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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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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
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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
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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:

501069-OpeningCeremony2.jpg

Opening Ceremony

To this:

501069-OpeningCeremony3.jpg

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]

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