Caitlin Skaalrud/Uncivilized Books
Caitlin Skaalrud/Uncivilized Books

The 5 Most Interesting Comics of the Week

Caitlin Skaalrud/Uncivilized Books
Caitlin Skaalrud/Uncivilized Books

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. Rosalie Lightning

By Tom Hart
St. Martin’s Press

In 2011, cartoonists Tom Hart and Leela Corman experienced the worst horror any parent could ever face when their daughter Rosalie unexpectedly passed away before her 2nd birthday. Hart is known for whimsical comics like Hutch Owen and his loving depiction of the early days of parenthood in the webcomic Daddy Lightning (later collected into book form by Retrofit Press), which he was still working on when Rosalie died. Losing their child has understandably taken a great toll on Hart and Corman, and both have taken to cartooning as a coping mechanism for making sense of this tragedy. I’ve previously written about one of Corman’s cartoons here, and Hart has been publicly working through his grief in a webcomic called Rosalie Lightning, now collected as a graphic novel from St. Martin’s Press.

This is obviously a deeply personal journey for Hart and one that he bravely allows us to look in on. Unlike most graphic novels, it doesn’t even read as if it is made for a reader. The narrative jumps back and forth between memories of Rosalie and the days, weeks, and months after her death, as he and his wife try to imagine how to go on without their child.

This is a gut-wrenching account of a young family who must find some way to keep going. Those who have suffered loss in their life may find solace in Hart’s depiction of his own, while most parents will want to take frequent breaks to go hug their little ones tightly.

2. The Legend of Wonder Woman #1

By Renae De Liz and Ray Dillon
DC Comics

2016 will be an important year for Wonder Woman as she celebrates her 75th anniversary and appears on the big screen in Batman v Superman. DC will be introducing a number of new comics in accordance with these events, one such book being The Legend of Wonder Woman, a nine-issue mini-series that was initially routed through DC’s Digital First program on Comixology

Like many of DC’s Digital First books, it is set outside the continuity of the main Wonder Woman comic and, similar to the upcoming Wonder Woman: Earth One graphic novel by Grant Morrison, it’s an attempt at a new origin story. Otherwise, this is a very different Wonder Woman comic in some pretty significant ways.

Legend is written and drawn by Renae De Liz (her husband, Ray Dillon, provides inks and colors). De Liz is somewhat atypical of the usual stable of DC creators. She made her name by publishing Womanthology, an early Kickstarter comics success story that showcased female creators from both inside and outside the mainstream comics market. She brings a tween-girl-friendly look and feel to Wonder Woman, one we've rarely seen in the character's 75-year history.

The series begins with Diana as a young girl, struggling against the complacency that has fallen over the Amazonian island of Themyscira after centuries of peace and prosperity. There is a lurking danger that only she seems to sense, and her desire to become a warrior is causing conflict with her mother, Queen Hippolyta, who just wants to shelter and protect her only child. It’s a story that hits beats that feel at home in popular young adult fantasy fiction, and it seems to succeed at making Wonder Woman relatable, something that has been notoriously unachievable for many comic creators.

3. Secret Wars #9

By Jonathan Hickman and Esad Ribic
Marvel Comics

Marvel’s Secret Wars mini-series has been a great and almost extreme example of long-form storytelling. I’m not referring to how it takes its name from a famous 1984 mini-series, nor am I making a joke about how this ninth and final issue is way behind schedule. I’m talking about the two things that have made this series one of Marvel’s biggest and most audacious crossover events ever.

One is how well-coordinated the many Secret Wars tie-ins have been. There was an intense level of world-building done in developing the patchwork planet of Battleworld, fused together by a nearly-omnipotent Doctor Doom as a way of salvaging disparate pieces of the destroyed multiverse. Although the tie-in stories themselves are relatively self-contained, they do a surprisingly good job of finding small ways to connect and share certain elements (like the planet’s police force of hammer-wielding Thors, or its Game of Thrones-inspired wall separating civilized sectors from the wastelands to the south. If you were able to read even a handful of the 50 mini-series that were published (this great article will help you decide which ones to try), you got a legitimate sense of what Battleworld and its Doom-inspired fiefdoms were all about.

Then there is the fact that Secret Wars is actually the finale of one huge story that writer Jonathan Hickman has been building for his whole career at Marvel. It’s the culmination of his epic 44-issue run on Avengers and his concurrent 33-issue run on New Avengers that began in 2013. But it even plays off story elements and character relationships that he set up way back during his run on Fantastic Four and its companion series, FF, from 2009-2012, as well as his stint on The Ultimates from 2011-2012 (which wasn’t even connected to regular Marvel continuity at the time but still converges with this series). Hickman seemed to have planted seeds for Secret Wars years ago, but everything he’s done may be judged by this final issue.

4. Houses of the Holy

by Caitlin Skaalrud
Uncivilized Books

It’s a little hard to synopsize Caitlin Skaalrud’s Houses of the Holy because, well, I’m not even sure exactly what is going on it—but I love it just the same. Sometimes, it's the visual wonder that matters most, and Skaalrud has created a comic that reads like an illustrated poem full of iconic and enigmatic imagery. For example, many scenes are set inside a tiny room with three walls that act like triptych panels in the background, making it seem like you’re observing a series of disturbing art installations, or maybe a music video directed by Tarsem Singh and Joel-Peter Witkin.

The story could be read as a meditation on depression, and it follows a young woman’s journey through a Dantean landscape of forests, tiny rooms, wide rivers, and tiny bell jars in order to reach the depths of her own psyche. Skaalrud uses large panels—sometimes only one per page—and minimal dialogue so you can immerse yourself in her carefully inked drawings.

5. Sesame Street

Ape Entertainment/Sesame Workshop;

I’ve written often about all the great comic book options for early readers, and now it seems that Sesame Street has added some options for those readers and their parents. This month, they’ve made a bundle of comics available digitally through Amazon, iTunes, and Google books. Interestingly, each issue contains a “How to Read a Comic” page that helps introduce the concepts of panels, sound effects, other important aspects of comic reading (not to mention some digital specific stuff like swipes and zooms).

Sesame Street tends to appeal to kids younger than the typical age for reading comics, but with the way they appeal to grown-up senses of humor (like the Walking Dead parody above), these books can be a good set of comics for parents to sit and read with their pre-schoolers.

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Titan Books
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8 Things You Might Not Know About The Wizard of Id
Titan Books
Titan Books

Debuting in 1964, Brant Parker and Johnny Hart’s The Wizard of Id took a page from the macabre humor of cartoonist Charles Addams. Ruling the kingdom of Id, a pint-sized tyrant uses humor to disarm a medieval cast made up of a jester, an executioner, a thief, and the titular magician, whose spells don’t usually impress. Although Hart and Parker both passed away in 2007, their black humor lives on. Take a look at some facts behind the throne, including the time Jim Henson almost brought it to television.

1. THE IDEA FOR THE STRIP CAME FROM A DECK OF PLAYING CARDS.

Johnny Hart was already a successful syndicated cartoonist (the Stone Age comedy B.C.) before he and former Disney animator Brant Parker decided to collaborate on a different project. Hart was flipping through a deck of playing cards in 1964 when he came across a peculiar illustration used for the king. Drawing on it to create his own diminutive despot, Hart wrote most of the jokes for Id while Parker illustrated it.

2. THE SYNDICATE THOUGHT THE TWO ARTISTS WERE DISGUSTING.

Although Id would eventually be syndicated to over 1000 strips across the country, Hart and Parker first had to get past the gatekeepers of cartoon distribution operating out of New York. Traveling to the city to show them samples, the two worked late into the night and called to tell executives they were ready. They didn’t know the syndicate would be coming to their hotel room, which was a mess of papers, food, and beer bottles. Caught off-guard, the men looked like transients. “We think you guys are disgusting,” one executive said, “but we love the strip. We’ll take it.”

3. THE SHORT JOKES WERE BASED ON JOHNNY HART.

In a visual juxtaposition, the king of Id’s height is inversely proportional to his power. Parker said the character’s stature was based partly on Hart, who used to fend off jokes about his own height. "The king became short because we used to kid John about being short and a lot of the short gags began to slide over into the strip," Parker said. "He just kept getting smaller, and as he shrunk, the nose got bigger and bigger."

4. A LITTLE GIRL GOT THEM TO DROP A CHARACTER.

Most of the humor in Id is centered around the morbid dynamics of Middle Ages politics, which is not normally an opportunity to offend current sensibilities. But early on, Parker and Hart created a karate teacher from Japan who was perceived by some as a stereotype. When Parker received a letter from a young Japanese-American girl who was being teased at school as a result of the character, the creators decided to drop him from the strip.

5. JIM HENSON WAS GOING TO PUT IT ON TELEVISION.

An avowed fan of comic strips and of The Wizard of Id in particular, Muppets creator Jim Henson met with Hart in 1968 to discuss a possible collaboration. Henson wanted to create an Id television show that would use puppets against an animated backdrop. Hart agreed, and in 1969, Henson was able to shoot test footage featuring himself as the voice of the Wizard. But executives at Publishers-Hall, which had taken over syndication of the strip, were having trouble enticing networks into producing a series. By the time ABC showed interest, Henson had moved on to Sesame Street and other projects. Wizard of Id got translated into animation in 1970 as part of a Chuck Jones variety series titled Curiosity Shop.

6. HART TURNED DOWN FEATURE FILM OFFERS.

Possibly disappointed in the outcome of the Henson project, Hart wasn’t very receptive to offers to adapt Id into other mediums. He reportedly shunned Steven Spielberg and Norman Lear when they called about adaptations. Producer Andrew Gaty managed to interest Hart in 1987, though his plans for a live-action feature—possibly starring Danny DeVito as the king—never came to fruition.

7. IT WAS A (STRANGE) VIDEO GAME.

In 1984, users of the ColecoVision home computer system were able to pick up a software program with an unwieldy title: The Wizard of Id’s Wiz Math. The edutainment program allowed players to brush up on math skills by solving problems faced by Spookingdorf, the tortured and jailed cast member of the strip. By solving math problems, players could navigate Spookingdorf out of his dungeon. The game was produced by Sierra, which later became known for its King’s Quest and Leisure Suit Larry franchises. A typing game, WizType, was also released.

8. BLONDIE AND BEETLE BAILEY CELEBRATED THE STRIP'S 50TH ANNIVERSARY.

When The Wizard of Id passed the half-century milestone in 2014, the entire comics page came out to celebrate. Hi and Lois featured a portrait of the Wizard in a panel, while Blondie and Family Circus made subtle references to the anniversary. (As modern-day strips, it would be difficult to regard a medieval strip with more overt acknowledgment.) In Beetle Bailey, the perennial screw-up shared a cell with the eternally suffering Spookingdorf.

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A Canadian Man Set a Guinness World Record for Most Marvel Comic Tattoos

Here’s something to Marvel at: A 36-year-old man from Alberta, Canada just set a Guinness World Record for having the highest number of Marvel comic tattoos on his body, Nerdist reports.

Rick Scolamiero, of Edmonton, boasts 31 Marvel tattoos in total and is inked from his neck down to his feet. What started out as a plan to get a sleeve (full arm tattoo) of his favorite Marvel characters quickly morphed into a full-body makeover.

"I fell in love with the artist’s work and wanted to continue to see what else we could come up with regarding tattoos,” Scolamiero told Guinness World Records. “I have been a Marvel comic lover since I was small and growing up we didn’t have much but I always had my Marvel comics and Marvel trading cards. They actually got me through some tough times so the idea of having them on my body forever just really appealed to me."

Wolverine and Spider-Man can be seen on his forearms, the Guardians of the Galaxy trail down his left calf, and LEGO versions of Daredevil and Deadpool adorn his ankles, to name but a few designs. Scolamiero didn’t want to leave any superheroes behind, so he had them inked onto his, well, behind. His left and right buttocks feature depictions of Spider-Man 2099 (a futuristic version of the original) and Vision (from The Avengers), respectively.

He even got Marvel comic artist Stan Lee’s autograph tattooed onto his wrist. In total, he attended one tattoo session per month for the past seven years and endured 350 hours under the needle. Now that’s dedication.

Check out the video below to see Scolamiero show off his tats.

[h/t Nerdist]

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