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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Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images for PCA
12 Surprising Facts About Robin Williams
Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images for PCA
Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images for PCA

Robin Williams had a larger-than-life personality. On screen and on stage, he embodied what he referred to as “hyper-comedy.” Offscreen, he was involved in humanitarian causes and raised three children—Zak, Zelda, and Cody. On July 16, HBO debuts the documentary Robin Williams: Come Inside My Mind, directed by Marina Zenovich. The film chronicles his rise on the L.A. and San Francisco stand-up comedy scenes during the 1970s, to his more dramatic roles in the 1980s and '90s in award-winning films like Dead Poets Society; Good Morning, Vietnam; Awakenings; The Fisher King; and Good Will Hunting. The film also focuses on August 11, 2014, the date of his untimely death. Here are 12 surprising facts about the beloved entertainer.

1. ROBIN WILLIAMS GOT HIS START AT A COMEDY WORKSHOP INSIDE A CHURCH.

A still from 'Robin Williams: Come Inside My Mind' (2018)
HBO

After leaving Juilliard, Robin Williams found himself back in his hometown of San Francisco, but he couldn’t find work as an actor. Then he saw something for a comedy workshop in a church and decided to give it a shot. “So I went to this workshop in the basement of a Lutheran church, and it was stand-up comedy, so you don’t get to improvise with others, but I started off doing, ostensibly, it was just like improvising but solo," he told NPR. "And then I started to realize, ‘Oh.’ [I started] building an act from there."

2. HE FORMED A FRIENDSHIP WITH KOKO THE GORILLA.

In 2001, Williams visited Koko the gorilla, who passed away in June, at The Gorilla Foundation in Northern California. Her caregivers had shown her one of his movies, and she seemed to recognize him. Koko repeatedly signed for Williams to tickle her. “We shared something extraordinary: laughter,” Williams said of the encounter. On the day Williams died, The Foundation shared the news with Koko and reported that she fell into sadness.

3. FOR A TIME, HE WAS A MIME IN CENTRAL PARK.

In 1974, photographer Daniel Sorine captured photos of two mimes in New York's Central Park. As it turned out, one of the mimes was Williams, who was attending Juilliard at the time. “What attracted me to Robin Williams and his fellow mime, Todd Oppenheimer, was an unusual amount of intensity, personality, and physical fluidity,” Sorine said. In 1991, Williams revisited the craft by playing Mime Jerry in Bobcat Goldthwait’s film Shakes the Clown. In the movie, Williams hilariously leads a how-to class in mime.

4. HE TRIED TO GET LYDIA FROM MRS. DOUBTFIRE BACK IN SCHOOL.

As a teen, Lisa Jakub played Robin Williams’s daughter Lydia Hillard in Mrs. Doubtfire. “When I was 14 years old, I went on location to film Mrs. Doubtfire for five months, and my high school was not happy,” Jakub wrote on her blog. “My job meant an increased workload for teachers, and they were not equipped to handle a ‘non-traditional’ student. So, during filming, they kicked me out.”

Sensing Jakub’s distress over the situation, Williams typed a letter and sent it to her school. “A student of her caliber and talent should be encouraged to go out in the world and learn through her work,” he wrote. “She should also be encouraged to return to the classroom when she’s done to share those experiences and motivate her classmates to soar to their own higher achievements … she is an asset to any classroom.”

Apparently, the school framed the letter but didn’t allow Jakub to return. “But here’s what matters from that story—Robin stood up for me,” Jakub wrote. “I was only 14, but I had already seen that I was in an industry that was full of back-stabbing. And it was entirely clear that Robin had my back.”

5. HE WASN’T PRODUCERS' FIRST CHOICE TO PLAY MORK ON MORK & MINDY.

Anson Williams, Marion Ross, and Don Most told The Hallmark Channel that a different actor was originally hired to play Mork for the February 1978 Happy Days episode “My Favorite Orkan,” which introduced the alien character to the world. “Mork & Mindy was like the worst script in the history of Happy Days. It was unreadable, it was so bad,” Anson Williams said. “So they hire some guy for Mork—bad actor, bad part.” The actor quit, and producer Garry Marshall came to the set and asked: “Does anyone know a funny Martian?” They hired Williams to play Mork, and from September 1978 to May 1982, Williams co-headlined the spinoff Mork & Mindy for four seasons.

6. HE “RISKED” A ROLE IN AN OFF-BROADWAY PLAY.

Actor Robin Williams poses for a portrait during the 35th Annual People's Choice Awards held at the Shrine Auditorium on January 7, 2009 in Los Angeles, California
Michael Caulfield, Getty Images for PCA

In 1988, Williams made his professional stage debut as Estragon in the Mike Nichols-directed Waiting for Godot, which also starred Steve Martin and F. Murray Abraham. The play was held off-Broadway at Mitzi E. Newhouse Theater at Lincoln Center. The New York Times asked Williams if he felt the show was a career risk, and he responded with: “Risk! Of never working on the stage again! Oh, no! You’re ruined! It’s like you're ruined socially in Tustin,” a town in Orange County, California. “If there’s risk, you can’t think about it,” he said, “or you’ll never be able to do the play.”

Williams had to restrain himself and not improvise during his performance. “You can do physical things,” he said, “but you don’t ad lib [Samuel] Beckett, just like you don’t riff Beethoven.” In 1996, Nichols and Williams once again worked together, this time in the movie The Birdcage.

7. HE USHERED IN THE ERA OF CELEBRITY VOICE ACTING.

The 1992 success of Aladdin, in which Williams voiced Genie, led to more celebrities voicing animated characters. According to a 2011 article in The Atlantic, “Less than 20 years ago, voice acting was almost exclusively the realm of voice actors—people specifically trained to provide voices for animated characters. As it turns out, the rise of the celebrity voice actor can be traced to a single film: Disney’s 1992 breakout animated hit Aladdin.” Since then, big names have attached themselves to animated films, from The Lion King to Toy Story to Shrek. Williams continued to do voice acting in animated films, including Aladdin and the King of Thieves, Happy Feet, and Happy Feet 2.

8. HE FORGOT TO THANK HIS MOTHER DURING HIS 1998 OSCAR SPEECH.

In March 1998, Williams won a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his performance as Sean Maguire in Good Will Hunting. In 2011, Williams appeared on The Graham Norton Show, and Norton asked him what it was like to win the award. “For a week it was like, ‘Hey congratulations! Good Will Hunting, way to go,'” Williams said. “Two weeks later: ‘Hey, Mork.’”

Then Williams mentioned how his speech accidentally left out one of the most important people in his life. “I forgot to thank my mother and she was in the audience,” he said. “Even the therapist went, ‘Get out!’ That was rough for the next few years. [Mom voice] ‘You came through here [points to his pants]! How’s the award?’”

9. HE COMFORTED STEVEN SPIELBERG DURING THE FILMING OF SCHINDLER’S LIST.

At this year’s 25th anniversary screening of Schindler’s List, held at the Tribeca Film Festival, director Steven Spielberg shared that Williams—who played Peter Pan in Spielberg’s Hook—would call him and make him laugh. “Robin knew what I was going through, and once a week, Robin would call me on schedule and he would do 15 minutes of stand-up on the phone,” Spielberg said. “I would laugh hysterically, because I had to release so much.”

10. HE HELPED ETHAN HAWKE GET HIS AGENT.

During a June 2018 appearance on The Graham Norton Show, Ethan Hawke recalled how, while working on Dead Poets Society, Williams was hard on him. “I really wanted to be a serious actor,” Hawke said. “I really wanted to be in character, and I really didn’t want to laugh. The more I didn’t laugh, the more insane [Williams] got. He would make fun of me. ‘Oh this one doesn't want to laugh.’ And the more smoke would come out of my ears. He didn’t understand I was trying to do a good job.” Hawke had assumed Williams hated him during filming.

After filming ended, Hawke went back to school, but he received a surprising phone call. It was from Williams’s agent, who—at Williams's suggestion—wanted to sign Hawke. Hawke said he still has the same agent today.

11. HE WAS ALMOST CAST IN MIDNIGHT RUN.

In February 1988, Williams told Rolling Stone how he sometimes still had to audition for roles. “I read for a movie with [Robert] De Niro, [Midnight Run], to be directed by Marty Brest,” Williams said. “I met with them three or four times, and it got real close, it was almost there, and then they went with somebody else. The character was supposed to be an accountant for the Mafia. Charles Grodin got the part. I was craving it. I thought, ‘I can be as funny,’ but they wanted someone obviously more in type. And in the end, he was better for it. But it was rough for me. I had to remind myself, ‘Okay, come on, you’ve got other things.’”

In July 1988, Universal released Midnight Run. Just two years later, Williams finally worked with De Niro, on Awakenings.

12. BILLY CRYSTAL AND WILLIAMS USED TO TALK ON THE PHONE FOR HOURS.

Actors Robin Williams (L) and Billy Crystal pose at the afterparty for the premiere of Columbia Picture's 'RV' on April 23, 2006 in Los Angeles, California
Kevin Winter, Getty Images

Starting in 1986, Williams, Billy Crystal, and Whoopi Goldberg co-hosted HBO’s Comic Relief to raise money for the homeless. Soon after Williams’s death, Crystal went on The View and spoke with Goldberg about his friendship with Williams. “We were like two jazz musicians,” Crystal said. “Late at night I get these calls and we’d go for hours. And we never spoke as ourselves. When it was announced I was coming to Broadway, I had 50 phone messages, in one day, from somebody named Gary, who wanted to be my backstage dresser.”

“Gary” turned out to be Williams.

Robin Williams: Come Inside My Mind premieres on Monday, July 16 at 8 p.m. ET on HBO.

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Mark Ralston, AFP/Getty Images
How a Hairdresser Found a Way to Fight Oil Spills With Hair Clippings
Mark Ralston, AFP/Getty Images
Mark Ralston, AFP/Getty Images

The Exxon Valdez oil tanker made global news in 1989 when it dumped millions of gallons of crude oil into the waters off Alaska's coast. As experts were figuring out the best ways to handle the ecological disaster, a hairdresser from Alabama named Phil McCroy was tinkering with ideas of his own. His solution, a stocking stuffed with hair clippings, was an early version of a clean-up method that's used at real oil spill sites today, according to Vox.

Hair booms are sock-like tubes stuffed with recycled hair, fur, and wool clippings. Hair naturally soaks up oil; most of the time it's sebum, an oil secreted from our sebaceous glands, but it will attract crude oil as well. When hair booms are dragged through waters slicked with oil, they sop up all of that pollution in a way that's gentle on the environment.

The same properties that make hair a great clean-up tool at spills are also what make animals vulnerable. Marine life that depends on clean fur to stay warm can die if their coats are stained with oil that's hard to wash off. Footage of an otter covered in oil was actually what inspired Phil McCroy to come up with his hair-based invention.

Check out the full story from Vox in the video below.

[h/t Vox]

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