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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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Space Goat Publishing
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Comics
These Evil Dead 2 Comics Will Look Groovy on Your Bookshelf
Space Goat Publishing
Space Goat Publishing

Bruce Campbell has been quoted as saying the gallons of fake blood poured into his face during filming of the 1987 cult classic horror film Evil Dead 2: Dead by Dawn led to a week of red-tinged mucus leaking out of his nostrils. Fortunately, no Campbells were harmed in the making of two new comic collections from Space Goat Productions that are now being funded on Kickstarter. The Evil Dead 2 Omnibus features over 300 pages of stories set in the Necronomicon-plagued universe featured in numerous comic book miniseries; The Art of Evil Dead 2 reveals never-before-seen production art from both the comics and ancillary projects.

The campaign is the latest from Space Goat, the Bellingham, Washington-based company that’s made a cottage (or cabin) industry from products spinning out of the Sam Raimi-directed film, which is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year. In addition to the new collections, the publisher has also issued an Evil Dead 2 coloring book; a comic where Campbell’s demon-fighting hero, Ash Williams, encounters Adolf Hitler; and a forthcoming board game where players can navigate Deadite threats while shaking their head at Ash’s questionable competency. (No matter the iteration, he seems ill-equipped to deal with the threat of his own possessed and lopped-off hand.)

According to Space Goat publisher Shon Bury, licensing the Evil Dead 2 property from rights holders StudioCanal in 2015 has been a buoy in navigating the difficult waters of comic book publishing. (Even Marvel, which rakes in billions through its film franchises, struggles to sell more than 60,000 to 70,000 copies of its most popular monthly titles.) One day into its Kickstarter launch, the Evil Dead titles had reached 50 percent of their $20,000 funding goal.

“It’s definitely our flagship on the publishing side,” Bury tells Mental Floss. “The board game is our top seller in the Evil Dead category, and the coloring book sells really well. They’re our evergreen products.”

The cover to 'The Art of Evil Dead 2' from Space Goat Publishing
Space Goat Publishing

Exploring Ash’s adventures in other media comes with a few caveats. While Space Goat is free to explore the characters and situations portrayed in Evil Dead 2, incorporating ideas from the rest of the series (including 1993’s Army of Darkness or the Starz series Ash vs. Evil Dead) is generally off-limits. And while the StudioCanal rights include a likeness of Campbell, the actor has veto power over how he’s depicted on the page. “For some reason, he doesn’t like the dimple on his chin to be drawn,” Bury says. “But he’s very insistent that the scar on his face from the movie is always there.”

Other actors featured in the film—like Richard Domeier, the future home-shopping host who portrayed “Evil Ed”—may not have granted their likeness rights, but his Deadite character design is part of the deal. “You want to inoculate the owner or licensor of the rights,” Bury says. “So we submit drawings and they might say, ‘No, too close to the actor.’”

That development process is part of what makes up The Art of Evil Dead 2, one-half of Space Goat’s current Kickstarter project that follows a successful Evil Dead 2 board game launch in 2016. The campaigns, Bury says, help target Ash fans with material that might not get enough attention if it were released directly to retailers. “Kickstarter is basically social media. It’s direct engagement, our way of saying to fans, ‘Hey, you’re really going to like this.’”

Bury expects fans to be just as enthused about Evil Dead 2: The Doppelganger Wars, a limited series due for release in 2018 that sees Ash and sidekick Annie Knowby enter the mirror dimension glimpsed at in Evil Dead 2 to discover the true origins of both the demon-summoning Necronomicon and the cult surrounding it. A meeting with H.P. Lovecraft may also be on deck, along with other narratives that would carry the license through the end of the publisher’s current agreement with StudioCanal in late 2019.

Still to be decided: whether Ash will ever encounter the werewolves of The Howling, Space Goat’s latest horror license. “Those conversations have occurred,” Bury says. “It would be a natural. But it’s also challenging because the royalties [for the licenses] double.” 

Digital versions of The Art of Evil Dead 2 and the Evil Dead Omnibus will be available to backers pledging $20 beginning in December. Softcover, hardcover, and Necronomicon slipcase editions ($30 and up) ship in May 2018. The Kickstarter runs through November 25.

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Hulton Archive (left), Bruno Vincent (right) // Getty Images
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History
How Superman Helped Foil the KKK
Hulton Archive (left), Bruno Vincent (right) // Getty Images
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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