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Mike Dawson // Uncivilized Books
Mike Dawson // Uncivilized Books

The 5 Most Interesting Comics of the Week

Mike Dawson // Uncivilized Books
Mike Dawson // 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. WHAT IS OBSCENITY?

By Rokudenashiko; edited by Anne Ishii and Graham Kolbeins
Koyama Press

Koyama Press

This week, a Japanese court ruled that Megumi Igarashi (a.k.a. Rokudenashiko) was guilty of distributing obscene material and fined her 400,000 yen ($3,690 US). Rokudenashiko was jailed two years ago for sharing a digital file that could be used to 3D-print a model of her own vagina. Rokudenashiko is an activist who fights the double standards she sees in her country (especially when it comes to nudity), and the 42-year-old artist has printed a number of models using her “manko” (as she refers to it), including, famously, a crowd-funded kayak.

In What is Obscenity?, a new manga published by Koyama Press, Rokudenashiko tells the story of her arrest in a funny, engaging, and eye-opening way. Interspersing photographs, legal documents, and news articles with her comedic cartooning, she re-enacts the unbelievable experience of being arrested, filmed by the local news in the back of a police car (labeled with the insulting on-screen chyron as a “so-called artist”), and dealing with male lawyers and policemen who are too ashamed to even talk about what she did. What is Obscenity? is edited and translated by Anne Ishii and Graham Kolbeins, who are known for producing the popular gay-erotic manga Massive. The book also features a cover by the legendary book designer Chip Kidd.

2. RULES FOR DATING MY DAUGHTER

By Mike Dawson
Uncivilized Books

Uncivilized Books

Mike Dawson is one of the best observational cartoonists working in comics today. Until recently, he created mostly long-form narrative graphic novels with a literary bent like Troop 142 and Angie Bongiolatti. In 2014, he switched to making shorter, non-fiction comic essays posted to Tumblr which demonstrated his keen and humorous insights as a politically conscious parent trying to navigate work/life balances. In Rules for Dating My Daughter, these online strips are collected as a paperback collection, thanks to a successful Kickstarter to fund the printing.

In one cartoon essay, he ponders the social politics of the Disney Junior TV program Sofia the First, contrasting his daughter’s favorite show with the work of Charles Dickens and an essay by George Orwell. In "Longstreet Farm”—which was shortlisted for a Slate Cartoonist Studio Prize—he uses a visit with his kids to a family-friendly farm to consider the harsh realities of how we get our food and the way we justify it to ourselves. And in the titular comic, he explores what it means to be a feminist dad today.

Dawson’s comics involve a lot of hand-wringing, but they don’t try to posit any easy answers. What they do offer is smart visuals and a self-deprecating humor that will make you commiserate and cringe equally.

3. CIGARETTE GIRL

By Masahiko Matsumoto
Top Shelf Productions

Top Shelf Productions

The late Masahiko Matsumoto was one of the pioneers of alternative manga in the 1970s. Along with his friend and colleague Yoshihiro Tatsumi (A Drifting Life, The Push Man and Other Stories), Matsumoto helped start the movement known as “geikga” which was signified by a more subtle and sophisticated kind of storytelling than what was found in most manga at the time.

In Cigarette Girl, Top Shelf Productions brings a translated collection of eleven of Matsumoto’s short comics to North American readers for the first time. Many of the stories are variations on a similar theme: Helpless men become infatuated with strong, alluring women. The cartooning style is a pleasant mixture of Japanese and Franco-Belgian style with a clear comedic exaggeration to the characters (even though the stories would be more aptly described as quiet, light-hearted drama than comedy).

4. POP GUN WAR: GIFT

By Farel Dalrymple
Image Comics

Image Comics

Pop Gun War, the self-published five-issue series that put Farel Dalrymple on the map in 2003, is about a young kid in the inner city who finds a pair of wings discarded by a tattooed hipster angel who had fallen to Earth. Full of fantastic-yet-realistic characters that bring imaginary elements into a gritty, urban setting, it was a mixture of late-‘90s art comic sensibilities with a sense of genre comic wonder that was fairly unique upon its debut. Pop Gun War won acclaim and awards from even non-comic sources, like the Society of Illustrators.

Dalrymple is now beginning to tell more stories in this world with an installment called Pop Gun War: Chain Letter, which will appear in Brandon Graham’s Island Magazine later this year. This reissue of the original series is officially renamed Pop Gun War: Gift, and it’s a mesmerizing work.

5. NIGHT AIR

By Ben Sears
Koyama Press

Koyama Press

The hero in Ben Sears’s snappy, imaginative adventure Night Air is a rash, smart-alecky rogue who escapes from one bit of trouble and runs right into another. He's accompanied by a droll floating robot who is always trying to be the voice of reason, and they go chasing after the promise of treasure and end up in a haunted castle full of talking skeletons, disembodied heads, and typewriters that type by themselves.

This is Sears’s first graphic novel and it reads like a marriage between the character designs of Mike Mignola, the childhood wonder of Farel Dalrymple, and the low-key humor of Adventure Time.

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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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