandwich

Open any pantry in New England and chances are you’ll find at least one jar of Marshmallow Fluff. Not just any old marshmallow crème, but Fluff; the one manufactured by Durkee-Mower of Lynn, Massachusetts since 1920, and the preferred brand of the northeast. With its familiar red lid and classic blue label, it's long been a favorite guilty pleasure and a kitchen staple beloved throughout the region.

This gooey, spreadable, marshmallow-infused confection is used in countless recipes and found in a variety of baked goods—from whoopie pies and Rice Krispies Treats to chocolate fudge and beyond. And in the beyond lies perhaps the most treasured concoction of all: the Fluffernutter sandwich—a classic New England treat made with white bread, peanut butter, and, you guessed it, Fluff. No jelly required. Or wanted.

There are several claims to the origin of the sandwich. The first begins with Revolutionary War hero Paul Revere—or, not Paul exactly, but his great-great-great-grandchildren Emma and Amory Curtis of Melrose, Massachusetts. Both siblings were highly intelligent and forward-thinkers, and Amory was even accepted into MIT. But when the family couldn’t afford to send him, he founded a Boston-based company in the 1890s that specialized in soda fountain equipment.

He sold the business in 1901 and used the proceeds to buy the entire east side of Crystal Street in Melrose. Soon after he built a house and, in his basement, he created a marshmallow spread known as Snowflake Marshmallow Crème (later called SMAC), which actually predated Fluff. By the early 1910s, the Curtis Marshmallow Factory was established and Snowflake became the first commercially successful shelf-stable marshmallow crème.

Although other companies were manufacturing similar products, it was Emma who set the Curtis brand apart from the rest. She had a knack for marketing and thought up many different ways to popularize their marshmallow crème, including the creation of one-of-a-kind recipes, like sandwiches that featured nuts and marshmallow crème. She shared her culinary gems in a weekly newspaper column and radio show. By 1915, Snowflake was selling nationwide.

During World War I, when Americans were urged to sacrifice meat one day a week, Emma published a recipe for a peanut butter and marshmallow crème sandwich. She named her creation the "Liberty Sandwich," as a person could still obtain his or her daily nutrients while simultaneously supporting the wartime cause. Some have pointed to Emma’s 1918 published recipe as the earliest known example of a Fluffernutter, but the earliest recipe mental_floss can find comes from three years prior. In 1915, the confectioners trade journal Candy and Ice Cream published a list of lunch offerings that candy shops could advertise beyond hot soup. One of them was the "Mallonut Sandwich," which involved peanut butter and "marshmallow whip or mallo topping," spread on lightly toasted whole wheat bread.

Another origin story comes from Somerville, Massachusetts, home to entrepreneur Archibald Query. Query began making his own version of marshmallow crème and selling it door-to-door in 1917. Due to sugar shortages during World War I, his business began to fail. Query quickly sold the rights to his recipe to candy makers H. Allen Durkee and Fred Mower in 1920. The cost? A modest $500 for what would go on to become the Marshmallow Fluff empire.

Although the business partners promoted the sandwich treat early in the company’s history, the delicious snack wasn’t officially called the Fluffernutter until the 1960s, when Durkee-Mower hired a PR firm to help them market the sandwich, which resulted in a particularly catchy jingle explaining the recipe.

So who owns the bragging rights? While some anonymous candy shop owner was likely the first to actually put the two together, Emma Curtis created the early precursors and brought the concept to a national audience, and Durkee-Mower added the now-ubiquitous crème and catchy name. And the Fluffernutter has never lost its popularity.

In 2006, the Massachusetts state legislature spent a full week deliberating over whether or not the Fluffernutter should be named the official state sandwich. On one side, some argued that marshmallow crème and peanut butter added to the epidemic of childhood obesity. The history-bound fanatics that stood against them contended that the Fluffernutter was a proud culinary legacy. One state representative even proclaimed, "I’m going to fight to the death for Fluff." True dedication, but the bill has been stalled for more than a decade despite several revivals and subsequent petitions from loyal fans.

But Fluff lovers needn’t despair. There’s a National Fluffernutter Day (October 8) for hardcore fans, and the town of Somerville, Massachusetts still celebrates its Fluff pride with an annual What the Fluff? festival.

"Everyone feels like Fluff is part of their childhood," said self-proclaimed Fluff expert and the festival's executive director, Mimi Graney, in an interview with Boston Magazine. "Whether born in the 1940s or '50s, or '60s, or later—everyone feels nostalgic for Fluff. I think New Englanders in general have a particular fondness for it."

Today, the Fluffernutter sandwich is as much of a part of New England cuisine as baked beans or blueberry pie. While some people live and die by the traditional combination, the sandwich now comes in all shapes and sizes, with the addition of salty and savory toppings as a favorite twist. Wheat bread is as popular as white, and many like to grill their sandwiches for a touch of bistro flair. But don't ask a New Englander to swap out their favorite brand of marshmallow crème. That’s just asking too Fluffing much.

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