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Tillie Walden

The 6 Most Interesting Comics of the Week

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Tillie Walden

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.

This week's list—presented in no particular order—includes selections that hit stores over the last couple of weeks.

1. The Violent #1

By Ed Brisson, Adam Gorham and Michael Garland
Image Comics

In The Violent, Mason and Becky are recovering drug addicts trying to get their lives back on track after Mason has served time in prison. They have a baby and are trying hard to resist dangerous temptations. Mason seems to continually mess this balancing act up and, by the end of this first issue, he makes a terrible decision that will make any parent reading this book want to punch him in the face.

Judging by this issue, The Violent has the potential to be writer Ed Brisson's breakout book. Co-writer and artist Adam Gorham is a newcomer with a realistic, inky cartooning style reminiscent of Michael Gaydos (Alias). They've set The Violent in their hometown of Vancouver, British Columbia and plan to use the comic to address the ways the high cost of living in that city has affected the struggling working class.

2. I Love This Part

By Tillie Walden
Avery Hill Publishing

Tillie Walden is a 19-year-old cartoonist from Texas and a student at the Center for Cartoon Studies. Her debut graphic novel The End of Summer was released earlier last year from British publisher Avery Hill. Before the year had come to an end, she managed to release one more graphic novel, I Love This Part. This 68-page treasure is almost unbelievably beautiful for such a young cartoonist to have created.

Nearly every page is a full-page panel that depicts a minor moment in the relationship of two teenage girls, portrayed with the girls lounging across mountains, sitting on top of suburban houses, and draped over city skylines. It’s the perfect visual encapsulation of how teenage love can feel impossibly larger than life. Walden’s delicate but detailed artwork is much more assured than that of most student cartoonists, yet her youth shows in how perfectly attuned she is to her subject. An older cartoonist may not be able to pull off such a believable depiction of the dreamy idleness of teenage infatuation.

3. Obi-Wan & Anakin #1

By Charles Soule, Marco Checchetto, and Andres Mossa
Marvel Comics

Up until now, Marvel’s new Star Wars comics have mostly focused on the period between Episodes IV and V, but this new five-issue series is the first to jump back into the Prequel era. Set in between Episodes I and II, Obi-Wan & Anakin will explore the ill-fated bromance between the young Jedi Master and his Padawan apprentice. The series begins with Anakin around age 12 and at a time when the two Jedi are still building the working relationship that we would see more fortified in Episode II.

Marvel is quickly piling up a nice collection of Star Wars comics, each filling in those valuable gaps between movies that have always been ripe for expanded universe fiction.

4. Judge Dredd #1

By Ulises Farinas, Erick Freitas and Dan McDaid
IDW Publishing

In 2012, IDW Publishing began putting out its own comics featuring no-nonsense, 21st century law enforcer Judge Dredd. They were unconnected to the 30+ years of continuity that original publisher 2000 AD has been building through their own Dredd comics. The success of the IDW comics has been mixed at best, with perhaps the most attention going to a five-issue mini-series released in 2014 called Judge Dredd: Mega City Two that was drawn by dynamic and detail-crazed artist Ulises Farinas. Now, Farinas is in charge of a relaunch of IDW's main Judge Dredd title, this time solely as the writer. He is paired with co-writer Erick Freitas and artist Dan McDaid.

The new comic begins with Dredd waking up in a field and finding that everything is different. The dystopian urban landscape he is used to has been replaced with grassy hills, mossed-over temples, and a band of roving children who have no idea about Judges and Mega City One. This is an interesting way to change things up and is potentially a good way for IDW to differentiate themselves from the 2000 AD books.

5. The Death Defying Dr. Mirage: Second Lives #1

By Jen Van Meter, Roberto De La Torre and David Baron
Valiant Entertainment

The first Dr. Mirage series from last year was notable for its somber portrayal of loss. The titular doctor, Shan Fong, was mourning the death of her husband and partner in paranormal investigations, Hwen, and journeyed into the After Life to find his missing spirit. The artwork by Roberto De La Torre was loose and expressive but with figures imbued with realism.

Now, in its sequel, Hwen has returned from the netherworld as a disembodied spirit. For the first time, we get to see the couple working together to solve supernatural mysteries. The Death Defying Dr. Mirage, like other books in the Valiant line, is grounded and cinematic in its approach to superheroes and the supernatural. Unlike many of the other Valiant books, Dr. Mirage is pretty self-contained so far and easy for new readers to read on its own.

6. Achewood

By Chris Onstad
Achewood.com

Fans of Chris Onstad’s Achewood got an unexpected gift on Christmas Eve when the webcomic suddenly returned with its first new installment in over a year. Achewood is one of the oldest and most popular webcomics of all time. It's an absurdist story with an expansive cast of anthropomorphic stuffed animals, but Onstad’s output had slowed down considerably in the last couple of years. On December 24, he released a brand new strip as well as two blog posts from two of the characters, Ray and Philippe. It remains to be seen how frequently new comics will appear from Onstad, but a second new strip already arrived on January 1.

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
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Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
May 21, 2017
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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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Opening Ceremony
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These $425 Jeans Can Turn Into Jorts
May 19, 2017
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Opening Ceremony

Modular clothing used to consist of something simple, like a reversible jacket. Today, it’s a $425 pair of detachable jeans.

Apparel retailer Opening Ceremony recently debuted a pair of “2 in 1 Y/Project” trousers that look fairly peculiar. The legs are held to the crotch by a pair of loops, creating a disjointed C-3PO effect. Undo the loops and you can now remove the legs entirely, leaving a pair of jean shorts in their wake. The result goes from this:

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Opening Ceremony

To this:

501069-OpeningCeremony3.jpg

Opening Ceremony

The company also offers a slightly different cut with button tabs in black for $460. If these aren’t audacious enough for you, the Y/Project line includes jumpsuits with removable legs and garter-equipped jeans.

[h/t Mashable]

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