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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 Benefits of Adopting a Rescue Dog
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According to the ASPCA, 3.3 million dogs enter shelters each year in the United States. Although that number has gone down since 2011 (from 3.9 million) there are still millions of dogs waiting in shelters for a forever home. October is Adopt a Shelter Dog Month; here are 25 benefits of adopting a shelter dog.

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How Urban Legends Like 'The Licked Hand' Are Born
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If you compare the scary stories you heard as a kid with those of your friends—even those who grew up across the country from you—you’ll probably hear some familiar tales. Maybe you tried to summon Bloody Mary by chanting her name in front of the mirror three times in a dark bathroom. Maybe you learned never to wonder what’s under a woman’s neck ribbon. Maybe you heard the one about the girl who feels her dog lick her hand in the middle of the night, only to wake up to find him hanging dead from the shower nozzle, the words “humans can lick too” written on the wall in the dog’s blood.

These ubiquitous, spooky folk tales exist everywhere, and a lot of them take surprisingly similar forms. How does a single story like the one often called “Humans Can Lick Too” or "The Licked Hand" make its way into every slumber party in America? Thrillist recently investigated the question with a few experts, finding that most of these stories have very deep roots.

In the case of The Licked Hand, its origins go back more than a century. In the 1990s, Snopes found that a similar motif dates back to an Englishman’s diary entry from 1871. In it, the diary keeper, Dearman Birchall, retold a story he heard at a party of a man whose wife woke him up in the middle of the night, urging him to go investigate what sounded like burglars in their home. He told his wife that it was only the dog, reaching out his hand. He felt the dog lick his hand … but in the morning, all his valuables were gone: He had clearly been robbed.

A similar theme shows up in the short story “The Diary of Mr. Poynter,” published in 1919 by M.R. James. In it, a character dozes off in an armchair, and thinks that he is petting his dog. It turns out, it’s some kind of hairy human figure that he flees from. The story seems to have evolved from there into its presently popular form, picking up steam in the 1960s. As with any folk tale, its exact form changes depending on the teller: sometimes the main character is an old lady, other times it’s a young girl.

You’ll probably hear these stories in the context of happening to a “friend of a friend,” making you more likely to believe the tale. It practically happened to someone you know! Kind of! The setting, too, is probably somewhere nearby. It might be in your neighborhood, or down by the local railroad tracks.

Thrillist spoke to Dr. Joseph Stubbersfield, a researcher in the UK who studies urban legends, who says the kind of stories that spread widely contain both social information and emotional resonance. Meaning they contain a message—you never know who’s lurking in your house—and are evocative.

If something is super scary or gross, you want to share it. Stories tend to warn against something: A study of English-language urban legends circulating online found that most warned listeners about the hazards of life (poisonous plants, dangerous animals, dangerous humans) rather than any kind of opportunities. We like to warn each other of the dangers that could be lurking around every corner, which makes sense considering our proven propensity to focus on and learn from negative information. And yes, that means telling each other to watch out for who’s licking our hands in the middle of the night.

Just something to keep in mind as you eagerly await Jezebel’s annual scary story contest.

[h/t Thrillist]

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