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Mingjue Helen Chen // Boom! Studios

The 4 Most Interesting Comics of the Week

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Mingjue Helen Chen // Boom! Studios

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.


By Chynna Clugston Flores, Rosemary Valero-O’Connell and Whitney Cogar
Boom! Studios

Boom! Studios

The most popular recent comic for tween girls (one that isn’t written by Raina Telgemeier, that is) is probably Boom! Studios’ award-winning Lumberjanes, which is about a group of girls that investigate supernatural mysteries while away at camp. Around the same time the Lumberjanes series began, DC Comics launched a comic called Gotham Academy about a group of girls at a boarding school in Gotham City who get caught up in various supernatural mysteries. DC is not known for making comics for younger female audiences, but Gotham Academy has a steady and loyal readership. It would only seem natural for these two comics to join forces, but such a joint-publisher effort is not all that common. This is the first time that Boom! (still a relatively young publisher) has worked with one of the so-called “Big Two” comics companies.

While this six-issue series will not feature creative work from either of the series regulars, it has pulled in a couple of popular, like-minded creators in Chynna Clugston Flores (best known for her award-winning series Blue Monday) and Rosemary Valero-O’Connell, who has previously worked on a Lumberjanes one-shot.


By Cathy G. Johnson
Koyama Press

Koyama Press

In the short graphic novel, Gorgeous, two anarchist punks steal a guitar from a rock show and drive off in a reckless, drunken haze. They eventually crash into a car driven by a college sophomore named Sophie, and their meeting proves to be greatly problematic for her.

This is Cathy G. Johnson’s first graphic novel since winning the 2014 Ignatz Award for Promising New Talent. Johnson is part of a new generation of cartoonists that eschews technical polish to produce quicker, spontaneous works. These capture a sense of realism and emotion through rough-hewn pencils, and the artists aren’t afraid to show erasure marks or unfinished lines.


By Robert Rodi, Jackie Lewis and Marissa Louise
Oni Press

Oni Press

Inspired by modern academic speculation about the true nature of the tale of Robin Hood, Merry Men is a new series that depicts Robin and his crew as gay men cast out from Christian society. Robin (who goes by his real name, Robert Godwinson) is on the run from Prince John—not for robbing from him or stealing his lady, but because of a relationship he had with John’s father, King Richard. Whether or not the original tales of Robin Hood actually have such roots, this is a perfect 21st century take that works as both a slash fiction romp and an appropriate allegory for the legislative and religious battles the LGBTQ community faces today.


By Various
DC Comics

DC Comics

In week two of DC’s new “Rebirth” era, the publisher continues to set up new storylines for forthcoming series by rolling out special issues:

Wonder Woman Rebirth #1
Popular writer Greg Rucka returns to this title and appears to deal with some discrepancies in Wonder Woman’s origin.

Flash Rebirth #1
The plot of DC Universe Rebirth #1 from two weeks ago primarily revolved around the return of Wally West, who was forgotten by friends and family and displaced outside of reality. Here we see Wally’s return from Barry Allen’s point of view as he investigates the mystery. This appears to be the introduction of Watchmen into regular DC continuity.

Action Comics Rebirth #957
(Some of these are reverting to their legacy numbering rather than introducing a new #1.)

Continuing the story from Superman Rebirth #1 in which Superman has died, Lex Luthor steps in to become Metropolis’ new Superman, but so does the “pre-Flashpoint” Superman. Not only that, but there seems to be yet another Clark Kent running around alive and well. Writer Dan Jurgens of “Death of Superman” fame will be in charge of this series and is echoing some of those early-1990s Superman story beats.

Detective Comics Rebirth #934
Batman and Batwoman team up to build an army of Gotham’s vigilante stragglers including Red Robin, Spoiler, Orphan, and even the villain Clayface.

Aquaman Rebirth #1
Aquaman and Mera battle Atlantean terrorists (and get a bit to eat at a seafood shack).

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
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
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:


Opening Ceremony

To this:


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]