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The 13 Most Interesting Comics of October

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

1. Rolling Blackouts: Dispatches from Turkey, Syria, and Iraq

By Sarah Glidden
Drawn & Quarterly

In 2010, cartoonist Sarah Glidden traveled to Turkey, Iraq, and Syria with a group of journalist friends and a former U.S. soldier to interview refugees and others impacted by war in the Middle East. Their hope was to find stories that haven’t yet been told and to tell them in a way that will appeal to Western media publications. Meanwhile, as Glidden observes and records their process in cartoon form, she in turn finds her own unique hook for this story: showing how journalism is done and what it means in the 21st century. With this book, and a recent comic she did for The Nib, Glidden has entered into the comics journalism space that is occupied by only a select few right now. This is only her second graphic novel (after 2011’s How To Understand Israel in 60 Days or Less), which is understandable considering the extensive time it must take to research and produce a 300-page book of this size with such exquisitely drawn and painted artwork. It is certainly coming out at a time in our media history when we truly need to better appreciate the work that goes into good journalism.

2. Demon Vol. 1

By Jason Shiga
First Second

Jimmy Yee checks into a motel room, writes a suicide note and hangs himself—only to wake up in bed. After four subsequent attempts that go about the same way, he wakes up in a hospital to find a young woman he’s never met claiming to be his daughter. The mystery only deepens from here in what author Jason Shiga describes as "basically a 3 player chess match that pivots into a series of 7 concentric escape puzzles, briefly turns into a meditation on existence before pivoting back to the chess match which itself is contained in 2 more layers of puzzles.” Shiga crafts his comics with the storytelling precision of a mathematician (he actually was a pure mathematics major in college). Books like the choose-your-own-adventure Meanwhile read like intricate puzzles and Demon, a thrilling, twisted epic about immortality, has been considered his best, winning awards and much acclaim in its original webcomic and self-published iterations. Now being published by First Second, the first of this four-book series is appearing for the first time in most comic shops and bookstores.

3. Superman: American Alien

By Max Landis and others
DC Comics

The best Superman comic since 2005’s All-Star Superman comes from writer and director Max Landis, who offers a new spin on the admittedly over-told origin (thankfully, there are no Krypton scenes here). He gives us a fresh take on the character that manages to be modern, edgy and relatable but still heroic. Landis is joined by an impressive array of artists such as Joelle Jones, Jae Lee, Nick Dragotta, Jock, Tommy Lee Edwards, Francis Manapul and Jonathan Case—each taking a different chapter of the 7-issue mini-series—plus a number of other artists who provide one-page backups and covers. The young Clark Kent presented here is not the typical idealized, corn-fed farm boy we’re used to, but neither is he a cynical, overly flawed anti-hero that modern superhero comics tend to offer up to over-correct the straight edge of classic characters. Landis makes some surprising changes to the Superman mythos and his relationships with some of his supporting characters that make this feel fresh and exciting in a way that is really hard to pull off with a 75 year old character like this.

4. Tetris: The Games People Play

By Box Brown
First Second/MacMillan

After his acclaimed 2014 biography of the wrestler Andre the Giant, Box Brown continues to find his niche in celebrating 1980s pop culture by looking at the rise of video game addiction through the story of the most addictive video game ever made: Tetris. Its history is a surprisingly complex one, full of corporate wrongdoing, creator rights issues and even communism. The idea for the game came from a software engineer in Moscow who shared the game on floppy disks as freeware. Once it got passed outside the walls of the Soviet Union, it quickly went viral and began attracting the attention of video game companies like Nintendo who could recognize a money-making concept when they played one. Brown’s graphic, almost geometric style of drawing is perfectly suited for this subject and its famously shaped play pieces. His style makes a story that is mostly about litigation and intellectual property visually interesting and, at times, even thrilling.

5. Love & Rockets Magazine #1

By Jaime and Gilbert Hernandez
Fantagraphics

Jaime and Gilbert Hernandez’s seminal Love & Rockets began as a monthly comic back in 1982. After rising to a level of eminence in the indie comics world, it began to be repackaged in more bookstore-friendly formats in the early aughts and eventually shifted to an annual, digest-sized format about ten years ago. Now, as it is about to celebrate its 35th year, L&R is returning to its original 32-page, magazine-sized format (slightly bigger than a standard comic book in size and page count) with new issues released on closer to a quarterly basis.

This first issue is a good reintroduction to the characters that the Hernandez brothers have been telling amazingly rich stories about over three decades now and who have all grown and aged nearly along with the series. Jaime opens with a story about his famous duo, Maggie and Hopey, who find themselves aging out of their beloved punk rock scene. Meanwhile, Gilbert gives us a detailed status quo on Fritz, the buxom therapist turned B-movie actress and her many imitators.

6. Such a Lovely Little War: Saigon 1961-63

By Marcelino Truong
Arsenal Pulp Press

As a young child in 1961, Marcelino Truong moved to Saigon from the United States with his Vietnamese father (a diplomat who worked directly with President Diem), his French mother, and his older brother and sister. The erupting conflict between the North and South at that time in history is echoed by the growing tension between Marco’s parents. As members of Saigon's upper class, they are mostly shielded from the war until aspects of it begin to seep into the city. The fear of being massacred by the Viet Cong and the stress of keeping her young children safe and nurtured in a war-torn foreign city takes its toll on Marco’s mother who (Marco would realize later in life) is suffering from bipolar disorder. Truong’s memoir tells a side of the Vietnam War that Americans rarely see. Interspersed with the family drama is an interesting historical context of the war and the class separation in the country at that time.

7. The Secret Loves of Geek Girls

Edited by Hope Nicholson
Dark Horse Comics

This Hope Nicholson-edited anthology of prose and comics by and for (geeky) women is now famous for its inclusion of original comics written and drawn by novelist Margaret Atwood. Its success as a Kickstarter in 2015 led to Nicholson facilitating Atwood’s foray into writing her first graphic novel this year (Angel Catbird) but it also led to Dark Horse picking up Secret Loves for major distribution. It consists of a veritable who’s who of today’s veteran and up-and-coming female comics creators (Marguerite Bennett, Trina Robbins, Marjorie Lieu, Carla Speed McNeil, Mariko Tamaki, Noelle Stevenson and Kelly Sue DeConnick, who writes the foreword) telling mostly true stories about love, dating, sex, video games, comics and science fiction.

8. The Fade Out: Deluxe Edition

By Ed Brubaker, Sean Philips and Bettie Breitweiser
Image Comics

One of my picks for best comics of 2015, this 12-issue crime noir set in old, post-War Hollywood is now deservedly collected into an oversized hardcover format which allows for a proper admiration of Philips and Breitweiser’s gorgeous artwork. These creators are modern masters of crime and this book may be their masterpiece, one that doesn’t rely as much on genre trappings—even though the plot hinges on the murder of a Hollywood starlet—as it does on accurately painting its historical setting and depicting the seedy underbelly of late ‘40s Hollywood as corrupt, depraved and even more gritty than the noir films they were creating at the time.

9. Burt’s Way Home

By John Martz
Koyama Press

Burt is a young boy (drawn in this anthropomorphic comic as a little bird) who gets lost in time and space and taken in by a woman (drawn as a dog) named Lydia. Burt is always explaining that his parents were time travelers from another dimension and due to an accident he finds himself separated from them and stranded here with Lydia who is always lovingly watching over him and making sure he wears a hat when he goes outside. Martz’s cartooning style, colored with a simple flat blue tone, is elegantly simple in a way that recalls many classic children’s picture books and the story here is heartwarming in such a beautiful and subtle way.

10. Untitled

By Meghan Lands
Unpublished

Meghan Lands describes this comic as a “rejected anthology submission” and hasn’t even given it a title, but the 80k+ notes on it indicate that it struck a chord with a lot of people when she posted it to Tumblr. In it, she processes memories of her childhood bully and what happens when she decides to look her up on Facebook. It’s a comic that many will find relatable and it shows how bullying can leave lasting marks even into adulthood, something that social media maybe only make worse.

11. Platinum End Vol. 1

By Tsugumi Ohba and Takeshi Obata
Viz Media

A troubled teenager named Mirai decides to take his own life, only to be saved by an angel who bestows him with a variety of powers and places him in contention with 12 other chosen mortals to become the new “God.” The competition among the chosen ones soon turns deadly and Mirai begins to question the morality of these so-called angels and the unethical choices he may be forced to make because of them. This is the latest manga from the team behind the incredibly popular Death Note, and it echoes that work in many ways yet strays from it interestingly in others. This first volume collects material that was originally serialized on the web in English earlier this year as it was simultaneously released in Japanese in Jump SQ magazine.

12. Black #1

By Kwanza Osajyefo, Jamal Igle and Khary Randolph
Black Mask Studios

The first issue of Black begins with a scene we’re all too familiar with from today’s current events: a group of African-American teens are confronted by police; things get immediately out of hand and all three teens are gunned down in a hail of bullets. However, one of them, Kareem, wakes up in the back of an ambulance, alive and completely healed of all bullet wounds. It turns out that superpowers exist in this world but only black people can manifest them. Kareem winds up a target of authorities but also of a shadowy organization that wants to recruit him for a coming battle.

After a successful Kickstarter in February, Black has now been picked up by the scrappy new publisher Black Mask Studios to add to its growing library of edgy and progressive new comics. The comics industry seems to be making great strides in diversifying the stories it tells and the characters it tells them with but yet still seems to struggle with giving a spotlight to African-American creators. Osajyefo, Igle, and Randolph are all veterans of the industry who have stepped away from working for “The Big Two” (Marvel and DC) to tell a story they would not have been able to tell there.

13. The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl Beats Up the Marvel Universe

By Ryan North, Erica Henderson and Rico Renzi
Marvel Comics

Marvel doesn’t put out too many straight-to-graphic-novel publications these days, but if they’re going to do it, this seems like a good choice. The ongoing Unbeatable Squirrel Girl series is a critical darling but is probably not hitting the ideal audience of young female readers that tend to gravitate more towards graphic novels than comics. This new 120 page book by regular creative team Ryan North, Erica Henderson and Rico Renzi jokingly plays on the heroine’s knack for surprisingly winning battles against heavy hitters like Thanos and Galactus by having an evil duplicate of herself take on every hero in the Marvel Universe. Squirrel Girl is unlike any other character Marvel publishes and her book, with its cute art and smart humor, is a breath of fresh air among the overly serious, post-Hollywood Marvel of today.

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25 Wonderful Facts About It’s a Wonderful Life
Paramount Pictures
Paramount Pictures

Mary Owen wasn’t welcomed into the world until more than a decade after Frank Capra’s It’s a Wonderful Life made its premiere in 1946. But she grew up cherishing the film and getting the inside scoop on its making from its star, Donna Reed—who just so happens to be her mom. Though Reed passed away in 1986, Owen has stood as one of the film’s most dedicated historians, regularly introducing screenings of the ultimate holiday classic, including during its annual run at New York City’s IFC Center. She shared some of her mom’s memories with us to help reveal 25 things you might not have known about It’s a Wonderful Life.

1. IT ALL BEGAN WITH A CHRISTMAS CARD.

After years of unsuccessfully trying to shop his short story, The Greatest Gift, to publishers, Philip Van Doren Stern decided to give the gift of words to his closest friends for the holidays when he printed up 200 copies of the story and sent them out as a 21-page Christmas card. David Hempstead, a producer at RKO Pictures, ended up getting a hold of it, and purchased the movie rights for $10,000.

2. CARY GRANT WAS SET TO STAR IN THE ADAPTATION.

When RKO purchased the rights, they did so with the plan of having Cary Grant in the lead. But, as happens so often in Hollywood, the project went through some ups and downs in the development process. In 1945, after a number of rewrites, RKO sold the movie rights to Frank Capra, who quickly recruited Jimmy Stewart to play George Bailey.

3. DOROTHY PARKER WORKED ON THE SCRIPT.


Getty Images

By the time It’s a Wonderful Life made it into theaters, the story was much different from Stern’s original tale. That’s because more than a half-dozen people contributed to the screenplay, including some of the most acclaimed writers of the time—Dorothy Parker, Dalton Trumbo, Marc Connelly, and Clifford Odets among them.

4. SCREENWRITERS FRANCES GOODRICH AND ALBERT HACKETT WALKED OUT.

Though they’re credited as the film’s screenwriters with Capra, the husband and wife writing duo were not pleased with the treatment they received from Capra. “Frank Capra could be condescending,” Hackett said in an interview, “and you just didn't address Frances as ‘my dear woman.’ When we were pretty far along in the script but not done, our agent called and said, ‘Capra wants to know how soon you'll be finished.’ Frances said, ‘We're finished right now.’ We put our pens down and never went back to it.”

5. CAPRA DIDN’T DO THE BEST JOB OF SELLING THE FILM TO STEWART.

After laying out the plot line of the film for Stewart in a meeting, Capra realized that, “This really doesn’t sound so good, does it?” Stewart recalled in an interview. Stewart’s reply? “Frank: If you want me to be in a picture about a guy that wants to kill himself and an angel comes down named Clarence who can’t swim and I save him, when do we start?”

6. IT WAS DONNA REED’S FIRST STARRING ROLE.


Getty Images

Though Donna Reed was hardly a newcomer when It’s a Wonderful Life rolled around, having appeared in nearly 20 projects previously, the film did mark her first starring role. It’s difficult to imagine anyone else in the role today, but Reed had some serious competition from Jean Arthur. “[Frank Capra] had seen mom in They Were Expendable and liked her,” Mary Owen told Mental Floss. “When Capra met my mother at MGM, he knew she'd be just right for Mary Bailey.”

7. MARY OWEN IS NOT NAMED AFTER MARY BAILEY.

Before you ask whether Owen was named after her mom’s much beloved It’s a Wonderful Life character, “The answer is no,” says Owen. “I was named after my great grandmother, Mary Mullenger.”

8. BEULAH BONDI WAS A PRO AT PLAYING STEWART’S MOM.

Beulah Bondi, who plays Mrs. Bailey, didn’t need a lot of rehearsal to play Jimmy Stewart’s mom. She had done it three times previously—in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, Of Human Hearts, and Vivacious Lady—and once later on The Jimmy Stewart Show: The Identity Crisis.

9. CAPRA, REED, AND STEWART HAVE ALL CALLED IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE THEIR FAVORITE MOVIE.


Liberty Films

Though their collective filmographies consist of a couple hundred movies, Capra, Reed, and Stewart have all cited It’s a Wonderful Life as their favorite movie. In his autobiography, The Name Above the Title, Capra took that praise even one step further, writing: “I thought it was the greatest film I ever made. Better yet, I thought it was the greatest film anybody ever made.”

10. THE MOVIE BOMBED AT THE BOX OFFICE.

Though it has become a quintessential American classic, It’s a Wonderful Life was not an immediate hit with audiences. In fact, it put Capra $525,000 in the hole, which left him scrambling to finance his production company’s next picture, State of the Union.

11. A COPYRIGHT LAPSE AIDED THE FILM’S POPULARITY.

Though it didn’t make much of a dent at the box office, It’s a Wonderful Life found a whole new life on television—particularly when its copyright lapsed in 1974, making it available royalty-free to anyone who wanted to show it for the next 20 years. (Which would explain why it was on television all the time during the holiday season.) The free-for-all ended in 1994.

12. THE ROCK THAT BROKE THE WINDOW OF THE GRANVILLE HOUSE WAS ALL REAL.


Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain 

Though Capra had a stuntman at the ready in order to shoot out the window of the Granville House in a scene that required Donna Reed to throw a rock through it, it was all a waste of money. “Mom threw the rock herself that broke the window in the Granville House,” Owen says. “On the first try.”

13. IT TOOK TWO MONTHS TO BUILD BEDFORD FALLS.

Shot on a budget of $3.7 million (which was a lot by mid-1940s standards), Bedford Falls—which covered a full four acres of RKO’s Encino Ranch—was one of the most elaborate movie sets ever built up to that time, with 75 stores and buildings, 20 fully-grown oak trees, factories, residential areas, and a 300-yard-long Main Street.

14. SENECA FALLS, NEW YORK IS “THE REAL BEDFORD FALLS.”

Though Bedford Falls is a fictitious place, the town of Seneca Falls, New York swears that it's the real-life inspiration for George Bailey’s charming hometown. And each year they program a full lineup of holiday-themed events to put locals (and yuletide visitors) into the holiday spirit.

15. THE GYM FLOOR-TURNED-SWIMMING POOL WAS REAL.

Though the bulk of the film was filmed on pre-built sets, the dance at the gym was filmed on location at Beverly Hills High School. And the retractable floor was no set piece. Better known as the Swim Gym, the school is currently in the process of restoring the landmark filming location.

16. ALFALFA IS THE TEENAGER BEHIND THAT SWIMMING POOL PRANK.

Though he’s uncredited in the part, if Freddie Othello—the little prankster who pushes the button that opens the pool that swallows George and Mary up—looks familiar, that’s because he is played by Carl Switzer, a.k.a. Alfalfa of The Little Rascals.

17. DONNA REED WON $50 FROM LIONEL BARRYMORE ... FOR MILKING A COW.

Though she was a Hollywood icon, Donna Reed—born Donnabelle Mullenger—was a farm girl at heart who came to Los Angeles by way of Denison, Iowa. Lionel Barrymore (a.k.a. Mr. Potter) didn’t believe it. “So he bet $50 that she couldn't milk a cow,” recalls Owen. “She said it was the easiest $50 she ever made.”

18. THE FILM WAS SHOT DURING A HEAT WAVE.

It may be an iconic Christmas movie, but It’s a Wonderful Life was actually shot in the summer of 1946—in the midst of a heat wave, no less. At one point, Capra had to shut filming down for a day because of the sky-high temperatures—which also explains why Stewart is clearly sweating in key moments of the film.

19. CAPRA ENGINEERED A NEW KIND OF MOVIE SNOW.

Capra—who trained as an engineer—and special effects supervisor Russell Shearman engineered a new type of artificial snow for the film. At the time, painted cornflakes were the most common form of fake snow, but they posed a bit of an audio problem for Capra. So he and Shearman opted to mix foamite (the stuff you find in fire extinguishers) with sugar and water to create a less noisy option.

20. THE MOVIE WASN’T REQUIRED VIEWING IN REED’S HOUSEHOLD.

Though It’s a Wonderful Life is a staple of many family holiday movie marathons, that wasn’t the case in Reed’s home. In fact, Owen herself didn’t see the film until three decades after its release. “I saw it in the late 1970s at the Nuart Theatre in L.A. and loved it,” she says.

21. ZUZU DIDN’T SEE THE FILM UNTIL 1980.

Karolyn Grimes, who played Zuzu in the film, didn’t see the film until 1980. “I never took the time to see the movie,” she told Detroit’s WWJ in 2013. “I never just sat down and watched the film.”

22. THE FBI SAW THE FILM. THEY DIDN’T LIKE IT.

In 1947, the FBI issued a memo noting the film as a potential “Communist infiltration of the motion picture industry,” citing its “rather obvious attempts to discredit bankers by casting Lionel Barrymore as a ‘Scrooge-type’ so that he would be the most hated man in the picture. This, according to these sources, is a common trick used by Communists.”

23. THE MOVIE’S BERT AND ERNIE HAVE NO RELATION TO SESAME STREET.

Yes, the cop and cab driver in It’s a Wonderful Life are named Bert and Ernie, respectively. But Jim Henson’s longtime writing partner, Jerry Juhl, insists that it’s by coincidence only that they share their names with Sesame Street’s stripe-shirted buds. “I was the head writer for the Muppets for 36 years and one of the original writers on Sesame Street,” Juhl told the San Francisco Chronicle in 2000. “The rumor about It's a Wonderful Life has persisted over the years. I was not present at the naming, but I was always positive [the rumor] was incorrect. Despite his many talents, Jim had no memory for details like this. He knew the movie, of course, but would not have remembered the cop and the cab driver. I was not able to confirm this with Jim before he died, but shortly thereafter I spoke to Jon Stone, Sesame Street's first producer and head writer and a man largely responsible for the show's format … He assured me that Ernie and Bert were named one day when he and Jim were studying the prototype puppets. They decided that one of them looked like an Ernie, and the other one looked like a Bert. The movie character names are purely coincidental.”

24. SOME PEOPLE ARE ANXIOUS FOR A SEQUEL.

Well, two people: Producers Allen J. Schwalb and Bob Farnsworth, who announced in 2013 that they would be continuing the story with a sequel, It’s a Wonderful Life: The Rest of the Story, which they planned for a 2015 release. It didn’t take long for Paramount, which owns the copyright, to step in and assure furious fans of the original film that “No project relating to It’s a Wonderful Life can proceed without a license from Paramount. To date, these individuals have not obtained any of the necessary rights, and we would take all appropriate steps to protect those rights.”

25. THE FILM’S ENDURING LEGACY WAS SURPRISING TO CAPRA.

“It’s the damnedest thing I’ve ever seen," Capra said of the film’s classic status. "The film has a life of its own now and I can look at it like I had nothing to do with it. I’m like a parent whose kid grows up to be president. I’m proud… but it’s the kid who did the work. I didn’t even think of it as a Christmas story when I first ran across it. I just liked the idea.”

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Star Wars © & TM 2015 Lucasfilm Ltd. All Rights Reserved.
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Listen to What Darth Vader Sounded Like On the Star Wars Set
Star Wars © & TM 2015 Lucasfilm Ltd. All Rights Reserved.
Star Wars © & TM 2015 Lucasfilm Ltd. All Rights Reserved.

The voice of Darth Vader, provided by James Earl Jones, is one of the most iconic aspects of the original Star Wars movies. But James Earl Jones wasn't the actor wearing that outfit—it was British actor David Prowse, who was cast in part because he was huge (reportedly 6'5" and a former body-building champion).

George Lucas always intended to replace Prowse's voice, but it's still a bit of a shock to hear a muffled British voice coming out of Darth Vader's helmet. Here's video showing what Darth Vader sounded like on the set before James Earl Jones re-recorded the dialogue.

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