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Khary Randolph

The 6 Most Interesting Comics of the Week

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Khary Randolph

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. Spider-man #1

By Brian Michael Bendis and Sara Pichelli
Marvel Comics

One of the perceived goals of Marvel’s huge Secret Wars event is to give a “soft reboot” to their publishing line, allowing for alternate universe characters to ease into the main continuity. Because Secret Wars means the death of Marvel's Ultimate Universe, it allows Miles Morales a permanent spot in the canon. Since his first appearance in 2011 as the new Ultimate Spider-man (replacing Peter Parker when he was killed by the Green Goblin), the teenager has been a popular character and the first in Marvel’s attempts to bring diversity to their headline heroes.

In the post-Secret Wars, “All New, All Different” Marvel universe, Peter Parker is still Spider-man, but, now in his 30s, he acts as the elder Spidey to Miles's more classic teenage Spidey in Spider-man. Brian Michael Bendis, who wrote every issue of Ultimate Spider-man, retains creative control in this new series along with artist Sara Pichelli, who co-created the character with him.

2. Black

By Kwanza Osajyefo, Tim Smith III, Jamal Igle, and Khary Randolph
Kickstarter

A Kickstarter campaign launched February 1 will run for the duration of Black History Month to fund a new graphic novel that takes place in a world where only black people have superpowers. When a young man named Kareem Jenkins survives being gunned down by police, his superpowers—and the biggest secret in the world—are revealed.

Written by Kwanza Osajyefo—a former editor at DC Comics and an instrumental player in their first digital comic initiatives—and co-created by digital designer Tim Smith III, Black will be a 120-page graphic novel released in six digital installments, starting later this year assuming they reach their funding goal (which, as of this writing, looks like a sure bet).

2011 Inkpot Award-winning artist Jamal Igle (no stranger to successful Kickstarters with his creator-owned Molly Danger) and cover artist Khary Randolph (Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, The Boondocks) will provide the visuals, making this an exciting ensemble of black comics creators who are telling a story they’d probably not be able to tell with the “Big Two” publishers.

While Marvel and DC are going to great lengths to diversify their characters, there’s been a slower growth in diversity among the creators themselves. Even in the generally much more diverse world of indie comics, it seems like black creators are not getting their books noticed. This project, however, is off to a great start on its way to reaching its goal. If you’d like to support it, please go here.

3. The Tipping Point

By Various
Humanoids

Comics tend to be divided across three international boundaries: North American comics, Japanese manga, and European bande dessinée. Even though they all influence each other, it’s rare to see a book that brings together creators from all three sectors. That’s what esteemed European publisher Humanoids is doing with The Tipping Point, an interesting anthology that enlists 13 creators from across three different continents to tell stories that "explore the key moment when a clear-cut split occurs, a mutation, a personal revolt or a large-scale revolution that tips us from one world into another, from one life to an entirely new one.” Anyone who appreciates comics from an artistic standpoint will drool over the lineup for this book, which includes Paul Pope, Eddie Campbell, Boulet, Naoki Urasawa, Taiyô Matsumoto, Bastien Vivès, John Cassady and more.

It should be noted that the diversity of this lineup falls short at including any women. Coming on top of the controversy from France’s Angoulême festival, where 30 male cartoonists—and not a single woman—were nominated for a lifetime achievement award, this is an unfortunate oversight for a book looking to celebrate the world’s greatest comic creators. Still, you can’t say this isn’t a great lineup. If you happen to be a huge fan of all of them, there is a $500 “Ultra-Deluxe Limited Slipcase” edition that contains bookplates signed by each artist.

4. Prez Vol. 1: Corndog in Chief

By Mark Russell, Ben Caldwell and Mark Morales
DC Comics

Last year, DC Comics launched a string of new titles that looked and read quite differently from the typical “DC House Style” they’ve operated with in the past decade or so. In an effort to reach younger readers, they brought in some creators from outside of their usual stable of talent and tried out a handful of books that offered a different spin. Maybe the best and by far the most unusual of these titles was Prez by Mark Russell and Ben Caldwell. Revisiting a short-lived comic from the 1970s about a teenage boy who becomes President of the United States, this new Prez is set in the near future and is about a teenage girl who winds up as a write-in candidate in the presidential election after becoming Internet famous thanks to an embarrassing video involving a corn dog and a deep fryer.

In an election year where a reality TV star is leading the polls, this story doesn’t seem as outrageous as it was intended to be, but it is downright funny, with some looney social-political commentary like the cartoon dog mascot for the “Pharmaduke” pharmaceutical corporation and Carl, the robotic “End-of-Life Bear” who gives out hugs and marijuana for terminally ill patients. Being so unlike what the typical DC Comic buyer might expect, this six-issue series didn’t exactly burn up the sales chart, but hopefully it will get a second look with a collected edition hitting bookstores this week.

5. #HourlyComicsDay

Sarah Becan

February 1 was annual Hourly Comics Day, where cartoonists all over the world draw a short comic for every hour that they are awake and then post them to social media under the #hourlycomicsday hashtag. Most cartoonists treat it like a 24-hour journal, so you get a lot of material about the struggle to make hourly comics, and the immediacy of it gives you a great peek into their process.

Peruse the Twitter hashtag to find many examples.

6. Jenlagged

Starting on January 28, mental_floss was delighted to premier a brand-new comic from indie cartoonist Jen Vaughn as it was being created on location at the Angoulême comics festival in France. Vaughn’s Jenlagged gave us a peek into her travels, her love of bande dessinée, and her encounters with other cartoonists at the event. The final installment went live today and the finished comic will be made available for free on Comixology later this month.

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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:

501069-OpeningCeremony2.jpg

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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