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Leandro Fernández // Image Comics
Leandro Fernández // Image Comics

The 5 Most Interesting Comics of the Week

Leandro Fernández // Image Comics
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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Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation
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Deadpool Fans Have a Wild Theory About Who Cable Really Is
Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation
Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation

Deadpool 2 is officially in theaters and ruling the box office just like its predecessor did back in 2015. But this installment is about more than just crude jokes and over-the-top action scenes; it also includes the debut of a longtime Marvel character that fans have been clamoring to see on the big screen since 2000’s X-Men hit theaters: Cable.

But the Cable in Deadpool 2 isn’t quite the one fans have gotten used to in the books—for starters, his powers and backstory are reined in considerably. While it’s easy to assume that’s by design, so that audiences can better relate to the character (which is played by Josh Brolin), some fans have speculated that the changes are because, well, this character isn’t really Cable at all; instead, Screen Rant has a theory that this version of the character is actually none other than an older Wolverine from the future.

So how can Wolverine be Cable? Well, it’s actually quite easy, considering that Wolverine was Cable in Marvel’s Ultimate Universe comics, which was a series of books in the 2000s that completely reimagined the regular Marvel Universe. In this reality, a grizzled, aged Wolverine takes on the Cable nickname and travels back in time to prevent a takeover of Earth from the villain Apocalypse.

We were already introduced to Apocalypse in 2016’s X-Men: Apocalypse, and while he was defeated in the end, Screen Rant theorizes that he could return like he does in the Ultimate X-Men comics: by inhabiting the body of Nathaniel Essex, a.k.a. Mister Sinister. Essex was already name-dropped in Apocalypse and Deadpool 2, so it stands to reason that there might be some larger story on the horizon for him.

This would, of course, lead to more X-Men movies down the road, with Cable revealing his true nature and teaming with a crew of mutants that includes the classic X-Men cast as well as their younger selves to battle a newly formed Apocalypse. It’d also allow the character of Wolverine to live on in Brolin, leaving Hugh Jackman to enjoy a retired life without claws.

Obviously this is just one fan theory based on a comic storyline from over a decade ago. It would also have to ignore a whole host of continuity problems—including the events of Logan. But having a twist with Cable actually being Wolverine from the future (and likely from a different reality) is the type of headache-inducing madness the comics are known for.

[h/t: Screen Rant]

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King Features Syndicate
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8 Things You Might Not Know About Hi and Lois
King Features Syndicate
King Features Syndicate

A comics page staple for nearly 65 years, Mort Walker and Dik Browne’s Hi and Lois is a celebration of the mundane. Married couple Hiram “Hi” Flagston, wife Lois, and their four children balance work, school, and family dynamics, all of it with few punchlines but plenty of relatable situations. This four-panel ode to suburbia might appear simple, but it still has a rich history involving a beef with The Flintstones, broken noses, and one very important candy bar wrapper.

1. IT’S A SPINOFF OF BEETLE BAILEY.

Beetle Bailey creator Mort Walker had been drawing that military-themed strip for four years when a friend of his named Lew Schwartz approached him in 1954 with a new idea: Why not create a strip about a nuclear family? Around the same time, the Korean War was ending, and Walker had sent Beetle home on furlough to visit his sister, Lois. Drawing a line between the two, Walker decided to pursue the suburbia idea using Lois as connective tissue. Hi and Lois was born: The two strips would see their respective characters visit one another over the years.

2. A CANDY BAR HELPED DEFINE THE STRIP’S LOOK.

Already working on Beetle Bailey, Walker decided to limit his work on Hi and Lois to writing. He wanted to collaborate with an artist, and so both he and his syndicate, King Features, went searching for a suitable partner. Walker soon came across ads for both Lipton’s tea and Mounds candy bars that had the same signature: Dik Browne. Coincidentally, a King Features executive named Sylvan Byck saw a strip in Boy’s Life magazine also signed by Browne. The two agreed he was a talent and invited Browne to work on the strip.

3. HI ORIGINALLY HAD A BROKEN NOSE.

As an artist, Walker had plenty of input into the style of Hi and Lois: Browne would later recall that trying to merge his own approach with Walker’s proved difficult. “When you draw a character like Hi, for instance, you immediately set the style for the whole strip,” he said. “You have already dictated what a tree will look like or how a dog will look, just by sketching that one head.” In his earliest incarnation, Hi had a broken, upturned nose to make him seem virile, puffed on a pipe, and wore a vest. Through trial and error, the two artists eventually settled on the softer lines the strip still uses today, an aesthetic some observers refer to as the “Connecticut school style” of cartooning.

4. EDITORS WERE WARY AT FIRST.

When Hi and Lois debuted on October 18, 1954, only 32 papers carried the strip. The reason, Walker later explained, had to do with concerns that he was spreading himself too thin. At the time, cartoonists rarely worked on two strips at once. Between Hi and Lois and Beetle Bailey, there was fear that the quality of one or both would suffer. Editors were also worried that having two artists on one project would dilute the self-expression of both. Walker stuck to his intentions—to make Hi and Lois a strip about the small pleasures of suburban life—and newspapers slowly came on board. By 1956, 131 papers were running the strip.

5. TRIXIE MAY HAVE SAVED THE STRIP.

With readers a little slow to respond to Hi and Lois, Walker had an idea: At the time, it was unusual for characters who don’t normally speak—like Snoopy—to express themselves with thought balloons. Walker decided to have baby Trixie think “out loud,” giving readers insight into her perspective. Shortly after Trixie began having a voice, Hi and Lois took off.

6. CHIP IS THE ONLY CHARACTER TO HAVE AGED.

Like most comic strip casts, the Hi and Lois family has found a way to stop the aging process. Baby Trixie is eternally in diapers; the parents seem to hover around 40 without any wrinkles. But oldest son Chip has been an exception. Roughly eight years old when the strip debuted, he’s currently 16, a nod to Walker's need for a character who can address teenage issues like driving, school, and dating.

7. IT LED TO HAGAR THE HORRIBLE.

Browne might be more well-known for his Hägar the Horrible, a strip about a beleaguered Viking. That strip, which debuted in 1973, was the result of Browne’s sons advising their father that Hi and Lois was really Walker’s brainchild and that Browne should consider a strip that could be a “family business.” By 1985, Hägar was in 1500 newspapers, while Hi and Lois was in 1000. Following Browne’s death in 1989, his son Chris continued the strip.

8. IT ALSO HAD A BONE TO PICK WITH THE FLINTSTONES.

The Flintstones, Hanna-Barbera’s modern stone-age family, premiered in primetime in 1960, but not exactly the way the animation studio had intended. Fred and Wilma were initially named Flagstone, not Flintstone, and the series was to be titled Rally ‘Round the Flagstones. But Walker told executives he felt the name was too close to the Flagstons of Hi and Lois fame. Sensing a possible legal issue, they agreed.

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