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Rebecca Mock/Farrar, Straus and Giroux

The 6 Most Interesting Comics of the Week

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Rebecca Mock/Farrar, Straus and Giroux

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. COMPASS SOUTH

By Hope Larson and Rebecca Mock
Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Hope Larson has been known throughout her career as something of an auteur, both writing and drawing graphic novels like Mercury, Chiggers, and an adaptation of A Wrinkle In Time. This year has seen her become more of a collaborator, with her recent Boom! Studios mini-series Goldie Vance and an upcoming stint writing Batgirl for DC Comics. With Compass South, she begins a new graphic novel series for middle-schoolers, working with accomplished editorial illustrator Rebecca Mock, who is trying her hand at a major comics work for the first time.

This fast-paced period adventure beings in 1860s New York with orphan twins Cleopatra and Alexander getting arrested for their involvement with a notorious criminal gang. They’re set free after selling out the gang and when they learn about a wealthy family searching for their missing sons, the brother and sister plan to make their way to San Francisco to impersonate the lost boys.

Larson throws in lots of plot twists and exotic locales, but she gets the most mileage out of the engaging, antagonistic relationships she creates among the young cast of characters.

2. WEIRD DETECTIVE #1

By Fred Van Lente, Guiu Vilanova, and Josan Gonzalez
Dark Horse Comics

Dark Horse Comics

The “Weird Detective” in Fred Van Lente and Guiu Vilanova’s new series is Sebastian Greene, a previously unremarkable Brooklyn cop who one day, to the surprise of his commanding officers, turns into something of a super-cop who solves unsolvable cases. Most of his fellow officers give him a pass on his alien-like mannerisms and lack of social skills, chalking it up to his being “from Canada.” A new partner is enlisted to get to the bottom of it all, and it seems that Greene is a Cthulhu investigating otherworldly horrors, trying his best to be taken for human.

Van Lente describes his comic as "H.P. Lovecraft meets Law & Order,” and it perfectly blends grand-scale cosmic horror with the world of a street-level police procedural. Originally a three-part story serialized in the anthology Dark Horse Presents, this new five-issue mini-series debuts with a regular-priced first issue that contains those original 24 pages from DHP and builds on them with an additional 22 pages.

3. HOT DOG TASTE TEST

By Lisa Hanawalt
Drawn & Quarterly

Drawn & Quarterly

Lisa Hanawalt’s off-kilter brand of humor has permeated from the indie comics scene into mainstream media thanks to her work as producer and character designer for the hit Netflix animated series Bojack Horseman. Her latest book, Hot Dog Taste Test, is a collection of foodie-related comics, some of which were previously published in places like Lucky Peach. Hanawalt’s style involves lots of illustrated lists and travelogues done with colorful watercolors and a hilarious honesty. This collection includes her thoughts on how to choose the right wine or how eggs should be dry and overcooked. There are also a few illustrated travel essays about trips to Brazil and Vegas, both centered around food.

4. FIGHT CLUB 2

By Chuck Palahniuk, Cameron Stewart and Dave Stewart
Dark Horse Comics

Dark Horse Comics

When novelist Chuck Palahniuk decided to revisit his career-making 1996 classic Fight Club with a 20th anniversary sequel, he chose to do it in a medium that was brand-new to him. Working with a top-notch team—artist Cameron Stewart and color artist Dave Stewart (no relation)—he aimed to play with the medium much like director David Fincher did with his medium for the cinematic adaptation of Palahniuk’s novel.

Fight Club 2 was originally published as a 10-issue comic series and is now being collected in graphic novel format. The sequel revisits the original story’s narrator, now calling himself Sebastian, who is married to Marla with whom he lives in the suburbs with their 10-year-old son. Meanwhile, Tyler Durden has been walled off within Sebastian’s subconscious after years of therapy and prescriptions until Marla, bored with their mundane suburban life, decides to start switching out Sebastian’s pills, allowing Tyler to come out and wreak havoc.

5. ELFCAT IN LOVE

By James Kochalka
Retrofit Comics

Retrofit Comics

Retrofit Comics is a boutique publisher that started out making “floppy”-sized art-comics at a time when most people in indie comics were focused on graphic novels. Retrofit has since branched out into publishing comics of all shapes and sizes, but now, in their fifth year, they are putting out their first hardcover original graphic novel, albeit one that is still smallish in terms of length and size.

Whereas many Retrofit comics feature newer and lesser-known names, Elfcat in Love is by veteran cartoonist James Kochalka (American Elf). The Elfcat of the title is a brave but clueless adventurer accompanied by a much smarter companion who happens to be a floating tennis ball. While the two are ostensibly on a quest for a legendary ice sword, they actually spend most of their time arguing about whether or not they are in love with each other.

6. THE SIXTH GUN #50

By Cullen Bunn, Brian Hurtt and Bill Crabtree
Oni Press

Oni Press

A lot has happened in the six years since The Sixth Gun began its epic tale of post-Civil War gunslingers and supernatural dread. When Cullen Bunn and Brian Hurtt began the series, the duo was best known for their previous outing of marrying the supernatural with the mob for The Damned. Not long after the success of this series, Bunn became one of Marvel’s top writers, and he and Hurtt entertained more than one offer to turn it into a cable TV series.

Now, Bunn and Hurtt are bringing their story to a conclusion with a triple-sized 50th issue. Becky Moncrief and Drake Sinclair will enter the final showdown in the land of the dead to prevent the mystical talismanic powers of the six funs from ending of the world. This has been one of Bunn’s best comics, due in no small part to Hurtt’s dynamic artwork. They’re a great team that will hopefully be working together on something new soon.

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Hulton Archive (left), Bruno Vincent (right) // Getty Images
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History
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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