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Daniel Clowes/Cliff Chiang/Faith Erin Hicks/Mitch Gerads

The 12 Best Comics of 2016 (So Far)

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Daniel Clowes/Cliff Chiang/Faith Erin Hicks/Mitch Gerads

Why wait until December to start giving out accolades to some of the best comics and graphic novels of the year? If you’re looking for some good summer reads, here are 12 outstanding titles published in the first half of 2016. 

1. THE SHERIFF OF BABYLON

By Tom King and Mitch Gerads
DC Vertigo 

DC Vertigo

Vertigo, DC Comics’ mature-readers line, started off 2016 by launching a number of new series, and without a doubt the standout of the bunch has been Sheriff of Babylon. Set in Baghdad after the fall of Saddam Hussein, it begins with the murder of an Iraqi police cadet who was being trained by an American cop-turned-contractor named Chris Henry. His investigation into what happened has him partnering with Nassir, the last Iraqi policeman from the old regime, and Sofia, a former exile turned local crime lord.

Writer Tom King was a real-life CIA officer stationed in Iraq, and he draws upon a lot of his own experiences to add rich detail and a sense of gravitas to this story, while Mitch Gerads’ photo-realistic artwork adds to the authenticity. They have completed seven issues of this ongoing series so far, and the first trade paperback collection hits stores in July.

2. 5,000 KM PER SECOND

By Manuele Fior
Fantagraphics

Piero and Lucia meet as teenagers in Italy and fall in love. Fast forward a number of years and Lucia has left Piero to live in Norway, where she falls for another young man. Fast forward again and both Piero and Lucia are married to other people, but their hearts seem to be elsewhere. By the end of the book, the two reunite in middle age and try to recapture what they had as teenagers.

5,000 km Per Second won the prestigious Grand Prize at the 2010 Angouleme Comics Festival and it finally made its English language debut this year, thanks to American publisher Fantagraphics. Not only is it a gorgeous book full of beautifully expressive watercolors, but it's also a masterful piece of storytelling by Italian cartoonist Manuele Fior that describes a relationship between two people by showing us only the time that passes when they are apart.

3. RULES FOR DATING MY DAUGHTER

By Mike Dawson
Uncivilized Books 

Mike Dawson’s switch from making longform narrative graphic novels to short, non-fiction essays proved to be a successful career pivot for the cartoonist. Many of the comics collected in this Kickstarter-funded collection were originally posted online and shared repeatedly via social media because they touched a nerve with a certain type of young parent—progressive, politically-minded, and anxious about their children’s future.

Dawson pours his own parental love and insecurity into smart, funny and creative comic essays about subjects like feminist dads, talking to your kids about how we get our meat, school shootings, and the class values of the Disney Jr. show Sofia the First.

4. PAPER GIRLS

By Brian K. Vaughan, Cliff Chiang and Matt Wilson
Image Comics

Writer Brian K. Vaughan (Saga, Y: The Last Man) has another hit on his hands with his new series Paper Girls, a collaboration with popular artist Cliff Chiang, who recently completed a long run drawing DC’s Wonder Woman. The true nature of the plot that drives Paper Girls is still unfolding, with only six issues released so far, but it begins following a group of 12-year-old girls delivering newspapers in the wee hours of the morning in 1988. It quickly veers into a science fiction epic involving time travel, aliens and the end of the world.

Partly due to the setting, but mostly due to Vaughan and Chiang’s Hollywood-style sense of drama and suspense, this reads like one of those classic Spielbergian kids' adventure films of the ‘80s.

5. THE ART OF CHARLIE CHAN HOCK CHYE

By Sonny Liew
Pantheon 

When The Art of Charlie Chan Hock Chye was first released, some book reviewers were fooled into thinking this was an actual career retrospective of a famous Singaporean cartoonist. In fact, what makes this book so astounding is that it is 320 pages of comics, sketches, life drawings and paintings convincingly created by Sonny Liew to invent a lifetime’s worth of work. Liew (Dr. Fate, The Shadow Hero) uses the fictional life of Charlie Chan Hock Chye to tell the history and evolution of mid-to-late century comics, while mixing in the social and political history of Singapore.

The book has sold out multiple print runs in Liew’s home country, and its commentary on political activism led the government to revoke a national grant given to him to make the book. It is an impressively designed book that mixes documentary-style “interviews,” dramatizations and faux-historical artifacts.

6. PANTHER

By Brecht Evens
Drawn & Quarterly

While mourning the loss of her cat, a 5-year-old girl named Christine is visited by a talking spotted panther who arrives from another land through the dresser drawer in her bedroom. The panther is charming at first, but his charm seems to be hiding ulterior motives. At least it seems that way to the reader but not to the innocent and trusting young girl who is enchanted by everything he says and does. When her favorite stuffed toy dog tries to escape the madness, the Panther does something horrible to him. 

Belgian cartoonist Brecht Evens presents this book like a colorful children’s tale, but underneath the whimsical and expressive paintings lurks an analogy to something unspeakable that will slowly get under your skin as the story goes along. It’s like The Cat in the Hat taken to almost horrific extremes.

7. THE VISION

By Tom King, Gabriel Hernandez Walta, Jordie Bellaire, and Clayton Cowles
Marvel Comics 

Tom King is having a career year, having launched two new books in 2016 that are both on this list: the previously mentioned Sheriff of Babylon and his first book for Marvel, The Vision. This 12-issue series shows the well known synthezoid Avenger relocating to the suburbs to live the American Dream with a wife and children—Virginia, Viv and Vin—that he created himself.

What sounds like the premise for a wacky sitcom is actually a dark and tragic tale of assimilation and the lengths one will go for their family. Each character is a commentary on a classic family member archetype—Vision is the frequently absent dad; Virginia, the fiercely protective mom—and King uses their Spock-like emotional detachment to create a quiet, contemplative rumination on family that is often jolted by shocking and violent plot twists.

The real stars of this book, though, may be the art team of Gabriel Hernandez Walta and Jordie Bellaire, whose work lends this title the somber weight that makes it so riveting.

8. PATIENCE

By Daniel Clowes
Fantagraphics 

Daniel Clowes's first book in five years was one of the most anticipated graphic novel releases of 2016. Being a time travel story, Patience seems like it would be a departure from the usually grounded character pieces you expect from Clowes, but it's really not too removed from his various genre-dabbling like The Death-Ray and David Boring. It is about a young man named Jack whose life is ripped apart when his pregnant wife Patience is murdered.

Thirty years later he finds a way to go back in time to try to prevent this tragic event from unfolding, but is Jack’s undying love for Patience actually the root of all their problems? Using retro sci-fi influences from mid-century EC Comics, Clowes tells a very Clowes-ian story about disaffected outsiders and nostalgia.

9. THE UNBEATABLE SQUIRREL GIRL

By Ryan North, Erica Henderson and Rico Renzi
Marvel Comics 

The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl is Marvel’s most unique comic. It is geared towards a different kind of audience—young girls—than most of the publisher’s books and does not take itself as seriously as 90 percent of today’s superhero comics. It also features a female protagonist who looks nothing like any other super heroine out there. Most of all, though, it has a sense of humor that is more similar to what you’d find in webcomics than superhero comics. That’s because the creative team of Ryan North and Erica Henderson is also unlike most creative teams you’d find working for Marvel. North is the creator of the popular webcomic Dinosaur Comics and Henderson is a relative newcomer whom this book has now made into a star.

Now in its second series (all the Marvel titles relaunched this year), North and Henderson have been upping their game on Squirrel Girl with a multi-part time travel story featuring Doctor Doom and a hilariously clever choose-your-own-adventure issue. The popularity of Squirrel Girl has paved the way for Marvel to try out more colorful, light hearted, comedic books, as well as more titles aimed at female readers.

10. BEVERLY

By Nick Drnaso
Drawn & Quarterly 

In Nick Drnaso’s first graphic novel, Beverly, he collects a series of vignettes set in and around a mostly white suburban town with a somewhat interconnected cast of disenchanted youth. Each story is heavy with impending tragedy, but also funny when you don’t expect it.

The diverse vignettes include one about a teenager whose story about being raped by an unknown Muslim assailant isn’t what it seems, one about two girlfriends in their early 20s who reconnect at a party, and the central piece about an incident during a family trip that sets a young boy’s life on an awful trajectory. 

Drnaso is a promising new talent who has a knack for interesting characters and unusual storytelling choices (in one unusually extended scene he depicts an entire episode of a fictional sitcom, including commercials). His dark sense of humor and minimalist drawing style is like an Adult Swim program created by Chris Ware.

11. THE NAMELESS CITY

By Faith Erin Hicks and Jordie Bellaire
First Second 

Faith Erin Hicks has proven herself to be one of today’s great YA graphic novelists, writing and illustrating books across genres such as science fiction, supernatural and even superheroes. Her latest is the first in a three-book fantasy series set in a fictional city modeled aesthetically, and somewhat historically, on the city of Tibet.

The titular “Nameless City” is a strategically well-situated city that gets conquered and renamed every few decades by surrounding kingdoms. The citizens live in resentment of each new invading army, especially Rat, a young girl who lives on the streets and gets around by jumping from roof to roof, parkour-style. She becomes an unlikely companion to Kaidu, a newcomer and member of the latest invading army that is responsible for the death of Rat’s parents.

Hicks is joined by prolific and brilliant colorist Jordie Bellaire, and the two have created a visually stunning world that makes this one of the best looking books of the year so far.

12. CRIMINAL 10TH ANNIVERSARY EDITION

By Ed Brubaker, Sean Philips and Elizabeth Breitweiser
Image Comics

To celebrate its 10th anniversary, Ed Brubaker and Sean Philips returned to their career-making creator-owned series Criminal with a new one-shot story published in an oversized magazine-style format that calls back to the popular publishing trend of the 1970s. The format comes into play when we, along with young Tracy Lawless (a character we’ve previously seen all grown up in other Criminal stories), start reading a raunchy kung-fu werewolf comic within this story of Tracy and his dad on the run.

The format and the extra in-story send-up of ‘70s horror comics are nice selling points, but it's Brubaker and Philips, along with colorist Elizabeth Breitweiser, who are all at the top of their game right now, producing a great piece of crime noir that doubles as a heartbreaking story about the relationship between a father and son.

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14 Not-So-Dirty Facts About Dirty Dancing
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Vestron Pictures

Released on August 21, 1987, no one—not even stars Patrick Swayze and Jennifer Grey—could have predicted the phenomenon that Dirty Dancing would turn into. Today, 30 years later, we’re still talking about the dance-musical-romance’s sensual choreography, its oldies soundtrack, and not putting Baby in a corner. Here are some not-so-dirty facts about the iconic movie, which grossed nearly $215 million worldwide.

1. PATRICK SWAYZE BELIEVED DIRTY DANCING ENDURED BECAUSE OF ITS HEART.

In an interview with AFI, Swayze explained why he thought Dirty Dancing has stuck around for so long. “It’s got so much heart, to me,” he said. “It’s not about the sensuality; it’s really about people trying to find themselves—this young dance instructor feeling like he’s nothing but a product, and this young girl trying to find out who she is in a society of restrictions when she has such an amazing take on things. On a certain level, it’s really about the fabulous, funky little Jewish girl getting the guy because [of] what she’s got in her heart.”

2. THE FILM GAVE NEWMAN HIS FIRST BIG MOVIE ROLE.

Before starring as Stan, the resort’s social director, Wayne Knight had small roles in a few TV movies, including an uncredited role in the nuclear holocaust drama The Day After. Dirty Dancing showcased his talents, which in 1992 led him to be cast as Newman on Seinfeld.

3. BILL MEDLEY THOUGHT HE WAS BEING HIRED TO RECORD A SONG FOR A “BAD PORNO.”

Bill Medley and Jennifer Warnes sang the vocals to the Oscar-winning song “(I’ve Had) The Time of My Life.” Medley told Songfacts that Dirty Dancing music supervisor Jimmy Ienner called him and mentioned he was gathering music for the movie. “It sounds like a bad porno movie,” Medley said. Medley’s wife was expecting a baby, so he turned the song down. A few months later Ienner convinced him to do the song, even though Medley didn’t think the movie would be popular.

“We just went in to work together, to sing together, and little did we know it was going to be the biggest movie of the year. Just unbelievable,” Medley said. The song ended up selling more than 500,000 copies, and Medley ended up titling his own memoir The Time of My Life. (Note: The film was actually the 11th highest grossing film of the year; Three Men and a Baby took the top spot for 1987.)

4. PAUL FEIG STARRED IN A DIRTY DANCING TV SHOW SPINOFF.

Dirty Dancing the TV series lasted for only 11 episodes beginning in the fall of 1988, but it gave us then-unknown actors Paul Feig (creator of Freaks and Geeks and director of Bridesmaids) and Melora Hardin (Jan Levinson of The Office). Hardin played Baby but her last name on the show was Kellerman because her dad was Max Kellerman, not Dr. Houseman. CBS even used “(I’ve Had) The Time of My Life” for the show’s opening credits.

5. A DIRTY DANCING REALITY SHOW AIRED OVERSEAS.

For two seasons between 2007 and 2008, the UK’s Living network aired a reality show called Dirty Dancing: The Time of Your Life, in which groups of dancers competed for a year-long contract with Bloc, a Los Angeles-based dance agency. The series took place at Virginia’s Mountain Lake Lodge, where much of the original movie was filmed. Couples danced in front of three judges, including Miranda Garrison, who played Vivian Pressman in the movie and was also an assistant choreographer on the film.

6. MOUNTAIN LAKE LODGE REGULARLY HOSTS DIRTY DANCING WEEKENDS.

The Pembroke, Virginia resort where many of the Kellerman’s scenes were filmed hosts regular Dirty Dancing­-themed weekends a year. Dinners, a sock hop, a screening of the movie, a watermelon toss, group dance lessons, and a Dirty Dancing scavenger hunt are just some of the many activities on the agenda.

7. ELEANOR BERGSTEIN WROTE ANOTHER DANCE MOVIE AFTER DIRTY DANCING.

Bergstein wrote the script to Dirty Dancing, and in 1995 she had the opportunity to direct as well. She wrote and directed Let It Be Me, starring Jennifer Beals and Campbell Scott. To this day, she hasn’t written or directed any other movies, but she did adapt Dirty Dancing into a successful stage show.

8. ACCORDING TO BERGSTEIN, EASTERN EUROPE WATCHES A LOT OF DIRTY DANCING.

In a 2006 interview with The Guardian, Bergstein talked about the movie’s popularity with people in the former Eastern Bloc. “And in Russia, it’s policy in the battered women’s shelters, when a woman comes in for help. First, they wash and dress her wounds, then they give her soup. Then they sit her down and show her Dirty Dancing. When the Berlin Wall came down, there were all these pictures of kids wearing Dirty Dancing T-shirts; they were saying, ‘We want to have what they have in the West! We want Dirty Dancing!'”

9. PENNY BRIEFLY TRANSFORMED INTO A POP STAR IN THE LATE 1980s.

Vestron Pictures

Cynthia Rhodes made a name for herself as dancer Tina Tech in 1983’s Flashdance and starred as John Travolta’s dance partner/love interest in Staying Alive that same year. But it was her role as Johnny Castle’s dancing partner, Penny, that garnered her the most notice. A couple of years after Dirty Dancing, she married singer Richard Marx (they’ve since divorced), and she briefly filled in as the lead singer of L.A. pop group Animotion, known for their hits “Room to Move” and “Obsession.”

10. JENNIFER GREY PLAYED A VERSION OF HERSELF ON THE SITCOM IT’S LIKE, YOU KNOW...

The short-lived ABC sitcom (1999-2000) featured Grey as a member of a Seinfeld-like gang, except the show swapped out New York City for Los Angeles. She allowed herself to be self-deprecating, even poking fun at her nose job and her Dirty Dancing celebrity. Arthur (Chris Eigeman) meets “Jennifer Grey” and goes, “Oh, like the actress. Dirty Dancing. You spell it the same way as her?” “I am Jennifer Grey,” she responds, then she does a dance to prove it. “You look different,” he says. “Nose job!” She blurts. “Just one?” he retorts. (She had two of them.)

11. GREY WAS SHOCKED TO BE A PART OF THE MOVIE CRAZY, STUPID, LOVE.

During a scene in the 2012 rom-com Crazy, Stupid, Love., Ryan Gosling uses the famous Dirty Dancing lift to woo Emma Stone into bed with him. As she watched the movie, Grey got an unexpected surprise. “I’m such a fan of Ryan Gosling and all of a sudden he’s saying my name [in the movie],” she told Yahoo!. “I’m just in the theater with my husband and I look at him like, ‘Oh my God, Ryan Gosling just said my name. What’s going on?’ I was so scared. I was like, ‘Oh, no. What are they about to do?’ All of a sudden there I was, part of their movie.”

12. BORSCHT BELT RESORTS LIKE KELLERMAN’S ARE DISAPPEARING.

The area in the Catskills and upstate New York where many resorts like Kellerman’s were located is referred to as the Borscht Belt, because of the area’s popularity with Jewish-American families from the 1920s to the 1980s, with the height of their popularity being in the 1950s and ’60s. Comedians such as Joan Rivers and Jerry Seinfeld got their starts at these resorts. Since the 1990s, hundreds of these resorts have shuttered.

13. TWO FILMMAKERS PRODUCED A DOCUMENTARY ABOUT THE RESORT THAT SUPPOSEDLY INSPIRED KELLERMAN’S.  

For over 100 years, the Monticello, New York-based Kutsher’s Hotel and Country Club welcomed Jewish-American families every summer. Wilt Chamberlain worked there as a bellhop, and according to Caroline Laskow and Ian Rosenberg, the husband-and-wife filmmakers behind Welcome to Kutsher’s: The Last Catskills Resort, it’s also part of the inspiration behind Dirty Dancing.

“Perhaps Hollywood had taken sort of what was true for the Catskills and was using it for their own purposes, but ... [Hollywood] was just copying what was already here,” Rosenberg told ABC News. One of the last bastions of the Catskills’ Borscht Belt, Kutsher’s closed in 2013 and was sold to a billionaire who plans on replacing the resort with a $250 million yoga and wellness center. At least the doc acts as a relic to the halcyon days of dancing and escapism.

14. A DIRTY DANCING REMAKE WAS RELEASED EARLIER THIS YEAR.

Talk of a Dirty Dancing remake had been floating around Hollywood for a few years, and earlier this year it finally came to fruition. The film, which starred Abigail Breslin as Baby, was not met with great reviews. "Somehow, this earnest, anodyne remake has managed to surgically extract the magic—leaving the story and signature lines intact while suctioning out all the subtlety, charm, and lead chemistry that defined the iconic 1987 original," wrote Entertainment Weekly of the remake.

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Pop Culture
How Phil Collins Accidentally Created the Sound That Defined 1980s Music
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Kevin Winter, Getty Images

Unless your technical knowledge of music runs deep, you may have never heard the phrase “gated reverb.” But you’ve definitely heard the effect in action: It’s that punchy snare drum sound that first gained traction in music in the 1980s. If you can play the drum beat from “I Would Die 4 U” by Prince or “Born in the U.S.A.” by Bruce Springsteen in your head, you know what sound we’re referring to.

But that iconic element of pop might not have emerged if it wasn’t for Peter Gabriel and Phil Collins. As Vox lays out in its new video, the discovery was made in 1979 during the studio recording of Peter Gabriel’s self-titled third solo album (often called Melt because of its cover art). Gabriel’s Genesis bandmate Phil Collins was playing the drums as usual when his beats were accidentally picked up by the microphone used by audio engineers to talk to the band. That microphone wasn’t meant to record music—its heavy compressors were designed to turn down loud sounds while amplifying quiet ones. The equipment also utilized a noise gate, which meant the recorded sounds were cut off shortly after they started. The result was a bright, fleeting percussive sound unlike anything heard in popular music.

Gabriel loved the effect, and made it the signature sound on the opening track of his album. A year later, Collins featured it in his hit single “In the Air Tonight,” perhaps the most famous example of gated reverb to date.

The sound would come to define music of the 1980s and many contemporary artists continue to use it today. Get the full history of gated reverb below.

[h/t Vox]

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