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The 13 Most Interesting Comics of July

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Each month, we’ll round up the most interesting comics, graphic novels, manga, webcomics, digital comics and comic-related Kickstarters that we think you should check out.

1. Spidey Zine

By Hannah Blumenreich
Self-published

The best Spider-man comic you’ll read this year isn’t even published by Marvel. Hannah Blumenreich has made a PDF you can download for free (or any price you’d like to pay, but she smartly avoids Disney lawyers by not trying to turn a profit). The comic consists of a series of vignettes portraying Peter Parker as a lovably geeky teen who watches Gilmore Girls with his Aunt May and is horrible at basketball when challenged by a couple of teenage girls. This is a Spidey who helps people because that’s what he does, but he’ll also chew your ear off about Cowboy Bebop for hours if you’ll let him.

The comics in this short collection are loosely drawn and initially call to mind Kate Beaton’s snarky modern jabs at superheroes but Blumenreich’s focus soon points to the relationship between Peter and Aunt May and it brings the finest, most touching context to it that we’ve seen in a long time.

2. Sick

By Gabby Schulz
Secret Acres

Gabby Schulz has a penchant for exploring stomach-churning health issues that no one else wants to talk about. He did this with his award-winning graphic novel about oral herpes, Monsters, and now his latest book, Sick, starts with the author suffering a more severe but unknowable malady that has him doubled over in pain and disoriented by disturbing fever dreams. His problem is magnified by his lack of income and health insurance, and the helplessness of being sick is eating away at his entire sense of self. Schulz uses the book to explore topics as broad as class inequity in the United States and as specific and personal as his own psyche.

You may have seen Sick online when it was first serialized a couple of years ago, but in this new edition, Schulz seems to have repainted the artwork to give it a more rich and visceral feel. He is probably the most inventive cartoonist working in comics that many readers still have never heard of, and this is his most masterful piece of cartooning to date.

3. Faith Vol. 1: Hollywood and Vine // Faith (ongoing) #1

By Jody Houser, Francis Portela and Marguerite Sauvage
Valiant Comics

Faith Herbert is unique to comics in many ways. Not only is her plus-size body-type unlike the statuesque swimsuit models you normally see in superheroes but her upbeat personality is a breath of fresh air amidst the grim seriousness of even other comics in Valiant’s lineup. As the superhero Zephyr (an irrelevant codename as even her own comic uses her proper first name), Faith makes up for what she lacks in interesting powers with an enthusiasm to do the right thing. She derives her sense of purpose from geek culture like comic books and Joss Whedon films and even invents a secret identity for herself, getting a job made for a modern-day Clark Kent – writing listicles for a pop culture blog.

The original four-issue mini-series in which Faith starts a new life in Los Angeles is now collected in a trade paperback edition leading up to the first issue in her new ongoing series, also out this month. Jody Houser writes both series, with Francis Portela drawing the mini and Pere Perez the ongoing. A selling feature of both the mini and the ongoing are that each contain frequent fantasy sequences drawn by the excellent Marguerite Sauvage (DC Bombshells).

4. Kim & Kim #1

By Magdalene Visaggio, Eva Cabrera and Claudia Aguirre
Black Mask Studios 

New publisher Black Mask Studios has been on a roll, launching edgy and unusual new books like Young Terrorists and 4 Kids Walk Into A Bank to much acclaim. Their latest is going to be another hit. Kim & Kim is a stylish, sci-fi action/comedy about two best friends who get into the bounty hunting game (partly to piss off their dads/partly to have fun). The newcomer creative team brings a colorful and witty approach that blends cute, animation-friendly artwork with a Quentin Tarantino-like knack for using compelling, off-the-cuff dialogue to break up the action. The series features queer and trans characters in a matter-of-fact way, showing exactly how to write and portray positive LGBTQ characters without making a big deal about it.

5. Jughead Vol. 1

By Chip Zdarsky and Erica Henderson
Archie Comics 

Archie Comics has managed to get some of the hottest creators in mainstream comics to help “reimagine” their popular characters in order to appeal to more modern audiences. Snagging Chip Zdarsky—one half of Image Comics' Sex Criminals team—to write a Jughead solo series couldn’t be more perfect as Zdarsky’s hilariously unabashed online persona embodies many of Jughead's absurd, individualist proclivities. To add to that, they also managed to get artist Erica Henderson, whose star is on the rise thanks to her work on Marvel’s The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl. The first trade paperback for Jughead hits stores this month, and it contains some laugh-out-loud funny comics which jump between Jughead’s struggles with the new principal and his ridiculous dreams (in one he's a time traveler, in another he's a secret agent).

This month also sees the beginning of a new Betty & Veronica series written and drawn by popular “good girl” pinup artist Adam Hughes.

6. Summer Vacation

By Lauren Weinstein
The Guardian 

As a parent who is literally writing this column while away on summer vacation, I can certainly relate to Lauren Weinstein’s obsession over what her daughter will remember and what she won't of their own vacation as time goes on. In this short webcomic for The Guardian, she explores the transient nature of memory which tends to drop all but a few early childhood memories, which can be disheartening to parents when they think about it. Even in the moment, Weinstein finds that children latch onto different things than their parents, like the wonder of swimming in a lake with horses vs. a different kind of wonder of seeing one of those horses poop.

7. Monstress Vol. 1: Awakening

By Marjorie Liu and Sana Takeda
Image Comics 

Marjorie Liu and Sana Takeda have designed an epic fantasy world in their new series Monstress—a steampunk 19th century Asia full of cute animal/children hybrids, talking cats and Lovecraftian monstrosities in which women have all the power and men barely even factor into the story. A young slave named Maika, whose life was torn apart by a past great war, is harboring a monster within herself that has awesome and destructive power making her a useful, strategic object to be sought after, but she is struggling to keep it from taking over her entire being.

Sana Takeda is a Japanese artist with some Marvel books under her belt, but her gothic, art deco stylization in this book is stunning to behold and takes her to an exciting new level in her career. The first trade paperback collecting the series’s first 6 issues hits stores this month, but this complex epic with its harsh violence and political machinations that put it on a Game of Thrones level is only getting started.

8. Einstein

By Corinne Maier and Anne Simon
Nobrow Press
 

One of my favorite graphic novels of 2013 was Freud, Corinne Maier and Anne Simon’s biography of Sigmund Freud. The third book in their biographical series (which includes one about Karl Marx) tells about the life and works of the most famous scientist ever, Albert Einstein. Their approach to these books is lighthearted and humorous with the subject often breaking the fourth wall to tell their own life story, but the book is dense with facts and a great introduction to these historical figures and their achievements. Maier, a psychoanalyst turned author, brings a deep level of research while Simon, a French cartoonist with a whimsical band dessinée style, brings clever visualizations of Einstein’s scientific equations and an appropriately radioactive color palette.

9. The Experts

By Sophie Franz
Retrofit Comics 

The Experts is a creepy mystery set at sea in which three scientists investigate the existence of human-like sea creatures and begin to lose touch with reality. This short little comic is the first release by newcomer Sophie Franz who I guarantee is going to be a major indie comics star very soon. The rich and detailed sketchbook pages and tiny little oil paintings on her Tumblr are proof enough that she is a major artistic talent, but in this comic her crisp inking, smart use of color, and wonderful gestural drawings show a surprisingly accomplished start to an exciting career.

10. Snotgirl #1

By Bryan Lee O’Malley, Leslie Hung and Mickey Quinn
Image Comics 

Scott Pilgrim creator Bryan Lee O’Malley is launching his first ever monthly comic, Snotgirl, a dark comedy about the fashion industry set in Los Angeles (O’Malley’s new hometown). It is the first book he is publishing through mainstream creator-friendly publisher Image Comics and it is also the first that he is not drawing himself. The art is by newcomer Leslie Hung, who, like O’Malley, is heavily influenced by manga. Her style, though, leans more towards drawings of pretty girls which fits this story about a green-haired fashion blogger named Lottie who is challenged by allergies and low self-esteem. When Lottie makes a new BFF who decides to give her the unfortunate nickname “Snotgirl,” things take a dark and weird turn.

11. Time Clock

By Leslie Stein
Fantagraphics

The third volume of Leslie Stein’s series of semi-autobiographical comics, Eye of the Majestic Creature, sees Larrybear—her saucer-eyed stand-in—working at a restaurant in Brooklyn while struggling with making art and an escalating alcohol problem. As in past volumes, she’s accompanied by her friend Marshmallow, a talking guitar who’s recently gotten into baking pies. Time Clock is part stoner comedy, part artist’s self-examination, containing as many laughs as it does thoughtful musings. While the comics contained here are done in a crisp black and white style reminiscent of Jim Woodring, not the minimalist watercolor style Stein has been honing in recent works, they show off a technical prowess that stands out from a lot of the rough, lo-fi work that is popular in indie comics now.  

12. DC Superhero Girls: Final Crisis

By Shea Fontana and Yancey Labat
DC Comics 

DC Comics has gotten a lot of flak over the years for their grim superheroes that tend to not be too female-reader friendly. While they’re making efforts to correct this, one thing they don’t get enough credit for is the quality of their offerings for young readers. With DC Superhero Girls, they have a new all-ages series that capitalizes on their deep bench of colorful female characters. Set in “Superhero High,” it’s a familiar attempt to bottle that Harry Potter academia magic with students learning how to be proper superheroes, and it not only features super heroine regulars like Wonder Woman and Supergirl but also Harley Quinn, Katana, Batgirl, Poison Ivy and more—all as teenagers struggling with both finals and a mysterious villain. It’s a light read with cute, kid-friendly artwork that will introduce many young readers—particularly girls—to the many female characters populating the DC Universe (there are boy characters too like Flash and Green Lantern, but they very much take a back seat). As a bonus, fans of the Teen Titans Go cartoon will appreciate that Starfire and Beast Boy appear here and “sound” just like they do in that show.

This book arrives in an affordable trade paperback format and ties in perfectly with a new line of Barbie-sized dolls and a series of five minute shorts produced for YouTube.

13. Wandering Island Vol. 1

By Kenji Tsuruta
Dark Horse Comics 

Wandering Island, originally serialized in Japanese in 2010, is the first new English translation release from Kenji Tsuruta (Spirit of Wonder) in 20 years. It’s a breezy, adventure that is light on plot (the mysteriously drifting titular island only makes a brief appearance before disappearing again in this volume) but every page is a work of art. Tsuruta’s work is intricate and full of well-observed details as you can see in this extensive preview. He takes his time setting the mood throughout the book with beautiful, wordless images, many of which tend to linger on its pretty, often scantily-clad heroine, Mikura, a young pilot looking to complete her grandfather’s work of finding this mysterious North Pacific island.

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25 Things You Should Know About Tucson
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The west is still wild in Tucson. Surrounded by breathtaking mountains, Arizona’s second-largest city attracts artists, astronomers, outdoorsy types and at least one rare cat. Read on for more Tucson trivia.

1) Some of the earliest evidence of corn cultivation in North America comes from Pima County, Arizona, where Tucson is located. Archaeologists have recovered kernels estimated to be 4000 years old within 60 miles of the city.

2) Towering above the downtown area is an iconic mountain called Sentinel Peak. Look at it from a distance and you may notice that the base is darker than the summit. The native Tohono O’odham people called this landmark Ts-iuk-shan—which is a corruption of their word for “black base.” Spaniards later turned Ts-iuk-shan into Tucson.

3) On March 20, 1880, a passenger train rolled into Tucson for the first time. Mayor R.N. Leatherwood sent out telegrams to dignitaries to publicize the occasion, writing to Pope Leo XIII that the railroad now linked "this ancient and honorable pueblo" with the rest of the Christian world. Newspapers began calling Tucson “the A. and H. Pueblo,” which gradually shrunk to its current nickname, “the Old Pueblo.”

4) If you’re a stargazer, Tucson is one of the best spots in the U.S. for astronomy. In 1972, Pima County enacted a “dark sky” code to regulate the brightness and number of outdoor bulbs in an effort to help local observatories like one at Kitt Peak. Now Tucson suffers from far less light pollution than most cities do, allowing stars and planets to shine through the darkness.

5) Above Broadway Boulevard, you can walk through the belly of a giant metal snake. A covered bridge for pedestrians and cyclists, this serpentine structure is designed to look like a diamondback rattlesnake, whose gaping jaw and fangs form the entrance.

6) By day, it looks like a big plastic doughnut. But after sundown, the solar-powered Desert O sculpture lights up in an array of vibrant colors. The ring, owned by the city of Tucson, is 6 feet in diameter and uses LED lights to create a brilliant display with a different color combo for every night of the week.

7) In 1970, then-mayor Jim Corbett called Tucson's East Speedway Boulevard the "ugliest street in America." At the time, it was enveloped by garish billboards that obscured the city's beautiful vistas. Then Life magazine ran a two-page photo of the forest of road signs and advertisements. The embarrassing spotlight led to Tucson's sign code, passed in the 1980s, which gradually limited billboards and tacky signage.

8) According to Guinness World Records, Davis-Monthan Airforce Base in Tucson has the largest aircraft repair shop and storage facility on Earth. Covering 2600 acres, it could house 4200 aircraft and 40 aerospace vehicles at one time, while still leaving room for 350,000 production tools.

9) In 2013, a new species of scorpion was discovered in the Santa Catalina Mountains, which are visible from downtown Tucson. Biologist Rob Bryson Jr. discovered the species in the Santa Catalinas' "sky islands"—isolated mountaintop habitats known for their biodiversity.

10) Cyclists should consider dropping by on the last Saturday before Thanksgiving for El Tour de Tucson, Arizona's largest and longest-running cycling event. The series of races attracts more than 9000 bike enthusiasts per year and usually raises about $2 million for local charities.

11) Hugo O’Conor, an Irish colonel in the Spanish army, is regarded by some as the founder of Tucson. Although a Spanish mission had been operating in present-day Tucson since 1692, and Native American communities before that, O’Conor arranged to have a military base for Spain's army set up on the site in 1775, resulting in a population boom for the city. O'Conor's red hair and courage in battle gave him the nickname “The Red Captain.”

12) The United States Handball Association Hall of Fame is located on North Tucson Boulevard.

13) Five years after peace was declared in the Mexican-American War, the U.S. bought the lower third of Arizona, which included Tucson, from Mexico. The $10 million transaction, known as the Gadsden Purchase, was finalized in 1854 and added a 30,000-square-mile territory to the United States. The expansion allowed Gadsden, a railroad promoter, to build a transcontinental railroad through the new territory.

14) One of the largest rock shows in the country, the Tucson Gem and Mineral Show attracts around 50,000 people annually. In addition to hosting gemstone scholars and dealers, the annual convention has exhibited the most dazzling rocks in existence—like the Hope diamond, lunar rocks collected by NASA astronauts, and the eye-popping Logan sapphire.

15) The Arizona State University Sun Devils and the University of Arizona Wildcats have a longstanding rivalry that dates back to their first meeting in 1889. Each year, the teams compete for the Territorial Cup, the oldest rivalry trophy in college football. The Wildcats play regular home games in their 56,000-seat stadium in midtown Tucson.

16) Speaking of the University of Arizona, it was founded in 1891—21 years before Arizona achieved statehood.

17) Tucson's world-class culinary scene was recognized by the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) in 2015 as a “Capital of Gastronomy.” Only 18 cities around the world have been given this title, and no other American city has cracked the list yet. Jonathan Mabry, a historic preservation officer in Tucson, filed the application for the city. “There are more heritage foods grown within 100 miles of Tucson than any other city in North America,” he told Smithsonian.com.

18) The Fourth Avenue Underpass doubles as a one-of-a-kind photo gallery. Roughly 7000 tiles bearing black and white portraits of 21st-century Tucsonans line the walls.

19) Four national flags have flown over the Old Pueblo. Spain ruled Tucson and the rest of Mexico until 1821. Then Mexico itself took over, but sold Tucson and much more territory to the United States in 1854 (see #13). When the Civil War broke out, the city joined the Confederacy and flew the Confederate flag from February to June 1862. Then Union forces, bearing the American flag, took the city back

20) Tucson is the oldest incorporated city in Arizona (and has been since incorporating in 1877).

21) For a few weeks in 1933, radio listeners in Tucson could enjoy a local show hosted by a very young Ray Bradbury. At age 12, he landed a gig at KGAR reciting comic strips on the air every Saturday night. “My pay was free tickets to see King Kong, Murders in the Wax Museum, and The Mummy,” he later reminisced. “You can’t do any better than that.”

22) El Charro Café is the oldest Mexican restaurant in the U.S. continuously operated by the same family. It may also be the birthplace of the chimichanga. As the legend goes, they were invented by Monica Flin, who established El Charro in 1922. She once flipped a burrito right into the fryer, splattering oil everywhere. Since kids were within earshot, she resisted the urge to curse and yelled “chimichanga,” a slang word that means thingamajig, instead.

23) The Mini Time Machine Museum of Miniatures is truly larger than life. A gallery of scale models, it boasts more than 300 tiny room boxes and houses. Some examples predate the Revolutionary War.

24) Downtown, a street known as Calle Carlos Arruza honors one of the greatest bullfighters in history, Mexican-born Carlos Arruza, whose nickname was El Ciclon (The Cyclone). According to historian David Leighton, Calle Carlos Arruza is one of the very few streets—possibly the only street—in the U.S. named after a bullfighter.

25) Only two non-captive jaguars, the largest cats in the New World, are known to reside within the U.S. One of them, nicknamed El Jefe, is a Tucson celebrity. Discovered in 2011, he can be found stalking the Santa Rita Mountains 25 miles south of the city. Jaguars are a near-threatened species: biologists estimate that about 15,000 are left in the wild.

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The Night the Brat Pack Was Born
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If Emilio Estevez had opted to pay for his movie ticket, the Brat Pack might never have been born. It was spring 1985, and Estevez—then the 23-year-old co-star of St. Elmo’s Fire—was being profiled in New York Magazine. The angle was that Estevez had just signed a deal to write, direct, and star in his own feature, That Was Then... This is Now, an opportunity that was rarely afforded to young Hollywood talent. Estevez was two years younger than Orson Welles was when he performed similar duties for 1941’s Citizen Kane.

That youthful exuberance was on display as New York writer David Blum followed Estevez in and around Los Angeles for several days gathering material for the story. With Blum in tow, Estevez decided that he wanted to catch a screening of Ladyhawke, a fantasy film starring Matthew Broderick. For reasons not made entirely clear, he preferred not to have to pay for a ticket. According to Blum, Estevez called the theater and politely asked for free admission before entering an 8 p.m. screening.

It's likely Estevez was just having a little fun with his celebrity. But to Blum, it was indicative of a mischievous, slightly grating sense of entitlement. Blum’s assessment was that Estevez was acting “bratty,” an impression he felt was reinforced when he witnessed a gathering of other young actors at LA’s Hard Rock Cafe for the same story.

What was supposed to be a modest profile of Estevez turned into a cover story declaration: Hollywood’s “Brat Pack” was here, and they had decided to forego the earnest acting study preferred by their predecessors to spend their nights partying instead.

The day the story hit newsstands, Blum received a call from Estevez. “You’ve ruined my life,” he said.

The June 1985 cover of New York magazine
New York, Google Books

Blum’s label had its roots in the Rat Pack of the 1960s, so named for the carousing boys' club led by Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, and Sammy Davis Jr. Whether it was accurate or not, the performers developed reputations for squeezing every last drink, perk, and joke they could out of their celebrity well into middle age.

That dynamic was on Blum’s mind when New York dispatched him to cover Estevez. After he arrived in California, Blum took note of the fact that a tight cluster of actors seemed to have formed a group, both on- and off-screen. Estevez was close friends with Rob Lowe and Tom Cruise, and all of them appeared in 1983’s The Outsiders; Lowe and Estevez were co-starring in St. Elmo’s Fire, a coming-of-age drama that also featured Andrew McCarthy and Judd Nelson; Estevez and Nelson gained a lot of attention for 1984’s The Breakfast Club.

To Blum, Estevez was more than just a multi-hyphenate; he appeared to be the nucleus of a group that spent a lot of time working and playing together. And in fairness to Blum, Estevez didn’t dissuade the writer from that take: Fearing he was coming off as too serious in the profile, Estevez asked Lowe and Nelson to hang out with him at Los Angeles’s Hard Rock Cafe so Blum could see the actor's lighter side.

Nelson would later recall that he felt uneasy around Blum. “Why is this guy having dinner with us?” he asked Estevez. Lowe, meanwhile, was busy flirting with women approaching their table. The group later went to a "punk rock" club, with a Playboy Playmate tagging along.

As celebrity hedonism goes, it was a tame evening. But Blum walked away with the idea that Estevez was the unofficial president of an exclusive club—attractive actors who were soaking up success while idling late into the night.

Blum returned to New York with a different angle for his editors. He wanted to capture this “Brat Pack,” a “roving band” of performers “on the prowl” for good times. Although the magazine had just run a cover story about a teenage gang dubbed “the wolf pack” and feared repetition, they agreed.

As far as Estevez and the others were concerned, Blum was busy executing a piece on Estevez’s ambitions as a writer and director. When Estevez, Nelson, and Lowe appeared on the cover—taken from a publicity still for St. Elmo’s Fire—with his newly-coined phrase, they were horrified.

Blum began getting calls from angry publicists from each of the actors mentioned in the article—and there had been a lot of them. In addition to Estevez, the de facto leader, and lieutenants Lowe and Nelson, Blum had dubbed go-to John Hughes geek Anthony Michael Hall the “mascot”; Timothy Hutton was said to be on the verge of excommunication for his film “bombs”; Tom Cruise, Sean Penn, Nicolas Cage, and Matt Dillon were also mentioned.

To the actors, the effect was devastating. Independent of how they spent their free time, all of them were pursuing serious careers as performers, with producers, directors, and casting agents mindful of their portrayal in the media. Being a Brat Packer was synonymous with being listless, or not taking their craft seriously.

Nelson recalled the blowback was immediate: Managers told him to stop socializing with his friends for fear he’d be stigmatized as unreliable. “These were people I worked with, who I really liked as people, funny, smart, committed to the work,” he said in 2013. “I mean, no one was professionally irresponsible. And after that article, not only [were] we strongly encouraged not to work with each other again, and for the most part we haven’t, but it was insinuated we might not want to be hanging out with these people.”

Universal Pictures

Some of the actors went on The Phil Donahue Show to criticize the profile, asserting that their remarks to Blum had been off-the-record. (Blum denied this.) Lowe told the media that Blum had “burned bridges” and that he was “no Hunter S. Thompson.” Andrew McCarthy called Blum a “lazy … journalist” and found the idea of an actor “tribe” absurd—he had never even met Anthony Michael Hall.

Unfortunately, the name stuck. “Brat Pack” was infectious—a catch-all for the kind of young performer emerging in the ‘80s who could be seen in multiple ensemble movies. While Blum would later express regret over the label, it’s never quite left the public consciousness. In 2005, Universal released a DVD boxed set—The Breakfast Club, Weird Science, and Sixteen Candles—as The Brat Pack Collection.

Nelson, Estevez, and Lowe never again appeared in a movie together. “Personally, the biggest disappointment about it is that ‘Brat Pack’ will somehow figure in my obituary at [the] hands of every lazy and unoriginal journalist,” Estevez told a reporter in 2011. “Warning: My ghost will come back and haunt them.”

Nelson was slightly less forgiving. In a 2013 podcast, he chastised Blum for his mischaracterization of the group of young actors. “I would have been better served following my gut feeling and knocking him unconscious.”

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