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Leandro Fernández // Image Comics

The 5 Most Interesting Comics of the Week

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Leandro Fernández // Image Comics

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. THE ART OF CHARLIE CHAN HOCK CHYE

By Sonny Liew
Pantheon

The Art of Charlie Chan Hock Chye is about the life and work of "Singapore’s most famous comic artist," Charlie Chan Hock Chye, as told by his sketches, comics, personal newspaper clippings, and writing. The presentation of this book is so dense, thorough, and convincing that many early reviewers were fooled into thinking that Chan is a real person rather than a fictional character created by writer and artist Sonny Liew.

While the title character may be fictitious, much of what Liew explores in this book is rooted in the real-life social and political history of Singapore. From its beginnings as a British colony to its failed merger with neighboring Malaysia and struggle for independence, Liew explores these years through the types of comics Chan supposedly made at the time and how they reflected his own political persuasions. It also runs a wide gamut of comic book history, with Liew turning in a tour de force artistic performance to show Chan’s own style change with the popularity of different comic styles of the era, mimicking the work of artists such as Osamu Tezuka, Carl Barks, Frank Miller, and others.

Liew, a native of Singapore, received a grant from the Singapore National Arts Council to create the book, only to have it revoked on claims that his work “undermines the authority or legitimacy” of the government. This would prove to be a controversial move that led to the book selling out its first few print runs in that country. Now, it comes to the States, where Liew is known to many comics fans for his work on DC’s Dr. Fate and 2014’s acclaimed The Shadow Hero with writer Gene Luen Yang. This, however, may be the book that truly makes him a star in the U.S.

2. THE DISCIPLINE #1

By Peter Milligan and Leandro Fernández
Image Comics

In the first issue of The Discipline, an unhappily married woman meets a seductive European art collector and can’t help but fall under his thrall. By the end of the issue, the seduction has turned into a full-blown supernatural fight for her soul.

Peter Milligan and Leandro Fernández began work on their new series The Discipline a few years ago, originally intending it to be published by DC’s Vertigo imprint. DC declined to publish it, leaving the work in limbo for a couple of years. Now, it gets to see the light of day as Milligan’s first Image Comics-published series. It’s not known why DC passed on the book, but there is definitely a lot of graphic sexual content which might test the nerves of some publishers. Its depiction of dangerous, forbidden sex with a supernatural twist (think 50 Shades of Grey if Christian Grey was an incubus) brings to mind some of Milligan’s groundbreaking and edgy early Vertigo work like Enigma. Leandro Fernández’ deep, rich shadows and clear, slightly exaggerated lines provide a great complement to Milligan’s dark and witty writing.

3. THE COMPLETE WIMMEN'S COMIX

Edited by Trina Robbins
Fantagraphics

Franck Bondoux, the executive officer of the Angoulême Comics Festival, defended the decision to nominate only men for its lifetime achievement award, insisting that there just aren't many women in the history of comics art. "The Festival likes women, but cannot rewrite the history of comics,” he said in an interview with Le Monde.

There’s no better time than now for The Complete Wimmen’s Comix, a big, two-volume hardcover box set, to come along and prove Bondoux and his fellow festival organizers wrong.

Back in 1972, ten women cartoonists started the first comics anthology featuring only women comic creators called Wimmen’s Comix. The underground “comix” movement of the 1960s inspired different kinds of artists to make different kinds of comics with an anything-goes attitude. Cartoonist Trina Robbins had previously put out a one-shot comic called It Ain’t Me, Babe. It was the first comic made entirely by women, and it became the impetus for the Wimmen’s Comix collective to form.

Published by Last Gasp, Robbins and her fellow “founding mothers” made comics about subjects you never would have seen male cartoonists of the ‘60s broach: abortion, lesbianism, menstruation, and feminism in general. Over the next twenty years, Wimmen’s Comix would go on to publish a number of women cartoonists who deserve to be considered among the all-time greats, such as Aline Kominsky-Crumb, Melinda Gebbie, Phoebe Gloeckner, Carol Tyler, Mary Fleener, and others.

This $100 box set from Fantagraphics contains an introduction by Robbins, the It Ain’t Me, Babe comic that started it all, and every issue of Wimmen’s Comix, many of which have never before been reprinted.

4. BLACK WIDOW #1

By Mark Waid, Chris Samnee and Mathew Wilson
Marvel Comics

These days, Marvel has moved to a “seasonal” approach to publishing most of their series, in which titles are renumbered as if they were TV shows starting a new season. These frequent #1 issues are more enticing for new readers (and I guess they also hook people like me into writing about them more than, say, a 13th issue). The impetus for a relaunch is usually a new creative team coming in with a new storyline or direction, and that is exactly what is happening with Black Widow.

The previous series by Nathan Edmonson and Phil Noto was a moody espionage thriller with painterly, realistic art from Noto. The new creative team of Mark Waid and Chris Samnee will be changing the tone much in the way they did a few years back with a similarly moody character—Daredevil. They excel at fun action, and that is exactly their plan for Widow, with this first issue consisting of a big chase scene as Nathasha Romanova goes on the run from her handlers at S.H.I.E.L.D.

5. STELA

Since Comixology launched in 2007, they have dominated the digital comics landscape with their expansive library and “Guided View” technology allowing for panel-to-panel reading on a smartphone. No one has come close to competing with their technology or selection, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t room for something new.

An iPhone app called Stela launched last week with a different approach to digital comics. Unlike most digital readers, they are focusing on smaller screens rather than tablets and are commissioning original content that's created specifically to be read on their app. Stela comics are designed for easy legibility on screen, and you read them by scrolling vertically instead of tapping or swiping. This page-less approach to comics is something that has been embraced by many webcomic makers, and it feels more natural on the phone than even Comixology’s Guided View solution. Some of the comics on Stela, like Irene Koh’s Afrina and the Glass Coffin, cleverly use visual cues like word balloons that overlap the next panel down to guide you in the right direction.

Stela has recruited an interesting mix of up-and-coming creators like Koh and established veterans like Brian Wood to create original content just for the app. You can read the first chapters of any comic for free and then subscribe for $4.99 a month to get full access.

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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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Courtesy of Highlights for Children
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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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