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The 13 Most Interesting Comics of October

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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 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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