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The 25 Best Comics and Graphic Novels of 2015

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Every week, I write about the most interesting new comics, webcomics, and graphic novels. It’s now that time again to round up the ones I consider the best and most interesting of the year. Please feel free to agree, disagree, and recommend others in the comments below. 

25. The Omega Men

By Tom King, Barnaby Bagenda, Jose Marzan Jr. and Romulo Farjado Jr.
DC Comics

When DC Comics released sneak previews of this year’s new books, one that got a lot of attention was The Omega Men. The scene, made to look like a glitchy terrorist video, showed Green Lantern Kyle Rayner seemingly being beheaded by a group whose name bears the title of the comic. Eventually, this scene turned out to not be what it appeared, and it’s twists like this that make The Omega Men such an engaging read.

Writer Tom King is a former counter-terrorism officer for the CIA and he uses that experience to craft a story about insurgencies and religion set in the deep cosmos of the DC Universe. This has been a breakout year in comics for King, with not only this series but Grayson, The Sheriff of Babylon, and The Vision all receiving worthy acclaim. Critical praise doesn't always equal sales, however, and DC announced a premature cancelation of this 12-issue series until a vocal fan base rose up and demanded a stay of execution.

24. Sexcastle

By Kyle Starks
Image Comics

Sexcastle is one of the funniest books of the year and absolutely essential for anyone who grew up on ‘80s action films. It plays with every trope you can remember from that era, and sets its hero, Shane Sexcastle (an amalgam of Kurt Russell, Patrick Swayze, and David Carradine), against a cast of tough guys that look much like ‘80s mainstays Sylvester Stallone, Mr. T, Steven Seagal, and others.

23. Roller Girl

By Victoria Jamieson
Dial Books

There’s been an increase in the number of high-quality graphic novels aimed at tween-age girls since Raina Telgemeier proved to publishers that this audience was out there with her bestselling graphic novels Smile and Sisters. Victoria Jamieson’s first graphic novel, Roller Girl, is a welcome addition that at first may seem to be more niche than Telgemeier’s work. Roller derbies have been growing in popularity in recent years and seem to have a lot of crossover appeal with comics, but Jamieson’s story about a young girl who decides to pursue her newfound interest while drifting apart from her best friend is a pretty universal story about discovering who you are and what really makes you tick.

22. Wuvable Oaf

By Ed Luce
Fantagraphics

While the mainstream comics industry has made great strides this year to be more LGBT-inclusive, indie comics continue to show them how it's done with a wide array of comics coming from the web and various indie publishers. Still, you won’t find many out there that are quite like Ed Luce’s Wuvable Oaf. This is a book that is proud and confident in its depiction of a gay subculture that's made up of thrash metal, professional wrestling, and cats. Oaf is a shy, gentle “bear” who sells toy animals stuffed with his own body hair. When he falls for the diminutive Eiffel, the lead singer of the metal band The Ejaculoids, we get a sweet, hilarious, and surprising story of dating in a fictional version of San Francisco.

21. Girl in Dior

By Annie Goetzinger
NBM Publishing

Girl in Dior is perhaps the most beautiful book released this year. Written and drawn by French illustrator and costume designer Annie Goetzinger, it tells the true story of fashion designer Christian Dior’s rise to fame when he introduced his so-called “New Look” to an unsuspecting but welcoming public in 1947. Goetzinger fictionalizes the biography slightly by inserting her own character, a reporter-turned-model named Clara, to act as our eyes into this world of color that revolutionized the drab post-War fashion of that era. Goetzinger’s beautiful drawings of Dior’s models dressed in elegant and flowing gowns are resplendent. Girl in Dior made its English language debut this year after winning the prestigious Grand Prix Bd Boum award when it was first released in France in 2014.

20. Pope Hats #4

By Ethan Rilly
AdHouse Books

Ethan Rilly is one of the best cartoonists out there, and too many people aren’t aware of his work. His award-winning comic series Pope Hats often goes at least a year between issues, making him less visible in an increasingly social media-driven market. Still, the quality of his storytelling and production is something we don’t see enough of in “floppy” format comics.

While previous issues of Pope Hats focused on telling the story of a young woman named Frances balancing career and life, issue four breaks from that format to compile a bunch of short stories unrelated to the previous narrative. These little slices are without true beginnings or endings, and the highlight is probably “The Nest,” which is about parents dealing with the return from college of their teenage daughter who appears to be suffering from a nervous breakdown.

19. Zero

By Ales Kot, Jordie Bellaire and various
Image Comics

Zero starts off as a compelling political-espionage comic set in the near future about a highly competent agent named Edward Zero. Then come the aliens. Then Allen Ginsberg and William S. Burroughs show up. And then things really start to get trippy.

Each issue of Zero is drawn by a different artist, with Jordie Bellaire serving as the regular colorist to provide some visual continuity. This works really well, as each chapter acts as a stand-alone piece of a larger story. Besides the mind-bending weirdness and violence, Zero has some of the most genuinely heartbreaking character moments I’ve read in any comic this year.

18. Frontier # 7: SexCoven

By Jillian Tamaki
Youth in Decline

Indie comics anthology Frontier hit the (indie) big time this year with contributions from comics stars Michael DeForge and Jillian Tamaki. Frontier showcases up-and-coming talent by giving them an entire issue to show their stuff. In issue #7, Jillian Tamaki’s “SexCoven” tells in a documentary-style approach the story of an mp3 file that only teenagers can hear.

Tamaki is the artist behind last year’s award-winning This One Summer, and has had a great follow-up year with the print collection of her webcomic SuperMutant Magic Academy (a book that could easily be on this list as well) and this issue of Frontier, which shows her mastery of page design and layered, thematic storytelling.

17. Batgirl

By Brenden Fletcher, Cameron Stewart and Babs Tarr
DC Comics

There is probably no more important or influential comic that DC has put out this year than Batgirl. When the new creative team of Brenden Fletcher, Cameron Stewart, and Babs Tarr took over in late 2014, their lighter, more fun approach to the title was a breath of fresh air among the increasingly dark and brutal superhero comics the company has been putting out.

Aimed at a female audience that DC never seemed to make comics for, the success of this title sparked an awakening for the publisher, leading to a new initiative in 2015 to introduce more books of a similar ilk (see Black Canary, Prez). The more “cartoony” visual style of this comic is also something DC has shied away from in the past, but it works great for this character. They took a chance by giving unknown young artist Babs Tarr a shot on this book, and she is now well on her way to becoming a superstar.

16. The Eternaut

By Héctor Germán Oesterhel and Francisco Solano Lopez
Fantagraphics

The Eternaut is revered in Argentina, but until Fantagraphics brought an elegantly designed hardcover collection to Stateside bookstores this year, it had been virtually unknown in North America. Originally serialized in Buenos Aires newspaper Hora Cero from 1957 to 1959, The Eternaut begins when a mysterious snowfall kills everyone it touches, and a group of friends smart enough to keep safe inside find that they may be among the last people alive in their city.

The backstory of The Eternaut is just as gripping as the comic. Both writer Héctor Germán Oesterhel and artist Francisco Solano Lopez were forced into hiding from the military powers that ran Argentina at the time because of leftist works like The Eternaut. Lopez escaped to Spain, but Oesterhel, who also wrote a biography of Argentinian revolutionary Che Guevera, was never seen again.

15. The Fade Out

By Ed Brubaker and Sean Philips
Image Comics

Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips's first book of their unprecedented carte blanche publishing deal with Image Comics seems like the sum of everything they’ve done since their hit series Criminal. The creative team gives us a noir story full of morally compromised characters, femme fatales and, of course, murder. Set around a troubled 1948 film production that is halted when its leading lady turns up dead, The Fade Out explores the seediness of the movie business and the pathos behind the types of films that inspired Brubaker and Philips’s entire body of work.

14. Black River

By Josh Simmons
Fantagraphics

Nihilistic apocalyptic comics were a-dime-a-dozen this year thanks, probably, to the success of The Walking Dead, but Josh Simmons’s Black River makes everything else seem like all-ages fluff. This short graphic novel follows a group of women (and one man) across a devastated countryside in search of a town they learned of from a found diary. Along the way they do some things that sound fun on the surface (taking a drug called “Gumdrops," having sex, and even going to a comedy club), but everything is imbued with Simmons’s sense of absurdist depravity and unsettling horror.

13. Joan Cornellà’s Comics

By Joan Cornellà

If you have friends on Facebook with a twisted sense of humor, then you’ve probably seen them share one of Joan Cornellà’s comics. His wordless one-page strips took social media by storm this year, with 2.8 million people liking his Facebook page (so far). The Spanish cartoonist is not afraid to be disturbing and gory, nor does he shy away from controversial topics. Sometimes you have to spend a little time on each one to get what he’s doing, and sometimes you laugh even when you don’t want to. This year, Fantagraphics released a hardcover collection of some of his comics called Mox Nox.

12. The Story of My Tits

By Jennifer Hayden
Top Shelf

Jennifer Hayden’s frank and quirky memoir about breast cancer begins by painting a portrait of her lifelong relationship with her own breasts. It isn’t until the last third of the book that we see Hayden get her first mammogram, but along the way we see how the specter of cancer hangs over her and how it affects the women in her life. It’s not easy to make a book about the death of family members and her own brush with mortality something enjoyable and fun to read, but Hayden's sense of humor and clever cartooning does just that. It is an impressive debut.

11. The Multiversity

By Grant Morrison and various
DC Comics

The top slot on my list from last year went to an issue of Grant Morrison’s mini-series The Multiversity. The series as a whole, now collected by DC Comics in a large hardcover deluxe edition, is in many ways the epitome of the Grant Morrison superhero comic. Layered with subtext and references to forgotten comics of old, these are crammed with unbelievably cool ideas and are about as meta as a comic can get.

As the existence of the multiverse faces an unstoppable threat, Morrison checks in on various parallel DC universes, like one in which Superman was adopted by Hitler and another where the spoiled grown children of the Justice League avoid paparazzi and party like a bunch of super-powered Kardashians. Each is so good that you wish he’d write stories about them forever.

10. Deep Dark Fears

By Fran Krause
Ten Speed Press

Fran Krause had a great idea a few years back: encourage readers to anonymously submit their deepest, darkest fears and he would turn them into a comic strip. Deep Dark Fears instantly became a popular Tumblr comic, and now Krause has compiled them into a hardcover. It’s a fine example of how, deep down, we’re all scared to death of the same stupid stuff.

9. Step Aside, Pops

By Kate Beaton
Drawn & Quarterly

Kate Beaton is arguably the best cartoonist of the past decade, and maybe the greatest to come out of the webcomic scene so far. Her wildly popular webcomic Hark! A Vagrant is known for its smart and cheeky retellings of moments from history and literature, but she branches out into other areas as well, such as autobio, parodies of vintage book covers, and even superheroes. Her new collection, Step Aside, Pops, showcases this variety of material and has some of her funniest moments to date. (Her belligerent, fed-up Wonder Woman and her intrepid Lois Lane who doesn’t have time for Superman’s secret identity shenanigans are great.) Rest assured, this collection also has strips about Chopin, Wuthering Heights, and Civil Rights activist Ida B. Wells among many other subjects.

8. Star Wars/ Darth Vader

By Jason Aaron, John Cassady, Laura Martin, Stuart Immonen, Wade Von Grawbadger, Justin Ponsor, Kieron Gillen and Salvador Larocca
Marvel Comics

It seems like all media in 2015 has been mobilized to get us excited for December’s release of the new Star Wars film. In comics, we saw Marvel launch their new Star Wars line, spearheaded by two ongoing titles: Star Wars and Darth Vader. By putting superstar creators like Jason Aaron, John Cassady, Stuart Immonen, Kieron Gillen, and Salvador Larocca on the books and working with input from Lucasfilm, these are the first Star Wars comics that truly feel like they belong in the franchise, and the promise from Lucasfilm that they are “in canon” makes them seem essential.

Both stories take place immediately after the events of Episode IV, and there are some great fanboy moments like a battle between Luke Skywalker and Boba Fett, and a meeting between Vader and Jabba the Hutt. Still, there are some new character developments that will truly take you by surprise.

7. Two Brothers

By Gabriel Bá and Fábio Moon
Dark Horse Comics

Twin brothers Fábio Moon and Gabriel Bá are used to collaborating closely on comics, and with Two Brothers, Moon writes while Bá draws. Their subject matter is the antagonistic relationship between twins whose conflicts tear their entire family apart. Adapted from Milton Hatoum’s The Brothers, one of the most popular novels in Brazil, it is Moon and Bá’s most sophisticated and mature work to date. Bá’s stylized lines and fluid sense of storytelling capture the setting of mid-century Manaus, where the dark, sexy, and tragic conflict bubbles up in a city where two rivers (one dark and one light) converge.

6. Borb

By Jason Little
Uncivilized Books

Borb tells the story of a down-on-his-luck homeless man, playing it for laughs by using the punchline format of a newspaper comic strip. That may seem insensitive and offensive, but Jason Little is aiming for a visceral reaction from his readers. By presenting his story in a style derived from classic Depression era strips like Little Orphan Annie, Little calls to mind the lovable, hapless hobo archetype of that period, but pairs it with the horrific situations that real homeless people actually experience today. While it will make you laugh at times, it is sure to disturb you even more.

5. Killing and Dying

By Adrian Tomine
Drawn & Quarterly 

Adrian Tomine rose to prominence in the late ‘90s and early ‘00s at a very early age with his contemplative short stories about troubled 20- and 30-somethings. Now in his early 40s, Tomine's work has taken on the wisdom of middle age. In his latest collection of stories, Killing and Dying, we even see him reaching out of his comfort zone a little. The opening story, “Hortisculpture,” is formatted like a newspaper strip and examines the risks of making art by telling the story of a landscaper who puts his career on the line to pursue his passion of making unsightly horticultural sculptures.

This sublime collection of stories showcases his immaculate drawing and perfectly realized characters, like the self-conscious teenager who decides to try stand-up comedy or the young woman continuously plagued by her uncanny resemblance to an online porn star

4.Southern Bastards

By Jason Aaron and Jason Latour
Image Comics

Southern Bastards seems to begin as a “southern fried” crime comic about a guy with a big stick ready to kick some ass, but then, a few issues in, it takes a shockingly unexpected turn and becomes a larger story about family, football, and southern life. Created by two good ol' boys themselves, Jason Aaron and Jason Latour, the comic steps carefully between honoring, poking fun at, and eviscerating the culture the creators grew up around. The two Jasons have had a big year outside of this book—Aaron as the writer of Marvel’s Star Wars and the excellent new female Thor comic, and Latour as the writer of the surprise hit Spider-Gwen—but Southern Bastards may become their biggest success yet.

3. Nanjing: The Burning City

By Ethan Young
Dark Horse Comics

Cartoonist Ethan Young seemed to come out of nowhere this year with this brilliant and accomplished fictional graphic novel about two Chinese soldiers trying to escape the fallen city of Nanjing during the second Sino-Japanese war. Along the way they are confronted by the atrocities committed by the conquering Japanese soldiers, some of the most horrific committed in the history of modern warfare. It is a war that is not depicted often in Western media, and Young, who is the son of Chinese immigrants, pours a lot of emotion into it. His bold brushwork and dramatic chiaroscuro lighting evoke some of the great creators of wartime comics like Harvey Kurtzman and Joe Kubert, and this story stands right up there with the best war comics of all time.

2. March Book Two

By Rep. John Lewis, Andrew Aydin and Nate Powell
Top Shelf

Like any great trilogy, the middle volume of Congressman John Lewis’s graphic novel memoir March is where things get grim and hope seems almost out of reach. Working with congressional aide and writer Andrew Aydin and the award-winning artist Nate Powell, Lewis tells his story of being a key figure in the Civil Rights movement. Reading it at this moment in post-Ferguson America gives the comic an even sharper relevance. Where book one focuses on Lewis’s childhood and ends with his first experiences as an activist, this volume sees him become a leader of the movement, participating in many forms of non-violent protest.

As Lewis and others non-aggressively attempt to ride buses and go to movie theaters in segregated areas of the South, they are met with extreme and shocking violence not only from the KKK, but from average white citizens as well. It is a vivid and disturbing depiction of an ugly time in American history. Lewis frames his story with flashes forward to President Obama’s inauguration in 2008 which is meant to show how far we’ve come, but it can’t help but also remind readers of how today’s divisiveness is an extension of yesterday’s struggle.

1. Sacred Heart

By Liz Suburbia
Fantagraphics

The amazing thing about Liz Suburbia’s webcomic-turned-graphic-novel Sacred Heart is how the underlying plot just creeps up on you. At first, it seems to be a series of vignettes about high school parties, drinking, sex, and adolescent angst, but then kids start showing up dead and no one seems too preoccupied by it. The landscape starts to become littered with decadent graffiti, and you begin to notice the total absence of adults anywhere in the story. It’s a mystery that intrigues the reader much more than the characters within the story itself.

When Fantagraphics picked up Suburbia’s webcomic, she redrew the entire 300+ pages to make it a more consistent reading experience, and it was worth the effort. Her drawings are bold and confident and her characters are full of life and unique personality.

Honorable Mentions

It’s so hard to narrow down a list like this, so here are a few more comics I thought were pretty amazing:

Shigeru Mizuki’s Hitler
93-year-old manga master Shigeru Mizuki passed away just weeks after the English translation release of this biography of Adolf Hitler, told from a rare, non-Western viewpoint.

The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl
Webcomic veteran Ryan North and newcomer Erica Henderson bring the humor and self-referential sensibilities of the Internet to Marvel Comics in one of the few true all-ages comics in the publisher’s lineup.

Our Expanding Universe
Alex Robinson’s Box Office Poison was a seminal graphic novel for 20-somethings in the 1990s, and his latest is made for those same readers, who are now parents in their 40s.

The Divine
Twin brothers Tomer and Asaf Hanuka tell a fictionalized account of the two twelve-year-old boys who led an army of guerrillas in Myanmar.

Kaijumax
A prison comedy about Kaijus in a remote island Supermax. What more do you need to know?

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Hulton Archive (left), Bruno Vincent (right) // Getty Images
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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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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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