Joe Ollmann/Drawn & Quarterly
Joe Ollmann/Drawn & Quarterly

The 10 Most Interesting Comics of January

Joe Ollmann/Drawn & Quarterly
Joe Ollmann/Drawn & Quarterly

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

1. The Abominable Mr. Seabrook

By Joe Ollmann
Drawn & Quarterly

William Seabrook was a writer who gained renown and success by traveling to locales considered exotic and unknown to most white people during the ‘20s and ‘30s. He once tasted human flesh in order to write about cannibals in West Africa (though because he believed that the natives had given him ape meat, he ate human flesh in France after he purchased it from a hospital). But his true claim to fame was bringing the idea of the Haitian zombie to a wide audience. Seabrook’s interesting life was scandalous and disturbing for its time. He had a penchant for bondage and alcohol and would eventually drink himself to death.

Cartoonist Joe Ollmann has been working on this exhaustive biography of Seabrook for over 10 years. Almost every page is drawn in a dense, nine-panel grid and Ollmann packs in as many excursions, marriages, benders, and kinky dalliances as he can. It’s a compelling look at an interesting literary figure who is mostly forgotten today.

2. Beowulf

By Santiago Garcia and David Rubin
Image Comics

This visually stunning graphic novel is the latest adaptation of the famous poem. Spanish writer Santiago Garcia and artist David Rubin are faithful to the original but depict it with a modern visual style full of ultra-violence, gory details, and dynamic page designs. There are moments that come filtered through modern Hollywood horror and action films like Alien, Predator, and 300, in an effort to evoke the modern association of the word epic. Rubin, currently the artist on Dark Horse’s Ether, is an inventive and exciting artist who is about to become a superstar in the States. This book was originally published back in 2013 in Spain and is seeing its first English-language release this month.

3. Love is Love

By various
IDW and DC

Writer Marc Andreyko organized a star-studded assortment of writers and artists to create one- to two-page stories with an LGBTQ focus for this anthology benefitting the victims, survivors, and families of last year’s Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando. DC Comics and IDW have joined forces to publish it, meaning we get an interesting mix of mainstream and indie creators telling some heartfelt stories about coming out, acceptance, and dealing with the truth of this tragedy; some of the stories feature familiar DC superheroes. The contributions range from heavy-handed to heartbreaking and profound. The contributors include big name comic creators like Mark Millar, Gail Simone, Jason Aaron, Jason Latour, and Jonathan Hickman as well as some comics-friendly celebrities like Patton Oswalt, Taran Killam and Damon Lindelof.

4. Superman Vol 1: Son of Superman

By Peter J. Tomasi, Patrick Gleason, Doug Mahnke and Jorge Jimenez
DC Comics

DC’s “Rebirth”—a relaunch of all their titles that aimed to overwrite 2011’s “New 52” relaunch—has largely been a critical and sales success. This month, the first batch of Rebirth-branded trade paperback collections hit stores, and most of these books are really worth checking out, especially if you’re a longtime DC fan who has been turned off by the direction the books have taken over the years. Unlike with a reboot, this relaunch is continuing the current status quo but with a tonal change to re-embrace the classic feel of DC’s style of super heroics. Of all these titles, Superman has the heaviest lift to make since DC had literally killed off Superman leading up to this relaunch. In this new book, they attempt to replace him with an older version of the character, transported from the multiverse along with his wife Lois and their son, Jonathan. This new Super-family is now attempting the trick of slipping into the lives of their deceased counterparts without anyone else realizing what’s up. Where this is all going and how DC makes it stick will be interesting to watch.

5. Resist!

By Various
Desert Island Bookstore

The first comic of the Trump era is a true work of political expression distributed for free during the Inauguration and the Women’s March in Washington, D.C. Resist! is a 40-page tabloid curated by Françoise Mouly, famed art editor of The New Yorker and co-creator of the influential 1980s alt-comic Raw. Mouly’s daughter, the writer Nadja Spiegelman, collaborated with her and Gabe Fowler of Brooklyn’s Desert Island Comics to sort through over 1000 submissions they received after a post-Election call for entires. The comics and illustrations chosen are from mostly female artists (contributions selected from male artists are pushed to the back in a section called “The Man Cave”) that include comics legends like Lynda Barry, Alison Bechdel and Roz Chast. Finding a copy may be tricky at this point, but if you’re lucky, your local comic shop may have one.

6. Loose Ends #1

By Jason Latour, Chris Brunner and Rico Renzi
Image Comics

About 10 years ago, a four-issue series called Loose Ends began publication through small press publisher 12 Gauge Comics. It was a “southern crime romance” by a young creative team led by Jason Latour, an artist who was making his first attempt at writing a comic. The final issue was never released, but Latour and Rico Renzi would soon go on to create the popular Spider-Gwen character for Marvel, and Latour would team with writer Jason Aaron to create the award-winning Southern Bastards, southern gothic crime that seems born out of this book in many ways.

Now, the series is finally being completed and re-released to a wider audience through Image Comics. The book’s artist, Chris Brunner, is a talented but still mostly unknown creator who will surely turn some heads and make a name for himself when more people check this book out.

7. Libby’s Dad

By Eleanor Davis
Retrofit Press

Eleanor Davis is prolific at creating short comics that pop up in various small press anthologies and one-off publications like this one which comes through Retrofit. It is a beautiful minicomic about that age when you’re still a little too young to fully grasp the world around you. The story takes place during a pool/slumber party at the house of quiet, somber Libby. Her group of friends can’t help but buzz about a rumor they heard involving Libby’s dad pulling a gun on her mom. The comic is told from the point of view of Alex, the youngest and most impressionable of the group and is drawn in a crayon-like manner that captures a nostalgic, child-like simplicity.

8. Supergirl: Being Super #1

By Mariko Tamaki, Joëlle Jones, Sandu Florea and Kelley Fitzpatrick
DC Comics

Thanks to the success of the new TV show, there's room in the market for multiple books with varying takes on Supergirl. This new four-issue series, written by Caldecott Medal award winner Mariko Tamaki and illustrated by Eisner Award nominated artist Joëlle Jones, brings some YA-style teen drama with an origin story set outside of normal DC continuity that avoids all the typical Kryptonian setup. Kara Danvers knows there is something different about herself—especially during a memorable scene involving a super-powered zit—but she is more concerned with normal teenage girl stuff like yearbook photos, high school track and hanging out with her friends than being a superhero. This type of superhero story—removed from the intricate web of continuity and crossovers—is what companies like DC need to do more of in order to bring in the kind of audience that loves the Supergirl TV show.

9. Kindred: A Graphic Novel Adaptation

By Damian Duffy and John Jennings; adapted from the novel by Octavia Butler
Abrams

Octavia Butler’s 1979 novel Kindred is a classic work of sci-fi literature about an African-American woman who is transported through time from her suburban home in the 1970s to a pre-Civil War plantation where she encounters her ancestors: a white plantation owner and the black woman he has made his slave and concubine. Damian Duffy, an academic who has written about underrepresentation in comics, and John Jennings, an African-American artist and educator, have the honor of adapting this work into a new medium for potentially a new audience.

10. Adventure Time: Marshall Lee Spectacular

By Melanie Gillman, Mariko Tamaki, S.M. Vidaurri, Trungles, Asia Kendrick-Horton and Audrey Mok
Boom! Studios

As an added incentive for Comixology’s new “Unlimited” subscription service, the premier digital comics company is launching a line of original comics. The first of these books is a one-shot from Boom! Studios popular Adventure Time comics featuring Marshall Lee, the gender-swapped version of one of the show’s stars, Marceline. This comic features three stories by a group of diverse, up-and-coming creators led by award-winning writer Mariko Tamaki.

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Warner Bros.
19 Shadowy Facts About Tim Burton's Batman
Warner Bros.
Warner Bros.

Superhero movies are bigger than they’ve ever been before, but we arguably wouldn’t be here at all without 1989’s Batman. Produced at a time before comic book movies were considered big business, Tim Burton’s dark look at a superhero then best known for a goofy TV show is a pop culture landmark, and the story of how it was made is almost as interesting as the film itself. So, to celebrate Batman—which was released on this day in 1989—here are 19 facts about how it came to the screen.

1. AN EARLY MOVIE IDEA RELIED ON THE CAMPINESS OF THE CHARACTER.

As development of a Batman movie began, studio executives were still very tied to the campiness embodied by the Batman television series of the 1960s. According to executive producer Michael Uslan, when he first began attempting to get the rights to make a film, he was told that the only studio who’d expressed interest was CBS, and only if they could do a Batman In Outer Space film.

2. IT TOOK 10 YEARS TO MAKE.

Uslan lobbied hard for the rights to Batman, and finally landed them in 1979. At that point, the fight to convince a studio to make the film ensued, and everyone from Columbia Pictures to Universal Pictures turned it down. When Warner Bros. finally agreed to back the film, the issue of developing the right script had to be settled, and that took even more time. In 1989, after years of battling, Batman was finally released, and Uslan has been involved in some form in every Batman film since.

3. AN EARLY SCRIPT FEATURED BOTH THE PENGUIN AND ROBIN.

When Uslan finally got the chance to develop the film, he drafted legendary screenwriter Tom Mankiewicz, who had been a consultant on Superman, to write the script. The Mankiewicz script included The Joker, corrupt politician Rupert Thorne, a much greater focus on Bruce Wayne’s origin story, The Penguin, and the arrival of Robin late in the film. The script was ultimately scrapped, but you can see certain elements of it in Batman Returns.

4. TIM BURTON WASN’T THE FIRST POTENTIAL DIRECTOR.

Though Warner Bros. ultimately chose Tim Burton to helm Batman, over the course of the film’s development a number of other choices emerged. At various points on the road to Batman, everyone from Gremlins director Joe Dante to Ghostbusters director Ivan Reitman was in line for the gig.

5. MANY STARS OF THE TIME WERE CONSIDERED FOR BATMAN.

The casting process for Batman was a long one, and involved a number of major stars of the day. Among the contenders for the title role were Mel Gibson, Bill Murray (yes, really), Kevin Costner, Willem Dafoe, Tom Selleck, Harrison Ford, Charlie Sheen, Ray Liotta, and Pierce Brosnan, who later regretted turning down the role.

6. TIM BURTON HAD TO FIGHT TO CAST MICHAEL KEATON.

At the time, Michael Keaton was best known for his comedic roles in films like Mr. Mom and Night Shift, so the thought of casting him as a vigilante of the night seemed odd to many. Michael Uslan remembers thinking a prank was being played on him when he heard Keaton’s name pop up. Burton, who’d already worked with Keaton on Beetlejuice, was convinced that Keaton was right for the role, not just because he could portray the obsessive nature of the character, but because he also felt that Keaton was the kind of actor who would need to dress up as a bat in order to scare criminals, while a typical action star would just garner “unintentional laughs” in the suit. Burton ultimately won the argument, and Keaton got an iconic role for two films.

7. JACK NICHOLSON WAS THE FIRST CHOICE FOR THE JOKER, BUT HE WASN’T THE ONLY CHOICE.

From the beginning, Uslan concluded that Jack Nicholson was the perfect choice to play The Joker, and was “walking on air” when the production finally cast him. He certainly wasn’t the only actor considered, though. Among Burton’s considerations were Willem Dafoe, James Woods, Brad Dourif, David Bowie, and Robin Williams (who really wanted the part).

8. TIM BURTON WON JACK NICHOLSON OVER WITH HORSEBACK RIDING.

When Nicholson was asked to discuss playing The Joker, he invited Burton and producer Peter Guber to visit him in Aspen for some horseback riding. When Burton learned that was what they’d be doing, he told Guber “I don’t ride,” to which Guber replied “You do today!” So, a “terrified” Burton got on a horse and rode alongside Nicholson, and the star ultimately agreed to play the Clown Prince of Crime.

9. EDDIE MURPHY WAS ONCE CONSIDERED TO PLAY ROBIN.

Though the character of Robin was ultimately scrapped because it simply didn’t feel like there was room for him in the film, he did appear in early drafts of the script, and at one point producers considered casting Eddie Murphy—who, you must remember, was one of the biggest movie stars of the 1980s—for the role. 

10. SEAN YOUNG WAS THE ORIGINAL VICKI VALE.

Burton initially cast Blade Runner star Sean Young as acclaimed photographer Vicki Vale, who would become Bruce Wayne’s love interest. Young was part of the pre-production process on Batman for several weeks until, while practicing horseback riding for a scene that was ultimately cut, she fell from her horse and was seriously injured. With just a week to go until shooting, producers had to act fast to find a replacement, and decided on Kim Basinger, who essentially joined the production overnight.

11. TIM BURTON WASN’T OFFICIALLY HIRED UNTIL BEETLEJUICE BECAME A HIT.

Though he was basically already a part of the production, Burton wasn’t officially the director of Batman right away. Warner Bros. showed interest in him working on the film after the success of Pee-wee’s Big Adventure, but according to Burton they only officially hired him after the first weekend grosses for Beetlejuice came in.

“They were just waiting to see how Beetlejuice did,” Burton said. “They didn’t want to give me that movie unless Beetlejuice was going to be okay. They wouldn’t say that, but that was really the way it was.”

12. DANNY ELFMAN THOUGHT HE WAS GOING TO BE FIRED UNTIL HE PLAYED THE MAIN THEME.

Danny Elfman is now considered one of our great movie composers, but at the time Batman was released he didn’t have any blockbuster credits to his name. He recalls meeting with Burton (with whom he had worked on Pee-wee’s Big Adventure) and producer Jon Peters to go over some of the music he’d already written for the film, and feeling “a lot of skepticism” over whether he should be the composer for Batman. It wasn’t until Burton said “Play the march,” and Elfman went into what would become the opening credits theme for the film, that he won Peters over.

“Jon jumped out of his chair, really just almost started dancing around the room,” Elfman said.

13. THE JOKER WASN’T ALWAYS GOING TO KILL BATMAN’S PARENTS.

In the final film, The Joker (then named Jack Napier) is revealed to be the gangster who guns down Bruce Wayne’s parents in the streets of Gotham City. It’s a twist that some comic book fans still dislike, and according to screenwriter Sam Hamm, it definitely wasn’t his fault.

“That was something that Tim had wanted from early on, and I had a bunch of arguments with him and wound up talking him out of it for as long as I was on the script. But, once the script went into production, there was a writer’s strike underway, and so I wasn’t able to be with the production as it was shooting over in London, and they brought in other people.”

Hamm also emphasizes that it was also not his idea to show Alfred letting Vicki Vale into the Batcave.

14. THE CLIMACTIC SCENE WAS WRITTEN MIDWAY THROUGH SHOOTING.

Though much of the film is still derived from Hamm’s script, rewrites continued to happen during shooting, and one of them involved the final confrontation between Batman and The Joker in a Gotham City clock tower. According to co-star Robert Wuhl, the climax was inspired by Jack Nicholson and Jon Peters, who went to see a production of The Phantom of the Opera midway through filming and watched as the Phantom made his final stand in a tower. Together, they somehow determined that a final fight in the tower was what Batman needed.

“The next day, they started writing that scene … the whole ending in the tower,” Wuhl said.

15. MICHAEL KEATON’S BATMAN MOVEMENTS WERE INSPIRED BY THE RESTRICTIONS OF THE COSTUME.

Batman fans still love to make jokes about the original costume, and Michael Keaton’s inability to turn his head (there’s even a dig at that in Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight), but the restrictions of the costume actually inspired how Keaton performed as the Dark Knight. In 2014, Keaton revealed that his performance as Batman was heavily influenced by a moment when, while trying to actually turn his head in the suit, he ended up ripping it.

“It really came out of the first time I had to react to something, and this thing was stuck to my face and somebody says something to Batman and I go like this [turning his head] and the whole thing goes, [rriipp]! There was a big f***ing hole over here,” he said. “So I go, well, I've got to get around that, because we've got to shoot this son of a bitch, so I go, 'You know what, Tim [Burton]? He moves like this [like a statue]!’”

“I'm feeling really scared, and then it hit me—I thought, 'Oh, this is perfect! This is perfect.' I mean, this is, like, designed for this kind of really unusual dude, the Bruce Wayne guy, the guy who has this other personality that's really dark and really alone, and really kind of depressed. This is it.”

16. GOTHAM CITY WAS REAL, AND IT WAS EXPENSIVE.

Production designer Anton Furst put a lot of work into the incredibly influential designs for the film’s version of Gotham City, and the production was committed to making them pay off. The production ultimately spent more than $5 million to transform the backlot of London’s Pinewood Studios into Gotham City, and you can see the dedication to practical effects work in the final film.

17. PRINCE WAS PART OF THE PRODUCTION EVEN BEFORE HE JOINED IT.

Batman famously features original songs by Prince, who wrote so much new material for the production that he basically produced a full album. Even before the Purple One was drafted to write for the film, though, he was influencing it. Burton played Prince songs on set during the parade sequence and the Joker’s rampage through the museum.

18. THE FILM’S MARKETING WAS SO EFFECTIVE THAT IT INSPIRED CRIMES.

By the time Batman was actually on its way to release, it was becoming a phenomenon, and the marketing for the film was inspiring a frenzy among fans. People were buying tickets to other films just to see the first trailer, and selling bootleg copies of the early footage. The poster, featuring the iconic logo, was so popular that, according to Uslan, people were breaking into bus stations just to steal it.

19. IT WAS A BOX OFFICE LANDMARK.

Though studio executives resisted the idea of a “dark” Batman movie for years, the film ultimately set a new standard for box office success. It was the first film to ever hit $100 million in 10 days, the biggest film in Warner Bros.’ history at the time, and the box office’s biggest earner of 1989—and that’s not even counting the massive toy and merchandising sales it generated.

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Underwhelmed Tourists
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